Platonic Philosophy in Ethics, Aesthetics and Politics

PREAMBULE: In our pages Description in More Details, Science of Being, and Pythagorean Man Emulation, we talk in general terms about the system of values and concepts that are at the foundation of the EthoPlasìn formation, and that are baLantanesed on the Pythagorean and Platonic traditions. To the contrary, the comments of this page have to do more specifically with the ethics, aesthetics, politics, virtues and values defined by Plato, in the context of the best possible holistic education to be given to a human being in order to make him become the best of citizens. Here we try to be more specific than in other pages, by giving explanations with reference to the exact sections of Plato's works indicated in Stephanus Pagination. This is the system of reference and organization mostly used in modern editions and translations of the 36 works of Plato. His works are divided into numbers, and each number is divided into equal sections: A, B, C, D and E. These numbers and letters are usually put in the margins of the pages of these books. They are in fact the ones of the Greek texts of Plato collected in 1578 by the French scholar Henri Estienne, where, in Latin, Stephanus means Estienne.

PREMISE: As a legitimate premise to the study of the ethics, aesthetics and politics of Plato, we have to say clearly that translating from Ancient-Greek to English, or to any other modern language, is extremely difficult, sometimes nearly impossible. Even an institution of as much dignified worthiness as the Cambridge University, who produced supposedly the English translation of most authority, of Plato, in its book "Plato - Complete Works", on which the English translation of the citations of this page is based, often does not succeed in rendering accurately the real meaning of the ancient Greek words. And we will see examples. This is because the EL (Greek) was just about the most sophisticated language that ever existed, with a clear 5000 years of ascertained superiority in front of all other languages, and this is probably why philosophy was 'invented' in Ancient-Greece, and Ancient-Greek is still taught today in the most serious schools and universities around the world. Compared to the harmonious complexity and the subtle nuances of Ancient-Greek, modern languages like English or French are only simplistic primitive languages that in fact, for the little sophistication they may have, draw it all from Ancient-Greek. The most famous example of these translating difficulties is probably the word "Republic" that is used worldwide for the name of probably the most famous work of Plato. This gives the impression that Plato is writing essentially about politics and the form of government that we know today as a 'Republic'. The real name of the dialogue in Greek is "Politeia". The word Politeia is a 100 times more subtle than the word 'Republic' in English, a word that is extremely misleading to a newcomer as to the content to be expected of Plato's 'Republic'. A somewhat closer translation could be 'Civilization', but even then it would still be much too deviously restrictive. 'Politeia' means all the essential and best aspects of living humanly and socially in a city in order to attain the best possible civic environment, or what we call "Civitas" in the context of the EthoPlasìn Academy. Politeia certainly includes 'Politics', but it is only one aspect of 'Politeia', and Plato has another dialogue called precisely 'Politics', or 'Politician' ('Politicus' in Greek, usually translated very restrictively, and also wrongly again, as "Statesman" in English). Politeia also includes considerations on laws and legislation, but again this is only another aspect of 'Politeia', and Plato has yet another dialogue called 'Laws'. Although the name "Republic" does not reveal it at all, Politeia is in fact a treatise as much on 'Education' as it is one on politics, laws, and the ideal government structure and constitution of a 'Republic', and education in its best meaning of 'holistic education' having to do with the formation of a man at the 4 levels of the human Tetractys. Jean-Jacques Rousseau even considered Republic the greatest book of pedagogy and education that was ever written. And again it has to do with much more than plain education, rather with a holistic type of education, for all those who live in the environment of a city, be they farmers, artisans, warriors, students, teaches or top leaders, and want to make it the best possible civic environment, each one providing their best possible meritocratic contribution in terms of behavior, virtue, talent, justice, achievements and dedication. And if we were to talk about the translation of the word 'Dimocratia' with the word 'Democracy', we would run into even more serious difficulties as its meaning, in Ancient-Greece, was completely different than the modern word 'democracy', and was much closer to what we could only express today with a complex expression, like possibly a "Direct Participative Meritocracy", at least in as much as we wanted to talk about the ideal form of 'democracy', or 'republic' defined by Plato for his virtual 'Civitas'. And this degree of sophistication in language, along with the 'invention' of philosophy itself at its best, and the creation of education, in a holistic and meritocratic way, and of the first 'universities' of our western civilization, not to mention the development of the spirit of the Olympics that we still so highly celebrate today, all expressed by the kind of outstandingly handsome men and women that we still admire today in their magnificent sculptures, like the Hermes shown to the right, was taking place some 2500 years ago, when the rest of the western world was literally full of illiterate barbarians cleaning their hands in their hair while devouring their wild preys. As for Plato himself, who brought the nascent philosophy to an insuperable level, this is particularly amazing if we consider what the English mathematician and philosopher A.N. Whitehead so truly and so well said: "The safest general characterization of the [modern] European philosophical tradition is that it consists only of a series of footnotes to [ancient] Plato" . In spite of the immense difficulties mentioned above, we will nevertheless attempt to give the best possible summary of the main concepts of the philosophy of Plato having to do with three fundamental sectors of the EthoPlasìn formation: Ethics, Aesthetics, and Politics.    

  1. Particular Difficulty Regarding the Concepts of Virtue and Love - The difficulty about translating the language adequately, mentioned in the premise, is the reason why so many contemporary authors often give a terrible misinterpretation of the most difficult concepts of Ancient-Greece philosophy, of the one of Plato in particular regarding Virtue and Love. In this particular case, it is a double difficulty: the one about the exact translation of the words involved, and the one about expressing a sophisticated culture and a reality, on the soul side of the human being, that simply does not exist at the moment in our contemporary world that is too attached to the simplistic concept of "body", regarding the description of a human being, and not, as it should, to a dualistic concept of body/soul and the various levels of the human Tetractys. For example, the HeartInHandsCambridge translation of the words used to name love partners, in talking about Platonic Love between a mature man and a young man, always uses, practically systematically, the simple word "boy", on the side of the younger man, to render the meaning of various ancient words, or qualifications, like "paidi" , "kallos" or "eromenos". This is totally misleading as it seems to point clearly, and only, at what we see today as a pure male homosexual pedophile relationship on the part of the older man. This is outrageously simplistic and totally wrong. Translating with a word like "child" would be a bit better, but also wrong, as it would seem to still include an aspect of modern sexual pedophilia that did not exist in the Platonic Love relationship, certainly not in the particular male-male love relationship theorized by Plato, and that we call today Platonic Love. Using the word "youth" as a translation would be quite an improvement, but still with an imprecise meaning that would also distort the real sense of a Platonic Love relationship, as "youth" could refer to both a young man and a young woman, when in fact, for clear historical reasons, Platonic Love, as expressed in Plato's works, was only oriented towards a "kallos" young man, certainly not a  pre-adolescence "boy", but rather towards the handsome young men so widely represented in the beautiful Greek statues, like the one of Hermes shown further up to the right. And this relationship  had no connotation of homosexuality in the way we intend it today, but only with the normal and legitimate enjoyment, with best gratitude, of the purest and most beautiful heart and soul vibrations of a divinely handsome youth in a state of full grace, and in full bloom, usually in his third to fourth Pythagorean Septennial, between age 15 and 28. This state of Kallos Beauty however could very well apply to both young men and young women, as shown in the beautiful sculptures to the right, of both the male beauty of Hermes Logios and the female beauty of the Three Graces. Consequently, for the above reasons, in our translations, regarding the works of Plato specifically, we have substituted the English word "boy" from the Cambridge book with the word "beloved", which is much closer to the Greek word "Eromenos", or "Paidi" as intended in that philosophical context. It is still not perfect, but for a perfect translation we would have to coin a new English word based on Ancient-Greek, like "Eromenos", and probably also another one, "Erastis", on the mature side of the male relationship. There are good hints indicating that a similar kind of Platonic Love also existed, mutatis mutandis, between a mature woman and a young woman, but, for the same historical reasons that made a man's life much more public than a woman's life at that time, this parallel reality never came out in the open, in any piece of literature of comparable importance, as much as the relationship between two men as expressed by Plato. Our page on Rule 3 and EthoPlasìn Love Life gives more information on these difficult concepts. Another page addresses more substantially the question of the divine "Kallos Beauty" involved in a Platonic Love relationship. Another flagrant example of this difficulty of translation has to do with the word "Areti" from Ancient-Greek, which is usually translated quite simplistically with the English word "Virtue". The modern word 'virtue' in turn, never renders the full extent of the real, and full, meaning of "Areti", as there is no perfect equivalent in any modern language. Virtue, as a modern word, is too closely, and too exclusively, associated, or identified, with moral values in a religious sense, and mostly in relation to sex as opposed to all aspects of human life. The word "Areti" , when referring to a man, meant globally a "Man of best value", but in a holistic way, at the four levels of his human Tetractys: the body, the soul, the spirit and the crowning wisdom. The meaning of the word evolved in the centuries following Plato. Machiavelli for example, around year 1500, used the word "virtu" in a sense much closer to the ancient Greek meaning than to its contemporary one. This is why the old word "Areti" also gave us the modern prefix "Aristo", like in "Aristocrat" that, in its original ancient meaning, meant really the most valuable of man, because of his excellence and virtue in his overall personal and civic behavior and performance. To the contrary, in its current sense, the word 'Aristocrat' has often a rather simplistic and derogatory meaning of someone enjoying unmerited privileges because of noble origin or rich family descent.

