The Myth of the Cave explained

In essence, the myth tells us Socrates’ view of the city and its people.

First of all, the people of the city (humans in general) are shackled in intellectual darkness (Republic, 514). This is understood as meaning that we confuse our material existence, the material world with which we interact, and the way by which we interact with it, as being real and true, when in fact it is best understood as a shadow of what is actually real and true, namely the world of the forms and ultimately the Good itself (515c). Secondly, the vast majority of humans are unconcerned about the falseness of their existence and find anyone suggesting otherwise as ridiculous to the point of perhaps trying to kill them (517a). Third, as a consequence, the vast majority of people in the city do not recognize the Good, and thus do not truly recognize the things derived from the good (e.g., justice).

However, the fact that there are individuals within the City (true philosophers) who try to inform the people regarding the reality of the Good etc., means that there is the possibility of movement between the life of intellectual bondage in darkness and intellectual knowledge in the light. So, fourth, it is necessary for those who are rulers to recognize both the basic deceit which shrouds the majority of the citizens and the need for those who know the reality of the Good to provide leadership and instill justice (etc) in the city by way of its laws and the ordering things in a harmonious way (520). Fifth, this further requires a deliberate approach to education by the founders so that those who are liberated from the cave are further examined to determine their suitability for leadership and instill a sense of obligation to return to the realm of the cave for the good of the city (532ff). Sixth, those who return must be fully aware that the majority of the people in the city are unconcerned about the true reality of the Good, and so they are allowed to continue in deceit (and are in fact further deceived) in order to instill (or perhaps coerce and deceive) and sustain (or perhaps enforce) harmoniousness in the city for all people (519e). Finally, the philosopher-kings, mere philosophers, mere rulers, and founders are to order the procreation of the citizens and their education in such a way to ensure that there will be future philosopher-kings able to lead for a time for the benefit of the city before being relieved to withdraw from sensory and material concerns and to return to pure contemplation of the Good (519c, 540b).

The morality of submitting to unjust laws

Question: In relation to Socrates and his trial, is the act of submitting to an unjust law and/or punishment itself an unjust or just act?

In terms of Socrates’ relation to Athens and his situation before the Council, I believe that this act of submission is a just act for the following reasons:

1) Socrates willingly submits to the laws of Athens, knowing that they are not an expression of the ideal laws of the ideal city. Throughout his adult life, he has been a free citizen of Athens and could have left at any time with all his possessions. This free association is key. As he states in the Crito it is not right to respond in an unjust way to unjust laws. The act of submission is a recognition that the laws one has consented to live beneath have force regardless of whether or not they are totally just because the health of the city depends upon the enforcement of laws.
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Social Contract and Divine Law

Question: In terms of Crito and Apology in a society formed by social contract, is it possible to oppose any given law as unjust without appeal to divine law?

1) In Crito Socrates draws a link between an obvious understanding of what is best for physical training (natural training) and what is best for training in the virtues (intellectual or spiritual training). This leads me to think that if one is willing and able to consider the matters humbly and honestly, the way forward towards increased justice will be as self-evident as the way forward in physical training. Both will enable one to live a good life, though the life of the soul is of far more importance than the life of the body.

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Sophistry, propaganda, and the drowning out of Truth and Reality

“It is entirely possible that the true and authentic reality is being drowned out by the countless superficial information bits noisily and breathlessly presented in propaganda fashion. Consequently, one may be entirely knowledgeable about a thousand details and nevertheless, because of ignorance regarding the core of the matter, remain without basic insight. This is a phenomenon in itself already quite astonishing and disturbing. Arnold Gehlen labeled it “a fundament ignorance, created by technology and nourished by information”. But, I wanted to say, something for more discouraging is readily conceivable as well: the place of authentic reality is taken over by a fictitious reality; my perception is indeed still directed toward an object, but now it is a pseudoreality, deceptively appearing as being real, so much so that it becomes almost impossible any more to discern the truth.”

Pieper, Josef. Abuse of Language, Abuse of Power. San Francisco, CA: Ignatius, 1992. 33-34. Print.

John Locke

“John Locke (1632-1704) follows Machiavelli by moderating the political philosophy of Hobbes. Power controlled by consent is also the central theme of the Second Treatise on Government; but the issue goes beyond just self-preservation as with Hobbes to comfortable self-preservation; not just staying alive but being well off. This shift in emphasis from mere life to the accumulation of property shows up in his version of the state of nature in which labor as giving the right to property and money as making unlimited accumulation of property possible are featured much more centrally. Continue reading “John Locke”

Justice: The Most Terrible of the Virtues

by James Schall
Published in the Journal of Markets and Morality (vol 7, number 2, fall 2004).

The place of justice among the virtues, both moral and theological, has always been a delicate issue. Machiavellians tend to underestimate or deny its central significance. Contemporary religious rhetoric often tends to exaggerate it. Classi-cal philosophy was ever aware of the ambiguity of justice—its impersonality and rigidity. Unless placed within a higher order of “good,” as Plato saw, or of “charity,” as Aquinas understood, justice introduces an unsettling utopianism into any existing polity.

“Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness andpeace have kissed each other. Truth shall spring out of theearth; and righteousness shall look down from heaven.”

—Psalm 85:10–11

“Summum jus, summa injustitia.”

—Cicero, De officiis

“Deus misericorditer agit, non quidem contra justitiamsuam faciendo, sed aliquid supra justitiam operando.…”

—Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, I, 21, 3, ad 2

In ethical and political affairs, no more frequent or more agonizing word is found than that of justice or its related words fair, equitable, right, or rights. In its own way, of course, justice is also a noble word standing at the height of the practical, not theoretical or theological, virtues. It is also one of the attributes applied to the divinity—God is just. Justice, following Plato, can have a very broad scope. It means that everything is voluntarily doing what it ought to do so that the whole may do what it is ordered (that is, designed) to do. Such is the fifth definition of justice in the fourth book of Plato’s Republic. The standard subtitle of this famous dialogue is precisely “On Justice.”

Justice is classically treated in the fifth book of Aristotle’s Ethics, wherein he distinguishes between legal or general justice and special justice. In earlier books, he offered an overall description or analysis of virtue and responsibility, together with the vices opposite to each of the virtues.1 Aristotle explained how virtues applied to human action and passion in which they exist as habitual guides or moderators. Justice is a virtue, which, unlike courage or temperance, does not look inward. Rather, it looks ad alium, to how we stand to another or others besides ourselves when we chance to come into various relationships with them. It implies that our perfection is not something totally dependent on or related to ourselves alone. If we speak of “justice to ourselves,” we mean that we compare or relate what we ought to be with what we in fact are and do. Continue reading “Justice: The Most Terrible of the Virtues”

Thomas Hobbes

“Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) followed Machiavelli’s teachings in the area of political science by radicalizing them, finding a basis which “passion not distrusting may not seek to displace;” and using a version of geometric reasoning: proceeding step by step from a premise to a necessary conclusion. In the wake of long and bloody wars of religion, he was determined to get beyond the “seemings,” “vain imaginings,” and “fancies” of revealed religions in order to work out how civil society could establish and maintain a peaceful state. For Hobbes there is no highest good; people only desire “power after power that ceaseth only in death.” Continue reading “Thomas Hobbes”

Max Weber — “Specialists without spirit”

If you wish to purchase this seminal work, please follow this link.

“The Puritan wanted to work in a calling; we are forced to do so. For when asceticism was carried out of monastic cells into evervday life, and began to dominate worldly morality, it did its part in building the tremendous cosmos of the modern economic order. This order is now bound to the technical and economic conditions of machine production which to-day determine the lives of all the individuals who are born into this mechanism, not only those directly concerned with economic acquisition, with irresistible force. Perhaps it will so determine them until the last ton of fossilized coal is burnt. In Baxter’s view tile care for external goods should only lie on the shoulders of the “saint like a light cloak, which can be thrown aside at any moment”. But fate decreed that the cloak should become an iron cage.

Since asceticism undertook to remodel the world and to work out its ideals in the world, material goods have gained an increasing and finally an inexorable power over the lives of men as at no previous period in history. To-day the spirit of religious asceticism-whether finally, who knows?-has escaped from the cage. But victorious capitalism, since it rests on mechanical foundations, needs its support no longer. The rosy blush of its laughing heir, the Enlightenment, seems also to be irretrievably fading, and the idea of duty in one’s calling prowls about in our lives like the ghost of dead religious beliefs. Where the fulfilment of the calling cannot directly be related to the highest spiritual and cultural values, or when, on the other hand, it need not be felt simply as economic compulsion, the individual generally abandons the attempt to justify it at all. In the field of its highest development, in the United States, the pursuit of wealth, stripped of its religious and ethical meaning, tends to become associated with purely mundane passions, which often actually give it the character of sport.

No one knows who will live in this cage in the future, or whether at the end of this tremendous development, entirely new prophets will arise, or there will be a great rebirth of old ideas and ideals, or, if neither, mechanized petrification, embellished with a sort of convulsive self-importance. For of the fast stage of this cultural development, it might well be truly said:’ “Specialists without spirit, sensualists without heart; this nullity imagines that it has attained a level of civilization never before achieved” (The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, p123-124).

Fukuyama on Identity and Migration


Francis Fukuyama is professor of international political economy at Johns Hopkins School of International Studies. This piece is adapted from an article first published in Journal of Democracy 17:2 (2006) © National Endowment for Democracy and the Johns Hopkins University Press.

Modern identity politics springs from a hole in the political theory underlying liberal democracy. That hole is liberalism’s silence about the place and significance of groups. The line of modern political theory that begins with Machiavelli and continues through Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau and the American founding fathers understands the issue of political freedom as one that pits the state against individuals rather than groups. Hobbes and Locke, for example, argue that human beings possess natural rights as individuals in the state of nature—rights that can only be secured through a social contract that prevents one individual’s pursuit of self-interest from harming others.
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