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

By R. C. Lodge | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XX
CIVILIZATION, THE COMMUNITY, COMMUNAL SELF-KNOWLEDGE, LAW AND ORDER, THE COMPREHENSIVE OR COMPOSITE LIFE, THE EXCELLENCE AND PRESERVATION OF THE WHOLE, GOD, AS HIGHEST GOODS

THE first four of these candidates for the position of highest good can be examined together, as the contexts in which these terms appear show that they all four have one and the same general reference, and are to be understood as phases of one and the same highest good.

In the first place, civilization or ordered social life is contrasted with life which is uncivilized, wild, unordered, chaotic. It is like the contrast between a cultivated and an uncultivated plant, or between a trained and a wild animal. The wild plant grows where it can and as it can. It straggles, puts out all kinds of shoots, and disperses its energies without, as a rule, making more than a bare living in its incessant struggle against weeds, poor soil, poor water, too much or too little sunshine, and other adverse circumstances. The cultivated plant, on the other hand, receives rational treatment which applies to it the idea of good, i.e. arranges its circumstances and its growth for the best. It is given just the right kind and amount of sunshine, water, earth, and air, is kept free from weeds, and is pruned and properly assisted and directed, so that it realizes its potentialities to the utmost.1 In the same way, uncivilized life, a life without law and order, is like the life of wild animals herding together in a none too rational way. There may be survival, but the circumstances are largely adverse. Such a life is a constant struggle for the bare subsistence minimum, and is marked by a complete absence of almost everything which makes life seem, to a civilized man, worth living.2

In contrast with such a life, let us consider the development of a civilized community. Formed, originally, to

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