  2.  Virtue as Order and Harmony - As said explicitly in Gorgias [506DE-508A], not only man, but all things have virtue if they fulfill orderly the role that makes them being good: "Surely we are virtuous, both we and everything else that is good, when some excellence has come to be present in us". In this way we can talk about the "virtue" of an eye, or of a violin, for their perfect performance rendering, or the virtue of the cosmos sustained by a "just measure" [συμμετρον]. To the contrary, the lack of such orderly behavior reflects a non-virtuous, or a vicious, attribute. In Politeia [352D-353E] Plato says: "The function of each thing is what it alone can do, or what it does better than anything else. ... Anything that has a function, performs it well by means of its own peculiar virtue, and badly by means of its vice". Being virtuous means respecting and reflecting the essence of the perfection of the platonic metaphysical Idea at the foundation of each and every thing, which idea itself participates to the idea of Good sitting at the top of the structure of the World of Ideas. And the essence of the idea of virtue, with regards to man, as explained in Protagoras (this whole work of Plato is essentially about virtue and the education to virtue), is the knowledge of the Good and its actuation. And the Good is the "Just Measure" [συμμετρον] of all things, including the cosmos as a whole. Virtue is thus the mediation between the lack and the excess, that is the "Just Measure" expressing the Good.

  3. The 4 Cardinal Virtues - These are: Temperance, Fortitude, Prudence and Justice, as shown in a graphical representation to the left. As seen briefly in our Description page, Plato associated closely the 4 cardinal virtues with the 4 corresponding social classes of the city, described in the Republic, and with the 4 corresponding faculties of man on the basis of the human Tetractys. Temperance was associated mainly with the producing class, the farmers and craftsmen, and with the animal appetites of the human body; It relates mainly to the lowest part of the body, the sexual organs and the digestive system; Fortitude (or Courage) was associated mainly with the warrior class and with the emotional eleTemperanceFortitudePrudenceJusticement in man; it relates mainly to the solar plexus and the heart parts of the body; Prudence was associated mainly with the ruling class of society and with the faculty of reason; it relates mainly to the highest part of the body, the head; Justice really stands above the social class system, and rules the proper relationship among the other three cardinal virtues, but mainly in human beings who have reached the wisdom level of the Tetractys. These associations are based on the fact that, as seen in our page on Pythagorean Emulation, the human being is composed of a Tetractys, that is, a tripartite basic entity (Body, Soul and Spirit), crowned by a fourth part, called Wisdom. In other words, each part of the Tetractys of the human being has its fundamental virtue, or its Cardinal Virtue: Temperance is related mainly to the physical Body component of the human being. Fortitude is related mainly to the emotional Soul component. Prudence is related mainly to the rational  Spirit component. Justice is related to the Wisdom component of the human being, but only where, and only when, wisdom does exist in a human being, which is after a long and tenacious work to dominate all the passions and appetites of the three other basic components. And this long and tenacious work to achieve wisdom is precisely the subject of the EthoPlasìn holistic education. Thus the meaning, and the importance, of the famous "Know Thyself" concept dominating the whole of the philosophy of Ancient-Greece and the holistic formation of the EthoPlasìn Academy. Thus the fundamental difference between Ancient-Greece philosophy (the founders of Philosophy), and modern philosophy: the former was first and foremost a holistic "Way of Being", as opposed to only a "Way of Understanding", like modern philosophy has reduced itself being in the last few centuries. As hinted in the first section of our Home page, Ancient-Greece philosophy was both aspects, in a perfectly integrated and harmonious way. The essential missing part, in modern philosophy, is the reason why there is a need to return to ancient philosophy, as it was created by its inventors, if we want to use it properly as the base of best holistic education. Be it clear that many institutions (like Freemasonry) and religions (like the Catholic Church) have attempted to steal, or copy, this system of platonic values, the cardinal virtues in particular, and to adapt them to their own purposes, distorting them substantially on the way, but the original definition, and the establishment of the essence of these values is the platonic one, and the only valid one. It is thus the only one that EthoPlasìn will use in its philosophy and its corresponding holistic formation process. Again, in this holistic formation, Temperance is associated to the physical part of the Tetractys, whose passions have to be kept under the good control of the higher parts, through the cardinal virtue of Temperance [Politeia IV,430E-431A]. Fortitude plays a similar role with the emotional part of the Tetractys [Politeia IV, 429A]. Prudence intervenes similarly at the highest level of the rational part of the Tetractys [Politeia VI-VII]. Finally, Justice ensures that the 3 previous parts function in a perfectly balanced way, in the "Just Measure", at the level of the spiritual part (Wisdom) of the Tetractys [Politeia IV, 443CE]: "A man who is just does not allow any part of himself to do the work of another part, or allow the various classes within him to meddle with each other. He regulates well what is really his own, and rules himself. He puts himself in order, is his own friend, and harmonizes the three parts of himself like three limiting notes in a musical scale, high, low and middle. He binds together those parts and any others there may be in between, and from having been many things he becomes entirely one, moderate and harmonious. Only then does he act.Canova_TheseusAndTheMinotaur And when he does anything, whether acquiring wealth, taking care of his body, engaging in politics, or in private contracts, in all of these, he believes that the action is just and fine that preserves this inner harmony and helps achieve it, and calls it so, and regards as wisdom the knowledge that oversees such actions"

