Reason in Plato’s Republic
Plato is regarded as one of the greatest philosophers of all times because of his idea of reason. Having been born in Athens, the motherland of philosophy and reason, Plato developed a very sharp philosophical mind in what he referred to as the Platonic forms. The role of his theories of reason particularly gets recognition after the death of Socrates who was his teacher. As a consequence of Socrates’ demise, Plato published The Republic to discuss the issues of justice and human nature, the tripartite form of the soul, morality as well as differentiation of the reality from appearance. However, The Republic proved the ability of Plato to use reasoning in explaining these themes in society introducing the tripartite characterization of the soul. The paper critically examines the role of reason in Plato’s exposition of the soul, the essence of reason and the advantages of its application.
The Role of Reason
To begin with, Plato departs from the traditional understanding of forms by explaining them as ideas originating from reason such as justice (Plato 126). In order to aid him in his interpretation, the philosopher takes a Dualist stand of human nature where he argues that immaterial soul and the material body are two different entities (Plato 127). To this extent, Plato makes a distinction between different types of knowledge by claiming that the one derived from the soul and the mind through reasoning is greater as compared to the knowledge originated in senses, which are the result of physical forms. He argues that the soul exists before birth and even after death. Therefore, it is more important than the body, which perishes after demise. Hence, through his exposition the philosopher makes a conclusion that cognition derived from senses is the weakest form of knowledge, as it is not rooted in reason but rather the physical body. Just as the platonic forms refer to ideas as opposed to the material object, Plato says that the former function only without the confines of the mind or the soul and not the body. The physical entity is incapable of generating ideas. The explanation of the soul is further followed by the description of issues affecting the society such as justice. Thus, the philosopher argues that reason is responsible for our understanding of the best way of living as human beings concerning either political organization or ethical matters with regard to the public. Through reason, one can comprehend that he/she exists in the community, in which they must always assist and be fair to each other. The body may bring deception, but the mind and the soul through reason enable individuals to appreciate one another and spend their lives in a way that God expects humankind to. For example, it is only by means of reason that people can understand that the ultimate virtue is goodness because God is kind; moreover, He is concerned about doing only those things that are benign to human beings. The reason is accountable for informing that evil things are ungodly.
In addition, through reasoning, Plato constructs the relationship between the soul and the society. For instance, he argues that the soul falls into three distinct parts, which form the tripartite entity. It is, therefore, the work of reason to keep the three parts in harmony. Furthermore, these components include the rational soul, which refers to human mind or intellect. The second part is the spirited soul that consists of the will or volition of an individual in performing a certain task. The last element of the tripartite soul is the appetite, which is responsible for all human desires and control of our emotions. While these three constituents are distinct, they are all interrelated therefore, and need to operate in harmony for the proper functioning of human beings. Hence, reason ensures harmonious interaction of the three parts to secure justice in the society. In this regard, the role of reason is to unite the three components of the body. If they are not properly controlled, it may lead to a conflict, which is a sour state in people’s life. Besides, in reality when a person seeks for political positions, for example, these three elements of the soul have a role to play. Firstly, one may be pushed by a passion to become a politician; another may be driven by the appetite or desire for power, and lastly, someone may be stimulated by a reasoned agenda into entering the political realm. Therefore, the function of reasoning is to keep ambitions within a reasonable domain in line with ethics and justice. In his exposition, Plato argues that reason has to guide the will or the spirit of humans towards life aspirations, which they choose.
The abovementioned exposition is representing the role of reason in the actual human nature. Plato, however, emphasizes a social aspect that is guided by the idea of three souls as well. For example, by nature, people are not self-sufficient and rely on others for happiness, friendship, and other interactions. Through the latter, the individual tries to establish the dominant parts of the soul. Plato declares that reason is the greatest one because those who are filled with it are geared towards seeking knowledge and are also the best candidates to lead the society. The spirited or emotional persons, on the other hand, tend to acquire reputation out of their actions. Lastly, those controlled by their appetite pursue only material gains and are unworthy of ruling the public. Consequently, since reason is responsible for knowledge, then it is the greatest of all three elements according to Plato. People with reason are the ones who should guide those who use the spirit and their desires. Likewise, only rational men should be bestowed with the authority to assume leadership. Hence, that Plato refers to such persons as philosopher kings. A properly functioning body dictated by reason is, therefore, representation of the affluent and free society controlled by rulers with reason. Therefore, the communities can be divided into five groups with the meritocracy one being the best since it is led by philosopher kings or talented personalities. Plato further terms democracy as the worst state regime because citizens only governed by appetites and pleasures. To conclude on the role of reason, the philosopher argues that an educated leader is required to maintain harmony in the whole society. Thus, education is the key point. Finally, he assumed that philosopher kings should rule the state because they are knowledgeable, use reasoning, and hence, create the amiable public environment.
Why Is Reason Ranked so Highly?
The ground for reason to be ranked so highly is the good knowledge arising from it. For example, Plato uses allegory of the cave to represent the essence of reasoning. In his allegory, the shadows that the prisoners in the cave can see are mistaken for reality when they are its mere reflection. The philosopher asserted that human beings tend to consider material things as objective reality and forget the ideal form, which is a product of reason. He continues to explain that whatever exists in the material form must have originated in the ideal one generated from reason, the mind or the soul, which is the greatest. By this exposition, Plato mean that the information acquired from our senses might be deceiving, as it is not the ideal awareness but rather a shade or reflection of the true knowledge. He produces the idea that the supreme form of knowledge, which leads humans to the attainment of “benignity” is the one acquired from reason. Judging from the allegory, the latter is ranked so highly because its cognition is real, not a shadow or reflection, and it leads people to acquisition of the “good.”
Advantages of Possessing Reason
From Plato’s exposition in The Republic, several advantages accrue to those who use reason. The first one is that these individuals govern the people who use the will and those who pursue their appetite. The philosopher affirms in his work that, “The pleasures which are approved by the lover of wisdom and reason are the Truest”. In this sense, Plato means that unless the desire of human beings is governed by reason, then it is not worthy. Secondly, those who possess reason are given the priority of leading the society. Hence, the author of The Republic suggests the idea that philosopher kings should rule the state. According to his theory, meritocracy is the best form of government since it is led by talented people as opposed to democracy, in which governance is affected by personal appetites. Lastly, those who possess reason are deemed to be more knowledgeable in public affairs. Therefore, Plato convinces that it is the role of the rational ruler to lead others into creating the harmonious society. The prominent Greek thinker says, “Until philosophers are kings, or the kings and princes of this world have the spirit and power of philosophy, and political greatness and wisdom meet in one, and those commoner natures who pursue either to the exclusion of the other are compelled to stand aside, cities will never have rest from their evils”. By this statement, Plato implies that kings or rulers must be seekers for knowledge in order to be able to understand how to govern the state and eradicate evil for the sake of harmony of the community. Since philosophers use reason for the aforementioned mission, they are the most suitable candidates for leadership then.
In conclusion, reason plays a crucial part in creation of a harmonious, just and ethical society. Moreover, it is responsible for the guidance of proper functioning of spirit, will and appetite in order to maintain balance in the whole soul. The latter is a further representation of the community, in which reasoning controls interaction between people and aids in the appropriate public organization just like the body. In view of this, Plato considers the ruling of philosopher kings as the most appropriate form of government since it is dictated by reason and wisdom as opposed to democracy, which is driven by desires and voracity. Lastly, reason is highly regarded because it represents the true knowledge and most ideal forms are generated from it.