Monthly Archives: September 2011

‘Politeia’ Book II

The Platonic quotes listed below demonstrate how man is naturally too undisciplined, opportunist or lazy to really strive after goodness. Injustice concealed by just appearance is the one end of the scale, leading to worldly power; the other end is justice not willing to put up an appearance and seemingly unjust, a road leading to suffering and other people’s disapproval. Powerful people establish secret societies in order to cover up certain actions. The reason is, that people don’t really know if God or the gods exist, so why truly bother, and that there are powerful deities to defend them when they are due for judgment in the hereafter. Only wise, knowing people can attain goodness: true philosophers. They must lead society, in avoidance of conflict among each other, they must educate the young censoring frivolous lecture with lies about God. God? Or the gods? A clear distinction isn’t made. However, God cannot change, because He is perfect and could only change for the worse, which is impossible for God. These are the main quotes:

‘… but to my mind the nature of justice and injustice have not yet been made clear. Setting aside their rewards and results, I want to know what they are in themselves, and how they inwardly work in the soul. If you, please, then, I will revive the argument of Thrasymachus. And first I will speak of the nature and origin of justice according to the common view of them. Secondly, I will show that all men who practise justice do so against their will, of necessity, but not as a good. And thirdly, I will argue that there is reason in this view, for the life of the unjust is after all better far than the life of the just —if what they say is true, Socrates, since I myself am not of their opinion. But still I acknowledge that I am perplexed when I hear the voices of Thrasymachus and myriads of others dinning in my ears; and, on the other hand, I have never yet heard the superiority of justice to injustice maintained by any one in a satisfactory way. I want to hear justice praised in respect of itself’ (Politeia II)

‘And so when men have both done and suffered injustice and have had experience of both, not being able to avoid the one and obtain the other, they think that they had better agree among themselves to have neither; hence there arise laws and mutual covenants; and that which is ordained by law is termed by them lawful and just. This they affirm to be the origin and nature of justice; —it is a mean or compromise, between the best of all, which is to do injustice and not be punished, and the worst of all, which is to suffer injustice without the power of retaliation; and justice, being at a middle point between the two, is tolerated not as a good, but as the lesser evil, and honoured by reason of the inability of men to do injustice. For no man who is worthy to be called a man would ever submit to such an agreement if he were able to resist; he would be mad if he did. Such is the received account, Socrates, of the nature and origin of justice. … having given both to the just and the unjust power to do what they will, let us watch and see whither desire will lead them; then we shall discover in the very act the just and unjust man to be proceeding along the same road, following their interest, which all natures deem to be their good, and are only diverted into the path of justice by the force of law.’ (Politeia II)

‘Let the unjust man be entirely unjust, and the just man entirely just; nothing is to be taken away from either of them, and both are to be perfectly furnished for the work of their respective lives. First, let the unjust be like other distinguished masters of craft; like the skilful pilot or physician, who knows intuitively his own powers and keeps within their limits, and who, if he fails at any point, is able to recover himself. So let the unjust make his unjust attempts in the right way, and lie hidden if he means to be great in his injustice (he who is found out is nobody): for the highest reach of injustice is: to be deemed just when you are not. Therefore I say that in the perfectly unjust man we must assume the most perfect injustice; there is to be no deduction, but we must allow him, while doing the most unjust acts, to have acquired the greatest reputation for justice. … And at his side let us place the just man in his nobleness and simplicity, wishing, as Aeschylus says, to be and not to seem good. There must be no seeming, for if he seem to be just he will be honoured and rewarded, and then we shall not know whether he is just for the sake of justice or for the sake of honours and rewards; therefore, let him be clothed in justice only, and have no other covering; and he must be imagined in a state of life the opposite of the former. Let him be the best of men, and let him be thought the worst; then he will have been put to the proof; and we shall see whether he will be affected by the fear of infamy and its consequences. And let him continue thus to the hour of death; being just and seeming to be unjust. When both have reached the uttermost extreme, the one of justice and the other of injustice, let judgment be given which of them is the happier of the two. … They will tell you that the just man who is thought unjust will be scourged, racked, bound —will have his eyes burnt out; and, at last, after suffering every kind of evil, he will be impaled: Then he will understand that he ought to seem only, and not to be, just; the words of Aeschylus may be more truly spoken of the unjust than of the just. For the unjust is pursuing a reality; he does not live with a view to appearances —he wants to be really unjust and not to seem only: “His mind has a soil deep and fertile, / Out of which spring his prudent counsels”. … he is thought just, and therefore bears rule in the city; he can marry whom he will, and give in marriage to whom he will; also he can trade and deal where he likes, and always to his own advantage, because he has no misgivings about injustice and at every contest, whether in public or private, he gets the better of his antagonists, and gains at their expense, and is rich, and out of his gains he can benefit his friends, and harm his enemies; moreover, he can offer sacrifices, and dedicate gifts to the gods abundantly and magnificently, and can honour the gods or any man whom he wants to honour in a far better style than the just, and therefore he is likely to be dearer than they are to the gods. And thus, Socrates, gods and men are said to unite in making the life of the unjust better than the life of the just. … Parents and tutors are always telling their sons and their wards that they are to be just; but why? not for the sake of justice, but for the sake of character and reputation; in the hope of obtaining for him who is reputed just some of those offices, marriages, and the like which Glaucon has enumerated among the advantages accruing to the unjust from the reputation of justice. More, however, is made of appearances by this class of persons than by the others; for they throw in the good opinion of the gods, and will tell you of a shower of benefits which the heavens, as they say, rain upon the pious… (Politeia II)

