The Republic vs. The Tao Te Ching: Definition of Wisdom and its Application

Essay by Union2005A, February 2004

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Defining Wisdom:

The Republic vs. Tao Te Ching

Tobias Smollett once said, "Some folk are wise, and some are otherwise." In the Tao Te Ching and the Republic, the application of wisdom is approached in two different ways. According to Socrates, "wisdom" boils down to a very specific philosophical understanding of the notion of justice and ultimate truth. It is with this wisdom which Socrates desires a government and society be organized and run by the elite who can understand it, namely, philosophers. In the Tao, the concept of wisdom is approached in a very different manner, and it is assumed that people are naturally "wise". The master in the Tao states the need to guide the people, but it is to help them find their own inner wisdom, not simply a matter of giving power to philosophers who exist on higher ground. It is in this regard that the Tao Te Ching offers a clear understanding of wisdom in everyday life and politics.

In the Republic, Socrates outlines the problems inherent in life and politics. In one of the dialogues, Thrasymachus states, "...Socrates, injustice, if it is on a large enough scale, is stronger, freer, and more masterly than justice...justice is what is advantageous to the stronger, while injustice is to one's own profit and advantage."(p.20, Republic) Socrates disagrees with this assessment, saying, "...I am not persuaded. I don't believe that injustice is more profitable than justice, not even if you give it full scope and put no obstacles in its way."(p.21, Republic) This in mind, Socrates later says, "...justice is virtue and wisdom and...injustice is vice and ignorance."(p. 27, Republic) Continuing on this point, Socrates creates a connection between wisdom and justice, and holds it as an ultimate necessity for happiness, stating, "...a just man...