On Beauty in a State
I once heard the comment "beauty can save the world". This struck me as whimsical because I had always thought of beauty as pleasing and enjoyable and that's about it. But then I read Plato's Republic. His thoughts on beauty gave me new things to consider. To Plato, the presence of beauty in a state is the measure of the most important qualities of the state, primarily justice.
In our day, beauty is often synonymous with such words as loveliness, attractiveness, charm, splendor, elegance, or magnificence. Plato's definition held some of these thoughts, but in a more tangible way. I think this definition is fitting:
Beauty is a delightful quality associated with harmony of form or color, excellence of craftsmanship, truthfulness, originality, or another property.
If beauty has a role in the state, maybe there is some merit to beauty saving the world. To understand the role of beauty in the state it is important to see how Plato uses beauty in his discussions. Presence of beauty is the true indicator of perfection in justice, the central tenet of Plato's state. Plato's definition of justice can be summarized as "one doing ones own work" (433b3-5).
It was a matter of principle to him that a man should not do someone else's work. "…The principle that it is right for someone who is by nature a cobbler to practice cobblery and nothing else…is a sort of image of justice - that's why it is beneficial." (443c3-6), Having this view of justice, it becomes clear that when the works of the craftsmen are beautiful, justice is perfect. (401 c4-d2). If a man does the work of another it is unjust, characterized by lack of beauty due to the lesser degree of skill and grace in doing a craft you have not mastered.
The founders of Plato's state would be the philosophers, the only ones capable of doing the job of establishing a state. By his definition, a philosopher is one who "loves the sight of truth" (475e4). Truth is always beautiful, and only the philosophers can see beauty.
Plato uses the importance of beauty to clarify this concept of truth. Those who love beauty cannot see it, but there are those who can actually see the beautiful. The difference is the ones who see beauty are able to reach the nature of the beautiful and see it by itself, while the others are merely lovers of beautiful sights. (476b3-8) Only the philosopher knows what the beautiful is. For true beauty to have its proper place in the state, only the philosophers are capable to lead the affairs of human intercourse to be in the form and gracefulness of true beauty. (476c8-d2) Like justice, truth in the state is characterized by beauty in the sense that only what is truth has beauty.
To ensure the state is ruled according to excellence, the philosophers would also determine who would be the guardians and how they would be trained. (376c1-d8) This training would have to include musical and poetic stories. The importance of selection and content of...