Plato’s Laws V

This section opens with an account of honor, and what it means to rightly honor one's soul and body. Plato does not use the word "honor" in the same way that I do;* in fact he does not use it as Aquinas** or Kant use it, both of whom are also using it in different ways that are distinct from my own concept. For Plato (and Aristotle, but not Aquinas), honor is merely a helpmate to reason. To honor the soul means to do what reason tells us is best and most worthy; honor helps us do that by adding a kind of glory (or sometimes a rhetorical weight) to reason's dictates. 

This is important because Plato believes the soul is divided into three parts, each of which has its own core motivation. The rational part of the soul should rule, motivated by reason. However, there is also a spirited part of the soul, which is motivated by glory and honor; and an appetitive part of the soul, which is motivated by pain (like hunger) and pleasure (like sating hunger, or getting drunk). Very often the core motivation of the appetitive part is directly at odds with the dictates of reason. Thus, it is crucial to enlist the spirited part on honor's side, so the two parts can out-compete the third. The discussion of what is rightly honored, then, helps motivate us to do what we know via reason to be best, but which might be painful or require us to forgo desired pleasures. 

In the Republic, Plato divides society into three classes depending on which of these three motives predominates in an individual. However, there too, all three are present internally: the Guardian class is just one in which the rational part of the soul happens to be especially strong. The Auxiliaries are motivated especially by glory and honor, which means they can be won to supporting the Guardians in enforcing law on ordinary people by appeal to honor. 

Note that here in book five of the Laws, though, Plato is trying to do the same work by appeal to internal factors rather than external compulsion. The Athenian mentions honor 'for the Legislator,' but honor is really due first -- he says -- to the divine, and then to the soul. The Legislator is only important in helping our internal soul's rational part to understand what honoring our soul entails. The Legislator is not due more honor than our soul; honoring our soul is the second most important thing after honoring the divine. The Legislator is just there to help us understand our duty to ourselves. 

And look at what that duty entails! My Scoutmasters of old would have come up with a list nearly exactly similar. 

  • Young men should be humble and listen to guidance from their elders.
  • You should take responsibility for your errors, and recognize how they cause your own problems, rather than blaming others for the evils that have befallen you.
  • You should not indulge in wanton pleasures, but should avoid excess, instead adhering to the limits set by the Legislator.
  • You should do your duty and your work, even though it may be painful or difficult.
  • You should not fear death above dishonor.
  • You should not prefer beauty to virtue.
  • You should never accept dishonest gains, but treat fairly with others, for virtue is to be valued more than gold. 
  • Be upright that you may become more like good men; avoid evil, so that you may not become more like bad ones.
  • Follow the better and avoid what is worse in all things. 

The Athenian cautions that most of us make the mistake of thinking we are honoring our soul because we misunderstand what is really honorable. Thus, for example, a young man thinks he is honoring himself by assuming he should be vocal about his opinions about everything; the right way of honoring himself is to be humble and open to correction by his elders, who have already made the mistakes he believes in so strongly, and can help him do better. By honoring them, you honor yourself by adopting advice and examples that will help you grow stronger and better.

The old man believes he is honoring himself by demanding respect and submission from the young, but he really would be better honoring himself by forcing himself to set a good example for them always in all matters. Practicing virtue constantly, so they can see it done, is the right way to honor himself; after all, it is virtue that is worthy of honor. By training yourself, you also set an example that is the best way of training the young. In that way, by honoring yourself, you do honor to them by providing them with what they really needed to become virtuous themselves.

Because the structure of the soul is supposed to mirror the order of society, these things are mutually reinforcing. In the best sort of person, the Legislator is unnecessary: the soul's rational part will identify what is right, which is also what is worthy of honor on this view of honor, and thus enlist its two parts to control its third. Yet if you are not fully worthy internally, the external reinforcement may help you attain virtue. You may be more motivated by respect or by glory, but you find you will only be honored if you do right in the eyes of others. Thus you do, and eventually you will become like them by practice. 

For those who are capable of internal regulation, the Legislator turns out to be unbothersome because he is only ruling that they should do what they were going to choose to do anyway. For those who are not, friction with the virtuous society will work to their benefit. In time, as they adapt themselves to it, they will become virtuous themselves. 

* If anyone wishes to read a dissertation on the topic of honor by me, let me know. I'll send it to you. 

** Aquinas differs from Aristotle, even while deriving his position from Aristotle's, because of Aquinas' ideas about God. Plato and Aquinas are actually closer than Aristotle and Aquinas, as you can work out from today's reading with a bit of care:  what is the role of the divine vis a vis reason? Honoring the divine means obeying what reason can work out about its dictates; honoring the soul means doing what reason works out is best for it. Honor, reason, our eternal soul and the divine are thus all aligned in a way. When you can say exactly what that way is, you will have understood how close Plato and Aquinas are, and just how they are different. 


ymarsakar said...

Either Plato or those that translated him, were having a real difficult time talking about all these bifurcated topics like soul and honor.

They had disunited the mind body spirit complex to the point where they were picking apart things like the soul.

Socrates had a much easier way of dealing with his muse and personal spirit guide, the daemon archangel guardian. He learned to trust in it, just like people trust in their gut instinct.

Plato and Aristotle, did not have this trait apparently, so they used their minds to try to figure out how to get to the same result. Ultimately it ended up in Alexander. The Aries way of cutting the Gordian knot, but not much else spiritually wise.

ymarsakar said...

If Plato defines the "wise" rulers of his Republic to be one that are human avatars governed by the Will of the Soul... well, that means it is closer to a Theocracy than a Republic.

This Theocracy of the Wise is indirectly ruled by spiritual forces like Socrates' muse. They guide the avatar or the human physical body. This creates a scenario closer to mystical Christianity than other types.

It is basically a way of selecting or electing prophets like Moses. But there's a problem with that. God does not send out prophets and messengers often.

All you will get are mostly auxiliaries, not Guardians.