“What is wisdom? What is moderation? What is courage? What is justice? What is the nature of reality itself? Looking at these questions today, we could just shrug our shoulders and discard them as irrelevant. After all, they seem too abstract and distant from real concerns of our everyday life. Or are they? Two and half millennia ago the Greek philosopher Plato considered answers to these questions vital, if not absolutely necessary, for a happy and fulfilling life, a conviction reflected in his timeless treatise The Republic (paperback | audiobook), where he envisioned a life of ideal society. In today’s post, we’re diving into wisdom, one of the four virtues that figure prominently throughout the dialogue. Understanding the nature of wisdom is not an easy task, and this particular excerpt sheds light on how it was perceived by one of the greatest philosophers in the history of Western thought. Please enjoy this audio performance by an immensely talented William Sigalis as Socrates and Ray Childs as Glaucon.
SOCRATES ON WISDOM
from The Republic of Plato
[Glaucon,] let’s say that if the republic [that we created] has been properly ordered, then it is completely good.
That necessarily follows.
Then do you believe that your republic is wise, courageous, moderate, and just?
Once we find some of these qualities, we can assume that the ones we have not yet discovered remain to be found.
That makes sense.
Hmm. Let’s suppose that we are looking for one thing out of four. If we find it first, that is the end of the search. But if we first find the other three and can eliminate them, then the one that remains is the one we are seeking.
Then that is how we should proceed in the present case.
Wisdom is the first one we saw in your republic, but there seems to be something strange about it.
When we say that republic is wise, don’t we mean that it practices good judgment?
Yes. We mean good judgment.
People make good judgments by knowledge, not by ignorance. So can we say that good judgment is a kind of knowledge?
But don’t we find many different kinds of knowledge in the Repuplic?
For example, consider the knowledge of the carpenter. Is that the kind of knowledge that leads us to say that a republic is wise and has good judgement?
No. That only means it is skilled in making things out of it wood. …
Then do any of the citizens of your recently founded republic possess a kind of knowledge that advises about the entire republic rather than some particular thing? Does anyone know how to make the best policy concerning both citizens and foreigners?
Then what is this knowledge and who has it?
It is the knowledge of leading possessed by those we call guards in the fullest sense of the term.
Then what should we call a republic that has this kind of knowledge?
We should call it wise in the sense of having good judgment in leading people. …
Of all the groups that are named because they possess a certain kind of knowledge, don’t you think good leaders will be the smallest?
The smallest by far.
Then do we agree that the nature of the smallest group in a republic, those who govern a rule justifies calling the whole republic wise? And can we say that this is the only knowledge properly called wisdom?
Yes, Socrates, we do agree about that.
Glaucon, somehow we have discovered the nature and the place in the republic of one of the four things we are seeking.
I’m quite satisfied with our method.
Complement this particular passage from The Republic of Plato, a treasure trove of timeless wisdom, with another incredibly gratifying audio performance by William Sigalis as Socrates on moderation as a harmony that permeates all aspects of the human soul and then revisit the famous allegory of the cave that questions the nature of perceived reality itself.