I’m pleased to publish this guest feature from Dr. Paul D. Miller of the ERLC.

Book I:  A debate about theocracy, the separation of church and state, and how to govern a city in which there is no agreement about the will of the gods.

I was walking down to the Piraeus with Glaucon when we walked past the house of Thrasymachus, looked into his window, and saw him having sex with another man. Glaucon grew angry.

“The gods surely frown on that,” he said. “The God of the Jews destroyed an entire city with sulfur from heaven because the men had sex with men. The city of Athens would be wise to make a law against it immediately and avoid Zeus’ wrath.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Is it not the duty of the city’s leaders, wise men, and legislators to protect us?  Allowing men to have sex with other men will bring the gods’ wrath. It should be illegal.”

I puzzled over this for a moment before speaking again.

“Should we make laws against all things that incite the gods’ wrath?” I asked.

Glaucon furrowed his brow in deep thought. “Yes” he said, “that is the best way to ensure our city is upright in the sight of the gods and safe from their wrath.”

“This would be indistinguishable from a city ruled by the gods themselves!” I cried. “What a paradise this would be.”

“Yes,” said Glaucon.

“Only.”

“Only what?”

“We’d have to wait for the gods to come down from heaven and tell us how to rule the city.”

Glaucon thought a while. “What if we asked the best, wisest, and most holy men who know the will of the gods to rule for us until the gods come?”

“So the gods won’t rule. Men will rule in the gods’ name.”

“Yes.”

“But even the wisest men disagree about what the gods will.”

“Can we pretend they won’t, for the sake of our most excellent discussion?”

“We can for now. But we cannot pretend that even the wisest men will never make mistakes, for they would no longer be men. What if the men who rule in the gods’ name don’t actually rule the way the gods would?”

“Even the best men make mistakes,” Glaucon admitted.

“That is what it means to be a man and not a god. But if the people believe the men are ruling the way the gods would rule when the men are actually making mistakes, chaos would follow.”

“Chaos? Don’t exaggerate, Socrates.”

“It would look like the gods themselves are making mistakes.”

“Yes.”

“While the people would obey mistakes because they thought it came from the gods.”

“Alarming.”

“The ruling men would make people obey bad laws and, in fact, mislead the people about the nature of the gods.”

“That is the greatest sin of all,” said Glaucon.

“You have never spoken truer,” I replied.

The First Law

“Socrates, I’m upset.”

“Why is that, Glaucon?” I asked.

“Men having sex with men is clearly against nature.”

“You still want to make it illegal.”

“I think,” he said carefully, “perhaps we can make laws about those things that are clear in nature, that men know well, and won’t make mistakes about.”

“This appears to be a wise saying.”

“Yes.”

“But…”

“But what, oh Socrates?”

“But how does one know, Glaucon?”

“I don’t understand.”

“You want to make laws about those things that men know well and don’t make mistakes about. But how do men come to know the will of the gods?”

“Through our fathers and our priests.”

“Through other men, in other words.”

“Through our holy books, too.”

“Written and transcribed by men.”

“But you have to believe, oh Socrates, that we can know something about the gods, or you would despair and die!”

“Yes, we can know something about the gods, through their own good grace more than our knowledge or wisdom – grace they do not give to everyone.”

“What do you mean?”

“Not everyone can know the gods.”

“This is a hard saying, Socrates.”

“Then let us pretend it is not true.”

“Pretending again. Very well. If we pretend that all can know about the gods, why can’t we make laws from the knowledge we are most certain about?”

“Because some will think they know about the gods when they only form their own opinions.”

“Only a man unable to see his own heart would do such a thing.”

“I fear we have a city full of them. We have to drop our first pretense and recognize the city we actually live in: not even our wise men agree about the will of the gods, or even what is clear in nature. And Athens is not even ruled by our wisest men, but by our politicians, who agree even less.”

“It is our goal that the two groups be the same.”

“And it is our goal to know the gods perfectly. That day is not near. In the meantime, we still have to rule our city.”

“A wise point, Socrates. I fear for our city. How shall our city rule and make laws when no one agrees about the gods?”

“It is a hard question, Glaucon.”

“At least we are all Greek. Without that, we’d have a very hard time.”

“What if we were not?”

“What do you mean, Socrates?”

