Summer is ending!

September 7, 2008

When helping a friend out with an essay, I realized that I would soon need to be doing the same, writing papers, thinking, homework, etc. It makes me stop and take a look at what I’m doing, summer went by so quickly, and college is 1/4 over already. I found this essay I wrote, and thought it was fun to read. Not the best writing ever, but hey, what is?

“And so, when the two men have carried their justice and injustice to the last extreme, we may judge which is the happier,” (Republic, 361d) In Republic, Plato argues that the man who is just, yet appears unjust, will be happier both here and now, and in the end, than the man who is unjust and appears just.  We will find that the essence of his argument relies on consequences, either by harm to the soul, discovery by others, or a lack of spiritual harmony. The just man will truly be happy, at the end of his life, even if he has a reputation for injustice, as his soul is the most harmonious. Whereas the unjust man will be discovered in the end, and be miserable, or he will be ‘discovered’ by himself, and will have harmed his own soul. Plato’s presents justice as something that is good for the soul, and any rational person would want to have a good soul. However, Plato fails to recognize the physical and emotional consequences of a person’s life should they act just. A just person may have a better conditioned soul, but, through reasoning, we can see that the unjust person is the one who will lead a better life on earth, and in relation to his own existence.

Being ‘just’ is to psyche (soul) as health is to body. If we are to accept this statement as true, it follows that being just is a desirable and worthwhile endeavor, for who doesn’t want to be healthy? Plato presents this as his primary argument to why someone should be just. A well-ordered soul will live a good and just life, whereas a soul governed by spirit or appetite will lead a life lesser so.  In the Ring of Gyges, Glaucon asserts that no person can resist being unjust with the power of invisibility. Further, it seems that people often act in a just manner only out of fear of consequence, rather than self-fulfillment. They may steal whatever they wish, and do so however they please. As children, when our minds are governed by little more than appetite, we often transgress against our parents, friends, or teachers, knowing that we’ll never be caught. The popular adage “it isn’t a crime unless you get caught,” reinforces the notion that a crime not seen, is a crime not committed. Further evidence supporting Glaucon’s claim can be found in the habits of people surrounding traffic ticketing. It would be hard to find a driver that does not admit to the following: they will speed as long as a police officer will not know. In the same way, no person speeds where a police officer is present, for they will be caught. With no one to catch them, almost every driver will speed, for they find it internally just, though this may be a false justice; whether or not this act is truly just is irrelevant. It is important to understand that I do not argue that all justice is relative, but rather an individual may reason to himself that an action is just.

  Plato’s argument hinges on the assumption that a healthy psyche, a healthy ‘soul’, is an aim worth achieving. Justice and morality run the risk as being labeled as relative, yet at the deepest level, few would argue that there is not some basis in which all justice is rooted. If all of justice were relative, there would be no consensus on how to act, thus no true justice. If Plato is correct, one must agree to allow reason to rule, will to protect, and appetites to do their respective jobs. Plato would then place physical needs as something based in appetites, and emotions as something split between will and appetite, depending on which emotion this is. I feel Plato’s division of the person fails to properly attribute the roles of the physical and emotional aspects of a human’s existence. A person does not exist; at least that we can observe or understand, without a physical body. A physical body will have physical needs. Further, a person cannot live on physicality alone, as eating and drinking is common amongst all life, even plant-life; but emotions and feelings also enter into the equation for human life. Only the spiritual can reason, according to Plato, yet many actions considered just are committed in the name of love, fear, or courage, all emotions. Although some would argue that spirituality is what breeds or allows emotion, this cannot be the case; every individual has a different spirituality, some choose to invest this in religion, some in self-reflection, and others not at all. Just the same, these people have the capacity, and do feel emotions. It is because of this fact that the emotional must be kept separate from the spiritual. To complete our whole-person, we must not neglect the spiritual aspect we have separated from our emotional states. Spirituality is an object that is hard to define. Plato, states that it is what controls a well-ordered soul. He also states that it will have knowledge of truth derived from the ‘Form of the Good’. I will define Spirituality, and the spirit, as that what makes us different from other forms of life. This includes the ability to reason, to reflect, to think beyond observation, and to strive to understand. Many place this in a God, and derive their morality and rationality from such. Others choose to devote it to logic and reason. Wherever a person places this spirit, is where spirituality is defined. These concessions redefine Plato’s divisions of the soul into a division of a whole-person: Physical, Spiritual, and Emotional, and all ought to be considered in the overall being of the whole person.

