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Plato's Republic

Is there a connection between Socrates’ teachings and the Divine Just State?

The Meeting Point of Eastern Faith and Western Philosophy

Long ago, in the 5th Century BC, the founding father of Greek philosophy, Socrates, mapped out a blueprint for the ideal society. It has survived throughout the ages in the book of his student, Plato – in a work known as the Republic, but its title might be translated better as “the State” or “the ideal state”. Hidden within the pages of this diologue is a secret connection, tying the philosophy of the ancient Greeks to the scriptures of Islam. Could this be the meeting point of Eastern faith and Western philosophy? 

THE PATRIARCH OF WESTERN PHILOSOPHY

The world is transformed by asking questions. Every time progress is made it’s because someone dared to ask new questions and seek new answers. During what is known as the Golden Age of Ancient Athens, one man did just that. In fact, he taught the world to question everything. His name was Socrates. 

Socrates is considered the patriarch of western philosophy and it was him who defined, for the world, the true meaning of wisdom. The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.

I went and tried to explain to him that he thought himself wise, but was not really wise; and the consequence was that he hated me, and his enmity was shared by several who were present and heard me. So I left him, saying to myself, as I went away: Well, although I do not suppose that either of us knows anything really beautiful and good, I am better off than he is – for he knows nothing, and thinks that he knows. I neither know nor think that I know.

– Apology, Plato

And in order to figure out what you don’t know, you have to first question everything. Socrates did just that. He went around asking Athenians, both the elite and the commoner, question after question after question. His famous method of discourse, now called the “Socratic Method,” compelled a person to think through a problem step by step in order to come to a logical conclusion. Sometimes the answer seemed so obvious, it made Socrates’ opponents look foolish. Pointing out people’s faulty reasoning earned Socrates just as many enemies as it did followers. 

Eventually, in 399 BC, Socrates was accused of corrupting the youth of Athens and of impiety, or heresy and was sentenced to death. During his trial, he spoke one of the most frequently cited lines in the entire history of western thought. When speaking to the jury, to explain why he can’t simply stop what he is doing; why he cant stop questioning people, Socrates said that he can’t stop examining his own life because,

“…the life which is unexamined is not worth living.” 

– Apology, Plato

How many people die without ever asking themselves perhaps the most important question of all – “how should I be living?” Socrates offered an answer to this question. And it was so controversial that it was likely the thing that got him killed. But before we get into that, let’s consider the significance of Socrates. 

PHILOSOPHERS AND PROPHETS

His ideas may have changed the world but Socrates never wrote them down himself. Practically everything that we know about him comes from the writings of his student Plato. Plato’s record of Socrates in “The Republic,” is one of the most influential works of all time, listed alongside the Christian Bible, in terms of its importance in Western society. Plato went on to become the teacher of Aristotle. And these three men are regarded as the founding fathers, the pillars of western philosophy. For those who value reason and logic above all else, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle are just as important as Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are to the people of the book. Today, rational-minded individuals might place philosophers and prophets into very different categories. 

In fact, some have argued that Socrates, Plato and Aristotle paved the way for atheism because they fought against the polytheistic religion of Ancient Greece. But perhaps philosophers and prophets aren’t so different after all… Socrates never argued against the existence of a higher power, he merely pointed out the flawed logic in the existence of multiple omnipotent deities. 

The people of Ancient Greece worshiped an entire pantheon of gods. And Socrates, like Abraham before him, and Muhammad after him, came to smash all of the idols that the people were worshipping. But instead of arguing faith or belief in something unseen, Socrates used that which made sense to the people of his time: logic.

Socrates, Plato and Aristotle were prophets of God. And this is clear when comparing their message with the message of the prophets throughout time. 

Just as Jesus warned about following false teachers, in the Gospel of Matthew, saying: 

“Beware of false prophets.” 

– Holy Bible: Matthew 7:15

Socrates warned against the false philosophers, the poets. Socrates said:

“There is an old quarrel between philosophy and poetry.” 

