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Exploring the subject matter of the republic about justice

David Schur, Plato's Wayward Path: Literary Form and Classical Rhetoric. The Problem of Literary Form 2. From Beginning to End and Back Again 5. Digressing toward a Possible Regime 6. From Beginning to End and Back Again When reading an expository work of heuristic inquiry and argumentation, we can take it as a given that the work itself relies on an underlying framework of methodical progress toward an endpoint, a destination.

  1. See also Gill 1993 and 1979 on fictionality in Plato.
  2. And the fictionality of the narrative introduces an uneasy tension between an imaginary conversation and the theoretical hypotheses it contains.
  3. Paired with the homeward journey, this initial anonymity points up two different kinds of distance.

This assumption does not apply to the Republic, however, mainly because the book is not a heuristic inquiry but a depiction of one. We still desire to reach a destination, but the methodical progression of conversation, embedded in a narrative, participates in an intellectualized sort of plot.

As a long text about an extended conversation, the Republic goes a long distance before reaching an elliptical conclusion.

The pattern I am drawing attention to, however, is neither skeptical, pessimistic, panironic, nor panaporetic but rather experimental, curious, and intrepid; combining exploration at times immoderate with an awareness of human inadequacy. As I see it, the Republic offers an interesting and sustained reflection on method. Thus the book is not just about topics such as justice; its subject matter is also methodological: In this way, the Republic is a remarkably and strangely self-aware and self-critical text.

And this strangeness, furthermore, is reflected in an outlandish view of method.

  • Socrates argues that if poets had knowledge of the truth they would want to be people who do great things rather than remain poets 599b;
  • Thus, someone can only be a philosopher in the true sense if he receives the proper kind of education;
  • As mapped out by the tale, the souls of Socrates and his listeners would themselves travel on an upward path, if they could live well enough to merit a good judgment when they died;
  • I borrow from a similar use of the term procedural discourse in Rose 1992;
  • Philosophers who accomplish this understanding will be reluctant to do anything other than contemplate the Forms but they must be forced to return to the cave the city and rule it;
  • Sometimes, he is suggesting, a detour is the best way to reach your goals, thus avoiding impediments and impasses.

Whereas conventional methods of inquiry—for Plato as for us—are understood to reach their goals, seeking to reach and hold fixed positions, the Republic reflexively explores the possibility that philosophy is perhaps better viewed as an ongoing, unending exploration of possibilities. One might see the Republic shifting attention from the content of arguments to the conduct of argumentation, but I find it more accurate to observe that the conduct of argument method is repeatedly and recursively turned into the content of the discussion.

At bottom, such a view is made possible by a corresponding shift on the part of the reader from a focus on the what of the text to a literary-rhetorical focus on the how.

The discussion of literary form in the previous half of this study shows that literary form, as it is perceived by scholars today, designates those aspects of the text that do not directly communicate authorial propositions. By the same token, the resulting mitigation of authorial commitment is, as I have suggested, a serviceable indicator of literariness.

Given this negative delimitation of literary form, flipping it around clears the way for a claim that is, in effect, the opposite of the teleological explanation: The Topos of the Path and the Topic of Method In the Republic, as in modern linguistics, the notion we now call modality is generally conceptualized in terms of physical and temporal distance remoteness. The prevalence of paths running through the Republic encourages readers to view the entire work as both a digressive path and a self-referential discourse; it is a narrative path about paths.

Accordingly, characteristics of the figurative path are also major themes throughout the book.

These include aspects of distance and direction that readily apply to methods of searching as well as to the journey taken by the characters in the narrative. The goals or ends of this investigative journey are portrayed as distant, remote, and difficult to reach. Not surprisingly, frequent instances of self-reflection may take much of the credit for slowing the search down and leading it off course.

Such pauses are clearly meant to make the conversation more methodical—better directed toward success. Sometimes, he is suggesting, a detour is the best way to reach your goals, thus avoiding impediments and impasses.

4. From Beginning to End and Back Again

But a significant rhetorical formal-semantic pattern in the text shows that while methodically adopting evasive maneuvers does keep the conversation going, it simultaneously leads the conversation away from where it was headed.

Noticing this pattern is very different from picking at a flaw in the logic of an argument; my exploring the subject matter of the republic about justice has to do with how ideas and words interact in a specific text, and not with something that Plato has supposedly done wrong. Because the conversational method keeps turning by way of self-reflective passages that result in further turning, an overdetermining cascade of digression emphasizes the distance of goals that are continually displaced by provisional findings.

