Published online by Cambridge University Press: 06 December 2010
PLATO'S FUNDAMENTAL INSIGHT
The principal thesis of this chapter is that Plato's Republic and Laws should be read together as explorations of a theme that fascinates Plato at every stage of his career: the ability of those who have more understanding of what is valuable to lead those who have less. Notice that I say less understanding rather than none. Plato believes that human beings need not be put into one of two exhaustive categories: those who have perfect understanding of what is good, and those who are utterly ignorant of value. Most people, he assumes, fall somewhere between these extremes; and if someone has an unusually good understanding of value, it is appropriate – in fact, it may even be necessary – for him to try to educate those whose grasp of the good is smaller, but who are nonetheless educable. Not everyone, unfortunately, is educable. Plato holds that there can be no common understanding and therefore no stable political cooperation between those who are irreversibly sunk in ignorance and those who have a fuller (yet still imperfect) understanding of what is good. The hope that animates his political philosophy, from its initial steps to its culmination in the Laws, is that those who have some small grasp of value can form a community with those whose cognitive and ethical achievements are greater.