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Sophos -- Study of Philosophy and Thought Message Board › Suggested questions concerning Republic II - IV (in three parts)

Suggested questions concerning Republic II - IV (in three parts)

William J.
user 43274802
Los Angeles, CA
Post #: 7
Below are some questions to consider as you read Republic II – IV. Note that because of a size limitation, I had to split the submission into three postings. The first and second replies to this posting contain several interesting quotations from Adam Smith, Karl Marx, and Peter Kropotkin relevant to the discussion of the principle of specialization or the division of labor.

1. The Republic presents three theories of justice:
i) that of Thrasymachus (Republic I, 336 – 354)
ii) that of Glaucon and Adeimantus (Republic II, 357 – 368)
iii) that of Socrates (Republic II – X , 368 - 612)
What are the three theories?

2. What is the story of Gyges’ ring (Republic II, 359 C ff)? What does Glaucon believe that it shows?

3. Without attending to the specific details and evaluation of Socrates’ response to the Glaucon / Adeimantus challenge, we need to get clear as to what sort of response might be adequate. What might such a reply be?

4. What is the analogy of the letters in Republic 368 C – 369 A? Does Socrates successfully cash the analogy in Republic IV?

5. The founding of the polis rests on the principle that humans need one another. This quickly is unpacked in economic terms (e.g., the need for food, clothing, shelter, etc.). How are we to understand this thought experiment? Does Plato overlook alternative factors contributing to the foundations of human society (e.g., protection from threats or social needs)?

6. The economic basis of the polis rests on the principle that each person should perform one naturally suitable function. This principle of specialization is the basis of much later economic thought (cf. the quotations from Adam Smith, Karl Marx, and Peter Kropotkin in later posts). Does Plato’s treatment overlook other issues raised by the principle (e.g., alienation)? Is Plato’s use of the principle defensible within an advanced industrial economy?

7. What is the myth of metals (Republic III, 414 B ff)? What does it aim to show?

8. Why does Plato censor the poets? In order to adopt such a position, what premises must we accept? Are those premises acceptable? Can Plato's position be reconciled to a contemporary understanding of freedom?

9. What is the actual argument in Republic IV for definitions of justice in the polis and the person? Are the arguments acceptable?

William J.
user 43274802
Los Angeles, CA
Post #: 8
Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations (1776), I.i.3:

To take an example, therefore, from a very trifling manufacture; but one in which the division of labour has been very often taken notice of, the trade of the pin-maker; a workman not educated to this business (which the division of labour has rendered a distinct trade), nor acquainted with the use of the machinery employed in it (to the invention of which the same division of labour has probably given occasion), could scarce, perhaps, with his utmost industry, make one pin in a day, and certainly could not make twenty. But in the way in which this business is now carried on, not only the whole work is a peculiar trade, but it is divided into a number of branches, of which the greater part are likewise peculiar trades. One man draws out the wire, another straights it, a third cuts it, a fourth points it, a fifth grinds it at the top for receiving the head; to make the head requires two or three distinct operations; to put it on, is a peculiar business, to whiten the pins is another; it is even a trade by itself to put them into the paper; and the important business of making a pin is, in this manner, divided into about eighteen distinct operations, which, in some manufactories, are all performed by distinct hands, though in others the same man will sometimes perform two or three of them. I have seen a small manufactory of this kind where ten men only were employed, and where some of them consequently performed two or three distinct operations. But though they were very poor, and therefore but indifferently accommodated with the necessary machinery, they could, when they exerted themselves, make among them about twelve pounds of pins in a day. There are in a pound upwards of four thousand pins of a middling size. Those ten persons, therefore, could make among them upwards of forty-eight thousand pins in a day. Each person, therefore, making a tenth part of forty-eight thousand pins, might be considered as making four thousand eight hundred pins in a day. But if they had all wrought separately and independently, and without any of them having been educated to this peculiar business, they certainly could not each of them have made twenty, perhaps not one pin in a day; that is, certainly, not the two hundred and fortieth, perhaps not the four thousand eight hundredth part of what they are at present capable of performing, in consequence of a proper division and combination of their different operations.

Adam Smith, Lectures on Justice, Police, Revenue, and Arms (1763), Part II, Section 17:

There are some inconveniences, however, arising from a commercial spirit. The first we shall mention is that it confines the views of men. Where the division of labour is brought to perfection, every man has only a simple operation to perform. To this his whole attention is confined, and few ideas pass in his mind but what have an immediate connection with it. When the mind is employed about a variety of objects it is some how expanded and enlarged, and on this account a country artist is generally acknowledged to have a range of thoughts much above a city one. The former is perhaps a joiner, a house carpenter, and a cabinet maker all in one, and his attention must of course be employed about a number of objects of very different kinds. | The latter is perhaps only a cabinet maker. That particular kind of work employs all his thoughts, and as he had not an opportunity of comparing a number of objects, his views of things beyond his own trade are by no means so extensive as those of the former. This must be much more the case when a person’s whole attention is bestowed on the 17th part of a pin or the 80th part of a button, so far divided are these manufactures. It is remarkable that in every commercial nation the low people are exceedingly stupid. The Dutch vulgar are eminently so, and the English are more so than the Scotch. The rule is general, in towns they are not so intelligent as in the country, nor in a rich country as in a poor one.

