The Divided Line as organizational key to Plato’s Republic

In my last post, I gave a very compressed explanation of the four segments of the Divided Line Analogy. (Republic, 509d-511e) But the Divided Line can be best understood by using it as an overlay for different parts of the Republic — then the parts and whole of the dialogue are mutually illuminating. The Divided Line Analogy is the representative of the whole; it give the logos or ratio of the parts in relation both to each other and to the whole itself. ( It took me about a decade of reading and rereading to figure all this out.) Here is a schematic version of some of those overlays, each of which I hope to unpack in future posts:

 

THE CAVE ALLEGORY
First, we need to distinguish the three main levels, each with its own type of object:

1. bottom level — where the prisoners sit shackled. The only “objects” are the shadows and echoes.
2. middle level — the level of the puppets, puppeteers and fire. A partition divides this level in two: (a) a front side in which only puppets are seen; (b) a back side, where one can see the puppets, the puppeteers and the fire.
3. top level — the ground outside the cave opening. The objects of attention here are the animals-themselves, the plants-themselves, and the light of the sun.

Given those three levels, one of which is divided by a partition, we get the following four “stations”:

1. eikasia — (Level 1) — turning from the shadows on the cave wall;
2. pistis — (Level 2a) — seeing the puppets on the front side of the partition wall;
3. dianoia — (Level 2b) — seeing the puppets, puppeteers and illumining fire behind the partition wall;
4. noesis — (Level 3) — emerging from the cave.

 

THE GENESIS OF THE CITIES
The parts of the Divided Line map to the four gradations of city in Books 2 through 5. (These divisions come from Eric Voegelin’s Order and History, Volume III: Plato and Aristotle.)

eikasia — Primitive City (369b – 372c)
pistis — Luxurious City (372c – 375c)
dianoia — Purified City (376e – 448e)
noesis — Philosopher’s City (449a – 541b)

 

THE VIRTUES
eikasia — justice/dikaiosyne
pistis — courage/andreia
dianoia — moderation/sophrosyne
noesis — wisdom/sophia

 

THE TRIPARTITE PSYCHOLOGY (See Republic, 436a-b)
eikasia — desiring-part/epithymia
pistis — spirited-part/thumoeides
dianoia — calculating-part/logistikon
noesis — not included. Thus, Socrates calls the threefold scheme, “deficient.” (504b)

 

THE MAJOR CHARACTERS
eikasia — Cephalus
pistis — Polemarchus
dianoia — Thrasymachus, Adeimantus, Glaucon
noesis — Socrates

 

IGNORANCE – OPINION – KNOWLEDGE (See Republic, 477a – 478e)
eikasia — ignorance/agnoia/aporia
pistis — opinion/doxa (as belief)
dianoia — opinion/doxa (as hypothesis)
noesis — knowledge/episteme

 

FOUR “DRAFTS” OF THE REPUBLIC (discussed here)
eikasia — A first aporetic (i.e. unsatisfying) draft, i.e. Book I alone.
pistis — A second poretic (i.e. satisfying) draft comprised of Books I – IV and Books VIII – X
dianoia — The final written draft, i.e. the Republic as we have it.
noesis — The *real* final draft — the teaching of the Republic realized in the soul of its reader.

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8 thoughts on “The Divided Line as organizational key to Plato’s Republic

  1. Nice analysis. You might like to compare your explanation with that in: Kenneth Dorter, “The Divided Line and the Structure of Plato’s Republic”, History of Philosophy Quarterly, Vol. 21, No. 1 (Jan., 2004), pp. 1–20.

    • Thanks for the recommendation, John. I have Dorter’s The Transformation of Plato’s Republic on my shelf. It is in my queue, but I have only skimmed it so far. I will also read his article on the Divided Line. Jacob Klein and Eric Voegelin have been the chief inspirations for my thinking on the Line Analogy so far.

      Currently I am staying away from secondary literature until I finish a synopsis (50-70 pages) of my entire argument. I had hoped to have that finished by now, but it is still in process. Until then, I am certainly collecting articles and books. So I appreciate any pointers readers of this blog might have.

  2. Khaire! I just stumbled across this page while looking up Jacob Klein. Nice post! I love this project.

    I would imagine this for the characters:

    THE MAJOR CHARACTERS
    eikasia — Cephalus…maybe Polemarchus as a younger version of Cephalus, so he doesn’t get let off the hook quite as easily. Cephalus does get let off the hook to attend the religious rites because he has right opinion and he’s old.
    pistis — Thrasymachus
    dianoia — Adeimantus (maybe…I’d have to think on that), Glaucon definitely (Plato’s brother, might have been a mathematician, maybe Pythagorean.) Glaucon’s also the theoretical one, capable of playing devil’s advocate (ring of Gyges) on behalf of Thrasymachus’ claims.
    noesis — Socrates

    The main difference here is that Thrasymachus would be in the realm of pistis as someone who can’t grasp justice as it is in itself—or, rather, sees it as it “exists” in the visible world, as convention. He doesn’t see the possibility of the existence of the idea of justice, as it is in itself. Also, comparing Thrasymachus/pistis to the tripartite soul allows him to be in the “thumos” realm. He has a hot temper, but no moderation.

