Wednesday, March 13, 2019


If I wished to punish a province, I would have it governed by philosophers.
-        Frederick the Great

Plato would disagree – to summarize, a philosopher should lead the polity, ensuring that the subjects get what is good for them, whether they know it or not.  It is the authority of the expert.  In many ways government since the Enlightenment (both tyrannical and relatively liberal) has carried this mantle. 

I have previously written something on Plato’s philosophy (forms, etc.), so I will not cover similar ground here.  However, there are several points raised in Casey’s account that are worthy of exploration.

Casey describes Plato’s basic philosophical outlook: “…virtue is primarily a matter of knowledge…no one knowingly does wrong…”  I have stared at these words, read these over and over.  I cannot think of the words to describe my reaction.  To be clear, my reaction is negative.

Plato is credited with the idea of “the noble lie” – keep the enemies guessing and keep the commoners loyal and in their place.  Consider the myths that are intended to hold together a nation – not even a nation-state, just a nation.  These exist for every population that considers itself a nation.

Casey offers a typology from C.D.C Reeve, further expanding on this point. 

-        You have a false ideology if you believe that you live in a good society when you don’t and believe this because what you are told by your leaders is false
-        You have an ideology falsely maintained when you believe you live in a good society – and in fact you do – even though you believe this because of falsehoods told by your leaders
-        You are ideology-free when you believe you live in a good society, and you in fact do, and your belief is maintained by a world-view that is true.

A sustainable and healthy society is described by the third possibility.  I believe Plato advocates for the second.  Today, I think it is safe to say many live in a world described by the first – and the second will almost always devolve into the first.  I would describe as “woke” those who recognize that they live in a “bad” society based on a world-view that is true – in other words, they see through the lies to the truth (or something closer to the truth).

Plato is suspicious of family and property, while having nothing to say about slavery despite living in a society where slaves play a central role.  Given that virtue is merely a matter of knowledge, Plato sees that the state has a central role in education.  Since no one knowingly does wrong, there is no place for punishment – only education (or re-education).  This sounds lovely, expect that those who refuse to be re-educated are to be killed….

Casey examines this further via C.S. Lewis, who notes that to the Humanitarian, to punish a man is nothing more than revenge, therefore it is barbarous and immoral.  But whatever is done to “cure” the man is equally compulsory and wholly lacking justice.  From Lewis:

There is no sense in talking about a “just deterrent” or a “just cure.”  We demand of a deterrent not whether it is just but whether it will deter.  We demand of a cure not whether it is just but whether it succeeds.  Thus when we cease to consider what the criminal deserves and consider only what will cure him or deter others, we have tacitly removed him from the sphere of justice altogether; instead of a person, a subject of rights, we now have a mere object, a patient, a “case.”

I really have to read more Lewis.

If virtue is a matter of knowledge, the only “cure” is education.  If education doesn’t work, then what?  It seems death is the answer.  If the intent is to deter others, then what of the justice for the criminal? 

Libertarians will suggest that punishment isn’t the point, but that the victim – or the victim’s survivors –should be “compensated.”  But such an equation does not work in very many cases.  The list of exceptions I can think of are endless. 

Society – any community – will not survive such thinking.  I write very little about this topic of punishment, etc., because each community will figure out what works for them.  There is not a blanket libertarian answer to this question; there is no simple theory that can be applied in all cases – or even in a large subset of cases.  Call it punishment, deterrent, compensation, whatever – to the guilty party, the issue is the same: he will lose some level of freedom and / or property due to his action.

I spend no time reading those who expand on such thoughts from a libertarian perspective.  Societies have figured out this stuff for millennia; Western societies based on Christianity have guidelines on how to proceed.  I can’t touch this.

The issues of punishment, deterrence, cure, etc., are both tremendously complex and totally subjective.  To address every possibility would take something as long as the Federal Register.  Is this what libertarians are after, or is it more libertarian to expect that communities will figure this out? 

Of course, a common cultural tradition would help.  After all, shooting a child as punishment for picking an apple will likely be an issue in most places.


The enlightened leader, deciding what is good for the people whether they want it or not.  This was Plato’s vision.  This has played out in the twentieth century globally – certainly and especially in the communist east, but also in the west.  The difference is only one of degree.


  1. Yeah, that was the eye opening thing for me when reading Plato. He had a lot of good thoughts along the way but he ended up at totalitarianism. This even though he considered tyranny the lowest form of government. His hierarchy was 1)Philosopher-King, 2) Sparta, 3) Democracy, 4) Tyranny. Some say 3) is oligarchy with democracy and tyranny following behind.

