Plato’s Republic Books IV-IX: An Analysis Essay

*This is for educational purposes only. All who plagiarise or otherwise attempt to reproduce this content will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. *
This was written for a PHIL2010 class and I didn’t get a 100% on it so if in doubt, please refer back to the original material.

A/N: I originally decided to post these three essays on Outlet while I was writing this essay as the final for my class. I thought about the state of America and I thought about the trending thoughts and concerns of the world and the pushback of these thoughts and concerns. So, please read this essay with those thoughts and concerns in mind. In a lot of ways, Plato has hit the head on a lot of issues in his own way even though Athenian culture and attitude is supposedly far removed from how things are today.

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Socrates’ Tripartite Theory of City and Soul

Reconstruct in your own words the chief arguments by which Socrates justifies the theory of a three-fold soul and city.

++++++Socrates argues for a three-part city and soul in his theory of how justice can be realised. He first builds the city based on the principle that the city takes on the characteristics of its citizens and that since the city is a bigger entity, is easier to spot where justice and other virtues lie (Book 2, 368d-369a). First, the city is founded on the idea that individuals aren’t self-sufficient and therefore need to band together to provide all the goods that one needs to survive, giving rise to the principle of the natural division of labour (Book 2, 369e-370c). These people are the first defined part of the three: the craftsmen. The next group that arises are the guardians who are needed as the city grows and is now in need of military power (Book 2, 372e). Lastly, a third group is created out of the guardians, splitting the guardians into the auxiliaries that make up the armed forces and true guardians that will act as overseers or rulers in the city (Book 3, 412a-e). With these three classes established, we can then start looking at where the virtues of the city lie and most importantly, where justice lies. The virtues are defined as wisdom, courage, temperance and justice (Book 4, 427e). The rulers display wisdom in their ability to use their knowledge to know what is good for both the parts and the whole of the city (Book 4, 428a-429a). Courage is displayed by the auxiliaries being knowing of what to fear and not fear in to preserve through both pain and pleasure to faithfully execute their duty (Book 4, 429a-430c). Moderation is displayed when the citizens of the city submit to the reign of the guardians and this produces harmony within the city between subject and ruler (Book 4, 430c-432a). Lastly, justice can be found where the other virtues are not, revealing itself in each part of the city faithfully carrying out their job and that to do otherwise can be considered to be unjust (Book 4, 432b-434c).

++++++With the city and its virtues fleshed out, we can then move on to the soul. The underlying principle of the division of the parts of the soul lies in the fact that one thing cannot be willing to do or be the opposite relative to the thing in question on the same subject (Book 4, 436b-437a). Therefore, if a soul is displaying opposing desires, then there must be multiple parts to that soul that are generating those independent desires. Socrates then set about defining these parts using an analogy of a thirsty man.

++++++The first part of the soul to be defined is the appetitive part where the man is simply desirous of a drink. There is no reason to it; it does not desire a good drink or a healthy drink, merely a drink (Book 4, 437e) because to want a good drink means that it’s no longer an appetitive desire and requires a reasoning element to know what is good and healthy (Book 4, 438a-e) and therefore all of its desires needs to be unqualified (Book 4, 439b).

++++++This leads us to the second part of the soul, the rational part. With the desire to drink can come with the opposing disinclination to drink (Book 4, 429c). This part uses reason to rein in the desires of the appetite. For example, while the appetite may desire a drink,  reason will stop it from drinking pond water which could have caused harm to the body.

++++++However, reason doesn’t seem to be the only part that has control over the appetite. This can be seen in the fact that having given in to a desire against reason, a person may experience anger for having done so and thus, exposes a third part of the soul that seems to aid reason in controlling the appetite (Book 4, 440a). The third part comes into being with the observation that small children and animals seem to still display some amount of control over their appetites despite not having a fully-formed rational part of their soul. This third part of the soul is the spirited part — an honour-loving part that gets angry when one indulges in one’s unbridled desires. Since the spirit part can exist without the rational part, this means that the two parts are separate despite both of their purposes being to control the appetite (Book 4, 441b).

++++++With all the parts of the soul established, we can begin to apply the virtues to the soul as well. The rational part of the soul would naturally be where wisdom is exhibited by its use of reason to make decisions for the rest of the soul (Book 4, 442c); the spirit would exhibit courage by also preserving through pain and pleasure to know what is worth fearing (Book 4, 442c); moderation can be found when the parts of the soul are in harmony with one another and justice is exhibited when each part is properly performing their role with the proper balance between all three parts (Book 4, 442d). With this, Socrates divides both the city and soul into three parts and is able to draw corresponding parts between them.