  4. Virtue as Health and Happiness - In ancient philosophy, virtue is conceived as the health of the overall soul [υγιεια τε τισ ψυχης] intended as the harmony of the 4 parts of the Tetractys, including of course the body [Politeia IV,444CE]. The fundamental precept of the platonic philosophy is that man has to conduct a life in a "Just Measure" [συμμετρον] in order to render all things good and beautiful as much as possible. Plato is very explicit about this in his Timaeus [87D]: "In determining health or disease, or virtue and vice, no proportion, or lack of it, is more important than that between soul and body"... "For both these conditions [health and disease], there is in fact one way to preserve oneself, and that is not to exercise the soul without exercising the body, nor the body without the soul, so that each may be balanced by the other, and so be sound" [Timaeus 88B]... "We should also avoid drugs as, when you try to wipe disease out before they have run their due course of soul equilibrium, the mild diseases are liable to get severe, and the occasional one frequent" [Timaeus 89C]. The highest part of the soul is the Spirit, as our divine guide, and "it resides at the top part of our bodies; it raises us up away from the earth and toward what is akin to us in heaven; For it is from heaven, the place from which our souls were originally born, that the divine part suspends our head, i.e. our root, and so keeps our whole body erect. So if a man has become absorbed in his appetites or his ambitions, and takes great pains to further them, all his thoughts are bound to become sick and merely mortal. And so far as it is at all possible for a man to become thoroughly mortal, he cannot help but fully succeed in this, seeing that he has cultivated his mortality all along. On the other hand, if a man has seriously devoted himself to virtue, to the love of learning, and to true wisdom, if he has exercised these virtuous aspects of himself above all, then there is absolutely no way that his thoughts can fail to be sane, immortal and divine, should Truth become within his grasp. And to the extent that human nature can partake of immortality, he can in no way fail to achieve this: constantly caring for his divine part as he does, keeping well-ordered the guiding spirit that lives within him, he must indeed be also supremely happy" [Timaeus 90ABC]. In short: "A fit body does not, by its own virtue, make the soul good, but, instead, the opposite is true: a good soul, by its own virtue, can make the body as good as possible[Politeia 403D]. Achieving these levels of virtue, health, wisdom and happiness, is really achieving the Victory on the Minotaur (sculpture of Canova to the right) that we talk about in our home page, and attaining the type of holistic education promoted by the EthoPlasìn Academy. 

  5. A Dualistic Conception of Man and its Paradoxes - For Plato, a man is clearly, and definitely, a dualistic entity composed of an eternal soul, or rather immortal once created, but living in a body for only a definite period of time. The body is in fact like a temporary prison, even the grave of the soul as, like Euripides once said: "who knows whether being alive is being dead and being dead is being alive" [Gorgias 492A]. After what we call death, the soul is liberated and starts living freely its best life according to its real spiritual nature. All the ethics of Plato are conditioned by this dualistic conception that he, for the first time in the history of humanity, brought to light. This brings in a couple of paradoxes that are difficult to accept in our contemporary world. The first paradox is that the soul has the role to dominate the body entirely, to the point of not being affected in any way negatively, if and when "its death", or rather the death of its temporary body, comes to happen. The soul has to have complete independence from, or certainly over, the body, in the meantime. The death of the body is only the liberation of the soul from its "oyster shell" [Phaedrus 250C]. In the mean time the soul keeps full control of the body (like the beautiful Enioxos symbol of the sculpture of the charioteer to the left), based on the philosophy of the Delphic "Know Thyself". As expressed in Phaedo [67A], "while we live, we shall be closest to knowledge if we refrain as much as possible from association with the body and do not join with it more than we must, if we are not infected with its nature, but purify ourselves from it until the god himself frees us [through "death"]. In this way we shall escape the contamination of the body's folly; in this way we shall be likely to be in the company of people of the same kind, and by our own efforts we shall know all that is pure, which is presumably the Truth, for it is not permitted to the impure to attain the pure". Again, Plato reinforces the concept in Politeia [403D]: "A fit body does not by its own virtue make the soul good, but, instead, the opposite is true: a good soul by its own virtue makes the body as good as possible". The human soul is created by the "Demiurgos", but once created, it is immortal. Its cycles of reincarnation exist only to allow it to exercise its freewill, participate in this way into the development of the creation as a co-creator, and eventually return to a life of happy communion with its creator. The second paradox has to do with the need of the soul to flee from the life and from the world of the body, as much as possible, during life, and as soon as possible, at the time of death, after having accomplished as best as possible its contribution and Mission of Co-creation, during its earthly life. This is why evil always exists in this world, in order to give the soul a chance to pursue the Good through the best use of its freewill. Theatetus [176AB] speaks very clearly in this regard: "That is why a man should make all haste to escape from earth to heaven; and escape means becoming as like God as possible; and a man becomes like God when he becomes just and pious, with understanding". In the overall process, during his lifetime, the soul has to keep itself as similar as God as possible in order to achieve this objective and its happiness. In Laws [716E] we find further insistence on this duty of the human soul: "If a good man keeps the gods constant company in his prayers, this will be the best and noblest policy he can follow; it is the conduct that fits his character as nothing else can, and it is the most effective way of achieving a happy life. But if the wicked man does it, the results are bound to be just the opposite. Whereas the good man's soul is clean, the wicked man's soul is polluted, and it is never right for a good man, or for God, to receive gifts from unclean hands, which means that even if impious people do lavish a lot of attention on the gods, they are wasting their time, whereas the trouble taken by the pious man is very much in season". These two paradoxes have a clear common meaning. To flee from the body means to flee from the evil aspects of the body through virtue and knowledge. To flee from this earthly life means to flee from the the moral evil of this world, also through virtue and knowledge, and through the application of the great principle of the Just Measure [συμμετρον] of order and harmony seen at the beginning of this page.

  6. A New Table of Values Caused by Metaphysics - Up until Socrates and Plato, humanity had never made a real distinction in its thinking between body and soul: it was one and the same thing, as a human being. Socrates was the real discoverer of the soul as a separate entity of the human being. And this separate entity became the main, and most essential, component of the conception of a human being. Socrates however has never written anything. He speaks only through the writings of Plato, and nearly only through these writings. Consequently, it might very well be that what Socrates says about the soul is really Plato's discovery and thinking. Who of the two had first this beautiful intuition of a clear distinction is not really important. In practice however, it is certainly Plato who brings this intuition to its full metaphysical development. On the basis of Plato's Theory of Ideas, or Theory of Forms, in the same way that a man is composed of a "divine" metaphysical and invisible immortal component (the soul), and of a visible mortal physical one (the body), everything else in our world has a physical component (the visible thing) that corresponds to its metaphysical (and invisible) model, or form (the invisible Idea founding it, or giving it its nature and functions). This is the historical passage from physics to metaphysics, that happened then, for the first time, in the history of humanity, and a passage that is really the foundation of what we now call Philosophy. By the same token, this major and fundamental achievement in human thinking, along with the new dualistic conception of man, is, inevitably, as a consequence, the source of an entirely new Table of Values for the human being, like the "limiting notes of a musical scale" [Politeia IV, 443D], regarding the height and quality of his living and his social behavior. In that table, the values of the soul become more important than the values of the body, or at least have a priority in founding the quality, and real Beauty, of a human being. In the same manner, the values for judging the quality or the beauty of a physical thing have a direct reference to its degree of correspondence to the Form of the Idea behind this visible thing. All this led to the establishment of a real Table of Values, created by the newly-born philosophy, that will influence the rest of the history of humanity and its ethics until today. At the top level of the table, there were the Spiritual Values, the ones of the soul as the most important part of the human being, corresponding essentially to the top level of the Tetractys, and that we can summarize in two concepts: Wisdom and Justice. At the middle level there were the Vital Values, corresponding to the three lower levels of the Tetractys, and that can be summarized with the names of the so-called Cardinal Virtues of Prudence, Fortitude and Temperance. At the bottom level, there were the Physical Values, corresponding to the degree of goodness of the practical things required for personal and social living, like money, personal belongings and what constitutes what we normally consider wealth. In this scale, lower values are really good values only if subordinated to a higher level. In Laws [726A-727A] Plato is quite explicit about this table of values: "There are two elements that make up the whole of every man. One [soul] is stronger and superior, and acts as a master; the other [body], which is the weaker and inferior, is a slave; and so a man must always respect the master in him in preference to the slave. Next after the gods, a man must honor his soul".

