The relation of philosophy to rhetoric in relation to books 1 & 2 of Plato's Republic
While Socrates was born in 469, Plato was born forty years later around 429 BC and although he should have played an important part in Athenian life on the political front, this was sadly not to be since at the time of his maturity and development, Athens was losing the Peloponnesian War so Plato found more time to be involved in philosophy, actually founding the first school of philosophy in Athens which was called the Academy. Undoubtedly we get to know more about Socrates who can be said to have been the world’s first philosopher from Plato’s writings which were always crucially important for the understanding of philosophy in general. Socrates came up with two very important premises on which The Republic is built, the first is that a man can never do harm to anyone if he is a good man and secondly he invented the technique of agreement and compromise when more often than not, confrontation was the order of the day in the society of those times. The importance of rhetoric and the adjustment of positions is thus a technique which is discussed at length in The Republic where the eventual principles of modern philosophy are established. What is also very intriguing about The Republic is that the arguments which occur in Book 1 find themselves repeated from a different angle in the subsequent books actually meaning that the books can be read separately. The division between knowledge and reality is also a crucial question which occurs in the first two books and which is essentially repeated with a rhetorical impulse all over the place.
As one of the greatest philosophers ever to have graced the planet, Plato is definitely someone to be considered when his Theory of Forms is brought under discussion and which is briefly sketched out in the first two books of The Republic. In it, Plato asserts that non material forms are essential far more intense and realistic than subject or physical matter and is also made up of a number of states which eventually achieve perfection. One may argue that Plato used this theory perhaps too often and one time too many but essentially it is something which we still turn to today when we attempt to define certain aspects of our existence. The theory was also criticized extensively by Aristotle as it was seen as something too fantastic but it does essentially remain one of the great theories of philosophy and of our mutual existence from which other theories such as existentialism sprouted with varying degrees of success.
Examples of Beauty and Circularity
Plate based his theory with particular emphasis on the aspects of Beauty and Circularity which means that intrinsic beauty may only be appreciated when one can truly assess what this means in a spiritual context. The theory distinguishes between beauty as in the physical form and that which is spiritual. A typical example would be a beautiful object, or a beautiful woman for example and this will contrast with a piece of music which is held to be sublime. In this sense the form is abstract so Plato would assert that the musical beauty is of a more higher plane than that which is simply physical. This may also mean that everything which may be seen and is considered as beautiful may have to yield to that which cannot be seen as this has a deeper spiritual yearning than the physical. The concept of mind over matter is also instructive here as it demonstrates that beauty may not always be the same to every person and that it is also subjective. We find a lot of this rhetoric in the first two books of The Republic especially where justice is concerned.
With the concept of Circularity, Plato turns full circle on issues such as the goodness of God and the all-round supremacy of his being. This means that God remains all powerful in certain aspects and one must bow to his greatness and goodness without much ado. This also means that everyone must submit him/herself to God as the human being is inherently flawed and cannot take decisions properly without the influence of God who is all powerful. Plato also immersed this theory into the lives of politicians who may have taken the wrong decisions and were also faced with dilemmas on moral issues. This meant that singularity and decision making could not go on without God’s influence who is intrinsically an all powerful state with control over everything. Obviously this created certain reactions from the political establishment who could not seem to understand what Plato was actually going on about and could not comprehend the actual states of the forms.
Feature of forms:
The forms which have already been discussed are beauty and circularity but there are others which Plato goes into detail in his Republic. In fact Republic is actually an argument for the spiritual temperament of justice with Temperance and Justice being among the main values which the author espouses. However, the proper application of justice is something which Plato took great trouble over as he could not find a balnce between the proper impartiality of justice and the actual implementation of it. The feature of the form of Courage is also intriguing in the sense that this state could be seen to be the highest form of bravery but this is also debatable. Here one can comment on the feature of such forms which remain slightly grey areas in this respect. In The Republic, Plato argues that the true natures of the forms of Justice, Beauty, Courage and Temperance cannot actually be known and this exposed him to substantial amounts of criticism. Notwithstanding all this I tend to agree with his reasoning and his conclusions that form is the supreme state of mind and matter. Thus this means that Plato is right when he states that the realm of forms constitutes the real world
Such an innovative theory came in for a huge bout of criticism from the Athenian establishment for obvious reasons, not least due to the fact that Socrates applied certain elements of it to the family life which was so dear to the Athenians. With Socrates’ proposal to abolish the family and have children brought up by the state, the theory of forms received a substantial setback as it was meant to be a force for the good and ended up becoming a force for disorder and disquiet. The concept of the ideal state is something which could not really be put into practice and one could not compensate with what was viewed as the overriding force for good.
