Plato: Socrates and the Conflict Between Knowledge and Opinion in the Polis
To answer the question, Socrates takes a long way around, sketching an account of a good city on the grounds that a good city would be just and that defining justice as a virtue of a city would help to define justice as a virtue of a human being. Socrates is finally close to answering the question after he characterizes justice as a personal virtue at the end of Book Four, but he is interrupted and challenged to defend some of the more controversial features of the good city he has sketched. In Books Five through Seven, he addresses this challenge, arguing (in effect) that the just city and the just human being as he has sketched them are in fact good and are in principle possible. After this long digression, Socrates in Books Eight and Nine finally delivers three “proofs” that it is always better to be just than unjust. Then, because Socrates wants not only to show that it is always better to be just but also to convince Glaucon and Adeimantus of this point, and because Socrates’ proofs are opposed by the teachings of poets, he bolsters his case in Book Ten by indicting the poets’ claims to represent the truth and by offering a new myth that is consonant with his proofs. As this overview makes clear, the center of Plato’s Republic is a contribution to ethics: a discussion of what the virtue justice is and why a person should be just. Yet because Socrates links his discussion of personal justice to an account of justice in the city and makes claims about how good and bad cities are arranged, the Republic sustains reflections on political questions, as well. Not that ethics and politics exhaust the concerns of the Republic. The account in Books Five through Seven of how a just city and a just person are in principle possible is an account of how knowledge can rule, which includes discussion of what knowledge and its objects are. Moreover, the indictment of the poets involves a wide-ranging discussion of art.
Moreover while active works are chiefly good for further things beyond themselves, leisured pursuits have their own proper excellence. For Socrates the intellectual quest for “wisdom and truth” is part and parcel of the effort at the perfection of the soul, for it is by knowledge of the Good that one becomes good (Werner Jaeger, 1962). This point is made more explicit in the Protagoras where Socrates argues that “…no one willingly goes after evil or what he thinks to be evil in preference to the good.” Just as evil is a consequence of and basically identical with ignorance, so is virtue logically identical with wisdom. The philosophical life which seeks the knowledge of the Good and the ethical life which acts according to the Good are the same for Socrates. This mean that for the philosophical life will also be one concerned with the central question of the political.
Over time, poleis—the plural of polis—became urban centers whose power and influence extended to the surrounding agricultural regions, which provided resources and paid taxes.
Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics. (Loeb Classical Library. Harvard University Press, 1999).
Werner Jaeger. Paideia : The Ideal of Greek Culture, Vol. I (Oxford University Press, 1962)