Nature of philosophy and the purpose of Plato’s guardians

Sam asked:

I have two questions.

1. I have recently taken an interest to philosophy and in doing so become curious about many things such as religion and the point of life. I have read many ‘beginner’ titles which have lead me to have a rather dry view on the world. It could be explained better by me saying that if you take a step, try to avoid emotion and look at the world, it comes across as just something that is with no great reason behind it. Is the world just a ‘thing’ that is made up of material objects that evolve and are things such as emotions merely just a reaction in the brain that stimulate certain movements which make us feel emotions?

Sorry if this sounds a bit silly and deep, I am rather new to the idea of actually considering these questions and have been left confused and a little dry. What I am looking for is some suggestions, whether through recommended readings or personal opinions.

The second question I have is this (not so deep),

2. What exactly was the primary goal of the guardians in Plato’s Republic, was it for people to be happy or the desire for knowledge and truth?

Answer by Jürgen Lawrenz

I want to encourage rather than discourage you; but questions like yours cannot be answered in a short summary, nor by reading a library of philosophy books.

What Plato taught us, which is perhaps the most valuable advice I can give you (especially since in a bookish culture like ours it happens too rarely): Philosophy is dialectic, in other words: debate, dialogue, discussion. You cannot ‘solve’ problems on your own. Your experience of life is likely to be insufficient for this. You need to think and test your thinking constantly against other points of view. Some of them may change your way of thinking. So don’t read alone. Find friends who may wish to share your interest, or enrol in a University and find some companions for your quest.

However, one issue of philosophy is exactly the opposite of what you seem to have believe. Philosophy has no concern with religion (even though some philosophers have), for the simple reason that it seeks to discover the truth without imposing presuppositions on its quest. Religions always know what the truth is before they indoctrinate you. So if you wish to pursue religion, go to religious teachers. No philosopher can truly help you with this.

Second: it may seem that philosophy has an ‘objective’ agenda. Academic study will reinforce this belief. But learning without emotion is impossible. I expect that you’ve made that experience, but perhaps not thought about it. No discovery has ever been made in the history of mankind without the discoverer or inventor being driven (sometimes to absolute despair or raging obsession) by the desire of wanting to find a truth, a new land, a new technique, or a work of art. Just because philosophy tends to be shy of involving the emotions in its texts, don’t for a moment think that you can do philosophy without embroiling your entire being — your psychology, desires, ambitions, anger, etc etc.

I hope this will help you a little bit. As I said, I can’t write a manual for you, only to give you something to mull over while you do the rest.

On the last question, about Plato’s guardians: Their ‘purpose’ in life is truth and knowledge. But this is for the benefit of the people they are appointed to govern. Because the upshot of this studious life is supposed to just laws for the community.

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