Published by the Center for the Study of The Great Ideas (founded in 1990 by Mortimer J. Adler and Max Weismann)
In association with the The Adler-Aquinas Institute and Aquinas School of Leadership
A Founding Member of the Alliance for Liberal Learning

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Max Weismann asks three questions . . .

There is a story told by Glaucon in the second book of Plato's Republic, where Glaucon and his brother Adeimantus are trying to get Socrates to explain to them why being just to others is an aid to leading a happy life. They tell him the story of Gyges--Gyges was a servant in the household of the King of Lydia, and Gyges fell in love with the Queen and the Queen with him. The Queen gave Gyges a ring which if he turned it around, made him invisible. Gyges used the ring, made himself invisible, murdered the King and married the Queen, and became the ruler of Lydia.

Suppose there's only one ring of Gyges in the world and you're walking up Fifth Avenue on a bright sunny morning, and you pass Tiffany's at 5th Avenue and 57th Street and in one of those little windows, you see a little black case with a nice gold ring and a sign under it says, “Ring of Gyges, moderately priced, inquire within.”

One, would you go in and inquire about the price of the ring? Two, if it was within your power to buy it, would you buy it? Three, if you bought it, how would you use it? Remembering that the ring of Gyges would enable you to do anything you wanted and have no fear of ever being caught or punished.


  1. I would inquire about the price and would purchase the ring if I could raise the money.

    Profiting from the ring would be easy in my estimation. If kept secret, the ring would make for the most unbelievable magic production ever staged for a fee. The run in Las Vegas would be legendary.

    Most of the proceeds could go to charity with the Center for the Study of the Great Ideas at the top of the list!

    Of course, my conviction that being just to others is best for me would be tested. With such a power I'm sure one would be tempted at times to take shortcuts.

  2. Whether I would follow through, I don't know, but if I could purchase the ring, I would. Then I would take it to Mount Doom and cast it into the fire. At least, that's the plan. I am a great believer in the words, "power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." I certainly don't want someone else to have the ring and that power.

  3. Posted by Bill Gillette:

    Max, I'm not sure how to navigate a blog so I'm leaving my comment here. As an old codger my answer is that I would not buy the ring and I would tell the store owner that it should be destroyed, it being too great a strain on human nature. Legitimate ends do not justify illegitimate means. In Aristotle's time there was some modicum of respect for the wisdom of older people and the dictum, "Power corrupts." Checks and balances on human nature were taken for granted, if not always heeded. Such is the experiential wisdom of an older man who has held power and now rejects its use. There is legitimate use of power by authority, but I confess, I never learned how to do that without hurting someone or myself. Alas, we do not live in a society where this wisdom is respected. Consequently others are likely to jump at the chance not knowing themselves and the likelihood of corruption. Respectfully, Bill Gillette

  4. Posted by J.van Rijnbach:

    I did not believe the story and I did not buy the ring.

  5. As to Max's original question: Though tempted, I would pass up on buying the ring. However, I would inquire as to why it is for sale and who put it up.

    To Janet Miller: Lord Acton's actual quote is 'Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.' Though the difference of 'power corrupts' and 'power tends to corrupt' may seem trivial, it is actually extremely significant.

  6. I think my skepticism would prevent me from buying the ring because I would assume it was a fake.

    Although on second thought, if the ring was attractive and priced reasonably, I may buy it without expectation of supernatural powers while hoping to be surprised.

    I respect the comments made by Mr. Gillette and others about the potential abuses of power, yet at this point in my life my desires are much more modest but there are some things that would be helpful.

    The ability to travel more extensively and to enjoy better health and unlimited energy, are the things I would find useful in making my life more complete although I am not sure the Gyges ring could provide these benefits.

    Maybe I should be searching for Aladdin's Magic Lamp.:)

  7. i would walk by with a short look.I have a good wife,a great motorcycle,enough money for gas,books,and charity.I really don't need much more.A magic ring would only lead to greed

  8. If by moderately priced you mean affordable for me and not require, say, the entire GDP of Switzerland, I'd buy it without hesitation. Imagine an Ahmadinejad, Kim Jong Il, Myanmar Junta, or any other such thuggish types wielding such a power? I would consider it irresponsible and grossly negligent for me to not do everything I could to secure it or ensure someone of prudence does so.

    It clearly gives the owner a remarkable power and scope of action, much as possessing the greatest physical strength or highest intellectual ability increases one's capacities. Granted, the ring's power is not a natural one like strength or intellect, but neither is the power conferred by enormous wealth. Such powers - natural or not - are not evil in themselves, but they do drastically increase one's responsibilities. Just as the individual of fantastic wealth may dispose of that wealth in some prudent and magnanimous way, or in some particularly vicious way, or somewhere in between, nevertheless the power is good, and the use of any of the above powers is good just insofar as they are used with good intention, in a good way, and for a good end. Similarly, the ring's use can be good. But there is seemingly insurmountable difficulties surrounding its use. Just as it is so extremely difficult for the fantastically wealthy individual to be truly magnanimous - since it requires wisdom and prudence to be so - similar difficulties surround the use of the ring.

    Since I am far from being the wisest and most prudent, I would put the ring in safekeeping until I became such and determined a way to use it. All the while I would be looking for one of wisdom and prudence to put the ring into their hands and rid myself of the awesome responsibility.