‘Once more, Socrates, I will ask you to consider another way of speaking about justice and injustice, which is not confined to the poets, but is found in prose writers. The universal voice of mankind is always declaring that justice and virtue are honourable, but grievous and toilsome; and that the pleasures of vice and injustice are easy of attainment, and are only censured by law and opinion. They say also that honesty is for the most part less profitable than dishonesty; and they are quite ready to call wicked men happy, and to honour them both in public and private when they are rich or in any other way influential, while they despise and overlook those who may be weak and poor, even though acknowledging them to be better than the others. But most extraordinary of all is their mode of speaking about virtue and the gods: they say that the gods apportion calamity and misery to many good men, and good and happiness to the wicked. And mendicant prophets go to rich men’s doors and persuade them that they have a power committed to them by the gods of making an atonement for a man’s own or his ancestor’s sins by sacrifices or charms, with rejoicings and feasts; and they promise to harm an enemy, whether just or unjust, at a small cost; with magic arts and incantations binding heaven, as they say, to execute their will. And the poets are the authorities to whom they appeal…’ (Politeia II)

With a view to concealment we will establish secret brotherhoods and political clubs. And there are professors of rhetoric who teach the art of persuading courts and assemblies; and so, partly by persuasion and partly by force, I shall make unlawful gains and not be punished. Still I hear a voice saying that the gods cannot be deceived, neither can they be compelled. But what if there are no gods? or, suppose them to have no care of human things —why in either case should we mind about concealment? And even if there are gods, and they do care about us, yet we know of them only from tradition and the genealogies of the poets; and these are the very persons who say that they may be influenced and turned by ‘sacrifices and soothing entreaties and by offerings.’ Let us be consistent then, and believe both or neither. If the poets speak truly, why then we had better be unjust, and offer of the fruits of injustice; for if we are just, although we may escape the vengeance of heaven, we shall lose the gains of injustice; but, if we are unjust, we shall keep the gains, and by our sinning and praying, and praying and sinning, the gods will be propitiated, and we shall not be punished. ‘But there is a world below in which either we or our posterity will suffer for our unjust deeds.’ Yes, my friend, will be the reflection, but there are mysteries and atoning deities, and these have great power. That is what mighty cities declare; and the children of the gods, who were their poets and prophets, bear a like testimony. … And even if there should be some one who is able to disprove the truth of my words, and who is satisfied that justice is best, still he is not angry with the unjust, but is very ready to forgive them, because he also knows that men are not just of their own free will; unless, peradventure, there be some one whom the divinity within him may have inspired with a hatred of injustice, or who has attained knowledge of the truth — but no other man. He only blames injustice who, owing to cowardice or age or some weakness, has not the power of being unjust. And this is proved by the fact that when he obtains the power, he immediately becomes unjust as far as he can be.’ (Politeia II)

