Friday, December 7, 2012

Blog #54 - Plato's Ideal State - Would it work today?

We've spent a little more time on Plato's ideal society this semester than I have in past semesters; maybe b/c this time around the world seems to be crumbling around us with roiling stock markets and the Big 3 impending collapse. Where better to look than the past when the future looks so bleak, right? Well, maybe we can learn something.

Several criticisms were brought up of this ideal society:

1. Where would the innovation come from if everyone be content? Doesn't innovation come from competition and competition come from peoples' desire to be better?

2. Why do they need soldiers if everyone is content? Is it just for protection from other city-states? Or, did Plato ever intend for this city to exist? If that is the case, why are the soldiers really there?

3. What kind of guarantee is there that the philosophers will rule in everyone's best interests? Is there an impeachment process? Can the peasants overthrow the rulers?

4. In the interests of specialization, what if you get bored with your job? What if you don't want that job? What if that job that you do best is NOT something you love doing? To use an example from 4th hour, I might do math really well, but that doesn't mean I want to be an accountant.

5. Is there no social mobility? What if we don't like the class that we're born into?

This link gives a good, brief synopsis of the first four books of the Republic in which this society is described. I have countered many of these arguments in a devil's advocate style by appealing to one of Socrates' universal questions - courage, justice, virtue, wisdom, moderation, beauty.

The question before you is: Can Plato's society be fixed to make it more ideal to fit a 21st century American audience? Why or why not?

Things to ponder while answering this question: Is Plato's society so incompatible with American ideals and tastes and traditions that it cannot be fixed?  Can Plato's society work for people of another country? What would you have to fix in order for it to work in America? Could it work on a national or state level or could it only work on a small scale? If it only works on a small scale, what's the use?
 - Also, are Americans too individualistic to give up some of our freedoms or luxuries for the greater good of society.  This will be a topic - the greater good vs. the desires of the individual - as we go on through the semester.  

250 word minimum response.  Due Thursday, Dec. 13 by class time.

Also, new philosophy books in our school media center:




  1. Louis Robinson. !st HourDecember 12, 2012 at 4:48 PM

    I don’t think that Plato’s ideal society would bode well with 21st century Americans. In today’s society everyone is power hungry and works hard to get that power. If you take away property from the elite less people will be motivated to reach that elite status. Thus, making the philosophers not as intelligent because not as many people would want to be philosophers. People want to reach the top tier so they have a lot of power, money, and property. If you take property away then their money isn’t that helpful so many people will be less motivated to get to the top. We are a materialistic society, so by the elite not being able to have property no one will want to be in the elite.
    Also people in today’s society love having choices and options. In Plato’s ideal society people will be forced to do what they are best at, regardless whether they want to or not. People today would hate that. People are usually more effective doing things they love to do. When they are forced to do something they are less passionate about it they end up not doing a good job. So people would be more efficient if they were allowed to choose their career path.
    I don’t think that Plato’s ideal society would be effective anywhere really because people hate losing rights. Maybe it would work somewhere where the people wouldn’t have to give up anything, but I think his philosophy has many flaws. Plato’s ideal society is far from ideal.

  2. I perceive philosophy as being a subject that poses questions that you wouldn’t necessarily have thought of. A couple days ago, I was asked to answer on whether or not if a tree fell would there be a noise even if we aren’t there to witness it. Now, I automatically blurted yes but as I sat there, I realized that this question was also asking if life really exits or if it’s just on our mind. I would define philosophy as being the study of the meaning of life, the universe, and non-material concepts such as virtue and beauty. My opinion and thoughts are a little blurry because this type of thinking was never presented to me. I never questioned myself on whether or not the universe had a goal or what the definition of courage was. This is why looking into past philosophers is so fascinating. They present such abstract new ideas that leave me hanging and doubting my philosophy and world. Descartes presented the idea of the mind and body being separated, that’s something I would have never even thought of. The ideas of Humes left me doubting on whether or not I was skeptic as well. I think philosophy is scary in a way because we project ourselves into an unknown and unsolvable place.

