chapter  1
25 Pages


The word euboulia, which means excellence in counsel or sound judgement, occurs in only three places in the authentic writings of Plato. The sophist Protagoras makes euboulia the focus of his whole enterprise (Prot. 318E-319A): ‘What I teach a person is good judgement about his own affairs-how best he may manage his own household; and about the affairs of the city-how he may be most able to handle the business of the city both in action and in speech.’ Thrasymachus, too, thinks well of euboulia. Invited by Socrates to call injustice kakoêtheia (vicious disposition-he has just identified justice as ‘an altogether noble good nature (euêtheia)’, i.e. as simple-mindedness), he declines the sophistry and says (Rep. 348D): ‘No, I call it good judgement.’ But Plato finds little occasion to introduce the concept in developing his own ethical and political philosophy. The one place where he mentions euboulia is in his defence of the thesis that his ideal city possesses the four cardinal virtues. He begins with wisdom, and justifies the ascription of wisdom to the city on the ground that it has euboulia (Rep. 428B)—which he goes on to identify with the knowledge required by the guardians: ‘with this a person does not deliberate on behalf of any of the elements in the city, but for the whole city itself-how it may best have dealings with itself and with the other cities’ (428C-D). It is normally rather dangerous to draw an inference from the absence or rarity of a word to the absence or rarity of the idea expressed by the word. But in the present instance we need have no qualms in doing so. Having assimilated euboulia (which was equated with political skill in the Protagoras (319A) to guardianship), Plato can abandon any further enquiry into the arts of good judgement and counsel and concentrate instead on guardianship. The ideal city is constructed as it is precisely to avoid the need for politics and its arts. What the guardians are required to know is how to keep the class structure intact (‘how the city may best have dealings with itself’)—and that involves keeping the education system going, lying well and truly about the basis of the class system, and maintaining a firm grip on the breeding arrangements. These administrative skills are ultimately grounded in the knowledge of the principles of stability, order and harmony which comes from the study of mathematics and dialectic. They have little in common with the arts of persuasion or the political judgement needed in an actual Greek state.