‘And is not the love of learning the love of wisdom, which is philosophy? They are the same, he replied. And may we not say confidently of man also, that he who is likely to be gentle to his friends and acquaintances, must by nature be a lover of wisdom and knowledge? That we may safely affirm. Then he who is to be a really good and noble guardian of the state will require to unite in himself philosophy and spirit and swiftness and strength? Undoubtedly. Then we have found the desired natures; and now that we have found them, how are they to be reared and educated? Is not this enquiry which may be expected to throw light on the greater enquiry which is our final end —How do justice and injustice grow up in states? … And when you speak of music, do you include literature or not? I do. And literature may be either true or false? Yes. … we begin by telling children stories which, though not wholly destitute of truth, are in the main fictitious; and these stories are told them when they are not of an age to learn gymnastics. Very true. That was my meaning when I said that we must teach music before gymnastics. … And shall we just carelessly allow children to hear any casual tales which may be devised by casual persons, and to receive into their minds ideas for the most part the very opposite of those which we should wish them to have when they are grown up? We cannot. Then the first thing will be to establish a censorship of the writers of fiction, and let the censors receive any tale of fiction which is good, and reject the bad; and we will desire mothers and nurses to tell their children the authorised ones only. A fault which is most serious, I said; the fault of telling a lie, and, what is more, a bad lie. But when is this fault committed? Whenever an erroneous representation is made of the nature of gods and heroes, —as when a painter paints a portrait not having the shadow of a likeness to the original.’ (Politeia II)

‘Then God, if he be good, is not the author of all things, as the many assert, but he is the cause of a few things only, and not of most things that occur to men. For few are the goods of human life, and many are the evils, and the good is to be attributed to God alone; of the evils the causes are to be sought elsewhere, and not in him. … If he change at all he can only change for the worse, for we cannot suppose him to be deficient either in virtue or beauty. Very true, Adeimantus; but then, would any one, whether God or man, desire to make himself worse? Impossible. … Then the superhuman and divine is absolutely incapable of falsehood? Yes. Then is God perfectly simple and true both in word and deed; he changes not; he deceives not, either by sign or word, by dream or waking vision. Your thoughts, he said, are the reflection of my own. You agree with me then, I said, that this is the second type or form in which we should write and speak about divine things. The gods are not magicians who transform themselves, neither do they deceive mankind in any way.’ (Politeia II)


Works by Plato, The Internet Archive
Plato’s Politeia
The Koran, translated with notes by N.J. Dawood, Penguin Books

We’ll see Qur’an follow this lead to a large extend, but then take a different route. We do not spiritual leaders and scholars, we must obey them, but within boundaries. Qur’an abandons the idea of philosophers naturally being the ones to guide a good society, as they may and will have the same defaults as other people. We need our own judgement on what to follow, not even philosophers can intermediate between us and God, with a few rare exeptions.

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Similarities between Plato’s Politeia and the Holy Qur’an

Firstly, generally, Plato can teach us Muslims too on the field of the human psychology and mind: mostly true and modern are his words and insights. For good reasons he still is one of the most taught and quoted philosophers of humanity. His texts may be helpful to understand Qur’an better, because they resemble several Qur’anic texts, or shed another, clarifying light on them. Now we enter specific texts that tell us the most striking similarities and differences between Qur’an and ‘Politeia’.

Book I

Book I explains us how justice and issues of interest between different roles in society work and how they correlate logically. The scientific aspect of these texts is not bringing us mere facts; it’s their exercise in logic and reason in general, they are supposed to teach us a thinking attitude.

‘But can the musician by his art make men unmusical? Certainly not. Or the horseman by his art make them bad horsemen? Impossible. And can the just by justice make men unjust, or speaking general can the good by virtue make them bad? Assuredly not. Any more than heat can produce cold? It cannot. Or drought moisture? Clearly not. Nor can the good harm any one? Impossible. And the just is the good? Certainly. Then to injure a friend or any one else is not the act of a just man, but of the opposite, who is the unjust? I think that what you say is quite true, Socrates. Then if a man says that justice consists in the repayment of debts, and that good is the debt which a man owes to his friends, and evil the debt which he owes to his enemies, —to say this is not wise; for it is not true, if, as has been clearly shown, the injuring of another can be in no case just.  … I believe that Periander or Perdiccas or Xerxes or Ismenias the Theban, or some other rich and mighty man, who had a great opinion of his own power, was the first to say that justice is ‘doing good to your friends and harm to your enemies.” (Politeia I)