– The Republic, Plato, Book 10

True philosophers are concerned with the truth, while poetry is mere imitation. Socrates said:

That showed me in an instant that not by wisdom do poets write poetry, but by a sort of genius and inspiration; they are like diviners or soothsayers who also say many fine things, but do not understand the meaning of them. And the poets appeared to me to be much in the same case; and I further observed that upon the strength of their poetry they believed themselves to be the wisest of men in other things in which they were not wise.”

– Apology, Plato 

And he said: 

“And the tragic poet is an imitator, and therefore, like all other imitators, he is thrice removed from the king and from the truth?”

– The Republic, Plato, Book 10

The Quran makes the very same distinction. In the chapter called “The Poets,” it is written: 

“As for poets, only the misguided follow them. Do you not see that they roam confusedly through all the valleys (of falsehoods, thoughts, and currents). And they say what they themselves do not do…” 

– Holy Quran, Ash-Shu’ara, verse 224–226

Socrates, Jesus, and Muhammad were all men of God in their time and the inheritor of God’s religion in this day and age, Imam Ahmad Al-Hassan (fhip), has come bearing the exact same warning. The poets of today are the non-working scholars of religion, who have perverted and misguided from the truth. Ahmad Al-Hassan (fhip) said:

“I am calling you, O People, to save yourselves from the test of those deviant misguided misguiding clerics.” 

– The Sermon of Hajj, Imam Ahmad Al-Hassan (fhip)

And this is not the only time where Ahmad Al-Hassan’s words match up perfectly with the teachings of the philosophers. Just as Socrates said the only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing, Imam Ahmad Al-Hassan (fhip) said: 

“The uttermost true knowing is: knowing that you are unable to know the truth.”

– The Book of Monotheism, Imam Ahmad Al-Hassan (fhip), p.1

And these concepts are related. For who is wise enough to know that they know nothing except the philosophers, the prophets? Clearly, these men of God share something — a common truth. 

And a unified mission. 

In The Republic, Socrates seeks to map out the ideal society, a society filled with justice. 

Islamic tradition states that the riser from the family of Muhammad will appear in the end times and he will create a just society. According to the narrations, he will: 

“…will fill the earth with equity and justice as it has been filled with oppression and tyranny.”

– Sunan Abi Dawud, Abu Dawud as-Sijistani, Kitab Al-Mahdi, hadith 4282 

Which brings us to a very important question. The question at the very heart of The Republic: What is justice? 

Justice is one of those words people use often, but it seems that everyone has a different idea of what it means. Is justice about equality? Fairness? Getting what we deserve or getting what we need? When you really start thinking about it, it’s clear that justice is complicated. Socrates discovered this first-hand. In the Republic, Socrates is talking to his three friends – Cephalus, Thrasymachus and Glaucon – and each one of them defined justice differently.

For example, Cephalus argued that Justice lies in speaking the truth and re-paying one’s debt.

But would it really be just to pay debts to someone who will use that money for the purpose of evil? Thrasymachus defines justice as “the interest of the stronger.” A system in which the laws are made by the ruling party in its own interest. Those who violate such laws are punished because violation of such laws is treated as violation of justice. 

But what if the “stronger” party was corrupt and made corrupt laws? 

Glaucon argues that if nobody was watching, all men would behave unjustly, therefore all justice is unnatural and artificial but necessary in order to chain the natural selfishness of man. But are all men naturally selfish? 

Socrates realized that the theories put forth by his friends all had one fatal flaw in common – they all treated justice as something external. But Socrates knew what they failed to understand. Justice is not just a political condition, justice exists inside each individual.  

THE DIVINE JUST SOUL

According to Socrates the individual soul can be broken down into 3 parts. Think about it like this: imagine a two horse chariot. One of the hoses, which he associated with a person’s appetites or desires, lusts after pleasure – food, drink, sex, and especially money because money can buy you all of these things. Socrates says this horse is stubborn and must be controlled. The other horse, which he associates with spiritedness, is noble and lusts after honor. This horse can be used by reason, which he associates with the charioteer, to control the stubborn horse. Reason lusts only after the truth. Therefore it is the best one to guide. But if a person doesn’t learn how reason can make use of spiritedness, in order to reign in desire, then that person will be just as misdirected as the chariot controlled by the stubborn horse. Socrates’ logic makes sense. But there is something that might surprise you about it… 

Just as Socrates laid out the nature of the three components of the individual in The Republic, Prophet Muhammad, spoke about the exact same thing in the Holy Quran. In the Quran, we learn that every individual has 3 components – 2 sides of the nafs or ego – and the eternal, divine soul, or Ruh. 

