References

The Classics Pages
Includes a guided tour of Plato's Republic. I highly recommend this resource.

Historical Women of Philosophy
Women Philosophers from 600 BCE to 17th century CE.

Plato
Excellent essay by Richard Kraut from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Philosophy Talk: Plato
Listen to this excellent radio program and take notes. The segment is about one hour. The free Real Player is required for streaming audio.

Plato and Platonism
A concise introductory essay from the Catholic Encyclopedia

The Philosophy of Plato
An well-organized overview from the Radical Academy

The Republic, Book I
One of Plato's greatest and most influential works. This is a marked-up version of the Jowett translation.

The Republic: Study Questions
To think about and look for when reading Book I.

The Apology
The mind altering depiction of the trial of Socrates. really, this work changed the world and if you read it well it will change you too.

Works by Plato
25 of his dialogues and letters from the 1871 translation by Benjamin Jowett

Plato's Allegory Of The Cave: A Springboard For The Matrix
A clever interpretation of Plato's allegory in relation to a philosophical movie The Matrix

Noble lies and perpetual war
Danny Postel and
Shadia Drury discusses Plato and other political philosophers in the service of contemporary theory and practice. This piece is particularly useful as an instance of how ancient philosophy remains relevant. Whether Drury's critique of Leo Strauss and current politics is accurate is open to discussion.


 

Plato: Women in the Ideal State - Part V
The Principle

The Context >>The Problem >> The Distinction >> The Analogy >> The Principle >> The Application >> The Conclusion

Having given a clear example of opposite differences (bald vs. hairy) that are not relevant to qualifications for a pursuit (cobbling), Plato then draws a general principle that explains our intuition about that example;

"....we never meant when we constructed the State, that the opposition of natures should extend to every difference, but only to those differences which affected the pursuit in which the individual is engaged; we should have argued, for example, that a physician and one who is in mind a physician may be said to have the same nature." (Rep. 454c).

The differences that matter to the qualifications for a pursuit (e.g. a job, a profession, a responsibility) must actually have an impact on the pursuit in question. Being bald or hairy has no logical or practical connection to cobbling (shoemaking). Plato now gives an example of a sameness of nature, in which the opposition of differences does have impact on the pursuit. The example involves the qualifying characteristics of a physician. A person who seeks to perform as a physician should also be a person who has the knowledge and skill of a physician (one who is in mind a physician). Knowledge of the physician's craft is relevant to the pursuit of the physician. Most other differences between individuals are not relevant to the pursuit of the physician; not baldness, not shoe size, and not appearance. When your life is on the line, you want the person who knows what to do. Other differences will be trivial, if that person is qualified to save your life. The relevant opposition of differences in this case is knowledge of healing vs. ignorance of healing.

It is interesting to note that this example has direct relevance to the history of women and the history of medicine. Throughout history the role of the physician has been tightly controlled by authorities. In their 1972 book Witches, Midwives, and Nurses: A History of Women Healers, Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English document cases in which women were punished (even killed) for practicing medicine, often on the basis that their treatments were successful! In Plato's terms, a person who has the knowledge and skill of a physician (one who is in mind a physician) could be punished because she was a woman.

"The establishment of medicine as a profession, requiring university training, made it easy to bar women legally from practice. With few exceptions, the universities were closed to women (even to upper class women who could afford them), and licensing laws were established to prohibit all but university-trained doctors from practice. It was impossible to enforce the licensing laws consistently since there was only a handful of university-trained doctors compared to the great mass of lay healers. But the laws could be used selectively. Their first target was not the peasant healer, but the better off, literate woman healer who competed for the same urban clientele as that of the university-trained doctors.

Take, for example, the case of Jacoba Felicie, brought to trial in 1322 by the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Paris, on charges of illegal practice. Jacoba was literate and had received some unspecified "special training" in medicine. That her patients were well off is evident from the fact that (as they testified in court) they had consulted well-known university-trained physicians before turning to her. The primary accusations brought against her were that she would cure her patient of internal illness and wounds or of external abscesses. She would visit the sick assiduously and continue to examine the urine in the manner of physicians, feel the pulse, and touch the body and limbs.

Six witnesses affirmed that Jacoba had cured them, even after numerous doctors had given up, and one patient declared that she was wiser in the art of surgery and medicine than any master physician or surgeon in Paris. But these testimonials were used against her, for the charge was not that she was incompetent, but that—as a woman—she dared to cure at all." (Ehrenreich, Barbara and English, Deirdre, Witches, Midwives, and Nurses: A History of Women Healers, The Feminist Press at CUNY, 1972).

This is the complete inverse of Plato's argument. Knowledge and skill at healing are of the nature of being a physician. Gender and matters of appearance have no weight at all, by Plato's principle.

Ehrenreich and English argue that the long and brutal persecution of women healers in Europe and America resulted in the modern dominance of men in medicine; a situation that is only now starting to change.

Next, Plato applies his principle to the situation at hand, the status of women in the ideal State.

The Context >>The Problem >> The Distinction >> The Analogy >> The Principle >> The Application >> The Conclusion

 

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