    In each of his 2 top cases there was emphasis on removing children from parents to train them either to be experts on the bureau or to be military commanders. He was an advocate of censorship, mainly for the training of children, but the idea can easily be applied to all of society.

    The thing about education being the key is that Plato was a dualist. There is the intellectual/spiritual/immaterial world. It was inherently righteous. Then there is the material world which is inherently immoral, debased, and evil.

    Education deals with the holy world of spiritual things. All it takes to make one righteous is knowledge. Gnosticism followed hundreds of years later with the same basic idea.

    Therefore, if knowledge somehow does not make a person righteous, then there is something spiritually defective about that person. They have more in common with animals and base evil nature. Why not kill such a sad individual? After all Spartans let the physically weak die off. He greatly admired them, so why not kill off the spiritually weak.

    Plato also didn't say anything negative about the rampant homosexuality of ancient Greece. It shows up in his dialogues, but it is never criticized. You can tell from the dialogue that it was highly exploitative in nature.

    Anyway. Plato had some good discussion about what is wisdom and what isn't and how it should be pursued. However, his vision about how to structure society was destructive and revolutionary. Much with his vision aligns with A Brave New World btw. If you have never read that book you should to understand where the elites are trying to push our society.

  2. “Virtue is moral excellence. The meaning we give to this word thus depends on, and reflects, our idea of right living.”

    “The Greeks regarded liberty as synonymous with virtue, a condition the person could forfeit, by insufficient self-control or intemperance. This view—which is not wholly foreign to us—meshed with their belief that only certain persons could be self-governing, able to form and be members of the polis (that is, certain Greek-speaking, male adults); all others were regarded as unable to govern themselves and therefore unfit to be a part of the political community. This conception formed the basis of Aristotle's political philosophy and of Plato's Republic, which is a blueprint of a caste society in which each person plays the role for which he is best ‘fitted.’” p103 Meaning of Mind, Thomas Szasz

    Where Dr Szasz infered "virtue is moral excellence," I am reminded of the observation "All men are moral, only their neighbors are not."

    In light of that I am then reminded of Solon, who was impressed upon by the squabbling Greeks to help them resolve their political conundrums. He then gave them a system that kept them busy for years while he took off on a walk-about. Seems Frederic may have had Solon in mind....

  3. Just wondering aloud: The greek may have been the first society where a major portion of the population was self conscious. Before this, there have probably been individuals who were self-conscious, but the greek were probably the first where this was widespread.

    If so, then this could explain why they equated virtue with freedom, and why they thought that not everybody was virtuous.

    Virtue then would be moral excellence because virtuous people would take responsibility for their actions. Where virtue-less people would claim that the gods made them do it, or that it 'just happened'.

    If so, then the virtueless society today could well be on its way to unconsciousness again...

  4. "Casey describes Plato’s basic philosophical outlook: “…virtue is primarily a matter of knowledge…no one knowingly does wrong…”" - BM

    This denies the existence of evil, which is hopelessly naive... or deceitful.

    "The enlightened leader, deciding what is good for the people whether they want it or not. This was Plato’s vision."

    I don't mind rule by the experts. In fact, I think a meritocracy is vitally necessary toward the preservation of liberty and order. It is certainly preferable to any form of 'mediocracy' (democracy, socialism, fascism, communism, etc.).

    My one big caveat is that these experts must be subject to market forces. we must be able to choose which expert to follow, just like choose which car manufacturer to trust with the safety of our family on the road.

    It also helps (understatement) if their particular philosophy is true and just (sorry Plato), but I believe that in the open market these philosophies will win out against those which are untrue and unjust.

    The open market to me is the best balance we can hope for in terms of popular appraisal and expert guidance.

    Whether or not we'll ever have an open market in governance is a different question altogether. Of course, we'll never have one so long as the current untrue and unjust philosophies keep winning popular acclaim. MMT is another notable bad philosophy that seems to be gaining more and more appeal these days.

  5. Plato's dialogues have Socrates heavily using irony and asking questions and playing along to expose other people's assumptions and the logical conclusions of their thinking or beliefs.

    It seems Plato's Republic has been read literally by many people as in Socrates and Plato were recommending the utopia/dystopia instead of exposing to full view the ultimate dangers of not loving justice.

    "There is evidence that Plato's Republic is an exposition of the logical consequences of basing civic and personal life on injustice. It condemns political life based on institutionalized injustice — specifically theft and plunder. This evidence contradicts the idea that Socrates' discussion of an imaginary polis — Greek city-state — is a model for an ideal, just society."