Plato argues that the internal harmony of the soul stems from a rational governing of will, which in turn controls the appetites. Plato relies on reason, based on an understanding of the Good, as the method to achieving this, but neglects, I feel, to concede that people will differ in their interpretation of reason, and can listen to will or appetites while achieving the same action that reason may ultimately be aiming. As we have already examined, people are more motivated by fear of consequence than internal harmony. A reasonable individual can be said to be one who aims to achieve a benefit and avoid detriments. In this way justice only becomes an aim if it then achieves a benefit, or avoids a detriment. We have already examined that this internal harmony does not reflect the whole person, but only the spirit of. In order to reflect a whole person, the emotional and physical needs of that person must also be addressed. Societies form governments to protect their being, their emotional state, and spiritual rights, as history has shown; America was founded for spiritual and economic freedom, Athens formed a democracy to protect the physical and emotional rights and needs of citizens, etc. Laws against theft and murder are almost universal amongst civilization, all protecting a physical right. In this way internal harmony is superseded by a harmony of total existence, or a benefit of the three parts of the person, such that it also avoids a detriment.

            Plato’s appeal to the ‘One’ neglects the overall harmony we must have in nature and the physical universe. In this way, it seems Aristotle is correct, in that nothing can be real that does not have both form and matter. Form acts as a guide, and blueprint towards an object or concept, and matter gives that form existence. A widget only exists if there is matter to create something in the form of a widget. A spiritual realm, whether it relies on a God, reason, experience, or reflection, is variable amongst every person, and cannot be affirmed or denied in a pure form. A Christian will invest his spirit in God, whereas Plato sees it as a rational understanding of the Good. It is with this in mind that we must consider a multitude of consequences with relation to the spirit for every action we take. This principle is shown also in Schrödinger’s cat, where the cat must be both alive and dead, as we cannot know which is true until we directly observe which is true. Consider a father who cannot afford the cancer treatment for his son. To pay for it he steals from a bank hurting no one in the process. Plato might argue that the just thing to do is to listen to reason, appealing to maintaining a healthy soul. Yet, what does reason actually dictate? A spirit based in God may argue that the child is intended to die, and that theft is unjust. Thus, robbing the bank is unjust. Conversely, a spirit based in reason may reason that robbing the bank harms no one in the end, as their deposits are insured, and saves the life of his child. This action, robbing the bank, harms the least amount of people, and saves his child, therefore is the most reasonable course he can take and is just. Further, if reason were the only property of spirit, as Plato suggests, one could also reason that stealing is always wrong, and robbing the bank is unjust, and the child should die. If, however, we look at the more earthly aspects of the acts, we can better determine the ‘justness’ of the action with respect to that individual. Emotionally, a father’s love would hold few restrictions to preserve the life and well-being of a child. If a child is suffering a physical injustice (sickness), the father is completely just in his act of love, and will save his child. It is logical that any species will want to perpetuate itself. The father would argue that the Good demanded that he protect his children, as this is a necessity of civilization. Furthermore, the act of theft was dictated by the reason of his fatherhood, and the will (or courage) of his love. Had the father let his child die, (and if there is a spiritual judge or reward), then he may have done a just thing by refusing to steal, but his physical aspects (procreation) and his emotional state are both denied, thus causing distress within the whole person.

            A person, who is just, through his own understanding and terms, will lead a happy life, whether or not he is truly ‘just’.  We must understand that there are clear lines between justice and injustice, though they do not need to be defined to be understood. An observer of a bakery does not need to understand how to cook a pastry to enjoy it. A passerby in an art gallery doesn’t need to know how to paint to appreciate a painting. An understanding of the essence of an art is not needed to appreciate an art. As such, we can continue knowing that justice and injustice exist, and differ. If a man is to live his life not eating, he will die. If a man is to live a life not loving, that man can never know the joy that love brings. If a spiritual element to life truly exists, than a man with a corrupted soul can never truly be at peace. Examining a life with these pretenses, it follows that any man who denies necessarily any of these three parts of a whole person, is denying himself a proper existence.

Plato argues that a whole person must be governed by the proper proportions of the One, the Few, and the Many. A just person will lead a good life because he will listen to reason, which has a rational understanding of what is good and will pursue what is best for that person. Few would argue that reason and rationality are bad things, and indeed they are worthwhile aims. Yet earlier we discussed the fear of consequence and punishment as the primary reason for the obedience to justice. If each individual had a different definition of what that justice was, then society would be a tangled mess of differing appeals to good or reason. It is for this reason that laws are established and followed. However, if a man can break these laws, as in speeding or stealing, without being caught, there is a direct benefit to the physical and emotional aspects of a person, and arguably the spirit as well. It is reasonable to say that an act that benefits the whole is, in general, something that should be done. If an action, just or unjust, benefits some part of the whole person, and avoids being definitively detrimental towards an aspect of that person, that act is the most reasonable pursuit. In this way reason protects the harmony not only of the soul, but of an entire real, physical person. A man who lives his life by cheating and stealing, unjust in his daily actions, may live a prosperous and happier life than a man who lives his life restrained by justice.

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