Book 10.5: Conclusion.
Now that we have treated (sufficiently, though summarily) of these matters, and of the virtues, and also of friendship and pleasure, are we to suppose that we have attained the end we proposed? Nay, surely the saying holds good, that in practical matters the end is not a mere speculative knowledge of what is Peters1893: X. 9, 2to be done, but rather the doing of it. It is not enough to know about virtue, then, but we must endeavour to possess it and to use it, or to take any other steps that may make us good.
Now, if theories had power of themselves to make us good, “many great rewards would they deserve” as Theognis says, and such ought we to give; but in fact it seems that though they are potent to guide and to stimulate liberal-minded young men, and though a generous disposition, with a sincere love of what is noble, may by them be opened to the influence of virtue, yet they are powerless to turn the mass of men to goodness. For the generality of men are naturally apt to be swayed by fear rather than by reverence, and to refrain from evil rather because of the punishment that it brings than because of its own foulness. For under the guidance of their passions they pursue the pleasures that suit their nature and the means by which those pleasures may be obtained, and avoid the opposite pains, while of that which is noble and truly pleasant they have not even a conception, as they have never tasted it.
What theories or arguments, then, can bring such men as these to order? Surely it is impossible, or at least very difficult, to remove by any argument what has long been ingrained in the character. For my part, I think we must be well content if we can get some modicum of virtue when all the circumstances are present that seem to make men good.
Now, what makes men good is held by some to be nature, by others habit [or training], by others instruction.
As for the goodness that comes by nature, it is plain that it is not within our control, but is bestowed by some divine agency on certain people who truly deserve to be called fortunate.
As for theory or instruction, I fear that it cannot avail in all cases, but that the hearer’s soul must be prepared by training it to feel delight and aversion on the right occasions, just as the soil must be prepared if the seed is to thrive. For if he lives under the sway of his passions, he will not listen to the arguments by which you would dissuade him, nor even understand them. And when he is in this state, how can you change his mind by argument? To put it roundly, passion seems to yield to force only, and not to reason. The character, then, must be already formed, so as to be in some way akin to virtue, loving what is noble and hating what is base.
But to get right guidance from youth up in the road to virtue is hard, unless we are brought up under suitable laws; for to live temperately and regularly is not pleasant to the generality of men, especially to the young. Our nurture, then, should be prescribed by law, and our whole way of life; for it will cease to be painful as we get accustomed to it. And I venture to think that it is not enough to get proper nurture and training when we are young, but that as we ought to carry on the same way of life after we are grown up, and to confirm these habits, we need the intervention of the law in these matters also, and indeed, to put it roundly, in our whole life. For the generality of men are more readily swayed by compulsion than by reason, and by fear of punishment than by desire for what is noble.
For this reason, some hold that the legislator should, in the first instance, invite the people and exhort them to be virtuous because of the nobility of virtue, as those who have been well trained will listen to him; but that when they will not listen, or are of less noble nature, he should apply correction and punishment, and banish utterly those who are incorrigible. For the good man, who takes what is noble as his guide, will listen to reason, but he who is not good, whose desires are set on pleasure, must be corrected by pain like a beast of burden. And for this reason, also, they say the pains to be applied must be those that are most contrary to the pleasures which the culprit loves.
As we have said, then, he who is to be good must be well nurtured and trained, and thereafter must continue in a like excellent way of life, and must never, either voluntarily or involuntarily, do anything vile; and this can only be effected if men live subject to some kind of reason and proper regimen, backed by force.
Now, the paternal rule has not the requisite force or power of compulsion, nor has the rule of any individual, unless he be a king or something like one; but the law has a compulsory power, and at the same time is a rational ordinance proceeding from a kind of prudence or reason. And whereas we take offence at individuals who oppose our inclinations, even though their opposition is right, we do not feel aggrieved when the law bids us do what is right.
But Sparta is the only, or almost the only, state where the legislator seems to have paid attention to the nurture and mode of life of the citizens. In most states these matters are entirely neglected, and each man lives as he likes, ruling wife and children in Cyclopean fashion.
It would be best, then, that the regulation of these matters should be undertaken and properly carried out by the state; but as the state neglects it, it would seem that we should each individually help our own children or friends on the road to virtue, and should have the power or at least the will to do this.
Now, it would seem from what has been said that to enable one to do this the best plan would be to learn how to legislate. For state training is carried on by means of laws, and is good when the laws are good; but it would seem to make no difference whether the laws be written or unwritten, nor whether they regulate the education of one person or many, any more than it does in the case of music, or gymnastics, or any other course of training. For as in the state that prevails which is ordained by law and morality, so in the household that which is ordained by the word of the father of the family and by custom prevails no less, or even more, because of the ties of kinship and of obligation; for affection and obedience are already implanted by nature in the members of the family.
