Plato’s Ring Of Gyges The Ring of Gyges The story of the Ring of Gyges is an excerpt from book two of Plato’s The Republic, in which Glaucon disagrees with Socrates and insists that people act moral because they lack the power to behave otherwise. In an effort to support his claim, Glaucon recites the tale of Gyges. In this paper, I will include a brief history of Plato, a description of the Ring of Gyges, and discuss how the story may affect our present lives. Plato was born in 429 B.C. in Athens, Greece, to Ariston and Perictione.
Plato’s real name was Aristocles, and ‘Plato’ (meaning ‘the broad’) was a nickname given either from the width of his shoulders, or from the size of his forehead. When Plato was a young man he became a disciple of Socrates, learning the value of reason and philosophy. Plato was in military service from 409 B.C. to 404 B.C., but at this time he wanted to pursue politics rather than a military career. At the end of the war he joined the Oligarchy of the Thirty Tyrants, but their violent acts resulted in Plato leaving quickly.
In 403 B.C. a restoration of democracy in Athens began, and Plato had great hopes of reentering politics. However, the execution of Socrates in 399 B.C. had an immense effect on Plato and he decided on having nothing further to do with politics in Athens. Plato left Athens after Socrates had been executed and traveled in Egypt, Sicily, and Italy.
Upon his return to Athens, in about 387 B.C., Plato founded the Academy, an institution devoted to research and instruction in philosophy and science. Plato was disappointed with the ethics of those in public office (JOC 1). The Academy’s primary goal was to educate citizens for statesmanship (Sahakian 35). Plato presided over his Academy in Athens until his death in 347 B.C. (JOC 1). The Ring of Gyges is a story written by Plato in an attempt to force the reader to evaluate his or her own sense of morality.
In this story, Gyges worked as a shepherd for the king of Lydia. An earthquake opened up the ground where Gyges’ flock was feeding. Inside this opening lay a bronze horse with doors. Inside these doors was a dead body with a golden ring. Gyges pulled the ring from the dead and climbed from the hole.
He later joined his fellow shepherds to make a regular report to the king about his sheep. As he sat and toyed with his ring, Gyges noticed that when he turned the setting around on his finger he became invisible to all. He then became a messenger from the shepherds to the court; Gyges took his pleasure and seduced the queen. He later conspired with queen and killed the king, taking control of Lydia. After the story is told, Glaucon asks Socrates to imagine that two magic rings exist.
A just individual has one ring, and an unjust person holds the other. Glaucon argues that no man could resist the temptation of taking what is not his, therefore the actions of the just would be as the actions of the unjust. This may affirm to be proof that a man is good, not willingly, but of necessity. If self-indulgence can be practiced without fear of punishment, then the tendency for being unjust will prevail (Jowett 257). What would one do if one possessed a magic ring? One could argue that there is a resemblance between Gyges and President Clinton.
The President is a very skillful politician, a master of evasive talk. Plato states, A man who uses his power in the endless pursuit of the delights of the flesh possess the soul of a tyrant. Plato also understood that democracy is susceptible to a certain form of tyranny: the rule of a generous government, catering to the public’s needs and wants in exchange for their freedom. Could one associate Plato’s idea of a tyrant with the actions of President Clinton? The President has squeezed out of every tight spot in which he has landed. Clinton’s cleverness may lead him to think he possesses a Gyges’ ring of invincibility.
He can allow his passions and sensual desires to tyrannize over his reason and good judgment, without serious repercussions. Because of the power and prestige he has, the President will always be an example -whether for good or bad. If the Chief Executive demonstrates a lack of self-control, what message does it send to the citizens (Owens1)? I have presented Plato’s story and ideas, and have attempted to relate the Ring of Gyges to the head of our government today, but one must decide for themselves the true meaning behind this fable. Could Gyges and President Clinton share a sense of invincibility? In search of this answer, one must examine themselves and ask, How would I act if I held the ring of Gyges? Bibliography JOC and EFR. Biography of Plato. America Online.
University of St. Andrews. January 1999. Available http://www-groups.dcs.st-and.ac.uk/~history/Mathem aticians/Plato.html Jowett, B. Plato: Five Great Dialogues.
New York: Walter J. Black Inc., 1942. Owens, Mackubin T. Sex and the Presidency. America Online. Claremont Institute.
January 1998. Available http://www.claremont.org/owens.cfm Sahakian, William S. Plato. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1977.