Looking at the whole in this manner, the text may be read as a map of two routes taken simultaneously, one traced by the practice of conversation which rises to the height of theorythe other by theoretical argumentation which is brought down by the human limitations of conversational practice.

The contrast I emphasize here is simply between the conversation and the book. Because the book contains the conversation while the conversation tends to reflect on itself, the conversation is subordinate to the book and the whole is deeply self-reflective. The participants in the conversation develop theories and make arguments, seeking to reach fixed intellectual goals that include a definition of justice and a defense of its inherent desirability, a sketch of the ideal politeia, and a curriculum for the education of guardians.

As presented in the book, however, these are not simply argumentative steps that fall short when dissected; they are cognitive steps mediated, modalized, performed, and deformed in the language of the text.

It is worth thinking of the beginning of the Republic as a premise. Not a theoretical premise, but the premise that we must accept in order to read on. The beginning describes for us an imaginary situation that establishes preconditions for what will follow. With great complexity, instances of reported speech are nested within each other throughout the Republic.

If we agree with the conditions established by the initial scenario, in which Socrates narrates the story of a conversation that took place yesterday—and the text gives us every opportunity to accept this premise as agreeable—then this fictional point of departure assumes a structurally dominant position in the lengthy verbal pattern of subordination that is the text of the Republic.

But this dominance which is, moreover, casual and circumstantial in its initial recollection of events leading up to the long conversation is challenged by continual changes of topic, perspective, and procedure. The ensuing search for a dominant and exploring the subject matter of the republic about justice subject matter would presumably proceed regardless of whether the text was considered a dogmatic treatise or a literary narrative.

Just as each subsequent part of the Republic is subordinated to a larger context of ongoing conversation, so each change in course is perceived as a digression, a deviation from an established norm of structure and meaning. The sequence of digressions is so elaborate, prominent, and pervasive in the Republic as to bring the topic of digression into the foreground of the reading experience.

One of the challenges of the Republic from the start is to figure out what the text is about. What is its subject matter? Where is this book going as we begin to read it? These questions try to get at something essential regarding the book as a whole, as an integral text. I would start with two responses. In the first place, the Republic has the form of a narrated dialogue, and the entire narrative traces the development of a conversation. Socrates begins by telling us how the conversation got started, and he continues to recount the trajectory of that conversation for the duration of the book.

Second, the conversation is outlandishly long and exceptionally wide in scope. Justice, education, mimesis, truth, and philosophy are a few of the great abstractions that this conversation is about. Although it is easy to single out one topic and give it precedence, and even to proclaim that a conclusive understanding of that topic has been reached, the book does not make this claim.

One needs first to have an established norm, a subject understood as a direction or orientation, from which to deviate.

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Digression is also conceived of as a highly metaphorical procedure. Discourse—in this instance, the written course followed by the reader—is a kind of topic-path. And digression is a turning whereby that path of words diverges from whatever topic is considered proper to it. It is no accident that the Republic is saturated with metaphors that evoke this conceptual network, linking physical travel with paths of inquiry, conversation, and discourse—and with the metaphysical journey of souls after death.

While the hodos operates as a plurisignificant figure that is demonstrably prevalent in the text of the Republic, concomitant notions of distance, direction, and position naturally characterize the different kinds of path represented in the book. It would not be an exaggeration to point out that the path of movement, words, and thought is an extraordinary metaphor.

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For one thing, the language of the path informs Western conceptions of method and justice: The concept of deviation turning from the straight path is also crucial to how we think about metaphor and rhetoric troping. The figure is conceptually pregnant—structurally and rhetorically overdetermined—by definition, if you will. And although we may discuss these paths as metaphors, they were already just as literalized in ancient Greek as they are in many modern languages. Such metaphors can, when noticed or reanimated, put great pressure on the conventional separation of literal from metaphorical.

  • The second remove is established by the mediation of narrative;
  • And so not only does the conversation itself become a topic of conversation; inversely, a topic of the conversation the just man has become, rhetorically, a participant in it;
  • But a significant rhetorical formal-semantic pattern in the text shows that while methodically adopting evasive maneuvers does keep the conversation going, it simultaneously leads the conversation away from where it was headed;
  • Here it will again be helpful to distinguish story and discourse in the analysis of narrative.

Many conceptual terms of importance to the current study, here accompanied by etymological glosses concerning motion, bear mentioning: The Beginning of the Text So the concept of travel is inseparable from our understanding of method, and it emerges at the start of the Republic in a disorienting series of turns that make it especially difficult to tell where the book is going and when it is digressing.