The first part of the ego is the Nafs al Ammara, 

“Indeed the nafs, that overwhelmingly commands a person to do sin.” 

– Holy Quran, Yusuf, verse 53

In other words, this is the self, which lusts after its desires, the appetitive self, Socrates’ stubborn horse. But there is also the good side of the ego, the Nafs al Mutmainnah. 

“To the righteous it will be said, Oh Reassured soul return to your Lord well pleased, and pleasing to Him.” 

– Holy Quran, Al-Fajr, verse 27-28

This is the self that desires good, the noble horse. And both of these are controlled by the Ruh or soul. And the soul is the intellect or the rational mind. According to Islamic tradition, the first creation of God was the soul – the intellect or intelligence. 

Allah, the Glorious, the Majestic created intelligence and it was the first creature of the spiritual world on the right side of the Throne from His light. He then told him to move backwards so intelligence moved backwards. He then told it to come forward, so Intelligence came forward.”

– Al-Kafi, Muhammad ibn Yaqub Al-Kulaini, v.1, p.21

The narration continues, listing the various attributes of intelligence. And amongst them is justice. Socrates asks us to think about the just man and the unjust man like this: every human being has three animals inside of him. The appetitive self is like a multi-headed beast. The noble self is like a lion. And the rational self is a human being. One of these three animals is bound to win out over the others. It all comes down to how we act. The just person – that’s the person, in which, the human being is in control – he takes care of the beast like a farm animal, feeding and domesticating the tame heads and preventing the savage ones from growing. He makes the lion his ally. But if a man behaves unjustly, he is feeding the beast and the lion, making them strong, and starving and weakening the human being. Someone like that simply gets led by his desires. 

It is precisely this human nature that makes it so difficult to figure out the structure of a just society. It may seem logical to us that the only fair political system would be one which grants every individual a fair chance to cast their vote. But, according to Socrates, this type of system could never ever be just. Why not? Because he knew very well what it would lead to – exploitation of desires.

Think about how elected politicians operate today. They tell people exactly what they want to hear, playing on the appetitive self, promising whatever the people want to hear. For that reason, Socrates said, the aspect of the people at the polls would be, not the intellect, but the many-headed beast. 

So what system did Socrates suggest instead?  In order to answer that, we must visit The Republic.

THE IDEAL STATE

The Republic was translated from a dialogue first written in ancient Greek. It has been titled “The Republic” but perhaps a better title would be “The State” or “The Ideal State.” Because the aim of this dialogue is to map out the structure of a just society. Socrates saw that you can’t ever make everyone happy but you can do the greatest amount of good for the most people. 

Socrates defined justice as a specialization. Every citizen does his duties in his appointed place.

Remarkably, Socrates’ outlook on justice aligns with the words of Imam Ahmad Al-Hassan (fhip) who said: 

“Justice means placing something into its right place.”

– The Book of Monotheism, Imam Ahmad Al-Hassan (fhip), p.47

Putting everything in its right place. In other words, justice requires each person in the city to mind his own business, doing the particular job that has been allocated to him to the best of his abilities. Socrates claims that operating in this manner will allow the city to thrive, which is in everyone’s best interest. According to Socrates, an ideal society consists of three main groups of people. First is the producers, the people who make living possible – the craftsmen, farmers, and artisans. The second class is the warrior class. And finally, we have guardians or rulers, a society is just when these three classes are right, and work in harmony with one another. 

You may have noticed that we have a pattern emerging…a pattern of 3s. With 3 parts of the individual and 3 classes of society. And it’s not a coincidence. The individual is an analogy for society as a whole. The parallels between the just society and the just individual run deep. Each of the three classes of society, in fact, is dominated by one of the three parts of the soul. Producers are dominated by their appetites – their urges for money, luxury, and pleasure.

