This post was originally published by Mr. Nemo & Data at Towards Data Science
Plato’s Republic, which introduces questions that dominate western political philosophy even nowadays, is fundamentally a dialogue. Plato endeavours to conceptualize the ideal society through philosophical discussions and these tendencies for spirited debates are quite explicit in books I~II. Early in The Republic, Socrates refutes the potential definitions of justice suggested by various figures such as Cephalus, Polemarchus, and Thrasymachus. Since negative emotions often accompanied these arguments, I thought conducting sentiment analysis could help contextualize the main ideas covered in The Republic. Using the BERT-based sentiment classification model provided by Huggingface’s Transformers package, I attempted to extract the sentence tokens of negative sentiment and visualize their word frequencies with the Scattertext package.
Data Preprocessing Code
Republic I~II, which are a series of arguments about the essence of justice, would be an excellent subject for sentiment analysis. First, I prepared a dataset of texts from the Republic. Then, using the BERT sentiment classifier, I was able to determine whether a given text contained negative sentiment. As a result, I created a pandas dataframe with a sentiment column that consists of NEGATIVE or NEUTRAL.
Sentiment Analysis Visualization Code
Using Scattertext’s term frequency visualization functionality, I examined which keywords were dominant in sentences of negative sentiment. The vertical axis represents the NEGATIVE class, and the horizontal axis, the NEUTRAL ones. As expected, the texts classified as NEGATIVE were mostly part of the arguments concerning the definitions of justice. They featured terms related to the discussions of different characters. ‘Old’ and ‘age’ characterized Cephalus, the elderly man of the house. ‘Enemy’ and ‘friend’ depicted Polemarchus’ tendency to distinguish allies from foes. ‘Rulers’, ‘advantage’, and ‘benefit’, are words often used by Thrasymachus, the sophist who believes in power, rather than virtue.
ScatterText Visualization of Sentiment Analysis Results
Judging from the abundant negativity within those dialogues, it seems that the various ideals of these characters were in direct conflict with Plato’s conception of justice. This is understandable as the purpose of Plato’s Republic was to radically transform conventional philosophy. Considering this context, I believe that the key players and their values identified by sentiment analysis; Cephalus, Polemarchus, and Thrasymachus; represent the traditional Athenian sources of authority. Therefore, Socrates’ process of disproving the suggested notions of justice could represent Plato’s attempt to exile traditional Athenian values from his philosophical odyssey towards justice.
To analyze the conflicting philosophies further, I manually assigned the name of the dominant speaker in the paragraph as a label to each sentence and visualized the dominant terms in each character’s dialogues.
Plato’s Republic Book I~II Dataset
Speaker Visualization Code
The first subject of scrutiny is Cephalus, an elder who lives a moderate life owing to the wealth he has accumulated over the years. He is the owner of the household where Socrates’ inquiries take place. To Cephalus, justice is paying back what is owed, such as making sacrifices to the gods. The keywords dominating his dialogues are ‘old’ and ‘age’, which depicts Cephalus’ characteristics. Arguably, old age is the motivation behind Cephalus’ tendencies to serve the Homeric gods, since ageing would naturally induce the fear of death and afterlife.
Also, the term ‘money’ seems to describe the householder’s interest in bodily pleasures, as that is the subject he mainly discusses in The Republic. Judging from these aspects, Cephalus is the very embodiment of the convention, the everyman who’s main passion is money, and the comforts it brings. Not necessarily an immoral man, but certainly not a remarkable one.
In light of this context, it becomes clear why Cephalus is excluded from the dialogue so early on. After being refuted by Socrates, Cephalus immediately excuses himself from the discussions. I believe that this scene could be interpreted as Socrates’ act of banishing the traditional Athenian values from his symposium.