‘Then medicine does not consider the interest of medicine, but the interest of the body? True, he said. Nor does the art of horsemanship consider the interests of the art of horsemanship, but the interests of the horse; neither do any other arts care for themselves, for they have no needs; they care only for that which is the subject of their art? True, he said. But surely, Thrasymachus, the arts are the superiors and rulers of their own subjects? To this he assented with a good deal of reluctance. Then, I said, no science or art considers or enjoins the interest of the stronger or superior, but only the interest of the subject and weaker? He made an attempt to contest this proposition also, but finally acquiesced. Then, I continued, no physician, in so far as he is a physician, considers his own good in what he prescribes, but the good of his patient; for the true physician is also a ruler having the human body as a subject, and is not a mere money – maker; that has been admitted? Yes.’ (Politeia I)

‘You would not be inclined to say, would you, that navigation is the art of medicine, at least if we are to adopt your exact use of language? Certainly not. Or because a man is in good health when he receives pay you would not say that the art of payment is medicine? I should say not. Nor would you say that medicine is the art of receiving pay because a man takes fees when he is engaged in healing? Certainly not. And we have admitted, I said, that the good of each art is specially confined to the art? Yes. Then, if there be any good which all artists have in common, that is to be attributed to something of which they all have the common use? True, he replied.’ (Politeia I)

‘Then now, Thrasymachus, there is no longer any doubt that neither arts nor governments provide for their own interests; but, as we were before saying, they rule and provide for the interests of their subjects who are the weaker and not the stronger —to their good they attend and not to the good of the superior. And this is the reason, my dear Thrasymachus, why, as I was just now saying, no one is willing to govern; because no one likes to take in hand the reformation of evils which are not his concern without remuneration. For, in the execution of his work, and in giving his orders to another, the true artist does not regard his own interest, but always that of his subjects; and therefore in order that rulers may be willing to rule, they must be paid in one of three modes of payment: money, or honour, or a penalty for refusing. … what the penalty is I do not understand, or how a penalty can be a payment. You mean that you do not understand the nature of this payment which to the best men is the great inducement to rule? Of course you know that ambition and avarice are held to be, as indeed they are, a disgrace? Very true.’ (Politeia I)

‘And about knowledge and ignorance in general; see whether you think that any man who has knowledge ever would wish to have the choice of saying or doing more than another man who has knowledge. Would he not rather say or do the same as his like in the same case? That, I suppose, can hardly be denied. And what of the ignorant? would he not desire to have more than either the knowing or the ignorant? I dare say. And the knowing is wise? Yes. And the wise is good? True. Then the wise and good will not desire to gain more than his like, but more than his unlike and opposite? I suppose so. Whereas the bad and ignorant will desire to gain more than both? Yes.’ (Politeia I)

‘I would rather ask the question more generally, and only enquire whether the things which fulfil their ends fulfil them by their own proper excellence, and fall of fulfilling them by their own defect? Certainly, he replied. I might say the same of the ears; when deprived of their own proper excellence they cannot fulfil their end? True. … And we have admitted that justice is the excellence of the soul, and injustice the defect of the soul? That has been admitted. Then the just soul and the just man will live well, and the unjust man will live ill? That is what your argument proves. And he who lives well is blessed and happy, and he who lives ill the reverse of happy? Certainly. Then the just is happy, and the unjust miserable? So be it.‘ (Politeia I)

Can we find similar texts in the Holy Qur’an? Qur’an ordains us to study visible nature for both practical means, but also to come nearer to it’s creator: God. Goodness, however, is more than knowledge and wisdom needed for building a just society; eventually it should lead to the realization that the harmonious system in everything can have one master only. Like in Politeia, we read that goodness is about servitude, serving someone or a cause objectively, without self-interest. Qur’an also sets boundaries to knowledge: we can never observe the one master, nor the master’s spirit, but he perceives us all the time. This is an issue of faith that believers may conclude through thinking, but they can only philosophically prove anything of it. If we forget the idea of a god as a person, rather see him as a force, or a common interest behind everything there is, we may rationalize a proof of God’s existence or presence. Since we can’t give an observed proof of a god, the issue has been one of the world’s oldest debates and will be, perhaps. Plato gives us more detailed philosophical instruments, but Qur’an gives us the very first basics from where we can start any study or research. The Qur’anic verses mentioned here are repeated at several other Suras.

