Response to Hall

"Response to Hall," Political Theory, Vol. 5, No. 3 (Aug. 1977), pp. 315-330.


In the first place, Hall presupposes that he knows the Platonic teaching and reads his understanding of it into the text. Arguing against my contention that the best regime of the Republic is not a serious proposal, he tells us, “Socrates is explicit that his polis is natural.” I search in vain for Socrates’ statement to that effect. Indeed, I know of no assertion anywhere in the Platonic corpus that the city is natural or that man is by nature a political animal. Whatever the ideas may be-and they are the highest and most elusive theme to which we must ascend very carefully and slowly from the commonly sensed particulars-there is not the slightest indication that there is an idea of the city or of the best city, as there is said to be an idea of the beautiful or an idea of the just. What the omission means is debatable, but one must begin by recognizing that it is so. Obviously, from the point of view of the ideas, the naturalness of the city must have a status very different from that of, for example, man. The kallipolis cannot participate in an idea which is not. While there are many men and an idea of man, the city does not exist as a particular or as a universal; it is neither sensed nor intellected.

Careful observation of what the text says about this question of naturalness would have helped Hall. In his discussion of the three waves of paradox in Book V, Socrates says (a) the same education and way of life for women as for men is possible because it is natural (456b-c); (b) the community of women and children is not against nature (466d)-however, now Socrates shifts the criterion of possi- bility from naturalness to coming into being (many things which are not natural, and even against nature, can come into being); (c) the coincidence of philosophy and rule is just that, coincidence or chance (473c-d). All the attention is given to the possibility of that highly improbable coincidence. Cities, let alone the best city, do not come into being as do plants and animals. Some men are by nature fit both to philosophize and to rule in the city, but it is not said that it is natural that they do so. If they actually do both, the cause is art, human making, not nature. If I were to use against Hall the methods he uses against me, I would say that, with respect to the naturalness of the city, he has read Aristotle’s Politics, not Plato’s Republic. He does not see that the city is more problematic for Plato than for Aristotle