justice, Plato, Politics, sameness, the Republic

On Recognition, or Why Dogs Make Great Philosophers

There are various moments in the Republic, especially in book II which we will focus on here, where justice is elusively illustrated according to those to whom justice is attributed, i.e. proceeding from types which partake in or lay claim to justice and showing by example not only the essence of justice but how it is in itself good. Now, obviously all of this is evident from the text and does not require repeating except to remind the reader, in a sense, the directionality of the arguments through which Socrates proceeds. It would also be obvious to point out how Socrates dialectically presupposes the subordination of the individual to the polis or State, which is manifested through his own “sacrifice” to Athens memorialized in the Crito and the Apology. What I would like to do here is instead to bear this in mind and stop upon a crucial passage in the text that concerns the “natural aptitudes” fitting for a guardian of the state in order to first analyze an example of this procedure from types and then, from there, to make some remarks about the general role of “philosophy” in the Republic along with the manifestation of an implicit argument of the text: namely, that philosophy is necessary for the cultivation of justice.

Let us situate ourselves, for our paths are narrow and fragmentary. After discussing the different duties which are required for the industriousness of a State, Socrates brings up the crucial question about the guardians of the state. It could be interpreted that these guardians would represent the elite elders governing the city, yet these passages do stress the physical requirements along with the necessity of fearlessness and bravery in battle (II 375). Warriors, Socrates argues, need swiftness, braveness, and spirit. Yet they must be gentle, they must be able to treat those like them with fairness. If you remember from the text earlier, Socrates makes the argument that the just man does not wish to exceed others like him. In the same sense, guardians must have a complex mixture of behaviors and instincts: they must combine fearlessness and gentleness. The example given of an animal that combines these traits is found in that of the dog.

In fact, Socrates asks, “Is not the noble youth very like a well-bred dog in respect of guarding and watching?” But, to complexify the argument, Socrates also argues that the dog is very much like a philosopher because “he distinguishes the face of a friend and of an enemy only by the criterion of knowing and not knowing” (II 376b). Before returning to this statement, we can almost sketch a syllogism with major and minor premises:

Major premise: Every noble youth is like a well-bred dog.

Minor premise: Every well-bred dog is like a philosopher.

Conclusion: Every noble youth is like a philosopher.

The cornerstone to this argument is the very nature of justice, for Socrates remarks “he who is likely to be gentle to his friends and acquaintances must by nature be a lover of wisdom.” And, not to jump ahead of ourselves, the reason why the following pages are concerned with censorship are precisely because Socrates is addressing a crucial question of breeding: how do we breed the noble youth into a well-bred dog, i.e. how do we instill justice into the youth, i.e. how do we breed the philosopher? For we are reminded after the claim that: “he who is to be a really good and noble guardian of the State will require to unite in himself philosophy and spirit and swiftness and strength.”

In other words, what makes the noble youth like a well-bred dog is the presence of philosophy instilled into the essence of his very being. This installation is what allows for the cultivation of justice precisely because justice is defined within the limits of the known and the unknown, i.e. of the like and the unlike. This leads to some startling conclusions: Greek philosophy and ethics are founded on the subordination of the Other, the Stranger, to the Same, which is to say that Greek justice is logocentrically normative or, in another sense, is too worried about the neighbor, the nearest, such that the furthest, in Nietzsche’s political sense, are precisely ignored or non-represented in terms of the situation. Where does this argument stem from?

To come full circle, the dog’s virtue is precisely in his recognition of the face of the Other in relation to that of the Same. As a crucial result, philosophy and justice come to reinforce each other on this basic principle: that the love of knowledge is the exaltation of the Same, and for philosophy to express its domination, the unlike must be rendered unto justice, which is to say that it must be made into the Same. Consequently, the Other and the Stranger are always on the other side of justice, justice always seems to slope off asymptotically upon verging with the unlike. As Laruelle would remind us, though, we are all Strangers in-the-last-instance, which means that the criterion of Sameness and Difference will not help us here if we are to think a completely human notion of justice. On the other hand, Deleuze has convincingly argued that justice does not exist, and where it does exist it must have been constructed, and hence it must have always already been jurisprudence, i.e. it must evolve according to a situation. This is why it becomes disingenuous for Socrates to not only promote the praise of the gods but also to change their very nature through the censorship of literature. Obviously, Socrates’ justice is constructed in such a way that its jurisprudence shows the inherent injustice in the system, for the freedom to know and question are denied to the common folk: what is left is the freedom to obey. Hence the freedom to know must be pre-established: one must be bred for it…

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One thought on “On Recognition, or Why Dogs Make Great Philosophers

  1. This is great work, sir. A few quick points. As opposed to the political control over culture Socrates’ rulers would exert over Kallipolis, who or what should exert power in its’ stead? Also if there is justice only for the tamed, the “bred,” then isn’t this not jurisprudence but greed, an arbitrary exclusion of power? But throughout the Republic, Socrates is concerned with contesting this point — everything circulates around the axiom that justice is more valuable in itself than injustice, and this applies to each and every case, that is, no matter what “kind” of human being, the type of occupation or “breeding”…

    Also I’m sure you notice Socrates shifts very quickly from speaking about the damaging and inferior products of the poets and artists, to speaking about the immortality of the soul… Is this really incidental? If not, what do you think is the connection?

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