Another inconvenience attending commerce is that education is greatly neglected. In rich and commercial nations the division of labour, having reduced all trades to very simple operations, affords an opportunity of employing children very young. In this country indeed, where the division of labour is not far advanced, even the meanest porter can read and write, because the price of education is cheap, and a parent can employ his child no other way at 6 or 7 years of age. This however is not the case in the commercial parts of England. A boy of 6 or 7 years of age at Birmingham can gain his 3 pence | or sixpence a day, and parents find it to be their interest to set them soon to work. Thus their education is neglected. The education which low people’s children receive is not indeed at any rate considerable; however, it does them an immense deal of service, and the want of it is certainly one of their greatest misfortunes. By it they learn to read, and this gives them the benefit of religion, which is a great advantage, not only considered in a pious sense, but as it affords them subject for thought and speculation. From this we may observe the benefit of country schools, and, however much neglected, must acknowledge them to be an excellent institution. But besides this want of education, there is another great loss which attends the putting boys too soon to work. The boy begins to find that his father is obliged to him, and therefore throws off his authority. When he is grown up he has no ideas with which he can amuse himself. When he is away from his work he must therefore betake himself to drunkeness and riot. Accordingly we find that in the commercial parts of England, the tradesmen are for the most part in this despicable condition: their work thro’ half the week is sufficient to maintain them, and thro’ want of education they have no amusement for the other but riot and debauchery. So it may very justly be said that the people who cloath the whole world are in rags themselves.

Another bad effect of commerce is that it sinks the courage of mankind, and tends to extinguish martial spirit. In all commercial countries the division of labour is infinite, and every ones thoughts are employed about one particular thing. In great trading towns, for example, the linen merchants are of several kinds, for the dealing in Hamburgh and Irish linens are quite distinct professions. Some of the lawyers attend at King’s Bench, some at the Court of Common Pleas, and others at the Chauncery. Each of them is in a great measure unacquainted with the business of his neighbour. In the same manner war comes to be a trade also. A man has then time to study only one branch of business, and it would be a great dissadvantage to oblige every one to learn the military art and keep himself in the practice of it. The defence of the country is therefore committed to a certain sett of men who have nothing else ado; and among the bulk of the people military courage diminishes. By having their minds constantly employed on the arts of luxury, they grow effeminate and dastardly.

William J.
user 43274802
Los Angeles, CA
Post #: 9
Karl Marx, The German Ideology (1846), “Private Property and Communism”:

Further, the division of labour implies the contradiction between the interest of the separate individual or the individual family and the communal interest of all individuals who have intercourse with one another. And indeed, this communal interest does not exist merely in the imagination, as the “general interest,” but first of all in reality, as the mutual interdependence of the individuals among whom the labour is divided. And finally, the division of labour offers us the first example of how, as long as man remains in natural society, that is, as long as a cleavage exists between the particular and the common interest, as long, therefore, as activity is not voluntarily, but naturally, divided, man’s own deed becomes an alien power opposed to him, which enslaves him instead of being controlled by him. For as soon as the distribution of labour comes into being, each man has a particular, exclusive sphere of activity, which is forced upon him and from which he cannot escape. He is a hunter, a fisherman, a herdsman, or a critical critic, and must remain so if he does not want to lose his means of livelihood; while in communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic. This fixation of social activity, this consolidation of what we ourselves produce into an objective power above us, growing out of our control, thwarting our expectations, bringing to naught our calculations, is one of the chief factors in historical development up till now.

Peter Kropotkin, The Conquest of Bread (1892), Chapter XV “The Division of Labour”

Look at the village smith, said Adam Smith, the father of modern Political Economy. If he has never been accustomed to making nails he will only succeed by hard toil in forging two to three hundred a day, and even then they will be bad. But if this same smith has never done anything but nails, he will easily supply as many as two thousand three hundred in the course of a day. And Smith hastened to the conclusion--"Divide labour, specialize, go on specializing; let us have smiths who only know how to make heads or points of nails, and by this means we shall produce more. We shall grow rich."

That a smith sentenced for life to the making of heads of nails would lose all interest in his work, would be entirely at the mercy of his employer with his limited handicraft, would be out of work four months out of twelve, and that his wages would decrease when he could be easily replaced by an apprentice, Smith did not think of it when he exclaimed--"Long live the division of labour. This is the real gold-mine that will enrich the nation!" And all joined in the cry.
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