  3. I think that Plato’s society cannot be fixed for a 21st century American audience because I don’t even think it would have appealed to an Ancient Greek audience or for that matter a human audience. I think that you cannot force people into a strict system like this and give them no free will. Also, I don’t think you can have a group of powerful people, the philosophers and auxiliaries, without them being greedy and wanting property. Also, you (Mr. Wickersham) mentioned that the system of job picking was the same one that was in many books of dystopian societies, keyword dystopian, which means an imperfect world; therefore Plato’s system of job selection would dehumanize the world and never work. It could never create the perfect society that he strived for. Also, I don’t think that you can just make one definition of “perfect”, I think that a lot of different social and political orders work, this just depends on the people and the society. The property system that Plato uses won’t work because the workers need at least some political power and the upper levels of society need to have some property. Really, the only thing I can completely agree with Plato on is that women should be allowed to have high up positions in government and be involved in the politics of the republic. So, all in all, I think Plato’s society could not create a perfect world, and to the contrary it would make a lifeless, gray world with no individualism.
    William Schwartz

  4. America is based on the ideals of freedom and equality for all. Plato's republic revolves around a very specific strict class system that restricts freedom and gives all choice to the ruling class of philosophers. Plato's ideal society couldn't be fixed to adapt to American society because they're so different from one another. In order to adapt Plato's ideal society, you would have to change how the class system defines the rest of the society, which would end up changing the entire concept into something considerably different from Plato's intended idea. I doubt this ideal society would work in any country because of the way it's set up. A small group of people deciding how everyone will live their lives is never going to work in practice. The people in power never leave and nothing ever changes. Plato's ideal society works on the assumption that the philosophers in power will always act in the best interests of the collective whole, but as Plato said himself, there's no way anybody can achieve perfection. Eventually the decisions they make will have a negative effect on the workers and the auxiliary caste will serve their intended purpose which is to keep the workers from revolting against the philosophers.

    As for weather or not Americans are too individualistic, I think it's a case by case situation. There are many people who would give up their luxuries to further the good of the nation, but there are also many people who believe that you are what you make of yourself, and that everybody should be able to focus on themselves rather than have to worry about supporting anybody else. It's hard to say who's in the majority for either standpoint though.

  5. Nikita Felch 1st hourDecember 12, 2012 at 11:05 PM

    I don’t think such a society could ever successfully exist in modern America. I cannot believe that people’s “appetites” could be curbed. These days all of the powerful people have a lot of money and they probably only want authoritative positions so that they can make more money. Every common person without as much rule is always talking about how they’re powerless. I hear my parents talk about how corrupt politicians are and how they have selfish motives to make certain decisions. During elections we get phone calls about how we need to put voters back in power. Nobody’s ever happy.
    It’s only obvious that in Plato’s society there would be more workers than philosophers or auxiliaries, which isn't really fair if they have all of the control. Sure that would be for the better if there really were a way to decide who’s truly good at what. Who’s to say that someone else is wise or not? I can’t even imagine if a city was ultimately controlled by people who were more concerned with questions that might not ever be answered. Maybe it’s better to focus on those questions but if you’re going to have a society, don’t leave it vulnerable.
    America has always been about representing everyone’s opinion but we can’t do that too well in Plato’s society. This kind of layout wouldn't work for any other countries either. I believe people would abuse their position. If someone were told they were really wise and smart and that they should help lead their whole country they’d get a big head. It doesn't matter what size the civilization is because like Plato says, a single body works just like a society does – which I agree with. I think Americans would abandon their original luxury for a better one but complain if it were a step down. This is understandable but it doesn't mean someone deserves something better or worse.

  6. I believe Plato's society can be fit to make it more ideal for 21st century American audience. Some of Plato's beliefs and ideas are more modern then Aristotle's. Plato believes that women are as equal as men. Aristotle however, did not believe that. Plato believed that all women should be able to do the same thing as men. He believed women could be exempt from child bearing and house keeping. In today's society women are no longer expected to have children and be a homemaker (housewife). Women are expected to work for what they want just as men. That is one reason why Plato's society could fit into the 21st century because in the early 20th century and before that, women were expected to stay home.

    Plato's inmate idea that we were born with knowledge is very debatable in the 21st century. I believe that it is somewhat true. When were are born as babies we automatically know who to call mommy, before even having skin to skin contact with her. That is because we know our mothers voices in the wound. For example, on the show Teen Mom, one of the teen mothers children is raised by her mother, but for some reason the child calls her mommy, barely even seeing her everyday. This is because despite him barely being around his mother, he knows his mothers voice. This could be an example of being born with knowledge. Technology can also be questionable. Today children at the age of 2 know how to work ipads, and iphones, etc. Is it because they were born in a century were technology is a basis for everything? Is that considered being born with knowledge or just being exposed to it? A lot of things like math, reading, and writing we have to learn in school.

    Plato's inmate ideas would need to be fixed, because it is proven that we learn knowledge through teachings and observation, like Aristotle stated. Plato believed that true knowledge comes from reason and that our senses are unreliable. Like biology, we have never seen how something works, but we know from our own bodies and from what we have learned.

    Plato's ideas in my opinion could be on a national level, if somethings were changed in his ideal society. Plato believes that we should live based on Socrates' ideas of justice, courage, wisdom, and beauty. Which could fit in today's society.

