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Plato's Critique of the Democratic Character

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This paper tackles some issues arising from Plato's account of the democratic man in Rep. VIII. One problem is that Plato tends to analyse him in terms of the desires that he fulfils, yet sends out conflicting signals about exactly what kind of desires are at issue. Scholars are divided over whether all of the democrat's desires are appetites. There is, however, strong evidence against seeing him as exclusively appetitive: rather he is someone who satisfies desires from all three parts of his soul, although his rational and spirited desires differ significantly from those of the philosopher or the timocrat.

A second problem concerns the question why the democrat ranks so low in Plato's estimation, especially why he is placed beneath the oligarch. My explanation is that Plato presents him as a jumble of desires, someone in whom order and unity have all but disintegrated. In this way he represents a step beyond the merely bipolarised oligarch.

The final section of the paper focuses on the democrat's rational part, and asks whether it plays any role in shaping his life as a whole. For the disunity criticism to hold, Plato ought to allow very little global reasoning: if there were a single deliberating reason imposing a life plan upon his life, the fragmentation of life and character discussed earlier would only be superficial. I argue that Plato attributes very little global reasoning to the democrat. Aside from the fact that the text fails to mention such reasoning taking place, Plato's views on the development of character and his use of the state-soul analogy show that the democrat's lifestyle is determined just by the strength of the desires that he happens to feel at any one time.

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