 Warriors are dominated by their spirits, making them noble and courageous. Rulers are dominated by their reason, which lusts, only, after truth. So each of these groups must perform its appropriate function and only that function and each must respect the hierarchy of power. The question then arises, what happens if particular individuals or classes of individuals are not happy with this arrangement? Socrates understood that it would be difficult to keep the citizens of his just state from being dissatisfied if they were in a low class. So, according to Plato, Socrates devised a noble lie — a myth, in which all people were born of the earth and infused with a metal which was part of who they are. Rulers were gold, warriors silver, and producers were bronze and iron. But wait a minute… Two puzzles arise from the claim that the story is false. First, if it is obviously untrue, and everyone knows that, how can anyone come to believe it? And second — Wasn’t Socrates against lying? He said, whilst on trial:

“I have concealed nothing, I have dissembled nothing. And yet, I know that my plainness of speech makes them hate me, and what is their hatred but a proof that I am speaking the truth?”

– Apology, Plato

We know that Socrates practiced what he preached. He chose to die rather than to lie and save himself during his trial. As Plato, himself, confirmed. 

“He (Socrates) appeared happy both in manner and words as he died nobly and without fear.” 

– Phaedo, Plato

So what happened? Perhaps Plato disguised part of Socrates’ teaching to preserve it throughout the ages – calling it a noble lie, when it was actually a noble truth. And it is a noble truth, which matches prophecies that the men of God have delivered throughout all time, as we will soon reveal… According to Socrates, the ruling class of the ideal society would consist of true philosophers – men and women, dominated by their rational faculties. People, who Socrates referred to as Philosopher Kings. Philosopher Kings and the Forms What differentiates the true philosopher from the imitators? What makes a soul worthy of ruling? The answer to these questions can only be found by understanding the theory of forms. The theory of forms… 

Only those whose minds are trained to grasp the Forms—the philosophers—can know anything at all. In particular, what the philosophers must know in order to become able rulers is the Form of the Good—the source of all other Forms, and of knowledge, truth, and beauty. Philosophers form the only class of men to possess knowledge and are also the most just men. Their souls, more than others, aim to fulfill the desires of the rational part. What is a true philosopher, if not a prophet of God? Could it be that this class of rulers is a group of prophets or righteous souls? And it is prophesied in many different religions – including Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam – that the souls of the righteous prophets throughout time will all reincarnate alongside one another in the end times – An event known in islam as the Raja or the return. 

THE RETURN

Hadiths about the prophets and messengers reincarnate alongside the riser from the family of Muhammad, the figure who will fill the earth with justice in the end times. Although the Islamic scholars and religious officials do not acknowledge reincarnation as truth, the The soul is the greatest mystery of all time. 

The Quran states: 

“And they ask you, [O Muhammad], about the soul. Say, the soul is of the affair of my Lord. And mankind have not been given of knowledge except a little.”

– Holy Quran, Al-Isra, verse 85

Imam Ahmad Al-Hassan (fhip) has delivered new knowledge about the soul. When asked, 

Imam Ahmad Al Hassan (fhip) was asked about reincarnation, so he answered and said: “It is true. The soul never dies.”

Sayings of Imam Ahmad Al-Hassan (fhip), hadith 141

And we can infer from the teachings of Socrates, that he also had knowledge of reincarnation. Recorded in Plato’s dialogue Phaedo, Socrates taught about something called the “argument of opposites.” He puts forth the claim that everything that comes to be, comes to be from its opposite. 

Take, for example, a balloon. In order for it to become bigger, it must have been smaller to begin with and has become bigger out of its smallness. There are also two forms of generation between opposites, where each opposite comes out of the other opposite. Going back to the balloon – we see in order to get bigger or get smaller it has to go through the twin processes of inflation or deflation. In the Quran, we find the exact same concept –

“He brings forth the living out of the dead, and brings the dead out of the living, and revives the earth after its death. It is in this way (that He revives the dead earth) that you will be brought forth from the dead.” 

– Holy Quran, Ar-Rum, verse 19

So returning to Socrates, in lengthy conversation using reason, he concludes that death must naturally be followed by its opposite. 

