The Good Shepherd
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The Good Shepherd
Returning to talk of crafts, Socrates attempts to get Thrasymachus to accept the proposition that “it is inappropriate for any craft to consider what is advantageous for anything besides that with which it deals.” The craft of medicine , for instance, properly seeks only what is advantageous to a patient’s body. The craft of ruling a city, by analogy, would properly seek only what is advantageous to the citizens. Thrasymachus replies that Socrates is forgetting a craft that makes a better analogy to ruling a city: sheep farming. The shepherd cares for his sheep, to be sure, but only so that he may shear them for wool and slaughter their lambs. Likewise, the ruler of a city keeps the peace, organizes religious festivals, manages the economy, and so on, because this is how an intelligent shepherd of the people gets the most out of his citizens. Farming and ruling are both essentially crafts of exploitation. Socrates replies that just as the craft of medicine and the craft of wage-earning are distinct (not that physicians don’t earn wages practicing medicine), so too with the other crafts. What it is to be a good shepherd, for instance, is distinct from what it is to make money. (What goes in our day by the name of “agribusiness” are two crafts, not one.) And so too when it comes to ruling cities – it is one thing to rule a city well, another thing entirely to benefit oneself in particular.
What kind of a craft is sheep farming? Does the shepherd truly seek what is inthebestinterestsofthesheep? Ontheonehand,helookstothesheep’s food, water, health, and safety. On the other hand, he selects which rams couple with which ewes, and slaughters for meat any animals, young or old, that aren’t necessary for maintaining or improving the flock. When the shepherd cares for his sheep, does he treat them as ends in themselves, as conscious beings with interests different in kind but in some sense equal to his own, or does he regard them entirely as means to his own ends?
When politicians nowadays in liberal democracies like the United States do what they do in order to maintain high approval ratings and win re-election, what sort of craft are they practicing? Who are they benefiting?
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