ScatterText Visualization of Cephalus’ Dialogues
ScatterText Visualization of Polemarchus’ Dialogues
After Cephalus is chased away, the conversation then moves on to his son, the war-like Polemarchus. Unlike his father, who focused mainly on physical pleasures, Polemarchus shows himself concerned with defending the honour and safety of the polis. To Polimarchus, justice is doing good to friends and harm to enemies. The visualization keywords such as ‘friend’, ‘enemies’, and ‘harm’ depict this interpretation of justice as loyalty to one’s own.
Interestingly, both Cephalus and Polemarchus seem to embody the heroic virtues, a set of aristocratic values depicted by Greek heroes in epic poems such as The Iliad and The Odyssey. Mythological heroes such as Agamemnon, Achilles, and Odysseus strive to achieve wealth, status, and honour rather than moral order. Owing to these tendencies, I believe that the characters Cephalus and Polemarchus represent the Homeric values of traditional Athenian culture. Perhaps Plato is attacking the authority of poets such as Homer and Hesiod by refuting conceptions of justice based on their philosophies. In short, Plato is seeking the good life based on moral wisdom that is superior to mere heroic glory.
ScatterText Visualization of Thrasymachus’ Dialogues
Among the various ideas presented by characters in Republic I~II, Thrasymachus’ conception of justice is perhaps the most nihilistic. The visualization keywords ‘ruler’, ‘interest’, and ‘stronger’ represent the sophist’s views on morality; that justice is nothing but the advantage of the stronger. In other words, he believes that there is no objective moral truth and the so-called ethical norms are established in a way that would only serve the ruler’s interest.
This tendency to reject the existence of objective truth is a reference to the Sophists, the educators hired to tutor the wealthy on the skills of rhetoric. Since Athenian democracy usually gave power to those who are skilled at persuading the masses, rhetoric became an essential requirement for gaining political advantage in the public sphere. Similar to excluding the Homeric values from his discussions, Plato also seems to be criticizing the Sophists exploiting logic as a mere tool for high status, and furthermore, the flawed Athenian democracy that gave rise to such culture.
ScatterText Visualization of Glaucon’s Dialogues
After Socrates disproves the conventional definitions of justice, the brothers Glaucon and Adeimantus challenges Socrates to present his own opinion on the matter. As characterized by the keywords ‘sake’ and ‘praise’, it is not enough for the brothers just to show that regarding justice as a means is wrong; they want to hear justice praised for its own sake.
Glaucon goes on to demonstrate his inquiry by referring to the myth of Gyges and his magic ring. Owing to the ring that grants the power of invisibility to its bearer, Gyges is able to commit a series of heinous misdeeds and get away with it. Glaucon presents the question, “if one has the power to escape punishment, then what reason is left for him to pursue justice?” The word ‘Gyges’ isn’t explicitly displayed in the visualization results, but the term ‘power’ represents this story.
So, what is Socrates’ answer to this dilemma? Furthermore, through what means can society control those with such power? These questions pave the way to The Republic’s dialogue about Plato’s ideas of moral values and social mechanisms that could enforce them.
ScatterText Visualization of Adeimantus’ Dialogues
I believe that my attempts at applying sentiment analysis to analyzing The Republic were quite successful. The detection of negative sentiments within the debates involving traditional values especially provided valuable insights into the nature of political philosophy. As the sentiment analysis result inform us, The Republic I~II mainly focuses on rejecting conventional ideas. While negativity rises due to these processes, this phenomenon is essential to paving the way for the establishment of Socratic values. Similar to Plato, almost every great thinkers, from Marx to Confucious, intended their ideas to become the cure for the fundamental problems dominating their respective eras. In Plato’s case, he was trying to replace the superficial and theatrical elements of Athenian culture with his thoughts on the moral truth. In short, this experience has led me to conclude that sentiment analysis could be of great assistance in pinpointing the conflict of ideologies within philosophical discussions and identifying the context of the emergence of one’s philosophy.
Tune in for further analyses of The Republic. Articles on Book II~V are scheduled for next week.
This post was originally published by Mr. Nemo & Data at Towards Data Science