Optional Exercises for Hauptli’s Midcoast Senior College Students


Plato’s Aristocratic and Authoritarian Republic vs. Dewey’s “Pragmatic Democracy


Consider any or all of these in light of your reading of Plato’s Republic:


1. Archeologists recently working on a site just outside Athens found a treasure trove of papers that many believe were exam questions authored by Plato for use in his famous Academy.  Here, translated into contemporary English is one.  Consider how you might address it:


you are a middle-aged guardian training to become a ruler [philosopher king] in a city-state organized along the lines specified in my Republic (which you have recently finished reading carefully).  This is one of the many tests you have become used to over the years, and you approach it with the seriousness which arises from knowing that the wrong answer could mean that you will find yourself selected for another job should your answer not show the qualities which are required of a future ruler.  You are to write an essay (of the usual length, it may be a dialogue, or in other format of your choosing) which demonstrates you understand the relevant themes of my theory as you address the following questions: (a) “Would you be willing to lie to the non-ruling citizens of your state, and if so, under what sorts of circumstances?” and (b) “If so, would your justification for doing so be that “the end justifies the means”?” 


2. There seems to be a fundamental contradiction in Plato’s Republic.  At times he maintains that his description of the human soul is perfectly general—that his discussion applies to everyone.  Thus he maintains “...the power to learn is present in everyone’s soul” (518c).  At other times he distinguishes between individuals in terms of their natures.  Thus he discusses “the inferior many” who are controlled by their appetites (431b) and, in general, his discussion of the ideal state is clearly founded upon a differentiation of our species into several distinct groups each having its own “nature” and “task.”  It does not seem possible to have it both ways however: if everyone is in fact capable of wisdom, it seems clear that there really should be only one class in the ideal state; while if there are to be distinct classes (some of which are incapable of wisdom), all souls are not alike in regard to their access to the truth.  Either Plato has a major problem here, or the criticism I have just raised has a flaw.  Consider how you might address this. 


3. If Plato’s rulers and auxiliaries are to be plausible rulers, it seems that there will be times when they will have to harm people (enemies of the state from without or from within).  Yet his rulers are supposed to be concerned with maximizing human excellence—with justice and with never committing an unjust act.  Effective states, and hence their rulers, will need to enforce the laws of the state, and this will mean punishing offenders.  It seems as if they cannot rule without sacrificing the very characteristic that is supposed to make the state just!  Consider how you might address this.   

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File revised on 04/03/17