I have finally finished reading Platocrates’ Republic. I have read his points on forms and ideals, on truth and knowledge. I have seen his perfect city, a beautiful world where all men know their place, where they all perform the functions for which they are made, and where their kings are lovers of Sophie in the highest degree, pure of heart and sound of mind; and I must say, dear Father, that I am impressed. With smart logic and wonderful analogies Platocrates has managed lay before me a most comprehensive work on reality and justice and government, and he did so with such flair I found myself smiling as I sifted through his words.
It was not smooth, this road to justice. There were many false starts along the way, preconceived notions held by his companions that had to be put away before his truth on just things could be revealed. The first definition of justice, brought forth by a man named Cephalus and championed in turn by Polemarchus, stated that justice is doing good deeds to friends and ill deeds to enemies, a most intuitive definition if there ever was one. One can see the sense in helping those that wish you well and spurning and harming those that wish you ill; one can see the ‘good’ in it.
Socrates, however, showed two glaring issues with this line of thought. The first is one of knowledge. People often seem friends when they are truly enemies, and enemies when they are truly friends. It is rather impossible for one to know in truth who is one’s friend and who is not; actions can be deceiving and intent is all too often very difficult to ascertain. Applying Polemarchus’ definition of justice would then imply that ‘just’ men would at times do good to people who were in fact their enemies and evil to people who were in fact their friends, the very antithesis of the definition itself.
The second issue with Polemarchus’ definition lay in the perceived nobility of justice. For Platocrates justice can never result in the production of evil, much like heat can never produce cold, and a (true) musician can never by his art make men unmusical. By associating justice with evil, whether this evil is done to a perceived or actual foe, Cephalus and Polemarchus had rendered it contradictory; they had turned justice into injustice.
The second definition of justice was put forward by a very animated fellow by the name of Thrasymachus, and for him justice was whatever proved to be “in the interest of the stronger”. Socrates, once again seeking something much more noble and pure, made quick work of this definition. As with the first, he illustrated its two problems. The first problem, once again, was one of knowledge. It is not always that a man knows what is in his interest; many times he makes decisions that are revealed to be so damaging to his person they would appear to have come from his enemy and not himself. As in the first case, this then would imply that ‘just’ men are once again doing unjust things, as they are working to their detriment and not in fact to their benefit, the very opposite of what the definition purports.
Thrasymachus, ever ready to counter Socrates, replied vehemently that such a person is not a true ruler, is not truly the stronger. The true ruler, you see, would never work against himself; all that he does would indeed be towards his exultation, and not, as Socrates pointed out, towards his downfall. Socrates then proceeded to demonstrate the issue with this secondary point, employing a wonderful analogy. To use his words:
“…no physician, in so far as he is a physician, considers his own good in what he prescribes, but the good of his patient; for the true physician is also a ruler having the human body as a subject, and is not a mere money-maker…. And the pilot in the strict sense of the term, is a ruler of sailors and not a mere sailor… and such a pilot and ruler will provide and prescribe for the interest of the sailor who is under him, and not for his own or the ruler’s interest…”
Justice for Platocrates could not then mean one’s interest but the interest of one’s subject, and for a ruler this meant the interest of the thing(s) he ruled, and not himself.
The third definition of justice, much like the second, focused on power, attempting to prove that justice is in fact in the hands of the powerful and is a compromise between men of power seeking to prevent ‘injustice’ being done to them by their peers. With such a definition the unjust man with unlimited power could do what he pleased with impunity, without fear of punishment or retaliation. Men that attempted to remain just would find themselves at a severe disadvantage, for the unjust man would possess neither the scruples nor the deterrent to do what was right. Justice then would not result in happiness for the truly just man, but in loss. Socrates, firm believer in the ultimate good of justice, did not agree with this and he was thus challenged to show how justice would benefit the just man, a point he made by building his perfect republic.
I will spare you further details of the journey, dearest Father; rest assured that fine points from Socrates’ long monologue will surface in coming letters. My business today is with the wonderful nature of the city he constructed, and the men he placed at its helm. As I said at the beginning of this letter, in Platocrates’ Republic everyone knows his place. In this city, the soldiers have no purpose but to fight; the musicians to make music; the poets to compose; and the writers to write. And as a direct consequence the rulers have no purpose but to rule. For Platocrates this is perfection, this is where justice lives: in a city where all do as they should and where rulers rule as they must.
The beauty of this definition lies in the fact that it is yet another analogy, for Platocrates’ city refers not to an actual city, but to a soul. Like the city the human soul is composed of many parts, each with separate purposes. One finds true justice when one allows one’s mind to rule his soul, and the other parts to follow. Like the Sophie-loving kings of his city, schooled in truths most profound, when we let our minds discover the truths of our world and give them power over our hungers and lusts and feelings, when we let them rule us as they should, we shall truly be just; we shall truly be good.
With this final statement Platocrates showed why he is at heart a lover of Sophie, for the entire point, the entire quest for justice, was in fact a means of illustrating the necessity of seeking out the great Sophia. Loving Sophia meant seeking truth; finding truth meant finding justice; and knowing truth meant knowing what was best, both for oneself and for all. Thus one that knew, one that had stepped out of the allegorical cave and glimpsed the sun, could never be said to be the loser when placed against the man that did not know; justice could never result in harm for the man that practiced it.
It is a wonderfully optimistic book, Plato’s Republic, and I admit that these days I need such wonderful optimism. I am, as you know, yet to fully recover from the damaging blow struck by the more contemporary Russell in his Problems of Philosophy. Platocrates fills me with hope that my quest for Sophia would not be in vain. If finding her means finding justice and finding justice means finding you then maybe, just maybe, there is yet hope that I will return home, Father. I see Doubt shaking his head; I hear him saying very clearly that without verification Platocrates’ words are nothing but sweet, sweet arbitration, but I do not care. On this day I need such sweet arbitration; it has been quite the while since my thoughts and discoveries have brought a smile to my face.
With cautious optimism,
Your Prodigal Son