Plato leaves a lot of grey areas when he defines Good as the major force over everything as this cannot be totally understood. His basic description of forms and how these interact is also rather strange and open ended although one can arrive to a proper conclusion when counter arguments are proposed. In fact there are several counter arguments to Plato’s theory not least, the argument that beauty is of a more spiritual than physical nature. Although one cannot argue that the overriding force of good is greater than anything else there are other states of mind and matter which may perhaps be closer to perfection than good itself.
Plato’s theory of Forms certainly appears to be a force for good in that it is built around values which emphasise that good. Although it is open to criticism on some points, it does not mean that it cannot be enacted in several scenarios throughout life and is a theory which is also beautiful in that it reinforces the spiritual nature of God who is all powerful.
Socrates and the defence of justice.
Book 2 of The Republic is almost entirely taken up by Socrates’ defense of justice. Here Plato describes the way in which Socrates espoused philosophically on justice in a manner which exemplifies the art of the possible and the art of the probable. Socrates explains that we are not self-sufficient and thus we are dependent on others. Thus the rhetorical question comes into the fray yet again.
However the problem which comes to mind here is that since Socrates did not leave any of his own writings behind, we can never know if his opinion is actually the right one or the opinion of Plato himself. However the common view amongst philosophers is that the short early dialogues give us a very accurate historical picture of the historic dialogues and that the later ones are mostly Plato himself.
The concept of justice as espoused by Socrates initially is also found wanting. So the art of the compromise enters into the equation. The two definitions of justice proposed by Socrates are the returning of debts owed and assisting friends while at the same time harming enemies. Although Socrates uses rhetoric to emphasise both points he does not reject them completely and actually espouses what is deemed to be a regime for common sense which starts in Book II and continues to Book IV.
Towards the end of Book I, Socrates comes to an agreement with Polemarchus on the concept of justice being the helping of friends although a just man would never harm anyone else. However we are also regaled with the view of Thrasymarchus who insists that justice is something which gives advantage to the stronger while injustice is focused upon increasing profit to one’s own advantage. Here yet again, Socrates comes up with rhetorical arguments on justice whilst espousing that dialogue should always remain at the forefront of any decision taken. In Book II we are faced with a dilemma where Socrates must explain justice to two brothers and here, yet again he comes up with the rhetorical concept of dialogue and assistance to the weak. His conception of the good in man is actually the cornerstone of The Republic.
When we are faced with Glaucon’s speech in Book II we realize that justice has its own rhetorical elements and that a system of checks and balances is required for any political system to move forward. Although Plato seems to be non-committal on this point, Socrates does wax lyrical about the importance of knowledge and wisdom to be present in a man if he is ever to impart justice. Interestingly we then have the argument that men fear justice only due to their innate fear of actually being punished for injustice. Thus the wheel has intrinsically turned full circle and the application of justice becomes repressive. Yet again the rhetorical question posed by Plato and Socrates comes into the mix.
Socrates insists that there is no topic which is better to debate than justice so The Republic is actually a definition of justice as a whole. The rhetorical question which comes into discussion here is whether justice can really be applied impartially and without fail or if it is simply a patchwork reaction to a solution. Thus Plato espouses the views of Socrates who is masterful in his arguments and portrayals eventually bringing around all those in the discussion to his point of view. That is the true greatness of ‘The Republic’ especially in the first two books.
Annas, Julia (1981). An Introduction to Plato’s Republic. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Benardete, Seth (1989). Socrates' Second Sailing: On Plato’s Republic. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Blackburn, Simon (2007). Plato’s Republic: A Biography. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press.
Bosanquet, B. (1895). A Companion to Plato’s Republic. London: Rivington, Percival & Co.
Craig, Leon (1994). The War Lover: A Study of Plato’s Republic. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Cross, R.C. (1964). Plato’s Republic: A Philosophical Commentary. London: Macmillan.
Ferrari, ed., G.R.F. (2007). The Cambridge Companion to Plato’s Republic. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Howland, Jacob (1993). The Republic: The Odyssey of Philosophy. Philadelphia: Paul Dry Books.
Kraut, ed., Richard (1997). Plato’s Republic: Critical Essays. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.
Levinson, Ronald (1953). In Defense of Plato. Cambridge: Harvard.