  7. I believe that the Ideal State of Plato can be tweaked and adapted to the 21st century. The reason being is that Plato had many ideas that started modernization in society throughout the many centuries. For example the idea that a woman can govern or do anything they wished as long as they get proper training, which is an idea that is just now becoming the social norm. So in that way he was way ahead of his time. Although, there are some things that would not work at all in modern society, such as the idea that philosophers wouldn't have any property and that workers would have the most property. In today’s world success in essentially based on your property, so people wouldn't take orders from philosophers if they had no obvious evidence of success. Also the way a person gets work would severely reduce the amount of support for "Plato's Ideal State" the foundation of America is built upon the freedom of choice, so if you take that away from Americans they will not support the Ideal State. Also if the weaker people of society have the most land in the country than wouldn’t that make them the most powerful? So if they had more power then why would they take orders from someone who has no power at all? Lastly if a philosopher is not a loud to have a family I believe that they would crave the paternal responsibility and the state would suffer. In conclusion I believe that it is possible to adapt "Ideal State" into the modern day, but it would be very difficult.

    Kevin S.

  8. I do not believe that Plato’s ideal society would work. I like that he is trying to get rid of the corruption of politics. But maybe some of the politicians would become envious of the working class and try to screw over them. Also if they were in charge why wouldn’t they just make the sides very uneven and make it so they get all the things they want and screw over everyone else. His idea about politics is unproductive. It would only work if everyone was selfless and wanted the same things otherwise their would be corruption no matter where. Sides would be made and the same thing would just happen all over again. Even if you regulated what the politicians could have people would always find a way to get what they want. Since people re never content with what they have you couldn’t spoil them to being contempt. People are flawed and them making decisions makes a flawed state it just depends on the severity of the errors made. Since the government is a larger image of its citizens represented, that would make any government unsound no matter the stability of the actual government. Since no-one is representing the people how would any of the decisions made benefit them and a decision that only benefits only one or two thirds of the population isn’t good for the society just another game changer making the government. Since the peasants/workers cannot have any control on the government that mean they can’t change who’s in power unless they strike and hoard all the things and start a rebellion. But with this the military would join the politician’s side in making the people give up some food because it would hinder them also. And after they control the people why not go after the politicians they have less strength due to their size. So it would become an overthrowing of the government system. In any circumstance in which the leaders, people in charge, are not completely selfless and have no goals except to keep the government working at its best and not what you think is best.
    Chris Alder

  9. Jessica Mooney
    1st Wickersham
    Plato’s Society

    I do not believe that Plato’s society can be fixed to make it more ideal to fit a 21st century American audience. In my opinion, Plato’s society is too controlling and limited for the average American. Going back to the criticisms stated in the blog, I think people would have an issue with being assigned jobs they don’t necessarily want and having a lack of competition would hurt the growth of society.
    For most individuals, frustration and boredom would come quickly when forced to a task they did not enjoy. I would predict much conflict and retaliation from the people if they were not content with their job.
    I believe that competition is vital in a flourishing society. Where would we be today without the battle between the iPhone and Android. The two phones are in constant struggle for the popular vote for the better phone. Without this competition, electronics in general wouldn’t be as far as they are today.
    I am led to believe that Plato’s society would not just fail in our county but in all countries. The human being cannot be controlled and forced to live such a limited lifestyle. People in general need excitement and freedom to be happy. With a society that lacks this, the people will be unhappy and most likely rebel.
    In order for Plato’s society to work in America, I think we would have to brainwash people. I can relate this to the book, Brave New World, in many ways. The people were brainwashed in their sleep to love their society and trained to think only how the government wanted them to. This made it so people didn’t know what they were missing out on in the real word and they were happy with what they were given. I believe brainwashing would be the only way it could work on a national, state, or small scale level.
    I agree that Americans are too individualistic to give up some of our freedoms or luxuries for the greater good of the society. If Americans weren’t individualistic then people would not drive cars and they would walk everywhere in order to save the planet and stop pollution.

  10. I do not believe that Plato's society could be fixed to fit in 21st century America. There is absolutely no way that people would agree to living without the freedoms that we have as Americans. Plato's society is almost completely opposite to what we are used to. We have public and private education, can choose our own futures, can express ourselves with art, and everyone can own property and potentially have political power. Our country prides itself on all of the opportunities that are provided, and it would be almost impossible to get our current society to change into his. I think that it is possible for another country use parts of his ideal society, but not all. The biggest conflict with his ideal society would most likely be that art can only support the values of the state. There will always be people who disagree with things, and not allowing them to express themselves would cause a lot of issues. I think that it's possible that it could work in another country, but I don't think it could work in America, even on a small scale. In general, our nation is selfish, and this is why Plato's society would be unsuccessful in America. I would have to say that we care more about ourselves than the greater good of society, so people would not give up their freedoms to form Plato's society. The people in charge of our country would most likely be very unwilling to give up their property so they could have political power, although the positions in society are chosen for everyone. There would be way too many people against Plato's ideal society for it to work in America.

