Plato on knowledge and morality

Morality to Plato meant in the first place eternal and metaphysical values as infinite and finite, good and evil, as opposed to and more important than temporary practical everyday knowledge on craftsmanship, arts, medicine, trade and other tangible activities of people. There was a ranking between eternal philosophy and everyday practical skills. Infinite versus finite, ignorant versus educated, (the higher) love for the mind versus (the more vulgar) love for the body, just-unjust, black-white, sheep-wolf, but everything is also composed of complementing pairs. Fishing consists of net fishing or angling and hunting of hunt for land- or water animals. From Protagoras: ‘If, therefore, you have understanding of what is good and evil, you may safely buy knowledge of Protagoras or of any one; but if not, then, O my friend, pause, and do not hazard your dearest interests at a game of chance. For there is far greater peril in buying knowledge than in buying meat and drink: the one you purchase of the wholesale or retail dealer, and carry them away in other vessels, and before you receive them into the body as food, you may deposit them at home and call in any experienced friend who knows what is good to be eaten or drunken, and what not, and how much, and when; and then the danger of purchasing them is not so great. But you cannot buy the wares of knowledge and carry them away in another vessel; when you have paid for them you must receive them into the soul and go your way, either greatly harmed or greatly benefited; and therefore we should deliberate and take counsel with our elders; for we are still young-too young to determine such a matter.’ Sophistry was a hazardous trade in Plato’s days, it had no good name and involved political risk. Protagoras was secretive about his trade. We may wonder how different that is today, with it’s many secretive gatherings of sophists, freemasons and others.

Perhaps Plato’s most important work is Politeia, a work on governance and politics and is a record of Socrates’ discussions on the subject. What should a perfectly administered society look like? It is a society striving towards universal goodness the way God the Creator, in Socrates’, Plato’s words the ultimate Goodness, wants it. Goodness can only be achieved through knowledge of the principles behind everything that grows and exists. Principles that can be found through reason and uncompromising honesty rather than experience. Only philosophers who really deserve that name and have received an intensive education are capable to lead a society that is based on true goodness. Craftsmen, the military, artists, and other workers usually have skills needed in everyday life and miss the overview. They can’t look beyond practicality and therefor miss what’s needed to rule society towards justice and goodness.

In Politeia book I Socrates says that justice is giving each person what you owe them. We owe it our body to feed it properly, doctors owe it people to cure their bodies or mind. Helping others properly is justice. Just leadership can only flourish on a voluntary basis; only then the most virtuous people will step forward for it.

From Politeia book II & III: ‘People are not just from their own free will, but only if they have no other option. Justice is, after all, not seen as something good by itself, for if a person thinks to have the opportunity to deal unjustly, he will not leave it. Every person is inclined to think that false play is much more advantageous to himself than fair play. Proof: if a man possesses a ring that can make him invincible, he will gladly use it occasionally, for intstance if he wants intercourse with the neighbors’ wives, kill who he wants to, steal from the market what he likes or break out of prison. He could live among people like a god. Plato then narrates of a man who found two dissapearance-rings: a just and an unjust ring. The owner of the just ring would by no means show more discipline than the owner of the unjust copy and both would act the same way.’ The reason for this is that justice lies in the intention behind actions, according to Plato, and not behavior. Unjust people tend to embellish their behavior with socially approved actions and just people leave this because of their need for honesty. Therefor both the just and the unjust man usually refrain from stealing from the market stall.

