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On a Certain Tension in Plato's Republic

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 June 2010

Avrum Stroll
Affiliation:
University of California, La Jolla

Extract

In this paper, I wish to explore a certain tension I find in Plato's Republic between two competing conceptions of human nature. One of these is set forth explicitly; the emphasis Plato gives it strongly indicates that he conceives of it as his “official” theory. The other is merely hinted at, or presupposed, by certain things he says about pre-social man. Since this is so, it may be more prudent for me to speak at this stage about two different accounts of human nature which occur in the Republic, leaving it open and thus as subject to proof whether the accounts do embody disparate conceptions. Accordingly, I will set myself two tasks here: first, to establish that Plato does espouse two such conceptions of human nature, and then to show how they differ from one another; and second, to explore some of the implications of this analysis for the political theory he constructs in the Republic. I will attempt to show in the light of these efforts that the plausibility of his political theory depends upon a subtle vacillation between these conceptions.

Type
Articles
Copyright
Copyright © Canadian Philosophical Association 1972

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References

1 For example, see R. L. Nettleship, Lectures on the Republic of Plato, pp. 333–338.

2 In this respect, his conception of human nature in the Republic differs from that in the Phaedo, where human nature is partly identified with activities or functions of the body, and partly with activities or functions of the soul.

3 Of course, Plato finally addresses himself to establishing this point later in the Republic when he compares the just and unjust man; his defense rests upon the theses that justice gives rise to a state of internal harmony or contentment, and that this is an essential ingredient of happiness.

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