October 29, 2015 at 6:00 am#174
“Self-reflection and self-knowledge”
In 132e, Alcibiades introduces mirrors as a mechanism for reflection of among other things, the self. Later in the same section, Socrates alters the metaphor slightly to the pupil of the eye as a reflection of the eye looking upon it. From this point to 133e10, the argument proceeds through the eye as a metaphor for self-knowledge to the conclusion that those who come to know themselves will be the best caretakers of fellow citizens.
What reasons do you think explain Socrates alteration of the metaphor from mirror to eye (cf. Republic 507c-508d)?
In the context of this reading, what relation does knowledge of the self have to do with taking care of one’s fellow citizens?November 7, 2015 at 4:58 pm#321
Socrates seems to alter the metaphor from the mirror to the eye because he believes that knowing yourself and knowing others is an interpersonal activity. Similarly, Socrates asserts that knowing what is best for you and best for another person are two issues that are fundamentally linked together. When looking into a mirror, it’s true that you can see yourself, and you can see yourself seeing yourself, as Socrates would put it. Although, in the case of being a good caretaker, or statesmen, it is not enough to simply know oneself. You must know other people and the things that belong to them, namely their rights. I believe the reason why Socrates changed the metaphor from the impersonal mirror to the personal pupil metaphor was to highlight that the ability to govern is as much about what the governor needs as what the citizens need.
In the opinion of Socrates, there is a very logical path by which one can relate self-knowledge and the ability to govern. To know oneself means that one knows not only who they are, but also what things belong to them, and what things belong to their belongings. Conversely, Socrates argues that if a person does not know himself or herself, then they certainly do not know what belongs to others, or what belongs to the belongings of others, and they are therefore not fit to govern any group of people. My understanding of the “belongings” which Socrates refers to are not just personal property, because any governor must strive to keep a citizens personal property in their possession, but also their basic rights as a human. Of course the idea of “basic human rights” would have meant something different to a 4th century Greek than to a modern day American, but they had a concept of human rights nonetheless.November 8, 2015 at 5:54 pm#322
In The Republic, Socrates states that In order to see, you need a sort of medium to enable seeing, and that is light. In a sense, I think we can take this light as a metaphor for toleration or an open mind. In order to understand another person, to see them correctly, we need to approach them with an open mind, so that we can completely accept them even if they are different than us.
Socrates also states that the soul is similar to this. When focused on one thing it can understand completely that which it is focused on, but when it moves to another thing that view is obscured.
In a way, this does make sense to me. We have to take care of ourselves before we can take care of others. We need to cleanse our own soul, clear off that lens of any impediments or previous opinions before we can see others clearly and help them understand themselves and their problems.
I think that this is what Socrates is attempting to do with Alcibiades. He’s telling Alcibiades that before he goes on and conquers the world, he needs to first take a look at himself and fix what’s on the inside. However, he also states that one cannot clearly see their own soul unless they are looking at someone else’s, like looking into a mirror. So by helping others, he can help himself, but in order to help others, he must first know himself, which seems a little weird because you cannot start one without having done the other. Perhaps this is what Socrates means by finding yourself. Some can find themselves by digging deep inside themselves, and then passing that good onto others, while other people find it by helping other people, and finding the good in their souls can learn how to bring it into their life. But before Alcibiades can go on to be anything, he must first know himself.November 8, 2015 at 7:09 pm#323
I think Socrates changes the metaphor to use the eyes because it is the easiest way to display the concept he’s trying to explain to Alcibiades at a personal level. The point that Socrates eventually gets Alcibiades to agree to, is that a man can’t understand other things without first knowing himself. In this instance, it would be in a governmental sense, with Alcibiades having to understand himself before he can possible imagine being able to understand the people he wants to rule over. When he is looking in to the eyes of somebody looking at him, he is seeing himself and seeing how someone sees him; and so essentially for Alcibiades to be able to know what is good for the people he is ruling he and to know what they want from him, he must first be able to understand himself.
In The Republic, Socrates makes clear the idea of the sun being the enabler for the eye. Without the sun providing its light, the eyes would be unable to see as they do. This is the truth in the most scientific and literal sense. When we look at it in a metaphorical sense in Alcibiades, the light from the sun can become self-understanding, and having self understanding will allow a man’s belongings to be understood and the belongings of a man’s belongings to be understood.November 9, 2015 at 1:27 am#324
Socrates alters the metaphor from a mirror to an eye because he wants to make the point that a thing can only come to know itself be examining an instance of the same thing (and specifically the part of that thing where its virtue is). For instance, an eye can only see itself by looking at its reflection in another eye (specifically the pupil, where sight occurs). It’s true that the eye could also see itself by looking at a mirror, but the mirror metaphor doesn’t really carry over to souls, which is what Socrates is ultimately concerned with. Like the eye looking at another eye, the soul can only know itself by looking at a soul, and specifically the part of the soul where its virtue (wisdom) is.
There are a couple of reasons that self-knowledge might be important for taking care of other citizens (or governing them). The first is that taking care of other citizens or governing them will likely involve concepts like justice and virtue, and without a proper understanding of these (and an awareness of one’s understanding of justice and virtue), a person can hardly be expected to be a good caretaker. Another reason, which was discussed in one of the secondary readings, is that self-knowledge is not solely concerned with things purely internal to the individual, but also with where the person stands in relation to others around them; it involves knowledge of their place in society. This sort of self-knowledge is clearly necessary for properly taking care of others; before being able to properly take care of them (or properly interact with them in any way), a person needs to understand their relation to the others.November 11, 2015 at 4:58 pm#326
We have similar answers for the first part of the question I noticed. However one thing that you included that I can’t quite make out a reasoning to is when you say, “You must know other people and the things that belong to them, namely their rights.” What makes you think that Socrates means their rights?November 11, 2015 at 5:05 pm#327
When you say that, “We need to cleanse our own soul, clear off that lens of any impediments or previous opinions before we can see others clearly and help them understand themselves and their problems.” Do you think that Alcibiades would actually be able to do this? I mean, at the end of the day, his goal is to become a ruler of the Athenians. Singular rule is something Athens is obviously very much against. So in the sense that he is an Athenian and still trying to do this, wouldn’t his soul be dirtied as long as he is pursuing this?