    Consider too that pistis is a danger zone. Once there, you need to continue moving up, otherwise you might have been better off as Cephalus with right opinion. Socrates clearly thinks Thrasymachus is in the danger zone.

    On another topic: Why are there only three parts to the psyche? I can’t help but think this is intentional and might have something to do with the equality of the middle segments of the divided line, but I have no argument for that. Or it could be that noesis is not yet “in” us, but something to be grasped beyond reason (logos), wordlessly? Just throwing things out there…

    • Thanks so much for your comments and for your speculations concerning Thrasymachus. If I understand you correctly, you assign him to the pistis section since he thinks that all virtue is nomos and is blind to the possibility that justice may abide somewhere other than the world of things. Interesting thought. My reason for assigning him to dianoia is precisely because his attitude is critical and not naive. He does not trust the conventional speech about about justice, but sees through the defects of saying justice is this or that. Speech about such things always fall short of the form, so it will always be defective in some way. What Thrasymachus lacks is precisely pistis. His distrust is too general and so he fails to see through the opinions/words toward the noetic sphere in which the truth of justice abides. If you scroll up to what I wrote about the Cave Allegory about the middle level, in which pistis is “seeing the puppets on the front side of the partition wall” whereas dianoia is “seeing the puppets, puppeteers and illumining fire behind the partition wall”, it is clear that Thrasychachus falls in the latter category: he wants to be a puppeteer! So his is a kind of a-pistic dianoia, i.e. skepticism. Adeimantus is dianoietic in that his mind is critical of convention, but his ultimate aim is right opinion. This is disclosed in Republic 506b-c. He fails a test there by professing satisfaction with a better (i.e. Socrates’s) opinion merely. He is dropped from the conversation for the rest of Book VI and VII, a stretch that includes all of the high points of the dialogue (Sun Analogy, DIvided Line, Cave Allegory, educational program of the philosopher). Adeimantus’s form of dianoia is what I call “technical dianoia” and it uses the critical light of dianoia only to sift between worse and better versions of opinion. Glaucon has “upward-looking” dianoia in that he works with Socrates to get at the truth of things. I too assigned Socrates to the noetic at first, but came to see philosophy as the highest form of dianoia in that it/he disowns any pretensions to mastering final truth.

      That’s pretty compressed I know, but I don’t have time to draft a more adequate answer. What reasons may Plato have for presenting a truncated version of the soul with a missing fourth? One, as another instance of his using defective writing to summon thought and, two, to point out that the soul itself is lacking without participation in Nous, which is not a component of the soul but a shared reality among searchers for the truth.

      • Thanks for your response! This is one of my favorite subjects, specifically the divided line as it relates to the characters. I rarely come across anyone who’s interested in the same thing and with whom I can discuss these matters in detail. My husband was a Plato scholar, but I already know all his ideas. His brain has been thoroughly picked. 🙂

        I’m writing a novel based on Plato’s relationship to Socrates, and I’m using characters from the Republic as templates for mine.

        “My reason for assigning him to dianoia is precisely because his attitude is critical and not naive.”

        Maybe I see T as less critical than you do?

        “He does not trust the conventional speech about about justice, but sees through the defects of saying justice is this or that.”

        Yes, conventional speech is for him empty talk, propaganda. I don’t think he’s pleased about that finding, though.

        What he really thinks: Justice with a capital J—as “dumb eikasia” people think of it—can’t be found in the visible world; therefore, Justice doesn’t exist.

        But he doesn’t say that. He says “justice is the interest of the stronger”…which is a really roundabout way of saying “Justice as you think of it doesn’t exist.” He’s being rhetorical, of course, and that phrasing calls attention to itself precisely because it’s the opposite of what most people think of justice. It really has the feel of a bumper sticker. It screams and shouts, it has neon lights. If he had been more precise in his language (and, perhaps, thought) he’d have said, “Justice doesn’t exist.” But his rhetorical art involves the manipulation of people through the manipulation of words. Rather than say the clear and simple thing, he changes the ordinary meaning of “justice.” The perplexing thing is that he’s able to manipulate people and words without having the knowledge of how to NOT-manipulate, i.e., to speak clearly, logically. Thrasymachus would make a killing if he decided to start writing commercials and political bumper stickers. However, it’s not clear he possesses knowledge of what makes an argument valid, much less sound. He IS naive in the sense that he doesn’t know how he does what he does—he doesn’t know anything but rhetoric, which turns out not to work on Socrates. T’s NOT naive in that he’s aware he’s manipulating people and that others are trying to manipulate him. In this sense he’s unlike those in eikasia who really believe in bumper stickers (if you’ll excuse my repeated anachronism.)

