The Place of Trust in Plato's Republic
The power and the problem of trust, πίστις, is nearly central to Plato’s Republic – in at least two senses. In the first sense, trust receives its most explicit consideration and treatment by Socrates in the central images of the Republic, specifically in the divided line image of Book VI, which Socrates uses to lay out the various powers and affections of knowing and opining in the soul and their corresponding objects. The line is divided into two proportional segments, both of which are divided again in turn. Trust, in its relation to the relative truth and clarity of objects of knowledge, is situated above imagination (εἰκασία), which relates to images, and by which Socrates means “first shadows, then appearances produced in water and in all close-grained, smooth, bright things, and everything of the sort.” Trust comes next in line, in the third place in relation to the truth itself. According to Socrates, trust, as a kind of power and affection of the soul, is related to “the animals around us, and everything that grows, and the whole class of artifacts (σκευαστὸν).” These are the things, Socrates says, that the objects of imagination are related to by way of likeness. Trust then, in this most basic sense, indicates the power of the soul by which human beings are primarily related to the objects in their environment – the everyday sorts of things which human beings encounter as they navigate their daily lives within the πόλις and the broader horizon of the κόσμος. They are the sorts of things that human beings generally take for granted. We are generally of the opinion that such things are what they are, as they appear. In another sense, trust is nearly central to the narrative of the Republic as it is situated within the divided line image itself. It is one of the two powers of the human soul that share a common border with the center of the divided line – the main division between the powers that relate to matters of opinion in the visible realm and the powers that are related to the intelligible realm, which is situated beyond the visible. On the other side of this major line of division lies the power of thought, διάνοια. Trust then, given where Socrates situates it along the divided line, although it is a lesser power in terms of its relationship to intelligible truths, still by way of its position and the border that it shares with thought, points to the very limit of the visible – perhaps the very limits of the κόσμος itself – the place where the visible gives way to the order of the intelligible. The power of trust, I will show by way of this work, is the power of the soul which can stretch opinion all the way out to its very limit – to the border of the visible and the intelligible which it shares with the power of thought. However, I argue that the power of trust is not only manifest in the nearly central treatment it receives in the central images of the Republic, it is also very much front and center, albeit often times implicitly, in the periphery of the Republic’s narrative, on either side of the central books. Much of this work constitutes an attempt draw out the power and the problem of trust as it arises in the periphery so that it may be seen not only in its tertiary relationship to truth in the divided line, but also in the immense import it holds for human beings in their lives within the πόλις and in the greater context of the κόσμος itself. Indeed, the power of trust may seem somewhat small in relation matters of the intelligible as they arise along the divided line; however, it will appear rather large when it is considered in relation to the lives of human beings as they find themselves born into a κόσμος and situated within a πόλις. By way of this situation, human beings find themselves fundamentally related to one another. Although trust, according to the divided line, is not strictly a matter of intelligence or that which is knowable in relation to truth in the intelligible realm, it is very much a matter of learning and coming to know – to the extent that this is possible – within the realm of becoming. The power of trust is critically important insofar as it informs our relation to our surroundings, the πόλις, and the κόσμος itself. Moreover, trust has an enormous impact on the kinds of lives that we choose to lead, that we find worth choosing, and it helps us determine in whom and in what we can ultimately place our trust. As such, the question of trust seems to, quite naturally, raise problem of judgment (κρίσις) in its turn. The question of judgment will run parallel to the theme of trust throughout this work. For, in many ways the two, trust and judgment, are inseparable. The two will arise quite frequently alongside one another, joined together as if in a kind of partnership. This is because, it seems, that in the order of the intelligible, and according to the power of knowing (νόησις) as it is developed in the divided line image, things that are known are simply known. Once a person, in the strictest sense, comes to know that something or other is true, he or she can take it for granted as something that is known – whatever it may be; however, in the realm of appearances and becoming, on the side of opinion, imagination, and trust, it is often the case that things must be judged, judgments must be made, and opinions must be formed on the basis of appearances alone – in the absence of any definitive sort of knowledge. And although trust constitutes a way of taking something for granted on the side of appearances, it is a kind of taking for granted that is at the same time held open – in a kind of suspension – provided that one does not confuse one’s judgments and opinions in accordance with trust with matters of knowing. That is, judgments which are made according to the power of trust, judgments that determine that something may or may not be taken for granted as