"Do you suppose that what we say is any less good, on account of our not being able to prove that it is possible to found a city the same as the one in speech?" Why is this very important to...

"Do you suppose that what we say is any less good, on account of our not being able to prove that it is possible to found a city the same as the one in speech?"

Why is this very important to Socrates' argument as whole?

What is he attempting to counter?

Why can this be effective?

Asked on by oge

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caledon | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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At the beginning of this section of the Republic, Socrates is being reminded that he promised to show that his ideal State was practical; that it could actually be achieved. He begins by acknowledging that perfection probably cannot be attained; there will always be "approximations" of perfection. However, these approximations do not diminish the perfection of the ideal, and the ideal remains a good thing to strive toward.

Socrates provides an example:

If a painter, then, paints a picture of an ideally beautiful man, complete to the last detail, is he any worse the painter because he cannot show that such a man could really exist?

The answer given is no, the painter is not any less a painter. Socrates claims he has been painting a "word-picture" - but to oblige his audience, he will nevertheless attempt to show that practicality exists in his "painting". Socrates then justifies that, since practice and theory are never entirely in agreement, an approximation of an ideal is thus a realization of practicality.

  • This is very important to Socrates's overall argument because it shows that his ideas can be acted upon, rather than just thought and argued about. Socrates is bridging a gap between theory and practice; his ideas have more substance if they can actually be applied, at therefore have worth. Further, the "test" of practicality shows that Socrates is not simply countering every argument leveled against him, and responding with an unattainable ideal; he can actually be put to the test. This is perhaps, in response to Thrasymachus's early accusations that Socrates is merely playing to the audience and not actually being honest.
  • Socrates is attempting to counter Glaucon's skepticism that the ideal State is not actually one which can be realized, and that Socrates has been putting off this part of the argument because he knows it cannot be realized, and has been merely spouting theory the entire time.
  • This is effective because Socrates has, in a way, found a way to recontextualize the argument so that he is still right. It was never defined that an approximation of an ideal was an acceptable form of realization, and Glaucon did not insist that practicality should be tied directly to the enactment of the ideal. Socrates is also relying upon "common sense" as a baseline for his definitions; for example, he states that theory and practice are never in perfect alignment, but it could be countered that this does not alter the fact that an imperfect approximation of an ideal is not the ideal. Glaucon does not provide this counter-argument, and goes along with the common-sense-based definition. In this way, Socrates is steering the argument in his favor. This tactic is commonly called "moving the goalposts".
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