    -Emily Prosyniuk

  11. Plato's philosophy for an ideal society would just create more issues if it was applied today. A moral principle that America is based off is equality. Plato distinguishes 3 different groups of people and places them into standards categorized by gold, silver, and bronze. Depending on your profession, you are always going to be limited by society.
    In Plato's ideal society, children are not educated in a traditional school system, but are educated by the state. They are told heroic stories of the past, that don't necessarily help them develop essential skills for further educational development. In society today, we tend to have strict curriculums in schools that help set standards for teaching. I think this is very important because we can't teach based off of stories we can't necessarily prove. Teaching needs to be based off facts and not just stories of the past.
    Another reason why Plato's ideal state would not be compatible for the 21st century american audience because the state is in complete control of your life. Your profession is chosen by the government and you don't have a choice in what you want to pursue. They choose based off of your strongest skills but I don't think this is necessarily fair or accurate. In society today, people who flourish in one area may gravitate towards a completely different profession. The state doesn't (and should never) force people to do something with their life that is against their will. As Americans, we are entitled to our own life decisions and are not forced into a field of profession we are not fond of. Outside influences by family is different, but by the state I believe is completely inappropriate. The state doesn't have enough evidence or justification for putting people in certain jobs.
    Plato frowns extremely upon art other than tit supporting the values of the state. If anything controversial happens, he thinks the artists should be banished. I completely disagree with Plato and think that there is no possible way America today could ever work around this. America has more than 300 million people in the world. There are obviously going to be dissenting opinions because people think differently and have different perceptions on the world, especially art for that matter. No one should be banished because they think differently. Art isn't necessarily something that supports the values of the state in present day America, it is something that is important though. I don't agree with Plato here because I think that he is afraid of different opinions and of someone proving him wrong.

  12. I do not believe that the government should chose our jobs for us because they probably wouldn't be very good at choosing jobs for people they barely know. People may be pursuing what the state believes they're best at, but the person may not be pursuing what they actually want to do with their life and wouldn't be happy. If a talented athlete was forced to pick cotton then sports wouldn't be exciting. A society where people can't choose would have nothing fun or spectacular. There wouldn't be art, music, sports. You name it. All you hear growing up is that you can be whatever you want if the world was how Plato wanted then you would be told "you're growing up to be a mechanic" and you couldn't dream about being a pro athlete, or a pop star because it was already predetermined. Now the government already has to much involvement in our life's and for them to get anymore involved would just ruin society.

  13. My Hellenic Philosophy.

    There is no one and only Hellenic philosophy that I completely agree with nor disagree with. Rather there are qualities of all that interest me. Epicureans got it right pleasure. By this I mean that life, especially now in America, is based on pleasure. My goal in life is to maintain happiness, which is a form of pleasure. It’s a smart thing to weigh out long term pleasure versus short term pleasure, which is also an Epicurean thing to do. Not to mention I love to eat. I also like to get really into cooking so I can eat it, and I eat the most in my family and am the smallest. Food has got to be one of my favorite things. Stoicism is the philosophy I agree with the least, they take it to an extreme I don’t care to. That is, natural law. I don’t believe in fate, and I don’t think you are powerless over your life, but I do believe there are some things we just can’t change. Things like natural laws of physics, gravity. There are also abstract things we can’t change. We can never force somebody to love us, we can try to persuade but ultimately we cannot control it. It is important to accept those things we can’t change though. Not necessarily have no emotion, but be happy with what you just can’t change. I agree with skepticism in the fact that we should question what we are told, by the government, by school, by the media, by a textbook, or even by a friend or parent. It is important for an individual to follow what they believe is right and not just blindly trust authority. I do believe that senses can help us sometimes, but they can also trick us, and same for reason. Cynics have a very important role in my philosophy--material possessions don’t equate to happiness or pleasure. For some it may help, and maybe even succeed, but there isn’t a direct correlation. I don’t aspire to have millions of dollars with houses in four different states where I can drive my land rover to and from. Rather I would want to find happiness in my career I love or my family and friends I have. Happiness is what is important, and thinking it’s in possessions is foolish. Although I can’t deny in this world today it is hard to live without a certain amount of money. Just not an absurd amount of money. The dollar is one of the worst things in a society. Money should just as well be a crime.

    Kristina Elkins


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