  7. A Just Appreciation of Pleasure and Pain - Some of the writings of Plato give the impression that pleasure is considered very negatively in the new Table of Values. For example, in Phaedo [83BE] we read the following: "the soul of the true philosopher keeps away from pleasures and desires and pains as far as he can ... as they will cause the greatest and most extreme evil ... if they tie the soul too much to the body; Every pleasure or pain provides another nail to rivet the soul to the body and to weld them together. It makes the soul corporeal, so that it believes that truth is what the body says it is". However, Plato makes a distinction between the pleasures of the three parts of the Tetractys of the human being and sees them as a prerogative, more of the soul than of the body, with the quality of the pleasures being valued on the basis of the same hierarchy that applies to the four parts of the human Tetractys. It is really the pleasures of the lowest parts that have to kept under good control, and avoided if they are to be used blindly or without the consciousness that they tie the soul too much to the body.  In Politeia [585DE-586DE] Plato says clearly that pleasures can all be enjoyed justly at certain conditions: "The kinds of pleasures that are concerned with the care of the body share less in truth, and in being, than those concerned with the care of the soul. ...Therefore, when the entire soul follows the philosophic part [the Wisdom, in the Tetractys], each other part of it complies to its own function and behaves justly; and as a result, each other part will enjoy justly its own pleasures, the best and truest pleasures possible for it". In Philebus [66E-67B], Plato re-dimensions, without renegading it, the ascetical conception of ethics of Gorgias, by affirming that a man is both a soul and a body, and cannot live happily only with the pleasures of one or the other: "The pleasure of reason is far superior to pleasure of the body and more beneficial for human life. … But both reason and pleasure have lost any claim that one or the other is, by itself, the Good itself, since they lack in autonomy, and in the power of self-sufficiency and perfection". Man has, and needs, a life with a just mixture of pleasures, from the body, the soul and the spirit, and his life is a good one if the mixture is right, giving priority to the pleasures of the higher part, and keeping under control of the higher part the pleasures of the lower parts. These considerations are reaffirmed in Laws [732D-734E] in a way that could be an anticipation of the forthcoming Epicureans, where Plato says that, in a good life, pleasure has to predominate over pain: "Human nature involves, above all, pleasures, pains, and desires, and no mortal animal [like man] can help being hung up in total dependence of these powerful influences. This is why we should praise the noblest life … because it excels in providing what we all seek: a predominance of pleasure over pain throughout our lives. … We have to ask if one condition suits our nature, while another does not, and weigh the pleasant life against the painful, with that question in mind. … We want less pain and more pleasure. … We want a life in which pleasures and pains come frequently and with great intensity, but with pleasure predominating; one should select a life that will enable him to live as happily as a man can. … [On the basis of the 4 parts of the Tetractys, there are 4 basic types of life:] There is a life of self-control, a life of courage, a life of wisdom and a what we can call a life of overall health; As opposed to these, we have another 4 lives, the licentious, the cowardly, the foolish and the diseased. … What we want when we choose between lives is not a predominance of pain. … The courageous man does better than the coward, the wise man than the fool; so that, life for life, the former kind, the restrained, the courageous, the wise and the healthy, is pleasanter than the cowardly, the foolish, the licentious and the unhealthy. … To sum up, the life of physical fitness, and spiritual virtue together, is not only pleasanter than the life of depravity, but superior in other ways as well: it makes for beauty, and upright posture, efficiency and a good reputation, so that if a man lives a life like that, it will make his whole existence infinitely happier than his opposite number's". These last statements conclude the prelude of Laws, and the clear indication of the basic principles on which all national laws should be based on, and on the basis of which all men should be justly treated, in order to ensure the happiest possible civic life in a good society. The whole of Laws is an magisterial essay on ethics, related to the criteria for the establishment of best civic authority, an ideal personal virtuous discipline and most legitimate just authority. And all these concepts are part of the holistic formation provided at the EthoPlasìn Academy. 

  8. Soul Purification to Attain Wisdom - Pythagoras was the first one to talk openly about the need of the purification of the soul through the intervention of the highest part of the Tetractys. Then Socrates posed firmly the "Cure of the Soul" as the supreme duty of all human being who want to achieve wisdom and happiness. Plato finally pushes the concept of purification to its full extent. He affirms, that the purification of the soul is only achieved fully when, after the long work of the Delphic "Know Thyself", characterizing a philosophical life, a man's consciousness has finally access to the metaphysical dimension of the World of Ideas and its leading role in comprehending and handling both reality in general and human life in particular. By accessing this high level of consciousness, man is finally "converted" to an elevated level of life that identifies knowledge with virtue, as integrated in what he calls Wisdom. This is the top level of the Tetractys, and the crowning of a so-called "philosophical life", that is the best life that can lead a human being in its Mission of Co-Creation. Plato's Phaedo [69AD] is quite explicit about all this: "I fear this is not the right exchange to attain virtue, to exchange pleasures for pleasures, pains for pains, and fears for fears, the greater for the less, like coins, but that the only valid currency for which all these things should be exchanged is Wisdom. With this, we have real courage and moderation and justice and, in a word, true virtue, with wisdom, whether pleasures and fears and all such things be present or absent. When these are exchanged for one another, in separation from wisdom, such virtue is only an illusory appearance of virtue; … Wisdom itself is a kind of cleansing, or purification ... and the characteristic of those who have practiced philosophy the right way".  Wisdom, as the crowning of a good Tetractys, and, as such, the leader of all virtues, is thus the key to attaining the most possible happy human life after a holistic formation like the one provided by the EthoPlasìn Academy.

  9. Friendship - For Plato, real friendship is an ethical question and reality that is also based on the dualistic and metaphysical dimension of the human being. It has to do with the natural pursuit of the Good as the top value in his Theory of Ideas. Friendship is a pure relationship, different from love, and with no connotation per se of sexual attraction. Love, or sexual attraction, may well be born from friendship, but they are then something different, or something additional that does not change the nature itself of friendship. Real friendship has nothing to do with the physical, but only with the metaphysical dimension of the human being and its natural aspiration to the Good through the best part of its Tetractys. The best way to explain all this, is maybe to simply let Plato speak in his own words from his work Lysis [218C-221E]: "The soul, that which is neither entirely good or entirely bad itself, is, by the presence of the evil part, a friend of the Good. … Whoever is a friend, is a friend of someone for the sake of something... like a sick man is a friend to the doctor… and if he is a friend on account of disease, it is for the sake of health. It is for the sake of health [the aspiration to a good thing] that the doctor has received friendship, even if it is on account of disease [an evil thing to be eliminated]. … So what is neither  entirely good, nor entirely bad [like a human being], is a friend of the good on account of what is bad, but for the sake of what is good. … So, somehow, the friend is friend of its friend for the sake of a friend, on account of its enemy. … 'Like' has become friend of 'like' in a chain reaction that goes up in quality but has to arrive at a first principle which will no longer bring us back to another friend, something that goes back to the first friend, something for the sake of which we say that all the rest are friends too. … It is that first thing which is truly a friend [which is the ontological Good]. … It is on account of bad that the Good is loved. Without the disease, there is no need for the medicine. … A thing desires what it is deficient in. … The deficient is a friend to that in which it is deficient. … But it feels deficient where something is taken away from it. … something that belongs to it. So if two persons are friends with each other, in some way they naturally belong to each other". In other words, friendship is such only if it is a pursuit of the ontological Good, and when this pursuit is absent in a relationship, it is not friendship, but something else, at a lower level, and for the pursuit of lower objectives.