Moreover, in spite of what has just been said, individual treatment is better than treatment by masses, in education no less than in medicine. As a general rule, repose and fasting are good for a fever patient, but in a particular case they may not be good. A teacher of boxing, I suppose, does not recommend every one to adopt the same style. It would seem, then, that individuals are educated more perfectly under a system of private education; for then each gets more precisely what he needs.
But you will best be able to treat an individual case (whether you are a doctor, or a trainer, or anything else) when you know the general rule, “Such and such a thing is good for all men,” or “for all of a certain temperament;” for science is said to deal, and does deal, with that which is common to a number of individuals.
I do not mean to deny that it may be quite possible to treat an individual well, even without any scientific knowledge, if you know precisely by experience the effect of particular causes upon him, just as some men seem to be able to treat themselves better than any doctor, though they would be quite unable to prescribe for another person.
But, nevertheless, I venture to say that if a man wishes to master any art, or to gain a scientific knowledge of it, he must advance to its general principles, and make himself acquainted with them in the proper method; for, as we have said, it is with universal propositions that the sciences deal.
And so I think that he who wishes to make men better by training (whether many or few) should try to acquire the art or science of legislation, supposing that men may be made good by the agency of law. For fairly to mould the character of any person that may present himself is not a thing that can be done by anybody, but (if at all) only by him who has knowledge, just as is the case in medicine and other professions where careful treatment and prudence are required.
Our next business, then, I think, is to inquire from whom or by what means we are to learn the science or art of legislation.
“As we learn the other arts,” it will be said,—“i.e. from the politicians who practise it: for we found that legislation is a part of politics.”
But I think the case is not quite the same with politics as with the other sciences and arts. For in other cases it is plain that the same people communicate the art and practise it, as physicians and painters do. But in the case of politics, while the sophists profess to teach the art, it is never they that practise it, but the statesmen. And the statesmen would seem to act by some instinctive faculty, proceeding empirically rather than by reasoning. For it is plain that they never write or speak about these matters (though perhaps that were better than making speeches in the courts or the assembly), and have never communicated the art to their sons or to any of their friends. And yet we might expect that they would have done so if they could; for they could have left no better legacy to their country, nor have chosen anything more precious than this power as a possession for themselves, and, therefore, for those dearest to them.
Experience, however, seems, we must allow, to be of great service here; for otherwise people would never become statesmen by familiarity with politics. Those who wish for a knowledge of statesmanship, then, seem to need experience [as well as theory].
But those sophists who profess to teach statesmanship seem to be ludicrously incapable of fulfilling their promises: for, to speak roundly, they do not even know what it is or what it deals with. If they did know, they would not make it identical with rhetoric, or inferior to it, nor would they think it was easy to frame a system of laws when you had made a collection of the most approved of existing laws. “It is but a matter of picking out the best,” they say, ignoring the fact that this selection requires understanding, and that to judge correctly is a matter of the greatest difficulty here, as in music. Those who have special experience in any department can pass a correct judgment upon the result, and understand how and by what means it is produced, and what combinations are harmonious; but those who have no special experience must be content if they are able to say whether the result is good or bad—as, for instance, in the case of painting. Now, laws are the work or result, so to speak, of statesmanship. How then could a collection of laws make a man able to legislate, or to pick out the best of the collection?
Even the art of healing, it seems, can not be taught by compendia. And yet the medical compendia try to tell you not only the remedies, but how to apply them, and how to treat the several classes of patients, distinguishing them according to their temperament. But all this, though it may be serviceable to those who have experience, would seem to be quite useless to those who know nothing of medicine.
So also, I think we may say, collections of laws and constitutions may be very serviceable to those who are able to examine them with a discriminating eye, and to judge whether an ordinance is good or bad, and what ordinances agree with one another; but if people who have not the trained faculty go through such compendia, they cannot judge properly (unless indeed a correct judgment comes of itself), though they may perhaps sharpen their intelligence in these matters.
Since then our predecessors have left this matter of legislation uninvestigated, it will perhaps be better ourselves to inquire into it, and indeed into the whole question of the management of a state, in order that our philosophy of human life may be completed to the best of our power.
Let us try, then, first of all, to consider any valuable utterances that our predecessors have made upon this or that branch of the subject; and then, looking at our collection of constitutions, let us inquire what things tend to preserve or to destroy states, and what things tend to preserve or destroy the several kinds of constitution, and what are the causes of the good government of some states and the misgovernment of others: for when we have got an insight into these matters we shall, I think, be better able to see what is the best kind of constitution, and what is the best arrangement of each of the several kinds; that is to say, what system of laws and customs is best suited to each.