“It is a hard thing, to know how to rule a city when men disagree about the gods. Perhaps we don’t think hard enough or often enough about it because we are all Greek, and agree on so many things by nature and by the excellent pattern our fathers have set for us.”

“Yes,” said Glaucon.

“Let us pretend not all Athenians are Greek.”

“That would hardly be Athens!” gasped Glaucon.

“Let us build a new Athens with our arguments, a Republic founded upon our words.”

“Who will be in this Republic, Socrates?”

“We’ll have Athenians, of course, and Thracians and Thessalonians, and Spartans.”

“Surely not Spartans!” cried Glaucon.

“Let us make it as hard for us as possible. Let us have Jews and Greeks together in the same city.”

“But Jews and Greeks live differently and believe in different gods. How will they possibly make laws together?”

“It will be hard, but I am not finished making it difficult. In addition to Jews and Greeks, we will allow barbarians into our city.”

“Outrageous!” exclaimed Glaucon. “Impossible!  No such city is possible, not even in our words.”

“Nothing is impossible in words,” said Socrates, “Even if such a Republic has never and will never exist, we can build the image of it, and then investigate how such a city will make laws. If such a city existed, even in words, it would surely provide an excellent example of how to make laws when the people do not agree about the gods.”

“I tremble to found this city, Socrates.”

“It is not for the timid, or for the weak, my dear Glaucon.”

“I think I am ready to follow you, if you will lay the first stones.”

“No, Glaucon, I will leave the foundation-laying to you. You are now a citizen of a new city filled with non-Greeks.”

“I am afraid. I feel alone, like a stranger.”

“There are some other Greeks; you are not completely by yourself.”

“Then I don’t need laws. I have them. We’ll band together to keep out everyone else.”

“Then our city has already failed.”

“But I need protection! Without fellow Greeks, I will be naked.”

“But do you need to use your fellow Greeks to keep everyone else out? Or merely to have some companionship and protection?”

“I don’t want the Jews and barbarians and Spartans shoving me out of my new home or making laws against me.”

“So you are getting ready to shove them out and make laws against them? This is not a city. This is war.”

“What else do you suggest?”

“Indeed, if we are to make any progress founding our city at all, we must find another way than simply making laws against people who think of the gods differently. If such a city is to exist at all, you have to agree not to make laws against each other. Maybe if you agree not to shove them out, they’ll agree not to shove you out.”

“If they agree, so do I.”

“In fact, this could be our first law.”

“A law about what kind of laws we can’t make?  That seems strange.”

“No stranger than our strange little Republic, Glaucon. But it does seem to me that when men who disagree about the gods live together, the first thing they need is an agreement not to make laws that shove anyone out of the city just for disagreeing about the gods. No laws are allowed to shove anyone out of the city just for being Greek, or Persian, or Scythian, and so forth.”

“Yes.”

“And this law has to be superior to all other laws.”

“Yes.”

“It must be a supreme law, written once for all time.”

“You are wise, Socrates.”

“And so our problem is solved. You have agreed not to make laws against men who have sex with men.”

“Not at all, Socrates.”

“Men who have sex with men believe that the gods are not angry with them.”

“Socrates, you are being silly.”

“Silly, Glaucon?”

“Our first law says that no one can make laws shoving people out of the city for disagreeing about the gods.”

“Yes.”

“But surely we can make laws to shove thieves and murderers out of the city.”

“Yes.”

“We shove them out of the city because of what they do, not because of what they believe about the gods.”

“Yes.”

“But what if thieves and murderers claim that the gods are not angry with them?”

“Our first law seems unable to handle them.”

“Indeed, our city will collapse because everyone will do anything they want, claiming this or that god is on their side, and the laws will be unable to shove them out of the city. And I was just beginning to feel at home.”

The Second Law

“How are you going to save your city, Glaucon?”

“I and my band of Greeks will seize the government and pass the right laws!” bellowed Glaucon.

“And the next day anyone who disagrees with you will seize it back and repeal your laws, oh Glaucon. And so it would go, back and forth, depending on who was most powerful.”

“I am willing to fight.”

“Are you willing to lose?”

“What do you mean?”

“Imagine there are only a few Greeks, but many Scythians and Persians in this city.”

“First Jews and barbarians, now Scythians and Persians!  This isn’t a city. It’s a marketplace!”