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Obstacles to the Realisation of the Just City

Identify the problems that Socrates recognises to jeopardise the realisation of justice in the polis and soul.
Evaluate to what degree Socrates succeeds in showing that justice can be achieved in both polis and the soul.

First Obstacle: Against the Equal Treatment of Men and Women

++++++However, even with the source of justice found in both the city and soul, Socrates’ interlocutors aren’t convinced that a truly just city can exist. The first of three complaints are directed towards the fact that women seem to be given the same responsibilities within the city as the men and they argue that that can’t be so because women are of a different nature than men. They drew particular attention to the fact that men and women in this city were to train together in the typical Greek nude and thought it a ridiculous notion (Book 5, 452b). However, Socrates argues that since only those best at a task can perform that task, this requires that all guardians have the same education ( Book 5, 451e) and since this is good and the proper way to maintain justice in the city, the idea cannot be ridiculous (Book 5, 452d-e). Socrates further supports his position on having women as part of the guardians by likening the situation to one of a bald shoemaker and a long-haired shoemaker. He asks if the presence or absence of hair, in either case, precludes one or the other from having the proper nature to perform the job of shoemaking.

++++++Having established that it is a ridiculous idea, it is agreed that since women do not differ from men in the significant ways that would make one more or less suited to a particular practice, then there is no reason to limit women to or from specific practices (Book 5, 454c-e).  This argument maintains that since the woman, although generally physically weaker than man, is made of the same three parts of the soul and so, is able to have the same natures relevant to the types of jobs that the city needs to sustain itself and therefore, upholds the existence of justice in the city as both men and women are able to perform the job best suited to their nature, including becoming guardians (Book 5, 456d-457b). Therefore, the inclusion of women in the guardians and in all other roles of craft is both plausible and beneficial to the city.

Second Obstacle: Against Families Being Held in Common

++++++The second of the three complaints of the city is directed at the system of common spouses and children within the guardians. Socrates asks for the assumption to be made that the system be considered plausible to allow him to address whether it is beneficial (Book 5, 457e-458b). Having been granted that assumption, Socrates starts with saying that since the men and women would be rooming together, it’s natural that they would have sex with each other. However, if left unregulated, it would harm the city by introducing extraneous loyalties into the guardians so the city should regulate it to achieve maximum benefit (Book 5, 458c-e). Since we would want to produce the best guardians for the next generation, then only the best guardians in the current generation should be allowed to procreate with one another, just like how dogs and livestock are bred for favourable traits (Book 5, 459a-b). This would cause disunity within the guardians as it would be a form of favouritism so they would need to be deceived. They would be told that their right to get married and, by extension, to procreate is determined by lottery. This also allows the city to manage the population so that while the city doesn’t overpopulate, there are also enough people to sustain the city if there was war or some other extraordinary circumstances.

++++++However, the city cannot prevent those seen as possessing not the less than favourable traits from procreating so their children must be disposed of in secret. Since children are held in common where the child doesn’t know who are their parents and vice versa, this is possible to maintain the absolute integrity of the guardians’ offspring (Book 5, 459c-460d). Furthermore, only men and women in their prime years should be allowed to have children sanctioned by the state. Those who procreate outside of these years will also have their children be disposed of. Since familial relations aren’t known, to prevent incest, those of different generations won’t be allowed to marry and procreate (Book 5, 460e-461e).

++++++By demonstrating the way in which common families can be carried out, Socrates can turn to show that it is a beneficial arrangement. The idea behind this arrangement was to bolster unity within the guardians of the city so that their loyalty would be to the city and not to spouses or children. The arrangement would allow the guardians to share a sense of commonality within themselves and all things held in common where pain and pleasure are shared by the whole of the group (Book 5, 461e-462e). The guardians have the most ability to split the city as they are the group with the means and knowledge to wage war. If the guardians are united, then the city is safe from internal dissension and protected from foreign forces (Book 5, 465b). Furthermore, since spouses and children are held in common, each guardian would be inclined to fight hard no matter who they’re next to in battle, not valuing one life over another (Book 5, 466e). This ensures the survival of the city as a cohesive whole and is therefore considered beneficial. It also ensures that the guardians are only focused on their loyalty to the city and performing their duties so an arrangement like this upholds the justice of the city by allowing the guardians to focus only on their job and to perform it at all times as dictated by the natural division of labour.  

