Saturday, April 04, 2015

Was Plato a Prophet of Christ?

I've been trying to work through Plato's Republic in my "spare time" in an effort to be cultured and well-read like everyone says we ought to be—actually, at the suggestion of Alvin Plantinga, who lists the Republic as one of the three books everyone educated person should have read.  In any event, I came across a striking passage some weeks ago from Book II of the Republic, during Socrates dialogue with Glaucon.  The two are discussing the nature of justice, and whether it is really better to be a just rather than an unjust person.  Glaucon adopts the extreme Machiavellian (atheist-materialist) position that it is better to be unjust than just, because the wicked person prospers in this life, while the good person suffers and experiences abuse.  Christian readers will see correlations here with Wisdom of Solomon 2 and the passion narratives of the Gospels:

Glaucon to Socrates: "Now, if we are to form a real judgment of the life of the just and unjust, we must isolate them; there is no other way; and how is the isolation to be effected? I answer: Let the unjust man be entirely unjust, and the just man entirely just; nothing is to be taken away from either of them, and both are to be perfectly furnished for the work of their respective lives."
"First, let the unjust be like other distinguished masters of craft; like the skilful pilot or physician, who knows intuitively his own powers and keeps within their limits, and who, if he fails at any point, is able to recover himself. So let the unjust make his unjust attempts in the right way, and lie hidden if he means to be great in his injustice (he who is found out is nobody): for the highest reach of injustice is: to be deemed just when you are not."
"Therefore I say that in the perfectly unjust man we must assume the most perfect injustice; there is to be no deduction, but we must allow him, while doing the most unjust acts, to have acquired the greatest reputation for justice. If he have taken a false step he must be able to recover himself; he must be one who can speak with effect, if any of his deeds come to light, and who can force his way where force is required his courage and strength, and command of money and friends. "
"And at his side let us place the just man in his nobleness and simplicity, wishing, as Aeschylus says, to be and not to seem good. There must be no seeming, for if he seem to be just he will be honoured and rewarded, and then we shall not know whether he is just for the sake of justice or for the sake of honours and rewards; therefore, let him be clothed in justice only, and have no other covering; and he must be imagined in a state of life the opposite of the former. Let him be the best of men, and let him be thought the worst; then he will have been put to the proof; and we shall see whether he will be affected by the fear of infamy and its consequences. And let him continue thus to the hour of death; being just and seeming to be unjust. When both have reached the uttermost extreme, the one of justice and the other of injustice, let judgment be given which of them is the happier of the two."

Socrates: "Heavens! my dear Glaucon," I said, "how energetically you polish them up for the decision, first one and then the other, as if they were two statues."

Glaucon: "I do my best," he said. "And now that we know what they are like there is no difficulty in tracing out the sort of life which awaits either of them. This I will proceed to describe; but as you may think the description a little too coarse, I ask you to suppose, Socrates, that the words which follow are not mine. --Let me put them into the mouths of the eulogists of
injustice: They will tell you that the just man who is thought unjust will be scourged, racked, bound --will have his eyes burnt out; and, at last, after suffering every kind of evil, he will be impaled: Then he will realize that he ought to have seemed only, and not to be, just.
"The words of Aeschylus may be more truly spoken of the unjust than of the just. For the unjust man is pursuing a reality; he does not live with a view to appearanceshe wants to be really unjust and not to seem only: His mind has a soil deep and fertile, out of which spring his prudent counsels. In the first place, he is thought just, and therefore bears rule in the city; he can marry whom he will, and give in marriage to whom he will; also he can trade and deal where he likes, and always to his own advantage, because he has no misgivings about injustice and at every contest, whether in public or private, he gets the better of his antagonists, and gains at their expense, and is rich, and out of his gains he can benefit his friends, and harm his enemies; moreover, he can offer sacrifices, and dedicate gifts to the gods abundantly and magnificently, and can honor the gods or any man whom he wants to honor in a far better style than the just, and therefore he is likely to be dearer than they are to the gods. And thus, Socrates, gods and men are said to unite in making the life of the unjust better than the life of the just."
 It seems to me that there is a lot of truth to what Glaucon says, and he represents the wisdom of the world.  Nonetheless, the cross stands in the middle of world history defying the sensible logic of injustice and Realpolitik.  Disciples of Christ likewise are called to join him in dying rather than embrace this logic. 

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