“Nevertheless, it is our Republic. And in this Republic, you stand a good chance of losing, and living in a city where men have sex with men legally.”

“I won’t stop trying.”

“Glaucon, I have bad news for you.”

“What is that, dear Socrates?”

“There are some Persians who think that Greeks having philosophical discussions incur the wrath of the gods.”

“That’s ridiculous!”

“Of course. But they, like you against men who have sex with men, will not stop trying to pass laws against you having philosophical discussions. In fact, they want to make laws against you buying and selling in the common market, wearing Greek robes, building a temple to the Greek gods, or even speaking Greek.”

“I am terrified, Socrates!  My Greek tongue is precious to me!  They cannot take it away!  How am I a citizen of this Republic and not a mere slave?”

“Maybe we need a new law that says what kind of laws there can be about what people do.”

“Yes, yes, anything!  Save my tongue!  Speaking Greek and having philosophical discussions hurts no one!  The Persians are unreasonable!  All they want is to turn this marketplace-city into another Persepolis!”

“It seems to me that a city full of Greeks, Jews, Persians, Scythians, and barbarians can’t be a Greek city, a Jewish city, a Persian city, a Scythian city, or a barbarian encampment.”

“But the Persians wanted to turn it into a Persian city.”

“And you wanted to make it more like a Greek city.”

“It’s only natural.”

“This city seems to exists outside nature, Glaucon. Living in it will be hard.”

Glaucon furrowed his brow. “I’m not sure I want to live in this city,” he said, “But as long as I have Greek brethren, and I can keep a Greek house, and raise Greek children, speak my Greek language, worship the gods of the Greeks, and read and debate Greek philosophy, I think I can accept living around non-Greeks.”

“Then clearly our second law needs to make a way to let you live your Greek life.”

“Absolutely.”

“While letting Scythians live a Scythian life and worship Scythian gods.”

“I suppose so.”

“So our second law should say that no laws should interfere with things people do that are essential to who they are.”

“Like speaking Greek is essential to me being Greek.”

“Precisely.”

The Third and Fourth Laws

“This doesn’t answer our question, Socrates.”

“Why not?”

“I and the Thracians were trying to make a law about men having sex with other men but we disagree about how the gods felt about it. We got caught up when the Persians tried to take over the city and ban the Greek language. But now that we’re safe from that, the Thracians and I have started arguing again.”

“But I thought our second law addressed this.”

“How so?”

“What if having sex with another man is essential to your fellow citizen being who he is?”

“Socrates, you are truly strange.”

“Having sex with our wives is essential to who we are, is it not, Glaucon?”

“Most definitely.”

“It is pleasing to our Greek gods?”

“Not just to them.”

“In fact, it is part of the Greek way of life, is it not?”

“Most certainly.”

“Therefore, no one can makes laws telling you or I that we cannot have sex with our women.”

“I would sooner die.”

“Then all that remains is for your neighbor to make the same claims about his sex life as you do yours.”

“Socrates, you granted that the city could make laws shoving people out of the city for things they did, though not for things they believed about the gods. But because we had to protect those actions we do to please the gods, some are now going to claim that whatever they want to do, they do to please the gods and because it is part of their innermost nature.”

“Are we going to get in the business of weighing another man’s innermost nature?”

“It is impossible to do that. And therefore, for the sake of our excellent argument, I must agree for now that some men might have such a nature that having sex with other men is essential to it, even though I know they do not.”

“Then we are agreed. We cannot make laws against them, because they must be free to please the gods how they see fit.”

“No, Socrates.”

“How so, Glaucon?”

“What if living in a city with a man who has sex with another man is against my essential nature as Glaucon?”

“Our second law is no help. Indeed, our second law is the source of the contradiction.” I said.

“Our city is failing again. Can we have a city where men disagree about the gods and yet still please them and fulfill their essential natures?  I’m beginning to doubt it is possible.”

“Glaucon, why is living in a city with a man who has sex with other men against your nature?”

“It is in my nature to please the gods.”

“The gods don’t want you to be a fellow-citizen with a man who has sex with other men?”

“Yes.”

“It is part of your essential nature to live in a city without men who have sex with other men.”

“Yes.”

“Your essential nature includes a whole city!”

“Man is a political animal, Socrates.”

