In Plato’s Republic he paints a very poor picture of human nature–a nature unable to resist corrupting influences. He depicts this in his story of Gyges, an ordinary sheep herder who stumbles upon a sunken ship within a pond and within the ship a body and a golden ring. The ring, similar to the ring in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings has magical powers, but those powers lead the finder, a character named Gollum, to evil ways. In the same way, the sheepherder uses the invisible powers of the ring to kill the ruler of his country and become king himself. Plato has two questions for us concerning this. He asks first if we had such a ring, could we stay good, or would we succumb to doing things we shouldn’t?
The second question Plato entertains is more subtle. What if someone uses evil means to become rich and powerful and once he has everything he wants, he pretends to be good, so that others admire him and look up to him for all that he has become. He enhances that image in his later years, when he becomes generous in helping others, but only for show, not because he truly cares about anyone but himself. On the other hand, what if a person is a good person throughout life, and yet to do this he or she never is able to save much money or gain any power. So then in hard times, this person is unable to help others because he or she does not have the means to do so. Plato asks, what is the better scenario, to do help others after wrongdoing, or to not to help because one is too poor to do so? What is better for us to be?
Use the Module Lecture and the Reading this week to explain Plato’s view of how self-interest can corrupt our natures such that we might follow in the footsteps of Gyges. Given Plato’s negative view of human nature, explain too whether wealth naturally corrupts or whether you believe we can overcome the tendency to hold onto too much wealth to the detriment of others.
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