++++++However, by bringing in eugenics, he does slightly undermine an idea he introduced previously in his first noble lie: the Myth of Metals (Book 3, 415a). The Myth of Metals posits the idea that all citizens are born with a metal that corresponds with a particular class within the city: bronze and iron for craftsmen, silver for auxiliaries and gold for true guardians. If the idea is that people are naturally born with a certain metal and the metal a person is born with is random, then the fact that the guardians are bred with the result of their offspring having the best metals in mind, then it calls into question whether the “metal” is something inborn and random or something that can be bred. However, on further thought, although there does exist this contradiction, the noble lie is still a lie to fool the general populace so it was never supposed to be taken seriously by the rulers who are imposing these systems and noble lies and because of this, Socrates’ arguments still stand without much opposition.

Third Obstacle: Against the Plausibility of Such a City

++++++With the first two of the three waves of complaints addressed, the last wave of complaints addresses the conception of the just city itself in the form Socrates has built (Book 5, 471c). Socrates then introduces the argument that for such a city to exist, either kings must become philosophers or philosophers must become kings (Book 5, 473c-e). He argues that if rule and philosophy were united, then the just city can exist. To demonstrate that such an arrangement is possible, we would have to first address what it is to be a philosopher (Book 5, 474a-b).

++++++ First, Socrates says that a philosopher, as a lover of wisdom, must love all forms of wisdom and not just towards a specific subject (Book 5, 474c-475e). However, true philosophers are lovers of truth so this directly contradicting the previous claim. Socrates resolves this by pointing out that since truth can only be known when one has grasped the Forms (what it means to be completely Good or Beautiful or Just etc), philosophers only possess true knowledge on all fronts and not just an opinion or belief based on perception about specific subjects when they can grasp “what is completely” (Book 5, 475e-476d). Such philosophers would be virtuous because, above all, their seat of reason is in control over other desires and this results in the philosopher being a just man with the rest of his soul falling into line and by extension, displaying all the other virtues like a city and soul who has all three parts in proper alignment with the rational, aided by the spirit, lording over the appetite. So, by defining philosophers thus, he distinguishes “pseudo-philosophers” that are lovers of sights and sounds from those true philosophers who have grasped the Forms and therefore true knowledge and, possessing the virtues, are then fit to rule (Book 6, 484a-d).

++++++The next problem then is to address how such philosophers should come to rule as Adeimantus points out that the people won’t willingly follow a philosopher-king because the opinion of the people on philosophers are of those who turn their knowledge and abilities to vicious acts, or, for those who remain pure in their craft to be useless to the city, blind to everything but their quest for knowledge (Book 6, 487a-d). Socrates agrees but he posits that the few philosophers who possess a true philosophical nature aren’t nurtured correctly. He claims that if such philosophers were given proper conditions and allowed to learn and grow in such an environment, their natural talents wouldn’t be corrupted to be used in politics or sophistry and they would be willing to take on the mantle of rule (Book 6, 497a-b).

++++++There is still a question of how such an environment would arise as these philosophers can only be reliably be brought about by the very city that they must already rule over. To this, Socrates insists that it is not impossible and it is only the current unfavourable opinion of the people on philosophers that rendered the idea implausible (Book 6, 499a-500e). To make people more accepting of such a ruler as well as making the emergence of true philosophers as rulers, education would be key. The easiest way to do this would be to reach the children of the city young and eliminate the influence of other adults by sending everyone over the age of ten out of the city and educating the remaining children (Book 7, 541a-b) in the arts, dialectics, mathematics and astronomy as well as physical training in a specific order and at certain times in their lives (Book 7, 524d-540c). Of course, only those who have proven themselves to be potential candidates to be rulers are going to go through the full course of such an education and most people won’t be trained in all the aforementioned subjects in full and instead become auxiliaries or craftsmen. With the proposed arrangement of sending all but those who are ten or older out of the city, Socrates’ defence against this third wave ends, having proven that the city as it is described right now is possible and given the arrangements so far made, that they are beneficial.

++++++However, despite the glaring implausibility of a city of children under ten years old, Socrates never addresses this. This proposal creates more problems than it solves. Without the adults in the city, the city cannot sustain itself. If the adults were to be removed outside the city and still somehow be able to carry out their crafts, then it remains to be answered the location and duration. Even with Socrates being able to clear up the first two waves of criticism about the city with relative effectivity, in introducing this last arrangement, he has a glaring implausibility still needing to be accounted for. Without a proper conclusion to this argument, since the existence of the city is precipitated on whether the children can be raised in the way described, the very formation of this city is threatened and the justice that Socrates was trying to create falls short of realisation.