“You sound like my grandson, Glaucon. But you’re right.”

“There is a whole city inside everyone’s essential nature.”

“You exaggerate, Glaucon.”

“I just mean that everyone needs others to be human and to please the gods.”

“The solitary man is either a god or a beast.”

“Socrates, we need other people to please the gods. But in my city men disagree about the gods and want to allow things that I know the gods disapprove of, while at the same time the law says they can’t prevent me from pleasing the gods!  It’s hopeless.”

“It is difficult, but to lose hope in building a city is to hand it over to the barbarians. What are the boundaries of our city, my dear Glaucon?”

“Socrates, you bewilder me with your question.”

“I do not mean to bewilder.”

“I do not see how the boundaries have to do with me pleasing the gods.”

“They do.”

“Do tell.”

“Does your city have any boundaries at all?”

“Of course.”

“So the city does not cover the whole earth?”

“No.”

“So somewhere there is a place outside your city and, thus, outside your essential nature?”

“Yes.”

“And in this place, if men were having sex with other men, it wouldn’t violate your essential nature?”

“That’s right.”

“It might displease the gods, but it wouldn’t be you displeasing them?”

“Yes.”

“But you care about if it happens inside the boundaries of your city?”

“Yes.”

“Where is the boundary to your city?”

“Well.”

“I’m waiting.”

“Far out, past the buildings and out after the furthest farmland.”

“It is a big city.”

“I’m growing rather proud of it, to tell the truth. Someday it will be a great city.”

“A lot of people live there.”

“Yes.”

“A lot of people do many things every day.”

“It is a city bustling with activity and commerce.”

“And you approve of all of it?”

“I can’t possibly know.”

“But you’ve let your essential nature be defined by them and what they do!  Are you so neglectful of your inner soul that you let perfect strangers in the far corners of this large, great city determine whether or not you please the gods in your essential nature?”

“Socrates, you frighten me with your attack.”

“You frighten yourself. You are the one who has put an entire city in your soul and tasked that city with helping you please the gods.”

“But we do need other people’s help to seek the gods and to live a social, political life. You yourself agreed to that.”

“Yes. But do we need a whole city?”

“That’s how we do it in our Greek cities.”

“Remember, we are not living in a Greek city, Glaucon. We live in the mythic city of words, with Greeks, Jews, barbarians, Scythians, Persians, and Carthaginians.”

“Carthaginians!”

“Yes, I forgot to mention them too. In a Greek city, I’d put the whole city in my soul and seek to use the whole city to reach the gods and fulfill my being. I’m not sure we can do the same thing in our new Republic.”

“Then it is no city.”

“It is not a Greek city. But people live here together in peace and cooperation. It is full of bustling activity and commerce, as you said.”

“It is a collection of people who do not help each other reach the gods.”

“This makes sense in a city where the people disagree about the gods.”

“It is strange, Socrates. I am proud of how lively and energetic my city is, but I also don’t know if I want to live there. I still need people to help me please the gods.”

“There are Greeks in your city.”

“The Greeks will help me.”

“You’ll form a city within a city.”

“I’ll redraw the boundaries. There is a city that really matters to me inside the greater city. We’ve made great steps forward.”

“Indeed. And considering that the Persians were just getting ready to claim that our Greek philosophical discussions violated their essential natures, I think we can turn this into the third law. The third law should say that no one can use the greater city’s laws to fulfill their essential natures.”

“Or that no one can force the whole city to be the group of people through whom we learn to please the gods.”

“The same thing,” I said. “The city’s laws have to be neutral about the gods.”

“And if we put the second and third laws together with a recognition that we carry around small cities in our souls, we get a fourth law.”

“Glaucon, you impress me. What is our fourth law?”

“If laws can’t prevent me from speaking Greek, and I’m always going to need other Greek speakers to speak Greek to, but I’m not allowed to make the whole city a Greek-speaking city, it follows that we need a law that protects my band of Greek speakers. A law that says that we can use the laws of our city-within-a-city to help us please the gods and fulfill our essential nature – for example, I should be able to make my city-within-a-city a Greek-speaking city.”

“Excellent. We have our cities, we can please the gods, speak our language, raise our children, and benefit from being part of the larger city’s commerce.”

“And soldiers.”

“You have a common defense?”

