Sometimes it seems that Plato’s faith in reason, or Socrates’ faith in reasoned dialogue, is pie-in-the-sky optimism. By Bk 10 of the Republic, Socrates, tongue in cheek, announces that if some person . . . measures the interval by which the king is parted from the tyrant. . . he will find him . . . living 729 times more pleasantly, and the tyrant more painfully by this same interval. What a wonderful calculation!
Then there’s the question, how hard is it to become the king or a just person (and avoid becoming the tyrant)?
In the next few lines we get a wonderful summation of the difficulty of being a just person. It’s my impression that this doesn’t get much discussion in the commentaries (but I’m no expert here).
Socrates says, quite casually, “Let us make an image of the soul. We will a) model the form of a multitudinous, many-headed monster, having a ring of heads of all manner of beasts, tame and wild, which the monster is able to generate and metamorphose at will. . . Then we will b) make a second form a lion, and c) make a third of a man, the lion smaller than the monster, and the man smaller than the lion. . . . And now join the three to have them grow into one. . . . into a single image, as of the outer hull of a man. He who is not able to look within, and sees only the outer hull, may believe the beast to be a single human creature. . . .
[Now ‘the beast’ must be the composite a) + b) + c), right ? That is, the beast is neither the lion nor the monster — even though the monster is a ‘many headed beast’]
Socrates goes on to say, “He should watch over the many-headed monster like a good husbandman, fostering and cultivating the gentle qualities, and preventing the wild ones from growing; he should be making the lion-heart his ally, and in common care of them all should be uniting the several parts with one another and with himself.”
As for the difficulty of being just and happy, note that this puts one figure, c), the little man, in charge of moderating the wilder elements – that is, the lion-heart b) and the monster a) — a monster, as Cavell suggests, of volatile multitudinous, self-generating moods. (See Cavell, City of Words, p 337)
And as for the unity of the Republic’s argument, if I’m reading this composite image correctly, note that these powers of husbanding, fostering, cultivating, and creating reconciliation do not seem straightforwardly to be the capabilities of the rational figure who earlier in the Republic was pictured as a ruling King – am I right? Can the King be the tripartite ‘beast’ writ large, or is he instead the little man blessed with enormous powers of husbanding and conciliation?
Does anyone else feel an enormous tension between the business-like education of the philosopher-king, and the task the ‘little man’ faces?