Are Professions Predestined?

Are people born with an inclination to do a certain job? Plato (through Socrates) believes this is the case (370b-c). He says, “one man is naturally fitted for one task, and another for another.” This means that fate determines what your profession will be before you ever set foot in school. If you don’t do this job, you are not being the best that you can be.

On some level, this ideology reminds me of the strict caste system in Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. In this system, people are born to do certain kinds of work. They don’t try to improve themselves or their status because they believe they are in their rightful place. The garbage man will aspire to nothing but collecting trash. Of course, Brave New World is an over-exaggerated representation of a society with this ideology, but it does suggest that everyone has a “rightful place” in the community.

Plato’s way of thinking not only inhibits social mobility, but also discourages interest in multiple disciplines. Although one could learn how to do many different things, they would be wasting their time because one man would be better and more productive working “one at one.”

This also has the potential to suppress innovation. Inventors often draw from different pools of knowledge to create something new, so if they were to focus solely on one occupation, they would have trouble creating new technology or coming up with new ideas. For example, if a farmer needed a tool that could sew seeds faster, he would not have the knowledge or craftsmanship to create such equipment. Similarly, a carpenter or tool-maker could not fulfill the farmers needs because he lacks the understanding of the farmer.

This ideology would create a society that runs smoothly however it would be forever static.

3 responses to “Are Professions Predestined?

  1. I think you bring up a really interesting point about a sort of caste system, but I think the system Plato (through Socrates) discusses is slightly different than the system you articulate. I believe that the way Plato (through Socrates) depicts the ideal society is not nearly as binding as the system you state. I agree that Plato (through Socrates) indicates that certain people are better at certain tasks, but I don’t think Plato (through Socrates) necessarily requires each individual to only do what they are good at, they just think that if everyone does the task they are best at, then society is better off. I think this concept is best exemplified when Socrates says that each person “contribute his own work for the common use of all,” indicating that by each person in society doing his/her best work everyone is better off (369E). I disagree that technology would decrease due to a lack of innovation for two reasons. The first reason is that under the societal framework Plato constructs, the people who are the most innovative and the best inventors will do so, thus society will be at its maximum innovative capacity. Second, Socrates doesn’t force these people into those jobs, he just believes that is the way everyone in society gets the best product possible.

  2. I think that your tie-in with Brave New World is absolutely fascinating. Socrates’ claims do mimic the caste system of Aldous Huxley’s novel. I definitely agree with your reasoning on all of this. If our profession were predetermined for us, creativity would be stifled and, in some situations, people would be prevented from finding career paths that would satisfy or fulfill them just because their so-called “inclination” does not indicate them having prowess at that specific job. In my opinion, some of the greatest discoveries or things that bring us the most happiness in life are stumbled upon by chance. This can even happen with people finding career paths when they know very little about the profession that randomly becomes opened up to them and do not have a degree in that discipline.

    But, to play devil’s advocate, Socrates’ words may not have to entirely be taken seriously. He could have meant that some people are good at certain things rather than that people are only predisposed to simply one task. We may just be reading too far into his statement.

  3. The meaning is definitely malleable depending on how you interpret Plato’s writings. Lindsay and Harry, I see that both of you interpreted the same text in different ways and differently than I did. I perceived this section to be Socrates creation of and ideal world, rather than a realistic one. This means that everyone would have to do what they are best at and would not get to chose otherwise. In Socrates’ world, efficiency is valued over freedom. His ideal city has people who are useful rather than creative. If you recall the inception of this city, Socrates first populated it with those that could provide the bare essentials, then looked to add people to support this work.

    Another update to my original post involves our more recent reading. Socrates introduces the myth of metals, which, among other things, is meant to convince people that they belong in their place in society because of their personal make-up. This idea also mirrors the society in Brave New World where different castes have different, scientifically engineered blood oxygen levels, intelligence, etc. The difference is that here, Socrates is just telling them there is a difference, where as in Huxley’s novel, scientists actually modify different variables to produce people with different traits.

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