“We conscripted the young men when you were talking about essential natures.”

“Cities move fast in defense of their bustling marketplace.”

“With such laws, I could imagine myself living side by side with Jews and barbarians. Even with Scythians and Persians. Only with such laws could so many live side by side.”

“Even side by side with men who have sex with other men.”

“Not them, Socrates,” said Glaucon.

“Why not them, Glaucon?”

“I’d happily let them live in the big city now that they don’t live in the smaller city I need to please the gods, except they hurt the big city we’ve so carefully built up. We can’t let them tear down our society.”

“How so, Glaucon?”

“By displeasing the gods.”

“It’s like our conversation never happened.”

Hurt and Causality

“Socrates, this time I’m not claiming that we should make laws against anything that angers the gods, but things that actually bring the gods’ wrath. Things that have a clear effect on our precious city.”

“Precious!  You just redrew the boundaries of your cities to encompass a smaller one that ‘really’ mattered to you. How fast our loyalties move. But you have introduced a new standard, Glaucon. You want to make laws against things that harm the city.”

“It isn’t a new standard. It’s something every city everywhere does:  they make laws for their own self-preservation. People who cheat and steal harm society, and we make laws against them.”

“This is true.”

“Men who have sex with men harm our city.”

“How do they harm the city?”

“By bringing the gods’ wrath.”

“We’ve been over this, Glaucon.”

“No, Socrates. I don’t want to pass laws against things that make the gods angry. I want to pass laws against things that harm the city. The men who have sex with men anger the gods, and the gods will in turn punish the city and harm it. That is why I want to pass laws against them.”

“I think you would be better to make laws against the gods’ wrath.”

“You are silly, Socrates.”

“I jest, of course. You make a fine distinction. But how will the gods’ anger harm the city?”

“I don’t understand.”

“Do the gods send lightening and destroy our temples?”

“No.”

“Do the gods come themselves and sack our city?”

“No.”

“How do the gods punish us for the things that anger them?”

“Socrates, I am going to use a metaphor.”

“Glaucon, you are more and more a student of argument.”

“My metaphor is money games. Men sit and tables and roll dice and flip shells. They watch the athletes and tell each other who is going to win.”

“I’ve seen these games. They are harmless.”

“But Socrates, then they make the games more exciting by making the loser give up his money to the winner.”

“Yes, I have seen this happen.”

“When a man puts his money on the outcome of a contest, it excites his passion more.”

“Yes.”

“Some men put too much money into the contests. Others are hired as professionals to collect money.”

“Yes.”

“Soon men’s passion is greatly aroused, and whole fortunes are made and lost, and gangs of thugs roam the streets beating losers up for money they can’t pay.”

“It is sad.”

“All because of harmless games.”

“Because of putting money into the games.”

“Money games harm our city, Socrates.”

“I don’t see sets of dice and champion sprinters sacking our city, Glaucon. I don’t see stacks of coins beating up the losers.”

“It is not the dice and the sprinters and the coins, Socrates, but the passions of men that go with them.”

“The heart of man’s imagination is evil from his youth.”

“And money games set the evil loose in our city. This is the punishment of the gods.”

“It is not like the harm of an enemy’s battalions or a criminal’s thievery.”

“No. The harm is invisible until it is suddenly upon you.”

“It is a strong argument you make, Glaucon. Perhaps we should make laws against money games.”

“I’m glad you agree with me, Socrates. And now you can see my reasoning. Men who have sex with men do not sack our city or roam our streets beating up the poor. But just as the gods punish money games, so too they will find ways to punish us for them.”

“In this argument we have made ample use of pretense, make-believe, and assumption.”

“That is what argument is all about.”

“You pretended to agree with me that men who have sex with men might need to do so to fulfill their innermost natures and to please their gods.”

“Pretense, indeed.”

“In return, I shall assume you are right, that men having sex with men harms society and will bring the gods’ wrath in the same invisible way that money games do.”

“Our most excellent argument can continue.”

“So continue then. If men having sex with men causes harm to the city, invisible until it is upon us like money games, what are you going to do?”

“I and my Greeks will pass our law and you cannot argue us down this time!”  Glaucon smiled.

“Just one thing, Glaucon, wisest of men.”

“Yes, Socrates, most patrionizing of philosophers?”