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Democracy: Second Worst

Explain why Socrates considers democracy and the democratic man to be the second worst types of injustice

Note: The word aristocracy is from the Greek roots, aristos, which means excellent, and kratos, rule. Therefore, the word aristocracy as used here refers to a meritocracy where rulers are chosen based on ability.

++++++With the city established so far, we return to the discussion of justice and the forms of injustice that may arise in the different constitutions that may arise in this city. Since the city is a reflection of its citizens, then we can speak about the presence (or lack thereof) of justice in both the man and the city and see which is the most unjust and whether injustice corresponds with happiness or misery (Book 8, 544d-545c). Socrates proposes five different cities, including the current constitution of the just city. One of these constitutions is one of democracy and the corresponding democratic man. Socrates will later claim that this is the second worst type of injustice and therefore, the second unhappiest constitution.

++++++To see why, we will first have to understand what other constitutions there are. The original form is aristocracy where everyone performs the job they are naturally suited for. This is the optimal constitution of a just city and because justice is present in its fullest form, the aristocratic man and the aristocracy are the best. Serving as the basis from which we are going to explore the other less good, less just cities, the other cities will see a deterioration between the balance of the three parts of the city and by extension, to the soul of the individuals who have that constitution and then, we will compare to see who is the happiest (Book 8, 543c-544d).

Three Types of Desires

++++++To do this effectively, we would first have to look at the three different types of desires: the necessary, the unnecessary and the lawless desires. The necessary desires are those that are required to survive and the unnecessary desires are those we can survive without and thus, with proper education, can be conquered (Book 8, 558c-559d), and unlawful desires are those desires without limits and seek to be satisfied at the expense of everything else. We will expand on these desires as they arise in seeing how the city deteriorates from its just form.  

Timocracy

++++++The first sign of this deterioration comes in the form timocracy where the guardians of the city neglected the arts (poetry, music etc.) in their studies and become more warlike and start obsessing over the accumulation of wealth. However, even though their reason is starting to crumble and giving away to their appetite, their spirit keeps their desires in check for the most part and their activities to accumulate wealth are kept secret to maintain their honour. They seek glory in battle and war and this forms competition within the guardians which then breeds dissension within their ranks (Book 8, 545c-549b). The timocratic man is torn between following his aristocratic father, who encourages his use of reason, and his peers, who encourage him to seek honour and recognition (Book 8, 549c-550c). This is one step down from aristocracy because the authority of reason and its aid, spirit, has been weakened by internal dissension and due to this, the appetite is then able to exert more of its influence in its desire for honour and wealth.

Oligarchy

++++++The next constitution to arise is oligarchy where owning a certain amount of property become a requirement to hold office and the guardians’ preoccupation with wealth becomes apparent (Book 8, 550c-551b). The city then becomes divided between the rich and poor. Since the rich are few and the poor are many, they mistrust those who aren’t rich and this will cause them to undermine the power of the auxiliaries for fear that they will be supplanted, weakening the defence of the city and its ability to wage war. In this city, the man’s role in the city isn’t reflective of his nature and his status is purely reflective of his wealth and thus, the people filling certain jobs aren’t adequately doing those jobs and those who should be doing those jobs can’t without sufficient status as it is in the case of rulers. This creates unemployment in the city and gives rise to the drones who are divided between the stingless beggars, and the thieves and other criminals with stings (Book 8, 551b-552e).  

++++++The oligarchic man is characterised by a fear stemming from his timocratic father losing his wealth and status and thus begins obsessively hoarding wealth. However, besides his need for more and more wealth, the rest of his appetite is suppressed because, to satisfy other desires, he would have to sacrifice part of his wealth. In other words, he only indulges in his necessary desires and keeps unnecessary desires in check. This is the next step in the city’s deterioration because appetite is starting to clearly dominate reason but only in one respect. In all other desires, the oligarchic man still has an iron grip. Like how he is unwilling to indulge in his other desires to accumulate the most wealth, the oligarchy tries to weaken the auxiliaries to maintain their authority. Furthermore, like the city, the soul of the oligarchic man is divided into two where his need for money is set against all his other desires (Book 8, 554a-555a). Justice is now severely threatened if not nonexistent in both the city and the soul as people, especially the rulers, aren’t taking up the jobs they’re most suited for and there are those who have no job in the city and the seat of reason/wisdom is no longer the sole ruler of either the city or the soul.

