“Naturally Suited”

At this time last year, I was struggling to complete my college applications. I was was prompted to ask myself: what was I good at? What should I apply myself to? What would be my role in society? I didn’t know what to respond.

Socrates, on the other hand, has an answer these questions with an theory about what people should be doing with their lives. He allegedly said “we aren’t all born alike, but each of us differs somewhat in nature from the others, one being suited to one task, another to another” (Republic, 70b). To supplement, he continues with the idea that “more plentiful and better-quality goods are more easily produced if each person does one thing for which he is naturally suited” (Republic, 70c).

I can see examples in my own life that support this idea. My friends who did well in math and science enrolled in engineering schools and my artsy friends are studying to complete fine arts degrees and become graphic designers.

Socrate’s theory edges on an ideological and utopian view of society, however. His idea is that whenever where is a need for a job to be done, someone will fill in the occupation. If a farmer exists, then there must be a person who makes his equipment, another person to sell his produce, another person to buy his produce, and so on. Based on economic supply and demand, it is generally true that someone will always be available for the job.

The flaw with this theory, is that it assumes that everyone will have jobs and natural talents that fit perfectly, as if puzzle pieces, into the grand scheme of the society. However, it’s unlikely that this will actually play out as nicely as it is theorized to be. There are many people who are very talented in sports, yet only so many can go on to become professional athletes. A lot of promising politicians vie for presidency, yet there can only be one president. There are a lot of people who don’t make it to the job that they’re “naturally” suited for.

It would be nice if everything worked out the way Socrates envisions it would, but the reality is that it is easier said than done.

4 responses to ““Naturally Suited”

  1. I quite agree with you that the Republic/city that Socrates envisions is quite an idealistic version of what a true society is like. Just as you said in your post, what Socrates believes is that everyone has a role in society, and the role you must/should be in depends on your skill level. His plan is flawed because first of all, not everyone can be categorized to fit to a certain job or skill. Sometimes, people don’t have an obvious role in society, so what happens to those people?

    And even if there was a job that everyone can fit into, doesn’t that mean that other jobs that need higher skill levels that people can’t fit into will eventually be vacant? Your post mentions jobs of athletes and politicians fighting for positions. I agree to how it relates to the flaws of Socrates’ plan because those are the results of dreams and big aspirations. If Socrates’ plan is to sort everyone to what they are good at, it would fundamentally be downplaying bigger dreams that people have. If his idea of a society is true, that means that there wouldn’t be people actually reaching bigger; everything would be decided for them as an act of preordained future. There wouldn’t be rist-takers would think differently, and spontaneous inspirations would be gone. If Socrates’ world was real, it wouldn’t always be for the better, and society would be grossly unbalanced and unstable.

  2. I completely agree with what you said about how people who are good at math and science will tend to go to engineering schools while artistic friends pursue art careers. But I also think that there is a deeper level to this. There are innate traits that allow us to be more suited towards a specific career. For example, people who tend to be more vocal may look for a job that involves public speaking, or people who are naturally creative may be better suited towards a career as an engineer. I think that certain natural traits that can make someone more fit to do a particular job.

    I completely agree with your question of what happens when there is a surplus of people who were “designed” to perform a certain task. This is a pretty large flaw in Socrates argument. In order to keep optimal conditions, the proportion of the society must be set to coincide with the surplus of workers in a specific career. But then this would require expansion of land and ultimately war, which will destroy the notion of a eutopia.

  3. I agree with what you said about not everyone being to follow and continue doing what they are naturally talented at. However, the examples that you gave can be turned the other way around. What if the people that were talented in athletic sports that went on to become professional athletes truly found their calling and place in society, and the ones that weren’t able to become professional athletes did not yet find their place in society or their correct calling? And maybe since only one person is able to become president, then it means that only that one person out of the others that ran had the true calling and talent of being able to rule a country, and the others found their role in society by staying in the political position that they are already in. Your argument is mostly sound, but these are just a few things to think about.

  4. I agree that Socrates’ theory on some people being naturally suited to certain roles and stations is very flawed. This idea is more than just oppressive, it is extremely unrealistic. Like you said, things in the real world don’t work out quite the way Socrates envisions them; not everyone will remain in the strata dictated by their natural ability. I actually think that this deviation from reality within Socrates’ model city completely disqualifies the city as a model for the study of justice/injustice as well as any general conclusions Socrates reaches during his experiment.

    If justice is giving a person their due, then where is the justice in being naturally appointed certain positions in life? Although the opposite would be equally unrealistic; in the real world the people who work the hardest don’t always take home the gold. If his city were a true representation of a real city, complete with all of the human components which drive people to want more for themselves, then it would be a true study on justice and injustice. It is that feeling of wanting more that keeps people from being just satisfied with their place in life and that motivates people to seek justice or commit injustice in order to improve on these circumstances. In a city where everyone accepted that they were naturally suited to one trade (or that the metal components of a persons “soul” determines their station in life) there would be no justice or injustice, there would be no reason for the appearance of either.

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