Goodness is always benevolent and leads to well-being. God is goodness itself and causes good things that befall man. Evil lies not in Him, but in other things. Poets like Homer make foolish mistakes when they say that the gods divide good and evil among people’. We don’t know what God looks like and how He may change appearance if at all. God is not the cause of all things, only of good things and goodness. He is simpel, doesn’t lie or bewitch people and is no cause of disaster. Evil doesn’t come from God, but elsewhere. Poets and other artists should legally be forced to make truthful works that stimulate virtue and goodness.The relation between this one Deity and the traditional polytheistic pantheon is a difficult and unknown one, which man will never find out. A spoken lie (or truth) is only an expression of a real lie (or truth) and therefor not the real lie (or truth) itself, according Plato. Plato strongly believes that education and the example from others shape young people into good or evil character and that human nature has two sides, a strong fiery side where passion and physical wants reside and a curious intellectual side where the mind reigns. On the other hand, each man has a character of his own and the ranking of society should be based on the moral height of personalities. Those with leadership qualities form the golden class that should run the country, those fit for guardianship make the silver class, the military, and those who are good at gathering property and food are the copper and iron classes, respectively business- and craftsmen and farmers. The military must stay deprived of property and land, as that would turn them into farmers and business men. Both the arts, especially music, and athletics are important elements of education; young people learn to balance their fierce physical traits with their gentle spirit and builds them into ambitious yet orderly and mild people. Self restraint, honesty and positive role models are important; authors and poets in the past have unjustly portrayed the gods with human misbehavior and passions. Most musical instruments, however, may divulge people from this path of self restraint, intellect and strength. A weak society, says Plato, shows an over-abundant presence of medical and judicial professionals. However, judges and doctors are vital to society and their upbringing needs extra care. A future judge must dwell among decent high standard people and a doctor must have seen the face of illness. Having been ill himself is a pre, considering that cure comes from the mind and not from the body or purely physical treatments, according to Plato. Overcoming of suffering builds strength and especially a doctor needs it. A weak society, however, has no need for weak sickly or morally deprived people and such people needn’t be spared.

Politieia IV: The four most important virtues according to Socrates are wisdom, courage, moderation and above all justice. Socrates had a strong belief in community-oriented society where each class played its role, the three main classes being salesmen, craftsmen and peasants, then the military and, last but not least, the philosophers as society’s leaders. The individual plays his or her harmonious role in a society that has moderate difference between extremes like very rich and very poor. A society also characterized by a strong moderation in legislation, rules and regulation, as an overflow of those leads to a neglect of core tasks in society. Sanctioning of corruption and injustice is also possible without a series of laws, as long as wisdom, sincereness and evidence exist. Elaborate presence of legislation and medical workers, however, also indicate a flight behind rules and problem solving after a problem has arisen, whereas society’s focus should lay on avoiding problems and disease by morality and healthy living. A healthy society should therefore possess only a small legislation and few doctors. Plato uses the octave of eight law, medium and high sounds as a metaphor for the balance a good society should have between ‘the high youthful voice of justice’ and ‘the law and mature voice of moderation’. Eight also forms the basis of each three-dimensional space, namely two times four and two times two and again two times. Orpheus worshipped divine justice by its eight forces: fire, water, earth, heaven, moon, sun, day and night, resembling an ancient Egyptian obelisk erected in honor of justice and displaying eight deities: Evander, Saturn, Ra, Osiris, Spirit, Heaven and Night-and-Day. In early Antiquity the eigth sphere was assumed to represent divine justice.

Politeia V: Men and women receive diffferent education, men are expected to be guardians of mankind, yet we see that men and women can be equally suited for any profession or task, though men usually are stronger. Yet, both genders are seperated in education. Socrates suggested that men and women should ‘share’ the same education, jobs and also together raise their children equally therefore, though this may entail problems. After all, in practice a female watchdog has to protect her masters, like a male. This entails that men and women should not confine themselves to one and the same partner. If public life can be shared, then private life will inevitably be shared too, in a communal housing setting, an opinion considered unusual in mainstream Greece. However, the best men and women should get together for procreation and leaders should have a big say in the selection. Living with close relatives in the straight line must be prohibited and efforts to procreate outside the acceptable age ranges too. A man must then consider all children born between seven to ten months after intercourse as his. Joy and pain must be shared in the community likewise, because it fortifies ties. Greeks shouldn’t enslave each other, not even in periods of civil war. It must be prescribed not to destroy land or homes of other Greeks. Women must be part of the armed forces, which is even more justified. The fact that it may not be possible to realize this perfect society, doesn’t make this model any less perfect or desirable. Further Socrates explains the difference between appreciation of beauty itself in its core and of pretty things and objects. Beauty itself is seen as dialectic opposite of beautiful stuff. Knowledge of truth is in this same fashion opposite of opinion. We can consider non-being equal to ignorance and being with knowledge when we applied to the validity of an opinion: it’s not possible to hold an opinion on nothing. We may place opinions somewhere in the middle of knowledge and ignorance. Is anything in the middle between being and non-being? There may be qualities between being and non-being: someone who denies the existence of the one unchangeable concept ‘beauty’ may very well appreciate beautiful objects and just actions can appear unjust. Some people can see beautiful things, have many opinions, yet not grasp the essence of beauty or truth. Others do see the essence of beauty and may become artists, or gain true knowledge and thus wisdom.