        “Speech about such things always fall short of the form, so it will always be defective in some way.”

        Did you mean that Thrasymachus thinks the above?

        If so, I’d say I’m not sure that Thrasymachus thinks this way about speech. The only way speech would fall short is if it failed to persuade. But I could be wrong. I don’t have the Republic on me right now…

        “His distrust is too general and so he fails to see through the opinions/words toward the noetic sphere in which the truth of justice abides.”

        I see what you mean, I think. I’d add that he fails to see through the opinions/words because he doesn’t recognize them as mere opinions/words (i.e., he doesn’t see that his anti-beliefs are MERELY beliefs).

        On the other hand, his anger indicates that he really wants to believe in justice, in the reality of ideas, in something higher. Why does he bother with Socrates, after all? He barges into the argument, but if he really had confidence in his views he wouldn’t feel the need to get so emotional about it…all while professing that he doesn’t care. We the readers don’t believe him when he says he doesn’t care. He’s too distrustful to be convinced by Socrates, plus he’s afraid of being humiliated—so he knows beforehand that he won’t be convinced—yet he sticks around only to begrudgingly comply as Socrates’ “yes” man. Why?

        “So his is a kind of a-pistic dianoia, i.e. skepticism.”

        I wonder if you’re taking pistis in a more positive sense? From a certain angle, I can see what you’re getting at. If pistis = belief, and Thrasymachus is a skeptic, he’s not in the realm of pistis. Plus, we hear the word “belief” and think: trust, confidence, faith. None of these sound like our Thrasymachus.

        But imagine pistis in a more neutral territory. Belief can be good, it can be bad. (After all, unless you have the idea of the Good, you’re operating with some degree of belief. Dianoia=hypotheses, springboards=belief, but belief seen for what it is.) Thrasymachus represents bad belief, disguised opinion. He doesn’t know that he doesn’t know (unlike Glaucon, who’s fairly humble). T’s smug in his skepticism, an eikasia-like “true belief” is impossible for him now. Knowledge of the Good will be forever out of reach for him unless he moves up the ladder or continuum (or whatever you wish to call it) of the divided line, but he’s at a particularly difficult juncture.

        “If you scroll up to what I wrote about the Cave Allegory about the middle level, in which pistis is “seeing the puppets on the front side of the partition wall” whereas dianoia is “seeing the puppets, puppeteers and illumining fire behind the partition wall”, it is clear that Thrasychachus falls in the latter category: he wants to be a puppeteer!”

        T seems to want that—political power—but as I said, I’m not sure he knows what he wants. He’s obviously not a happy guy, and I’m not sure that’s due to his lack of power.

        On the other hand, I tend to make my comparisons based on the divided line rather than the cave metaphor. Honestly, I’m not sure I could recall the details of the cave metaphor if someone asked me to right now, so you could have thrown a monkey wrench in to my scheme. Plus, I tend to think of the two middle segments in visual/ideal terms: Marks in the sand vs. the ideas they represent; visible world with no example of justice vs. ideal Justice; rhetoric (words changing) vs. dialectic.

        The cave presents a problem for me…the fire in the cave seems to belong to dianoia, but the puppets and puppeteers seem to belong to pistis. Having the puppets, puppeteers and fire all in one group makes my interpretation puzzling, I admit!

        “Adeimantus’s form of dianoia is what I call “technical dianoia” and it uses the critical light of dianoia only to sift between worse and better versions of opinion.”

        Interesting. I’ll have to re-read now. For some reason, he always felt in the background.

        “Glaucon has “upward-looking” dianoia in that he works with Socrates to get at the truth of things.”

        Agreed.

        “I too assigned Socrates to the noetic at first, but came to see philosophy as the highest form of dianoia in that it/he disowns any pretensions to mastering final truth.”

        Philosophy as the highest form of dianoia…I think I agree with this. The idea of the Good is a wordless apprehension. It’s odd, but it makes sense when you think of the Good as necessarily beyond reason, being the foundation of reason (logos).

        On the other hand, I believe Socrates (or maybe we should say Plato here?) left off the issue of the idea of the Good not necessarily because he didn’t know it, but because he didn’t think he Glaucon (or his reader) was ready to receive it. Pearls before swine. OR… maybe since the Good can only be wordlessly apprehended, there would be no way to tell someone what it is.

        “What reasons may Plato have for presenting a truncated version of the soul with a missing fourth? One, as another instance of his using defective writing to summon thought…”

        Good point. It’s definitely screaming to be interpreted, especially since 4 is all over the place in the Republic!

        “…and, two, to point out that the soul itself is lacking without participation in Nous, which is not a component of the soul but a shared reality among searchers for the truth.”

        VERY good point. I think that’s right. It renders the Good objective—establishes its ontological nature—rather than opening the doors to a mere psychological/subjective interpretation of the Good.

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