“In your metaphor, who is responsible for the harm that happens once it is visible and out of the shadows?”

“Well, the thugs who beat up the losers, and the losers, for putting too much money into the games, to start with.”

“Do we have laws to punish thugs?”

“All cities do.”

“Do we teach men to be careful with their money?”

“If our schools and fathers are wise.”

“Then is there some vice we have failed to protect against?”

“I don’t understand.”

“What else might be responsible for the harm money games cause except the men who organize and play them?”

“Why, nothing, Socrates.”

“And if we already have laws for those men, why do we need another law, Glaucon?”

“Because there is still harm.”

“But Glaucon, do all men who play money games harm our city?”

“Well…”

“Does every man put too much money in the games?  Does every man have thugs chasing him?  Does every man get his passion too excited?”

“No, Socrates, that would be too damning a claim to make.”

“But you would make a law against all men playing money games because some men hurt the city by playing.”

“Yes, Socrates. The money games set the evil loose that is in the men’s hearts.”

“Evil that all men have in their hearts.”

“Yes.”

“But not evil that is loosed for every man through money games.”

“True.”

“Is it fair to say that for every man there is some activity that will set the evil in him loose?”

“If there isn’t, it would be as if the evil wasn’t there. Yes, every man has a weakness.”

“But if we pass a law against money games because it sets the evil loose for some men, should we not pass a law against any activity that sets the evil loose in any man?”

“Socrates, if we did that, there would be no end to law making and everyone would spend all day in court accusing their neighbors of the least infraction. This is no city, it is a prison.”

“But it seems that we should do this. For some men, the sight of his neighbor’s wife in the latest fashion of toga excites great evil in his heart. Shall we make laws against these togas?”

“That would seem silly, Socrates.”

“Shall we make laws against the neighbor’s wife?”

“Even sillier.”

“Then laws against the man looking at the neighbor’s wife?”

“How could we enforce such a law?”

“But we already have a law against men stealing their neighbor’s wives, do we not?”

“We do.”

“Just as we already have laws against thugs, and just as we already encourage parsimony with money.”

“Yes.”

“If we have a law against a man stealing his neighbor’s wife, and we enforce this law well, what harm to our city is there if evil is excited in the man’s heart?”

“I don’t understand.”

“The city isn’t harmed until he takes his neighbor’s wife, yes?”

“Yes.”

“And we have laws against this?”

“Yes.”

“Then there is no harm if there is evil in his heart but not his actions?”

“There will be harm in his own home when his wife sees his heart.”

“But that is a matter for the home and not the city.”

“I suppose you are right.”

“Similarly with the money games. If we make laws against thugs and have wise schools and fathers, men may excite passionate greed in their hearts but until it reaches their actions there is no harm to the city.”

“I am forced to agree, Socrates. Until the evil in men’s hearts reaches their actions, it would be unwise to make laws against them.”

“We agreed to pretend that men having sex with men brings invisible harm to the city.”

“Yes.”

“It sets evil loose in men’s hearts.”

“Yes.”

“But men who have sex with other men do not roam our streets beating up the poor and sacking our city?”

“No.”

“And if we taught our own children the right thing about sex, and made sure we only had sex with our own wives, we would be doing good for our city in the way the men do harm?”

“Yes.”

“Just in the way that teaching our children to be careful with money will work against the harm of money games.”

“Yes.”

“Then we can stop the harm to our city without making laws against it.”

“I suppose.”

“And remember that the men are claiming protection of our other laws. The laws that say we can’t make laws against actions they do to please their gods.”

“Which I think is preposterous.”

“But we also agreed we cannot look into another man’s innermost being.”

“Yes.”

“And those same men would think it preposterous that their having sex with each other harms the city.”

“I suppose.”

“Whereas a thief or a murderer would have to admit even to themselves that they were causing harm.”

“Yes.”

“If we can’t see into their innermost being, and they think they’re pleasing the gods, and the harm they do is invisible, and we can teach our children aright before the harm is upon us, and all the while we can live in a great bustling city with prospering commerce and a city-within-a-city in which to speak Greek and worship Greek gods – well Glaucon, I think you see what I am saying.”

“You are saying we should not pass laws against men having sex with men.”

“And to be grateful for the city we have built.”

“Indeed.”

“Our city has taught us much about how to live with men who disagree about the gods.”

