Glaucon’s point

Firstly, let us look at the first type of goods which Glaucon mentions: things which we desire purely for their own sake. He gives the examples of “joy” and “harmless pleasures” to represent these types of goods. It is hard to define what joy is, although the majority of people would say that they desire joy and harmless things. After all, no one would happily desire suffering and harmful things, except for someone who is not in a totally rational state of mind. However, it is difficult to consider fulfilling these desires without associating them with something by means of which they might be fulfilled.

For example, I eat a slice of chocolate cake, and through the taste of it, I gain joy; the cake then has acted as some kind of means to an end: the cake itself does not represent joy per se, but it does bring about joy. Of course what brings about joy is different for different people: an English student may find their joy through having a hot bath whilst reading a ‘trashy’ novel, whilst a wine connoisseur may find their joy by drinking a glass of expensive Merlot.

Things which people find joy through vary depending upon their age group: for example, a toddler enjoys playing with dolls (ignoring any positive sociological implications, since the child knows nothing about such possible interpretations), and an older person may enjoy sitting in front of the television with their feet up. None of these examples of acts which arouse joy may be considered as having any significant benefit other than the enjoyment which they bring about.

Perhaps, however, it is possible to gain other things from such acts other than just joy – improved intellect and knowledge of, for example, the taste of certain wines; however, I believe that what truly matters is people’s conscious reasons for performing an act: in these cases, to gain enjoyment. The above idea of what makes a good thing is rather similar to Glaucon’s second division which involves good that are welcome because of their result. The examples which the interlocutor offers Socrates are: “knowing, seeing and being healthy”.

Let us first look at the example of knowing: we gain information about things and become more knowledgeable on them, thus leading to the benefit of increased intellect. For example, I know little about literary theory, but I read a book on the subject, which leads to me having a better knowledge of it; I may not necessarily benefit from the action of reading a book, presuming that my reading skills are not improvable, but I will have gained from the book in terms of my level of knowledge.

I will gain from the information within the book, rather than the book itself. The second example of “seeing” is another good illustration of Glaucon’s point: we do not respect sight in itself, we respect and desire it because it enables us to see. Seeing makes use of the virtue of sight, as Socrates has said earlier, and this ability to see enables us to do many things, like interpret the area in which we are, make decisions, predict danger, and appreciate beauty.

All of these benefits make sight worthy of desire and of ultimately being a good thing. We are, however, not necessarily grateful for sight in and of itself; for example, sight in a completely darkened room is useless: we do not at that stage welcome and desire the ability to see, but the presence of light. It is not until that light is present that we appreciate the benefits of sight. Thirdly, “being healthy” is something which is considered a good thing because of its benefits.

Most rational people would agree that the avoidance of pain, along with no need to visit a doctor would lead to more overall happiness for them, and thus becomes a good. This is the type of “being healthy” which requires no medical intervention, since the administration of drugs and a doctor’s expertise are considered relevant for the third division of Glaucon’s goods, which will be discussed in a moment. We do not enjoy “being healthy” per se, we enjoy the benefits of it: being able to remain active, and to enjoy life without any physical or psychological pain or injury.

Foster1 spoke of natural and artificial consequences, with reference to Glaucon’s division of goods, and suggested that all those goods which could come under this second division may be considered as having natural consequences: being able to see, for example, is a natural consequence of having sight; not everyone has to have these natural benefits, a blind man, of course, lacks sight, but at the same time it is not possible for there to be artificial consequences from something like sight.

Of course, when Foster talks about artificial and natural consequences, he almost takes them to mean direct and indirect consequences. There can be artificial methods, I believe, to improve or bring about benefits – contact lenses or glasses for a person with poor sight, a hearing aid for someone who is partially deaf – but the ultimate benefits, of hearing and of seeing, must, in my opinion, be considered natural, even when enhanced by artificial means.

These enhancements could easily be considered to be in the third division of Glaucon’s theory, but I place them here, since I believe that their burden is less than that imposed by the examples given to support the third division of goods. Good things can be onerous, but beneficial and we welcome their benefits: this is the third division of Glaucon’s assessment of goods. The only way this division differs from the second is that the good things which lead to the benefits may be considered to be onerous and rather burdensome.

Sight and hearing – uncorrected by artificial methods, at least, although this is a moot point, as I have considered above – are welcomed because of their benefits, but they require little personal input and so are not considered onerous. For example, medicine is given as one of Glaucon’s “onerous goods” examples, and this seems fair. Medicine requires quite a lot from me: I must begin by acknowledging that I am ill, and then pay a doctor to take care of me, and undergo treatment for my ailment which is potentially uncomfortable.

Medicine then is a burden because I lose money through my payments for doctors and drugs, and because I must experience unpleasant treatments, however, ultimately I may get better again, though we should assume here that Glaucon is speaking of medicine which does actually return someone to good health, or at least better health. Physical training is the other example which is offered by Glaucon in support of his statement on the third division of goods.

If I embark on a regime of exercise, I must take part in a vigorous and strenuous routine, which – in the early days at least – will slightly hurt my body; I must also pay my fees in order to use the gym or to hire a personal trainer. There is no benefit directly found through the exercise, although some may argue that the rush of endorphins released during exercise makes it worthwhile, however, I discuss here someone who is getting fit in order to improve their health and to lose weight, that is to experience the benefits of exercise.

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