  10. Eros as a Force to Acquire and Create Immortal Beauty to Attain the Eternal Good - Eros, or the erotic life of a human being, is also a concept that is very far from the meaning of the word in our contemporary world. It is also entirely different from 'Love' as a concept. Like friendship, Eros is also based on the metaphysical dimension of the human being, and it is why it was considered a God in ancient Greek philosophy, or a divine-like faculty acting at the holistic dimension of the Tetractys. Curiously enough, contrary to its meaning today, Eros has little to do with sex, or at least not with sex as its main nature or level of action. Like friendship, Eros is first and foremost the expression of the pursuit of the Good, but through Beauty this time, and beauty in all aspects of life, not at all only the physical beauty of the human body, let alone its purely sexual faculty. In any case, Eros is tightly linked to the concept of Beauty, but metaphysical Beauty. For Plato, the beauty of a work of art is "the imitation of an imitation", that is a level of beauty that is 3 levels under the real metaphysical Beauty, which is essentially the Idea of Beauty that is an expression of harmony, order and the just measure, or the Beauty at the fundamental level of the "being" that best expresses the Good. This is the kind of beauty thatEcstasySteTheresaAvilaBernini Greek philosophy called "Kallos", as explained in our page on Kallos Beauty. And Eros is the force that moves the human being to pursue that Beauty, or the Good that one is missing, in all aspects of live, and at levels higher and higher, up to the level of contemplation. At that level, Eros becomes Ecstasy, an ecstasy that is very close to the religious, or rather the mystical ecstasy of some saints, like the one expressed in the beautiful and famous sculpture of Bernini, "The Ecstasy of Saint Theresa", in the Basilica of Santa Maria della Vittoria, in Rome, Italy, shown to the right. For Plato specifically, Eros is a Demône more than a God. As such, Eros is an intermediate and mediating force between the mortal and the immortal, between man and God, between the man who was created, but aspires to the Beauty and the Good of eternity. Plato expresses this reality very clearly in Symposium [202D-203A]: "If Eros is not a god, what could it be? He is in between mortal and immortal. He is a great Demône. Everything spiritual is in between God and mortal. Demônes are messengers who shuttle back and forth between the two levels, conveying prayer and sacrifice from men to gods, while to men they bring commands from the gods and gifts in return for sacrifices. Being in the middle of the two, they round out the whole and bind fast the all to all. … Gods do not mix with men directly. They mingle and converse with us through Demônes instead, whether we are awake or asleep". In other words, Eros was born with a double nature, thus a mediating nature between two realms. Plato expresses this with a beautiful metaphorical myth, the one of Eros being procreated during a night of love, during the celebrations of Aphrodite, the Goddess of Beauty, through the embracement of Poros, a handsome flourishing young man, and Penîa, goddess of poverty. The child Eros has in inheritance the characters of the three figures involved: the goddess of Beauty, the goddess of Poverty, and the flourishing young man. For this reason, Eros will spend the rest of its existence as a Demône force, searching for what Penîa was lacking: the flourishing Kallos Beauty of Poros and the metaphysical Beauty of Aphrodite. Plato expresses this beautiful myth in the Symposium [203CE]. But, as Plato also says explicitly [Symposium 204A], Eros is also a Demône force "between wisdom and ignorance". It expresses itself as an irresistible impulse to get more and more beauty and wisdom in higher grades, or at always higher and higher levels. In the way, it "binds fast the all to all" [Symposium 202E], unifying the extreme opposites of mortal and immortal, and even keeping together the whole cosmos. From this point of view, even the universal cosmic gravity is nothing but an expression of the attraction force of Eros. Eros is thus the mediating and universal force between "All", that is between the realm of the platonic World of Ideas, with the Good at its top value, and the realm of our plain visible reality.  As such, it is a search of immortality by the mortal, to attain Wisdom, the Good and the ecstasy of beatitude and happiness. It is a drive to procreate Beauty, at both the physical and the spiritual levels, and to attain eternal Good through Beauty. The physical procreation level involved is the symbol of this victory on the mortal, and the attainment of the immortal. Even the animals are under the drive of Eros in order to achieve a kind of immortality through procreation. The physical gravity of the cosmos operates on the same basis. The arts and the procreation of beauty are also the symbol of this search for immortality. The construction of important and long-lasting works of architecture that will be attached to one's name and fame for centuries or millennia has the same meaning. In short, Eros is the force that drives to the attainment of the best of what one is missing, in continuously higher grades, and at higher levels, of Beauty, until the final reunification with the metaphysical and eternal Good, because attaining this metaphysical Good means attaining the only possible type of human happiness. The road leading to this achievement is the erotic procreation of progressively higher grades of Beauty at both the physical and the spiritual levels. And the end result is the best possible type of immortality that can be granted to man. In closing this point, it is interesting to note that, contrary to the Christian love which, at its best, is considered purely donative, the philosophical type of love expressed by the Eros is essentially acquisitive, as a search to attain, and integrate to one's soul, the Beauty that represents the metaphysical Good, and to acquire immortality through a process of procreation, or co-creation, of such beauty, both physically and spiritually.

  11. Eros Linked to Anamnesis and Philosophy - The drive of Eros is closely linked also to the maieutic process of acquiring knowledge through anamnesis, in particular for the access to the World of Ideas with its top metaphysical values of the Good, the True, the Beautiful, the Just etc. Before its incarnation, the human soul had direct access to these high values in all their beauty. DurinErosControlg incarnation, the soul has partially forgotten them, or has no direct access to them anymore, but instinctively strongly aspires to them in their full beauty. Consequently, the process of this re-acquisition is achieved through a kind of maieutic, whereby a soul is brought to bear knowledge out, like a mother bears a child. By the same token, this maieutic is also a process of remembering a knowledge that has been forgotten at the moment of incarnation. It is thus a process of anamnesis and maieutic. And of course, Philosophy, the great dialectical philosophy, as invented by Socrates and Plato, is the instrument for both this maieutic and this anamnesis, as long as the soul is dominating the lower passions of its Tetractys, like it is somewhat expressed as a symbol, in the beautiful sculpture of Adonis and Venus on the left (by Francesco Susini, around 1625). In Meno [82B-86B], Plato gives a beautiful practical live demonstration of anamnesis through a maieutic process in interviewing an ignorant slave on complex problems of geometry, and getting that slave to provide the good answers and solutions. From this point of view, Eros and Philosophy are two faces of the same coin. At the same time, Eros is the mediating force in between the two realms, the metaphysical World of Ideas and our simple physical visible world. The soul is instinctively in love with the beauty of the greatest values of the World of Ideas, and aspires to re-acquire their conscious knowledge, and to be animated by their guiding role. The anamnesis through maieutic is well defined in Phaedrus [249BC]: "A soul that never saw the Truth [before incarnation] cannot take a human shape [only an animal one], since a human being must understand ideas in terms of [metaphysical] general forms, proceeding to bring many perceptions together into a [dialectical] reasoned unity. That process is the recollection of the things our soul saw when it was travelling with God [before incarnation], when it disregarded the things we now call 'real' and lifted up its head to what is truly real instead". In Meno [81CD] Plato is even more explicit: "As the soul is immortal, has been born often, and has seen all things here and in the underworld, there is nothing which it has not learned; so it is in no way surprising that it can recollect the things it knew before, both about virtue and other things. As the whole of nature is akin, and the soul has learned everything, nothing prevents a man, after recalling one thing only - a process of learning - discovering everything else for himself, if he is brave and does not tire of the search, for searching and learning are, as a whole, recollection". In this recollection process, through philosophical activity and the holistic discipline of self-knowledge and self-control, Eros is the mediating force that "gives wings" [Phaedrus 251C-252B] to the soul, and gives it the impulse to go up, through anamnesis, for a glance at the hyper-cosmic world ("hyperuranio": Phaedrus 247C) of metaphysical knowledge. Eros, once again, does it because of its love for the beauty of the concepts involved. And in this particular instance, like in many others, and contrary to our modern conception of an erotic relationship, Eros does not have any essential sexual connotation. In the end, Eros and Philosophy are associated as the two sides of the same coin. In Symposium [204AB], Plato is very explicit about this: "Eros is in between wisdom and ignorance. None of the gods loves wisdom or wants to become wise, for they are wise, and no one else who is wise already loves wisdom; on the other hand, no one who is ignorant will love wisdom either or want to become wise. … Who then are the people who love wisdom? … Those who love wisdom fall in between those two extremes [of ignorance and wisdom]. And love is one of them because love is extremely beautiful. It follows that love must be a lover of wisdom and, as such, is in between being wise and being ignorant" [ that is a lover of wisdom, that is a philo-sopher]. Philosophy is thus, in the end, a kind of "erotic attraction", or "love", for "wisdom" that is being remembered through a maieutic process of recollection called "anamnesis". So, Eros, Anamnesis and Philosophy are closely tied together, in an apparent mortal embracement, with regards to the futilities of the illusionary physical world, but nevertheless in an embracement of vital importance to generate the best of human life, that is the Philosophical Life, in order to attain the full enjoyment of the beauty of the only real world, the metaphysical World of Ideas capable of leading man to his best achievements and full self-realization on his way back to reunification with the ONE that is his real divine nature. This process is in essence the Self and Planet Oneness that we talk about in Rule Six of the EthoPlasìn discipline, and in our page on Science Of Being.