“But there is always more to learn.”

“Always, my dear Glaucon.”

Paul D. Miller teaches public policy and political theory at The University of Texas at Austin. He is a research fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

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  • John Bowling

    This is a good adaptation of Plato’s style in the Republic, but the analysis is a bit too simplistic (which Plato’s analysis in the Republic also suffers from at times!).

    To see this, replace “the gods” with “the good” with a little modification: “Glaucon thought a while. “What if we asked the best, wisest, and most holy men who know the good to rule for us?”

    “So the good won’t rule. Men will rule for the good.”

    “Yes.”

    “But even the wisest men disagree about what the good is.”

    And, thus, by this method, I supposedly have shown that trying to order a city according to basic ethics–good and bad–is impractical and we need some other standard besides ethics. Right? If you think “Ah, but that’s also my point!” then we can replace “the good/gods/nature” with anything else you please. We can even use it to deconstruct the laws proposed by the author here:

    “If such a city is to exist at all, you have to agree not to make laws against each other. Maybe if you agree not to shove them out, they’ll agree not to shove you out.”

    “If they agree, so do I.”

    “In fact, this could be our first law.”

    “But if even the wisest men disagree about the gods and the good and nature, why would the wisest men agree to this law, Socrates?”

    The only conclusion that we can reach by this method is that men who are not like-minded cannot exist comfortably in our city. That what we need is “one connected country to one united people—a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in their manners and customs…” But we don’t have such a country or united people. What then? We continue to do our best to have laws that seem good to us, even though not everyone will agree, or that seem to be the will of the gods to us, even though not everyone will agree. There is no neutral principle beyond such principles to which all men will agree. There are no neutral laws that we can make, to which all men will agree. A common people who can be ruled must to some extent have agreement at some level. When we find ourselves in a democracy we do our best to achieve it through discourse before law. The fact that not all men will see things our way is not a defeater to that particular aim (which is how this dialogue treats it).

    P.S. The section on Hurt and Causality also seems too libertarian, insofar as the libertarian ideal is misguided. Yes, it’s not reasonable to outlaw everything we think indirectly causes harm by contributing to direct harms, but it’s also reasonable to outlaw those things that we have good reason to think indirectly causes harm by greatly contributing to direct harms. This is why most people find it reasonable to outlaw prostitution and certain drugs.

  • M.J.Davis

    At that point, Adeimantus tapped Polemarchus on the shoulder and whispered something in his ear. All I could hear was, “Polemarchus, what does Socrates mean by ‘essential human nature?’”
    “Let’s find out,” Polemarchus said aloud.
    “Socrates,” asked Polemarchus, “did we not agree during the all-night discussion at my father’s house the soul is tri-partite?”
    “Yes,” I said.
    “There is,” said Polemarchus, “the reasoning part, the spirited part, and the appetitive part.”
    “True,” I said.

  • M.J.Davis

    Part 2

    “And is not each part an an essential part of the soul,” asked Polemarchus?
    “Yes,” I said.
    “Does not the desire for sex arise in the appetitive part,” asked Polemarchus?
    “Undoubtedly,” I said.
    “Sophocles described sexual desire as a ‘savage, brutal master,’” said Polemarchus.
    “I hestitate to disagree with a poet as estimable as Sophocles,” I answered, “although, without further inquiry, I’m not sure I know what he meant by that colorful expression.”
    “Fair enough,” said Polemarchus, “but do you want sexual desire to overpower the reasoning part of your soul?”
    “No,” I said.
    “That will occur, will it not,” asked Polemarchus, “unless the spirited part of your soul comes to the aid of the reasoning part?”
    “Yes,” I said.
    “And you regulate the appetitive part of your soul even though it is an essential part of your soul,” asked Polemarchus?
    “Correct,” I said.

  • M.J.Davis

    Part 3

    “What about a city,” asked Polemarchus? “Will not the appetitive part of a city dominate the city as a whole unless the reasoning and spirited parts of the city join forces to control the appetitive part?”
    “Yes,” I said.
    “Why then,” asked Polemarchus, “would a wise ruler agree to refrain from regulating the appetitive part of a city simply because the appetitive part is an essential part of the city? To the contrary, would not a wise ruler regulate all of the parts of the city in order to achieve a harmonious balance among them?”