‘Do not confound truth with falsehood, nor knowingly hide the truth. … Would you enjoin righteousness on others and forget it yourselves?’ Q:2:42,44

‘Say: ‘Let us have your proof, if what you say be true’ Q:2:111

‘He kindles the light of dawn. He has ordained the night for rest and the Sun and the Moon for reckoning. Such is the ordinance of Allah, the Mighty One, the All-Knowing. It is He that has created for you the stars, so that they may guide you in the darkness of land and sea. We have made plain Our revelations to men of wisdom.’ Q:6:96,97

‘They disbelieve what they cannot grasp, for events have not yet justified it. Those who passed before them acted in the same way. …’ Q:10:39

‘They say: ‘Allah has begotten a son.’ Allah forbid! Self-sufficient is He. His is all that the heavens and the earth contain. Surely for this you have no sanction. Would you say of Allah what you do not know? Say: ‘Those that invent falsehoods about Allah shall not triumph.‘ Q:10:68,69

‘As for those that have faith and do good works and humble themselves before their Lord, they are the heirs of Paradise and there they shall abide forever. Can the blind and the deaf be compared to those that can see and hear? Such are the unbelievers compared to the faithful. Will you not take heed?’ Q:11:23,24

‘He has given you horses, mules and donkeys, which you may ride or use as ornaments; and He has created other things beyond your knowledge. … It is He who sends down water from the sky, which provides drink for you and brings forth the crops on which your cattle feed. And thereby He brings up corn and olives, dates and grapes and other fruit. Surely in this there is a sign for thinking men. He has forced the night and the day, and the sun and the moon, into your service: the stars also serve you by His leave. Surely in this there are signs for men of understanding. … Is He, then, who has wrought the creation, like him who has created noting? Will you take no heed’ Q:16:8,10,11,17

‘He (Allah) also makes this comparison. Take a dumb and helpless man, a burden on his master: wherever he sends him he returns with empty hands. Is he equal with one who enjoins justice and follows the right path?’ Q:16:76

‘When We change one verse for another (Allah knows best what He reveals) they say: ‘You are an imposter.’ Indeed most of them are ignorant men.’ Q:16:101

‘We made the night and the day twin marvels. We enshrouded the night with darkness and gave light to the day, so that you might seek the bounty of your Lord and learn to compute the seasons and the years. We have made made all things manifestly plain to you.‘ Q:17:12

‘Say: ‘It is for you to believe in it or to deny it. Those to whom knowledge was given before its revelation prostrate themselves when it is recited to them and say: ‘Glorious is our Lord. His promise has been fulfilled.” Q:17:107

‘Some profess to serve Allah and yet stand on the very fringe of true faith. When blessed with good fortune they are content, but when an ordeal befalls them they turn upon their heels, forfeiting this life and the hereafter. That way perdition lies.’ Q:22:11

‘Those who surrender themselves to Allah and accept the true faith; who re devout, sincere, patient, humble, charitable, and chaste; who fast and are ever mindful of Allah – on these, both men and women, Allah will bestow forgiveness and a rich reward.’ Q:33:35

‘We have given mankind in this Koran all manner of arguments, so that they may take heed. … Consider this comparison. There are two men: the one has many masters who are ever at odds among themselves; the other has one master, to whom he is devoted. Are these two to be held alike? Allah forbid! But most of them have no knowledge.’ Q:39:27,29

‘I created mankind and the jinn (spirits) in order that they might worship Me. I demand no livelihood of them, nor do I ask that they should feed Me. Allah alone is the Munificent Giver, the Mighty One, the Invincible. Those that now do wrong shall meet their predecessors’ doom. Let them not challenge Me to hurry it on.’ Q:51:57-59

‘Say: ‘Allah is One, the Eternal God. He begot none, nor was He begotten. None is equal to Him’. Q:112:1-4


Works by Plato, The Internet Archive
Plato’s Politeia
The Koran, translated with notes by N.J. Dawood, Penguin Books

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