  12. Beauty's particular privilege - In the whole World of Ideas, Beauty, as an Idea, is a privileged one. It is the only Idea that was given the privilege to represent directly and easily, into the physical world, the splendor of the metaphysical world. All the other Ideas can be accessed through the maieutic process of anamnesis, but only with some difficulty, and not even always entirely by all human souls. The Idea of Beauty instead, on the basis of its ontological privilege, can offer the best 'image' of itself quite spontaneously to most human souls. This is why most human beings will quite spontaneously agree on what is beautiful, while they will not as easily agree on what is good or just. In addition, as seen above, Eros is structurally lined to Beauty, and Beauty is structurally linked to the most subtly powerful, or most 'metaphysical', of our senses, the one of sight. This is why Beauty plays such an important role in the life of all human souls, as it helps the enjoyment and the desire of procreation of more Beauty by the human souls, as their level, making them the co-creation participators of a beautiful universe. In turn, this co-creation participation in the beauty of the universe is the only form of freewill expression that leads to happiness, that is to the only possible form of happiness to a human being on this beautiful planet Earth through its role as Co-Creation Participator. This makes Beauty, and its creation, probably the most important platonic ethical value to be followed by all human beings: the appreciation, the rewarding and the procreation of Beauty in all we do, feel and think, in all our physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual activities. This privileged role of Beauty is expressed in a beautiful page of Phaedrus [250B-251B]: "… beauty was radiant to see. … It was radiant among all the other objects [of the World of Ideas]; and now that we have come down here [incarnated on Earth], we grasp it sparkling through the clearest of our senses: vision. Vision of course is the sharpest of our bodily senses, although it does not see wisdom [directly]. It would awaken a terribly powerful love if an image of wisdom came through our sight as clearly as beauty does, and the same goes for the other objects of inspired love; But now, Beauty alone has this privilege, to be the most clearly visible and the most loved. … A initiate [recently incarnated], one who has seen much in heaven [before incarnation] when he sees a godlike face [like the Antinous shown to the left] or bodily form that has captured Beauty well, first he shudders and a fear comes over him like those he felt at the earlier time; then he gazes at it with the reverence due a god, and if he weren't afraid people would think him completely mad, he would sacrifice to it as if he were the image of a god. Once he has looked at him, his chill gives way to sweating and a high fever, because the stream of beauty that pours into him through his eyes warms him up and waters the growth of his wings". And these wings of the soul are the metaphysical tools that will lead the human being to fly high to the World of Ideas in order to get the necessary parameters to enjoy perfectly legitimately a perfect love relationship, particularly, as seen further down, in its version of pure Platonic Love.    

  13. Love as a Soul Beauty Aspiration - Eros is by nature linked to Love, and in expressing its beauty even sexually in certain circumstances. Real Love is a superior dimension of the 'erotic' process of aspiration to the highest values, and to the most beautiful entities, of the metaphysical World of Ideas through the ecstasy caused by Beauty. A soul is essentially a form of pure Beauty. Love means being attracted to the beauty of this particular form of Beauty, the one of another human soul, with whom we find a beautiful affinity. It is from this point of view that Plato associates Eros and Philosophy as the two faces of the same coin. In Symposium [204AB] he speaks very explicitly about thiCastorAndPolluxs: "Eros is in between wisdom and ignorance. … No one who is already wise needs to desire wisdom. On the other hand, no one who is ignorant will love wisdom. … Those who love wisdom fall in between these two extremes. And the wisdom lover is one of them, because he is in love with what is beautiful, and wisdom is extremely beautiful. It follows that Love must be a love of wisdom and, as such, is the attribute of who is in between being wise and being ignorant. This too comes from Eros's parentage, from a father [Poros] who is wise and resourceful, and from a mother [Penîa] who is not wise and lacks resource". However, in the philosophy of Ancient-Greece, Love, Eros and Sex are three entirely separate realms that sometimes overlap, but that are fundamentally separate and different, and when real love does exist, sex can never, and must never, overlap in any dominant way. In its purest form, it is the so-called "Platonic Love".

  14. Platonic Love - Most non-Greek modern authors studying Plato do not seem capable of understanding Platonic Love, especially if and when they have no real Greek culture, and they base their opinions on the kind of problematic translations like the one of Cambridge that we mentioned at the beginning of this page. For them, Platonic Love is quite bluntly, and quite wrongly, a simple form of male homosexuality and pederasty. This is entirely wrong. What makes the concept so difficult to understand, is that there is, in Platonic Love, a certain form of homosexuality and pederasty, but not at all in the way it is intended today. First of all, Plato condemned, explicitly and clearly, any form of homosexuality as intended today. In Politeia [403AC) he says for example: "The right kind of love is by nature the love of order and beauty that has been moderated by education. … The right kind of love has nothing mad or licentious about it. … Sexual pleasure mustn't come into it, and the lover, and his beloved, must have no share in it, if they are to love and be loved in the right way. … If a lover can persuade a beloved to let him, then he may kiss him, embrace him, but as a father would be with a son, for the sake of what is fine and beautiful: ...they should go no further than this, as otherwise he will be reproached… and lacking in appreciation for what is fine and beautiful".  In Phaedrus [250E-251A], Plato even says explicitly that physical sexual homosexuality, obviously intended in its worse form of male anal sodomy, is "against nature" (παρα φυσιν): "If, instead of looking at the beloved reverently, he surrenders to [sexual] pleasure and sets out in the manner of a four-footed beast, … and wallows in vice, without a trace of fear or shame, … he goes after unnatural pleasure". Plato then also condemns physical homosexuality in Laws [837CD], albeit in a more sophisticated way, talking about the "third category" of friendship: "The lover of the body, hungry for his partner who is ripe to be enjoyed, like a luscious fruit, tells himself to have his fill. … But in another case [of the platonic lover of the soul], physical sexual desire will count for very little, and the lover will be content to gaze upon his beloved without lusting for him: a mature and genuine desire of soul for soul. That body should sate itself with body, he'll think outrageous; his reverence and respect for self-control, courage, high principles and good judgment will make him want to live in purity, chaste lover with chaste beloved. … This is the "third kind" of friendship [platonic love] that we talked about earlier".LovePlatonic

