Plato's Theory of Ethics: The Moral Criterion and the Highest Good

By R. C. Lodge | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XIV
POWER
TO the Plato-student, the concept of "power" presents many difficulties. Sometimes it is spoken of as a good to its possessor, and even as the highest good. Once it is used, tentatively but with a certain seriousness, as a definition of existence. At other times it is regarded as morally valueless, or even as positively dangerous to the development of character. Who does not at once recall the treatment of the Napoleonic ideal exemplified in Archelaus, Ardiaeus, and the great king of Persia, not to mention the demonstration that the power-seeking soul "does least of all what it wills," but cowers behind locked doors, alone with its insatiable desires, friendless and hopeless, trusting mistrustfully in its bodyguard of faithless foreign hirelings? And yet, while many passages indicate philosophic shrinking from any exercise of power,1 it is undoubtedly Plato's earnest faith that salvation for mankind is to be sought only by concentrating all such power in the hands of philosophers, whether we consider the "golden" class of the ideal republic or the "nocturnal council" of the model city. The magistrates in both communities are certainly philosophers, and are certainly intended to exercise power of every sort, including the power of life and death, in a decisive manner.2The object of the present chapter is to examine all Platonic statements about power, with a view to making perfectly clear, in the first place, its essential nature, and, in the second, why it is sometimes regarded as the highest good. The passages in which the Dialogues refer to the subject of power fall naturally and of themselves into the following groups:--
1. passages which treat of power in general;
2. passages which treat of mechanical power;
3. passages which treat of psychological power;
4. passages which treat of political power;

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