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Philosophers v. Poets in Plato's The Republic - Essay Example

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The Republic is a philosophical treatise concerned primarily with the question of justice and with the living of a just life. Its principal emphasis, then, is on the conduct of individuals. In contrast to poets, philosopher possess wisdom in the sense that they are masters of their craft, though they go wrong in thinking that their special expertise extends to matters outside the scope of the craft…
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Philosophers v. Poets in Platos The Republic
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Download file to see previous pages In contrast to philosophy, poetry does not imply self-knowledge and self-control. If the disavowal of knowledge is in fact the disavowal of wisdom or expertise, we can see how that disavowal is compatible with the particular claims to knowledge which Socrates makes. Socrates identified wisdom first with self-control and then with justice and the rest of virtue. On questioning poets about their expertise, "'Until philosophers are kings, 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" (Plato 123). Plato found that poets in fact lacked the wisdom which they claimed, and were thus less wise than Socrates, who was at least aware of his own ignorance. Socrates had a divine mission to show others that their own claims to substantive wisdom were unfounded. "Behold, he said, the wisdom of Socrates; he refuses to teach himself, and goes about learning of others, to whom he never even says Thank you" (Plato 12). Plato underlines that this enterprise of examining others which was the basis of his unpopularity and consequent misrepresentation, he later in the speech describes as the greatest benefit that has ever been conferred on the city, and his obligation to continue it in obedience to the god as so stringent that he would not be prepared to abandon it even if he could save his life by doing so. Socrates' call for banishing poets from the city, also makes it clear that the vast system of regulation applies to adults as well as children.
The only ostensible exception in conflict between poets and philosophers is an examination of the claim of a professional reciter of poetry to possess wisdom. "For it is necessary that the good poet, if he is going to make fair poems about the things his poetry concerns, be in possession of knowledge when he makes his poems" (Plato 211). Plato underlines that poets seem to see the fact that we can say or write only one sentence at a time as something positive. Thus approach, for example, allows them to use the element of surprise to advantage (Taylor 23). Philosophers sometimes see this same fact as an inescapable burden (Taylor 24). They would just as soon get everything out all at once, if only they could, and they often work hard to eliminate surprise. Certainly, the style of most philosophical writing is very different from that of plays. It is not unusual for philosophers to give a forecast of what they are going to do, do it, and then remind us of what they have done. "When even the best of us hear Homer or any other of the tragic poets imitating one of the heroes in mourning and making quite an extended speech with lamentation, we give ourselves over to following the imitation" (Plato 231).
The language in which philosophy is expressed has a life of its own; words are inevitably loaded with subtle meanings that sometimes say more and sometimes less than those who use them self-consciously intend. Thus, good philosophers should be ready for some surprises when others interpret what they have written (Taylor 27). Some philosophers recognize that language sometimes uses us as much as we use it, but then ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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