“Well then,” said Socrates, “what shall we do next? Shall we deny the opposite process, and shall nature be one-sided in this instance? Or must we grant that there is some process of generation the opposite of dying?” “Certainly we must,” said he. “What is this process?” “Coming to life again.”

– Phaedo, Plato

The eternal nature of the soul, separate from the temporary physical world, is at the heart of another one of Socrates’ theories, called the theory of recollection. Recorded by Plato in the dialogue Meno, Socrates says: “Since the soul is immortal, then, and has been born many times and has seen both things here and the ones in Hades — in fact, all things — there is nothing it has not learned. So it is in no way surprising that it can recollect about virtue and other things, since it knew them before…” (Meno, Plato). According to Socrates each soul has gone through many rounds of reincarnation and during its travels outside the body, it has learned the answer to all questions. So inquiry is simply a matter of recalling what we already know. Even if we have temporarily forgotten it. We can be reminded of one thing by being made conscious of another thing. Just think about babies, who come out of the womb, already knowing how to suckle. Think of baby animals, who immediately stand and start to walk. How do they know if it is not a memory? The family of Muhammad taught the exact same thing.

Imam Ali (pbuh) said: 

“Knowledge is not in the heavens so that it should descend unto you, nor is it below the earth so that it should be brought out of it for you, rather knowledge is a propensity in your hearts. Train yourselves by the manners of the spiritual people and it will appear to you.”

– Mawsu’at Al- Aka’ed Al-Islamiya, Muhammad Al-Reyshahri, v.2, p.22

THE PHILOSOPHER KING

And what are the manners of the spiritual people? Perhaps, the method of the philosophers – the Socratic method. Recall that Socrates liked to ask questions in order to arrive at the final truth. Another aspect of this noble truth is the necessity of a ruler, the most complete in the intellect. A man capable of knowing the unseen, the only person who would be able to put everything and everyone in their right place. He called this person the Philosopher King. As we have seen, power corrupts. And leaders cannot be chosen by the masses. So who is fit to lead? 

According to Socrates, philosophers are best equipped to rule a city, Socrates argues, because they see the world accurately and are able to sufficiently deny themselves as not to be corrupted by a leadership role. Throughout their lives, philosophers, in search of truth, have attained a state as close to death as possible, trying to distance the soul as much as possible from the needs of the body. This statement is much like what prophet Muhammad said. 

In order to be closer to God, one must “die before your death.” In the time of Socrates, he, himself, would have best fit the bill for the role of Philosopher King. He was the man of God on earth at that time.

 Who would fit this role today? 

It would have to be the philosopher or prophet or vicegerent of God in this day and age. The inheritor of the religion of God. The riser from the Family of Muhammad. And it is prophesied that he will play this role in the end times. According to the narrations, the riser from the Family of Muhammad will preside over a divine just state. And in this state, people will learn knowledge and wisdom, and strive towards perfection and completion of the mind. And there is a fascinating connection between what Socrates said about the ideal Philosopher King and what the narrations say about the riser from the family of Muhammad. 

According to Socrates, the Philosopher King is the only one capable of sorting people into the correct category. Of looking inside a person and knowing whether that person is gold, silver or bronze. And according to the narrations, this is exactly what the riser from the family of Muhammad will do the very same thing.

 In a narration, Imam Al-Sadiq (pbuh) said,

“Verily, 2000 years before Allah (SWT) created the bodies, He made brothers between the souls in the Shadows. So when our – AhlulbaytQa’im rises, the brother inherits his brother in the Shadows, and he does not inherit his brother from the physical birth.”

– Mustadrak Al-Wasa’il, Al-Mirza Al-Nouri, 1st ed., v.17, p.186, hadith 1

– Bihar Al-Anwar, Muhammad Baqir Al-Majlisi, 3rd ed., v.58, p.79

The Republic has survived throughout time, until this day for a reason. Just as Socrates said, in the ideal state, justice will be brought by the Philosopher King. The Family of Muhammad also taught about an ideal state and a philosopher king. It is prophesied that, in the end times, although every prophet is a Philosopher King, it is promised in the End Times all the Philosopher Kings will return and the Philosopher King that will reign is Imam Al-Mahdi. He will fill the earth with justice (putting things in their right place) just as it has been filled with injustice.

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