it appears, are left decidedly unsettled in the way that matters of knowing and of knowledge are not. If we do not mistake the judgments that we make on the basis of trust with a certain kind of knowing, then the question of judgment as it relates to trust proves, by nature, to always be something of an open question. Trust in its relation to judgment, and the opinions that we form on the basis of this relation, can potentially become an opening onto the order of the intelligible. By way of its most basic operation, trust can be that power by which human beings can be made open to questions and inquiries that reach beyond the order of the visible and into the realm of the intelligible, questions concerning the truth of what is and not what merely appears; however, if matters of trust are mistaken for knowledge, then trust becomes a matter of enclosure. If one mistakes the opinions that one forms on the basis of trust for a kind of knowledge, then one mistakenly closes off the possibility of any further inquiry and further questioning into that which lies beyond appearance. And so, as I argue in this work, trust is both a source of great potential for the human being and a source of great risk. In Chapter I, I examine Socrates’ exchanges with Cephalus and Polemarchus respectively, as they occur in Book I. I argue that, even in these initial exchanges surrounding the question of justice, the question of trust in relation to judgment is already made manifest within the narrative of the Republic. I also discuss the way in which each interlocutor’s opinion about justice somehow mediates and informs his character in turn, especially in relation to the question of trust. Both Cephalus’ and Polemarchus’ formulations of justice, I argue, are somehow reflective of the trust each places in himself and in others. The way in which one relates to trust, then, will deeply inform the kind of person one becomes. In Chapter II, I continue this discussion of trust as it relates to issues of character, judgment, and justice in the context of Socrates’ exchange with Thrasymachus in Book I. I show how the tyrant is characterized and plagued by a fundamental sense of mistrust in others. This pervasive distrust is that which both propels the tyrant into a position of power over the πόλις, and it is also that which leads to his or her seemingly inevitable decline. I also make the case that this attitude is reflected by Thrasymachus in his own conduct in Book I, especially in the way in which he thinks about λόγος and the way in which he engages in dialogue with others. In Chapter III, I begin with a consideration of the various challenges that Glaucon and Adeimantus raise surrounding the question of justice, particularly as it relates to the themes of trust and judgment. I consider Glaucon’s depiction of the perfectly unjust individual. Then, I examine Adeimantus’ claim that in a πόλις, justice is either praised merely for its appearance, for the reputation it provides, or justice is simply forgone in favor of a conventional kind of injustice. I also examine the way in which the first πόλις that is constructed by Socrates in λόγος – the one that he calls the true and healthy πόλις but Glaucon calls a “πόλις of sows” – is characterized and made possible by the sense of trust that prevails within it. The citizens of this πόλις seem to have an unquestioning sense of trust in one another insofar as they each can be trusted to provide for the basic needs of each other without taking more than is needed in return. This sense of trust is extended beyond the boundaries of the healthy πόλις in its relations with its neighbors. Socrates initial account of the origin of the πόλις, I argue, gives way to what I call a “cosmopolis of trust.” In Chapter IV, I examine the πόλις in λόγος as it passes into the unhealthy πόλις of the relishes, which are introduced by Glaucon in Book II. I consider the various lines that need to be drawn within the πόλις, in addition to the various laws and programs of education that are instituted, so as to restore a sense of trust amongst the citizens of the πόλις – especially the guardians – in the face of the temptation and the threat posed by the relishes themselves. I argue that a similar gesture is made for the same underlying reasons in Book V in relation to ἔρος. I conclude with a detailed consideration of trust as it is treated by Socrates in the divided line image and how this informs trust’s relationship to judgment. In Chapter V, by way of conclusion, I consider the issues of trust and judgment as they relate to the central figure of the philosopher-king. For, as Socrates says in Book V, in order for the πόλις in λόγος to become a reality, a philosopher must come to rule in the πόλις. I reflect upon the way in which, in relation to trust and to judgment, the philosopher-king comes to constitute at once the highest aspiration of the πόλις and perhaps its greatest risk. I then consider what I take to be two separate attempts to situate the πόλις in λόγος within the boundaries of the κόσμος. The first of these takes place in Books VIII-IX of the Republic, in which the πόλις ruled by philosophical monarchy or aristocracy inevitably declines into timocracy, oligarchy, democracy, and down into tyranny itself. I examine in outline, the way in which this decline is set underway by way of mistrust and various failures in judgment along the way. I then situate this discussion in relation to the narrative of the Timaeus, in which, at least as far as it seems, a separate attempt to situate the πόλις of the Republic within the boundary of the κόσμος is made. I argue that, in the face of the decline of the πόλις that we see in the Republic, the Timaeus might provide us with a model of soul and of κόσμος which, when placed in relation to the πόλις of the republic, resists the seeming inevitability of this decline and thereby vindicates the power of trust.