  15. Beauty as a Scale of Eros with Five Levels - For Plato, as we have seen, Eros is a force animating all aspects of our life, in the pursuit of Beauty, Kallos Beauty, and the absolute idea of the metaphysical Good that it represents. This pursuit is done on a scale of levels of importance that has at least 5 grades. The first grade of that scale, or level, the lowest one, is the one of the beauty of the physical human body. This first level includes the beauty of sexual pleasure, as absolutely legitimate, but sex must not be aNatoire_ExpulsionFromParadise1740n end, rather a means, and must be kept under good self-control, in order to attain the real metaphysical Beauty of the Idea that the beautiful body is representing. But a man is not mainly its body, but mainly its soul. This brings in the second level of beauty to be pursued, the one of the soul imprisoned in the beautiful "oyster shell" [Phaedrus 250C] that the body is. It is at this second level that Platonic Love is born and will be used to make men more virtuous: "The beauty of people's soul is more valuable than the beauty of their bodies, so that if someone is decent in his soul, even though he is scarcely blooming in his body, our lover must be content to love and care for him, and to seek to give birth to such ideas that will make young men better" [Symposium 210BC]. Then, in the same section of the Symposium, Plato goes on with the third level of beauty, the one of good laws and human activities, affirming that this beauty is much better, and much more important, than the previous ones. It is at this third level that the best cultural, artistic and political achievements take place, like, so Plato says, the works left by the culture that animated two great historical leaders: Lycurgus in Sparta and Solon in Athens. The fourth level of Beauty has to do with what we could call, in our modern world, the one of science. This is the beauty of knowledge that will help lead man to wisdom. At this fourth level, a man "will see the beauty of knowledge and be looking mainly not at beauty in a single example ...  but at the beauty of a great sea of beauty, and gazing upon this, he gives birth to many gloriously beautiful ideas and theories, in unstinting love of wisdom" [Symposium 210CD]. As Aristotle later explained, this fourth level implies, in all aspects of human life, the application of the beauty of 'order', 'symmetry' and 'just measure', and the use of mathematics as its main scientific tool.  The last grade, the fifth one, is the metaphysical level where Beauty is seen and enjoyed fully in a great ecstatic metaphysical vision: Plato expresses this concept in Symposium [211B-212A]: "When someone rises by these stages [up to this 5th level of beauty], through loving his beloved correctly [Platonic Love], and begins to see 'This Beauty', he has almost grasped his goal. This is what it is to go aright, or be led by another, into the mystery of love: one goes always upwards for the sake of 'This Beauty', starting out from beautiful things, and using them like raising stairs, from one body to two, and from two to all beautiful bodies, then from beautiful bodies to beautiful social achievements, and from achievements to learning beautiful things; and from these lessons he arrives in the end at this [dialectical] lesson, which is the learning of 'This Very Beauty', so that in the end he comes to know what it is to be beautiful. ... Then someone gets to see the Beauty itself, absolute, pure, unmixed, not polluted by human flesh or color, or any other great nonsense of mortality, seeing the divine Beauty itself in its own [metaphysical] form. ... Then it will become possible for him to give birth not to images of virtue, but to true virtue... because he is in touch with true Beauty. ... The love of the gods belongs to anyone who has given birth to this true virtue and nourished it, and if any human being could become immortal, it would be he". And this last level is, of course, as seen earlier, what can lead to a possible mystical ecstasy. In the meantime, the man that reached this fifth level of Beauty contemplation has reached the level that makes life worth living, and that brings the only real form of happiness that is humanly possible on this beautiful planet Earth. At that point, a man is longing to operate only at that level (θεασθαι μονον και συνειναι) and to stay always at that level (θεωμενου και συνοντος αυτω), on his way to an eventual reunification with God, after a lucid and serene death, via wisdom and possibly even occasional mystical ecstasy on its way there.  

  16. Justice as a Concept of Merit - For Plato, as per Politeia [504D], there is nothing more important than Justice. And justice is the result of a well formed human Tetractys. Justice is in fact a virtue, the highest one, the one related to the highest part of the Tetractys, the part called Wisdom. This is why it is not easy to achieve justice, as Wisdom is not attained before the three lower parts of the Tetractys are under the good control of the highest part, or a man was able "to establish the parts of his soul in a natural [hierarchical] relation of control, one by another. ... This virtue is then a kind of health, fine condition, and well-being of the soul" [Politeia 444D]. As per Politeia [433AB], justice "is exactly what must be established throughout the city... where everyone practices the occupation for which he is naturally best suited... and does his own work without meddling with what isn't one's own". In other words, justice is what is produced in the city when a good degree of the other lower cardinal virtues already exists, or "what is left over in the city when Temperance, Courage, Prudence and Wisdom have been found". But the essential quality, or nature, of Justice, is found in Laws, and it is clearly defined in terms of Merit. We have a separate page on Meritocracy, and it should be read and complemented with the definition of concept of Justice in terms of Merit. The best way to define the concept of justice as a concept of merit, is probably to simply let Plato say it in his own words, in Laws [756E-757E]: "A system of selection [of a proper type of constitution or system of government] like that will effect a compromise between a monarchical and a democratic constitution, which is precisely the sort of compromise a constitution should always be. Even if you proclaim that a master and his slave shall have equal status, friendship between them is inherently impossible. The same applies to the relations between an honest man and a scoundrel. Indiscriminate equality for all, amounts to inequality for all, and both fill a country with quarrels between its citizens. How correct the old saying is, that "equality [between equals] leads to friendship"! It's right enough and it rings true, but what kind of equality has this potential is a problem which produces ripe confusion. This is because we use the same term for two concepts of "equality", which in most respects are virtual opposites. The first sort of equality (of measures, weights and numbers) is within the competence of any state and any legislator: that is, one can simply distribute equal awards by lot. But the most genuine equality, and the best, is not so obvious. It needs the wisdom and judgment of Zeus, and only in a limited number of ways does it help the human race; but when states, or even individuals, do find it profitable, they find it very profitable indeed. The general method I mean is to grant much to the great and less to the less great, adjusting what you give to take account of the real nature of each, specifically, to confer high recognition on great virtue, but when you come to the poorly talented in this respect, to treat them as they deserve. We maintain, in fact, that statesmanship consists of essentially this: strict [meritorious] justice. This is what we should be aiming at now, Clinias: this is the kind of equality we should concentrate on [meritorious justice], as we bring our [ideal] state into the world. The founder of any other state should also concentrate on this same goal when he frames his laws, and take no notice of a dictator, or even the power of the people. He must always make [meritorious] justice his aim, and this is precisely as we have described it: it consists of granting the "equality" that unequal persons [by nature or lack of dedication] each deserve to get. Yet on occasion, a state as a whole (unless it is prepared to put up with a degree of friction in one part or another) will be obliged to apply these concepts in a rather rough and ready way, because complaisance and toleration, which always wreck complete precision, are the enemies of strict justice. You can now see why it was necessary to avoid the anger of the man in the street by giving him an equal chance in the lot (though even then we prayed to the gods of good luck to make the lot give the right decisions). So though force of circumstances compels us to employ both sorts of equality, we should employ the second [the un-meritorious one], which demands good luck to prove successful, as little as possible". The balance is a symbol of Justice, but also the sword, and the two have to be used together for "Strict Justice", on a pure meritocratic basis, as per the symbol to the right. 