Socrates says that he went to the festival for two reasons, prayer and spectacle. And again, on a very small scale, this pattern a journey to see the progress of a journey anticipates the parallel journey of conversation, a journey of words that will frequently look back, self-reflexively and self-critically, on its own process. The book will end with another sort of prayer.

The Beginning of the Story

In the course of the narrative, the initial spectacle will come to seem trivial, but precisely because it is positioned in the foreground, from which it will recede, when seen in retrospect it becomes a mock spectacle, a foil for the more important conversational effort to seek, see, and proceed methodically.

It will become easy to imagine that the long conversation takes the place of the soon-to-be-forgotten spectacle of a relay race and other nightlong sights mentioned at 328ajust as the more cerebral journey of conversation will take precedence over physical action.

The encounter with Polemarchus introduces several physical turns into the beginning of the narrative. At this point in the text, Socrates has not yet been named—a fact that stands out all the more considering that we have been told where, why, when, and with whom he went.

Paired with the homeward journey, this initial anonymity points up two different kinds of distance. One is simply the distance between a man, whose name is initially withheld in a manner that recalls the beginning of the Odyssey, and the goal of his journey, home.

  • This approach has met at least one serious objection;
  • Socrates places justice in the class of things good in themselves and for their consequences;
  • Socrates discusses an imaginary multi-headed beast to illustrate the consequences of justice and injustice in the soul and to support justice 588c ff;
  • He proposes to look for justice in the city first and then to proceed by analogy to find justice in the individual 368c-369a;
  • Socrates offers the analogy of the divided line to explain the Form of the Good even further 509d-511d;
  • The tyrant eliminates the rich, brave, and wise people in the city since he perceives them as threats to his power 567c.

The second remove is established by the mediation of narrative: Plato, unnamed in the text, has set up a narrator, initially also unnamed, who is describing the journey. After reporting on the circumstances that led up to this meeting, the narrator reports on the meeting itself, and Polemarchus is now quoted saying pretty much what the narrator has already said: The repetitions bring the story close to the discourse, but with enough interference to make the mediacy of narrative apparent.

The exchange, as narrated, has the dynamic of a verbal relay race in which the participants are running into each other. Thus Socrates is reoriented, with the deictic word oikade indicating that he is in some sense going toward the same destination as before. In summing up my analysis of this opening scene, I wish to discuss what these turnings have to do with rhetorical modalization.

More specifically, nested instances of reported speech have a recursive effect which corresponds verbally to the physical detour that takes Socrates from one direction to another. And the fictionality of the narrative introduces an uneasy tension between an imaginary conversation and the theoretical hypotheses it contains.

Here it will again be helpful to distinguish story and discourse in the analysis of narrative. Rather than beginning with an account of an event, the narrative presents the festival as a nonevent, from which Socrates is departing.

Socrates is turned around and distracted from his homeward trajectory. Narrativity and Fictionality Interpreters of the dialogue as a whole are often inclined to view these introductory remarks, and indeed the entire first book of the Republic, as merely a sort of frame, separable from the ensuing philosophical arguments about justice, the city, and philosophy itself. Far from being a separable frame, this is an enduring voice more overt at the start but always audible that mediates the entire story.

Other speakers do tell stories during the course exploring the subject matter of the republic about justice the long conversation. For example, Glaucon relates the story of the ring of Gyges, and Socrates the character tells the myth of Er.

Even though the setting fades from view as the book proceeds, the setting and the form of the narrative remain set, and the book does not manifestly shift from one form of discourse to another. From the first word of the text, we know that someone is speaking in the first person.

  1. Socrates goes on to argue that the measure of allowing the women to perform the same tasks as the men in this way is not only feasible but also best.
  2. Another related argument indicates that the discussion entails great doubts about whether the just city is even possible. Book X Thereafter, Socrates returns to the subject of poetry and claims that the measures introduced to exclude imitative poetry from the just city seem clearly justified now 595a.
  3. These questions try to get at something essential regarding the book as a whole, as an integral text.
  4. He also adds the claim that injustice is in every way better than justice and that the unjust person who commits injustice undetected is always happier than the just person 343e-344c.

After getting a taste of who and when, we learn where, what, and why Piraeus, festival, to pray and watch —all in the first sentence. Among other things, the delay in each instance draws attention to the identity of a well-known figure. Here, Socrates is obviously unidentified.