Republic Outline XV, Book III
Prof. Bill Long 9/14/05
Physical Training, Rulers, Lies and Common Living
Once you understand that what S is trying to do from the middle of Book II to the end of Book III is to describe the musical/poetic and physical training for the guardians, you can then focus on Plato's specific proposals for these various kinds of education. The point should not be lost, however, that Plato is committed to an inner or interior view of justice in all of this. I think this important because we, in American law, tend to look at justice as something external--the decision of a court, the nature of a statute, the procedure of a hearing, etc. Plato will ultimately argue that justice out there is a product of justice in here (Prof. Long said, pointing to his chest), and that if you develop the proper rhythm and harmonies (very Platonic terms) within, you really know how to act justly in your relationships to others and your life in the world. Thus, in many ways, it is unimportant to Plato at this stage of his career (he is about 40 when writing the Republic) what the content of laws is--what is most important is the shaping of people who will be in charge of his beautiful city.
For the rest of Book III (beginning at 405a, though the section on physical training begins on 403c), Plato addresses the four topics listed in bold above. Two things immediately strike me as we continue to study the section on physical training. First, it is quite disjointed. It is not an easily-flowing narrative, but Plato leaps from point to point, sometimes even obscurely. Second, several of the points seem quite irrelevant or only make sense in an ancient Greek context, such as the description about Asclepius' sons in 405e. There are are, however, two themes that seem to characterize the remaining section on physical training (405a - 412b. They are: (1) societal impatience with persistent physical weakness (405a-410b); and (2) the importance of a developing the "balanced" life (410b-412b). Let's treat each briefly, though I will only get to the second one in the next essay.
Physical Weakness in the Beautiful City
Plato's point beginning in 405a is that the excessive need for judges to solve disputes and doctors to heal us is improper in his city. "And doesn't it seem shameful to you to need medical help, not for wounds or because of some season illness, but because, through idleness and the life-style we've described, one is full of gas and phlegm like a stagnant swamp, so that sophisticated Asclepiad doctors are forced to come up with names like 'flatulence' and 'catarrh' to describe one's diseases?" (405d). Indeed, it is shameful to need this kind of medical care. That informs his discussion in the next several pages. A carpenter does his work, and when he is ill he "expects to receive an emetic or a purge from his doctor or to get rid of his disease through surgery or cautery" (406d). Yet, we expect him to return to work and not, so to speak, to live his whole life with head bandaged or foot in a cast. But even in the case of a rich person, who has no craft s/he needs to perform in order to live, we cannot allow a permanent life of sickness.
Plato argues this from the perspecitve of the mind. If you are caring for your body constantly, you can't care for your mind. Not only does it hinder the management of a household or sedentary public service, but "it makes any kind of learning, thought, or private meditation difficult, for its always imagining some headaches or dizziness and accusing philosophy of causing them" (407c). Thus, Asclepius, the great physician, developed medicine basically for people with healthy bodies. "But for those whose bodies were riddled with disease, he didn't attempt to prescribe a regimen, drawing off a little here and pouring in a little there..." (407d). Asclepius didn't want to make peoples' lives a "prolonged misery" which would result in their producing offspring "in all probability like themselves" (407e). Indeed, the entire Greek tradition, if you go back to the stories of the Trojan War agrees that "they didn't consider the lives of those who were by nature sick and licentious to be profitable either to themselves to to anyone else" (408b).
Doctors and Judges in the Kallipolis
This doesn't mean that the kallipolis should dispense with doctors. Far from it. But Plato has some interesting things to say about doctors (and judges, while he is at it) in 408d ff. He feels that the "cleverest" doctors are those who have had contact with "the greatest number of very sick bodies from childhood on, have themselves experienced every illness, and aren't very healthy by nature" (408e--is this kind of a contradiction with what he says previously about not having permanently unhealthy people in the kallipolis? I suppose not, because Plato then goes on to distinguish between the body of such a physician and those who have "bad" bodies). Why? Because physicans treat bodies not with their bodies but with their souls (408e), a wonderfully modern insight that I think is something that modern medicine is only beginning to grow into.* And then he asks himself about what constitutes a
[*Herein lies, I think, some of the "greatness" of Plato's Republic. He goes on for page after page of things that are seemingly irrelevant, abhorrent or merely of historical interest, but then he zings you with a comment that is worth the price of the book itself.]
good judge. The judge rules other souls with his soul, and, in Plato's understanding, it isn't possible for a person who has been nurtured among vicious souls from childhood, and indulged in every kind of injustice properly to judge other people's injustices (409a). That is, he distinguishes between a good doctor and a good judge. The latter needs to "remain pure and have no experience of bad character while it's young" (409a). Or, in other words a good judge is one who has "learned late in life what injustice is" (409b). Why? Because if you are too acquainted with injustice early in life, you may become comfortable with it so that it becomes "at home" in your soul 409c). I don't know if I agree with Plato's distinction between doctors and judges in this connection--but it fits neatly into his theory of education--young people must only be exposed to good and pure stories and poetry while growing up.
This section on physical training/weakness concludes with one of Plato's more jarring conclusions in 410a: that those who are unnaturally heathy will be left to die of their own accord while those whose souls are incurably evil will be put to death. Plato--always one to probe our own thoughts and prejudices. What do you think?
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long