  17. Politics and the Best Form of Government - Ancient Greeks did not know representational democracy, but rather a direct participative democracy. All free adult male citizens could participate to the politics of the Assembly, and most did, and very actively. The sheer size of their democracy, really on a "city-size" base as opposed to a "Country-size" base obviously favored this high degree of direct participation. However, with the advent of the era of the Internet, and the high degree of instant worldwide communications that exist today, nothing would prevent our modern countries to enjoy a similar high degree of direct participative democracy. But it is not only the representational factor that made the democracy of Ancient Greece different from ours. It was also mainly the meritocratic factor. What distinguishes a democracy from any other type of government can be expressed in two words: liberty and equality. But both these characteristics were also defined quite differently from the way we intend them today. The first characteristic, Liberty, certainly existed, in that citizens could participate directly to all the important decisions of the country, and do pretty much all they wanted in their private life as long as they would not cause a damage or a prejudice to other citizens. On the other hand however, citizens not respecting the laws or the accepted norms of behavior could be accused quite spontaneously to cause a prejudice to someone else, or to the city, and be most easily, and most swiftly, brought to trial in front of the Assembly, and readily sentenced to even the most serious penalties, like exile or death. The death sentence against Socrates is the best example of this controlled liberty. In other words, people were free, probably more than the people of any other country at the time, but also very much under control by the institutions of government. As for the second characteristic of their democracy, equality, we also find a fundamental difference with our modern definition of that concept. As seen above, it was not an Indiscriminate Equality for all, that would only bring inequality for all, but an Equality in Inequality, or the equality that unequal persons each deserve to get at an equal level. In other words, it was a meritocratic equality. This meritocratic factor was very much applied for example in getting the most important positions of power within the state administration. Many times however, the state failed to apply this meritocratic principle. In that sense, Plato was often accused of being undemocratic, and he was, but only as long as we consider that he was really criticizing the democracy that too often allowed, through corruption or nepotism, the lack of application of the meritocratic process in attributing the most important positions of power. From this point of view, he was really criticizing a deteriorated form of democracy that too often behaved like a demagogy, without the application of the meritocratic factor. And this is the rebellion to that demagogical deterioration that made him try to define his ideal form of government, for a city or a country, in some of his major works, like Republic, Laws and Statesman. This demagogy is usually the reign of 'orators', or what we call politicians today, capable of fouling people by making them believe whatever they want, while only serving the advancement of their own careers for their own personal interests. In Gorgias [461C-466A] Plato gives a clear derogatory description of these false demagogic leaders: "… Oratory [the language of demagogic politicians] is not a craft… but a knack for producing a certain gratification and pleasure. … Oratory is the same thing as pastry baking… It is the product of a mind that is bold and clever at dealing with people, like a pastry baker… It is flattery… like cosmetics and sophistry… and an image of a part of politics that is shameful… There is, I take it, something you call body and something you call soul… and a state of fitness for each. And there is also an apparent state of fitness, and one that is real. … There are many people who appear to be fit, but unless one is a doctor, or a fitness expert, one wouldn`t readily notice that they are not fit. There are two related crafts… the one for the soul I call politics and legislation, while the one for the body I call gymnastics and medicine… In politics, the counterpart of gymnastics is legislation and the part that corresponds to medicine is justice … and the four parts should aim at what is best for the body and the soul. … Now, when flattery comes into play, it masks itself with each of the parts and pretends to be the characters of the masks, taking no thought at all about what is good for the body or the soul [but only about its own interest]. With the lure of what`s most pleasant at the moment, it sniffs out folly and hoodwinks it, so that it gives the impression of being most deserving. Pastry baking has put the mask of medicine. … It guessed at what`s pleasant with no consideration for what`s best. … Pastry baking is the flattery that wears the mask of medicine, like cosmetics does it for gymnastics. … What cosmetics is to gymnastics, pastry baking is to medicine; or rather what cosmetics is to gymnastics, sophistry is to legislation, and what pastry baking is to medicine, oratory is to justice. … If the soul didn`t govern the body … making its estimates by reference to the gratification it receives, … all things would be mixed and there would be no distinction between matters of medicine and health, and matters of pastry baking. … So, oratory is the counterpart in the soul to pastry baking, its counterpart in the body". This is quite a nasty and derogatory description of demagogic politicians getting involved, too often and too easily, in the politics of most degraded democracies. This is the kind of democracy, or rather demagogy, that Plato opposed and criticized so harshly, which does not mean at all he was anti-democracy. He wanted democracy as its best, that is one we could call a meritocracy, where doctors are not replaced by pastry bakers, and all leaders have attained positions of power on the basis of merit and "aiming at what is best for the body and soul" of all citizens.  

  18. Philosophy and the Best Form of Political Leadership - The Platonic concept of the so-called "Philosopher-King" was often interpreted wrongly as if Plato was a monarchist, or again an elitist or an aristocrat, as these terms would be intended today, in favor of the rich or noble classes to govern a country. These interpretations are all wrong because the insist too much on the "King" side of the expression, and not enough on the first and most important "Philosopher" side of the expression. The word 'king' here does not mean a 'king', but a 'leader', and a leader at the top of a pyramid of political command. The word 'philosopher' means a person who has received a holistic education, or at least has the best natural attributes of someone who is fully in charge of his Pythagorean Tetractys, with the superior part dominating perfectly the lower parts, and has attained the level of philosophical wisdom. Plato is very clear on this point, in Politeia [590CD]: "When the best part [the top part of the Tetractys] is naturally weak in someone, it can't rule the beasts within him, but can only serve them and learn to flatter them. … Therefore, to ensure that someone like that is ruled by something similar to what rules the best person, we say that he ought to be subordinated [a slave] to that best person who has a divine ruler within himself. It isn't to harm the subordinate [slave] that we say he must be ruled, … but because it is better for everyone to be ruled by divine reason [the wisdom of the highest part of the Tetractys], preferably within himself and his own, otherwise imposed from without, so that, as far as possible, all will be alike and friends, governed by the same thing [philosophical wisdom]". But, for Plato, there is only a small amount of people who can reach this level of wisdom, and there should be a direct relation between this level of wisdom and the degree of power leaders get in their various fields of command. Plato is very clear about this in Statesman [292E-297C]: "There is not a mass of people in the city that is capable of acquiring real expertise and self-control, … like there will only be very few top chess players… We should call a doctor, a doctor, only on the basis of his real expertise… and only then will we let him purge [lead] us on the basis of unpleasant medicine… The same applies to rulers that should possess expert knowledge and formation, and not merely seeming so, whether they rule according to laws or without laws, over willing or unwilling subjects, and whether the rulers are poor or wealthy. … Like a doctor, they can then purge the city for its benefit and the sake of what is just… making it better than it was so far. … The best thing is not that the laws should prevail, but rather the "kingly" man who possesses wisdom. … Only he, and not the law, can accurately embrace what is best and most just for all at the same time, and so always prescribe what is best". If the term 'King' were to be interpreted in a monarchical sense, Plato would not have said that the formation of a politician, for being appointed as a leader, cannot be completed before the age of 50, and only if he passes the necessary tests at that age, which he affirms explicitly in Politeia [540A]: "Then, at the age of 50, those who have survived the tests, and been successful both in practical matters and in the sciences, must be led to the goal and compelled to lift up the radiant light of their souls to what itself provides light for everything. And once they have seen the Good itself, they must each in turn put the city, its citizens, and themselves in order, using it as their model. Each of them will spend most of his time with philosophy, but, when his turn comes, he must labor in politics and rule for the city's sake, not as if he was doing something fine [not for his own prestige or advantage], but rather something that has to be done. Then, only after having educated others like himself to take his place as guardians of the city, he shall depart for the Isles of the Blessed and dwell there". In other words, to become a "Philosopher-King" means to become a political leader, but only after a long and fully holistic education on the basis of the Tetractys, and only then, usually not before the completion of the seventh Pythagorean Life Period of seven years, that is at age 50, will the city, or the country, be ensured to be well governed, as expressed in Politeia [521A]: "A well-governed city will be ruled by the truly rich, that is by those who are not rich in money (gold) but who are rich in the wealth that the happy philosophizing person must have, namely the Good of a life of Wisdom". This type of good governance implies by definition the Return of Philosophy, as expressed in another of his works, Letters [VII-326-AB], written 2400 years ago, but still very valid today.