Politeia VI: Goodness ranks higher than truth, wisdom, morality and pleasure; pleasure stands at the lowest rank of these principles. Legislation is not as important as the leader’s character, but good governance is extremely rare, if not non-existent.  It consists of both philosophical qualities as wisdom and truthfulness and practical qualities as initiative and care for a community’s welfare. Necessary qualities for a philosopher are truthfulness and good memory, qualities supported by sense for beauty, inner balance and kindness. Philosophers however miss leadership qualities and social skills needed to govern a society. A kaptain doesn’t ask his men at the middle of sea if he may lead them and a teacher doesn’t study his pupils in order to adjust to them. The pupils are like a monster that has to be taught good from bad, high from low, just from unjust and therefor a teacher can’t obey them by teaching them the things they like in spite of their absolute qualities. Not many people have the strength and determination to teach absolute truth and beauty instead of small truths and pretty things in favor of the masses. The sophist claim that absolute truth doesn’t exist or doesn’t matter has been harmful and has also led to opportunism. The few people who combine the truthloving nature, good breeding and leadership qualities, and gain a high position, will soon be corrupted by the flattering and lack of honesty by the mainstream of society. Their own vanity and opportunism will develop, they will be dissapointed with the lack of result gained by true philosophy. Those who lack the talent for true philosophy then step into their place and ruin it. And people rush into philosophy, as it has kept its high appreciation, even when there’s a lack of persisting talented philosophers. There’s no other possibility than that philosophy and perfection in a society derive from God, everything else, being less perfect, is human. Another problem is that philosophy is now taught at too late an age, the age when young men start a carreer and a family and have no time anymore to ponder and discuss absolute truth. Young children should receive philosophy lessons in a fashion suited for their age. Devine grace   only makes philosophers love absolute truth AND makes them suitable leaders for mankind, fulfilling public service. Mankind should be guided by philosophers, if it ever wants to achieve some truth. Knowledge of truth is vital, yet even more vital is goodness. Yet nothing is more difficult to define than goodness. Knowledge and truth are apparitions of goodness, yet they aren’t goodness itself. Socrates mentions geonometrics, algebra, arithmetrics and such disciplines as examples of knowledge we already possess. They are the axioms, hypotheses from which we start to continue the search for what’s behind: ultimate absolute truth and then goodness. Fysical objects are a reflexion of knowledgeable axioms. Because of its obvious clarity, we owe the visible world our full respect. The visible world holds another aspect when supposed hypotheses that aren’t axioms but reasonings. Suppositions of which we can’t visibly, empirically, but through reason prove truth. Visual observation isn’t the method, understanding and thinking lead to knowledge of essentials. Knowledge has four levels: the highest is absolute truth, then comes understanding, then faith and imagination comes last. The mind gains clarity the more it reaches truth. (to be continued)

Sources:
Works by Plato, The Internet Archive http://classics.mit.edu/Browse/browse-Plato.html
Wikipedia.org
Philebus http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/philebus.html
Plato’s Politeia

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2 Comments

Filed under Known scientific research & development during the rise of Islam

2 responses to “Plato on knowledge and morality

  1. More explicitly, Plato himself argues in the Timaeus that knowledge is always proportionate to the realm from which it is gained. Fishing Wholesale

  2. In the Meno , Socrates uses a geometrical example to expound Plato’s view that knowledge in this latter sense is acquired by recollection. Sun Care Wholesale

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