Democracy

++++++Following oligarchy comes democracy which Socrates claimed was the second worst form of the city and soul. Here, the poor of the oligarchic city has risen up in revolution against the ruling rich who, weakened by extreme greed and faulty business practices, lose their status and a government is established where self-rule is practised (Book 8, 555b-557a). In this city, all desires are considered equal and there is no longer a distinction between what is supposed to be the seat of reason (the rulers) and the appetite (the wants of the city). The government no longer pursues what is best for the city but rather, the impulses of the majority and suppresses the minority. Since there is no longer any restriction on the appetite, people do as they wish and everyone is considered equal. Whereas the oligarchic man still had a handle on his unnecessary desires for his quest for wealth, his son, the democratic man, begins to long for the goods that the money could buy to satisfy his unnecessary desires and at the urging of others, gives in to those desires. In time, he moderates his more extreme desires and grows to treat all his desires as equal (Book 8, 557b-558c). In the democratic city, more of the virtues are upturned as temperance no longer exists as the ruled and ruler become one and the same. As education becomes less and less of a priority, wisdom and courage are no longer displayed as the proper knowledge to know the truth or to know what to fear is no longer taught and a similar transformation takes place between the soul of an oligarchic man to a democratic man with the spirit and reason brought down to the same level as the appetite.

Tyranny

++++++This leads to the worst constitution for the city and soul: tyranny. Division is created within the city when those who are trying to acquire wealth and status are accused as being enemies of the people and in response, those people will try to act like oligarchs by suppressing those below them. Out of this struggle, the people will nominate a champion for their cause and this champion will become the tyrant. In the democratic city, the breakup of the three parts of the city becomes the drones, the wealthy and the rest of the common people. The drones, hoping to gain the riches of the wealthy for themselves, will prey on the sensitivities of the masses and orchestrate an uprising using the overwhelming momentum of the masses united under a cause and uses this conflict between the wealthy and the masses to seize power (Book 8, 564b-566d).

++++++A city under a tyrant is always in turmoil as the tyrant endlessly stir up fears that there are enemies to the people to keep the people distracted to consolidate his power and control. He wages wars and tries to eliminate all dissenters and people of wisdom and insight because they threaten his hold on power. Therefore, his citizens have the least freedom and are the least happy. Although he is able to indulge in all his desires, (even those lawless desires that one would act out only in dreams, Book 9, 571a-572b) he is constantly in fear of opposition and assassination, and cannot trust anyone (Book 8, 566d-569c)and so, is the unhappiest (Book 9, 576b-580a). The soul of a tyrannical man is the same. All that rules his soul is his appetite fueled by erotic love. Neither spirit nor reason remains to restrain his desires and all virtues have long since ceased to exist, making him the most unjust of men (Book 9, 572b-576b).

++++++Having seen all five constitutions of the city and soul, we can now look at why democracy and democratic man is second-removed from being the worst constitution. Whereas the democratic man still possesses his reason and spirit in conjunction with his appetite, the tyrant is only aware of his appetite, making democracy above tyranny and therefore not as unjust as the tyrant. It is below the other three constitutions because there is no distinction in the roles between the three parts of the city or the soul as they are considered equal in the name of total freedom, making the democratic city and man more unjust than the previous three constitutions and thus, the second unhappiest (Book 4, 443d).

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Socrates’ Critique of Democracy and Self-Rule

Evaluate Socrates’ critique of democracy and democratic man.
Discuss whether Socrates’ argument concerning self-control in Book IV repudiates self-rule and whether justice can be realized in the soul of each citizen without making each eligible to rule

++++++Besides that, democracy’s concept of self-rule also goes against some of Socrates’ previously proposed truths. Previously, Socrates talked about how the parts of the soul is to be in proper order. He said that there must be a stronger and a weaker part of the soul and a better and worst part of the soul. If the better part is stronger and rules over the worst, then we can say that the person is in control. If the opposite is true, then the person is said to be self-defeated (Book 4, 431a).  In the aristocratic city, only those worthy of ruling and possessing the knowledge to rule are the rulers while the others are subjected to their rule, and therefore the city can be considered to be self-controlled (Book 4, 431b). In the democratic city, uneducated or not properly trained individuals can become the rulers and by representing the democratic spirit of considering all desires equal, will rule according to wherever his impulses take him. This shows that self-rule isn’t a good way to rule a city as it allows the indulgence some of man’s worst impulses and when congregated in greater numbers, causes majority rule to not reflect what is best for the city or even what is good but are rather often random and irrational as pointed out in The Crito.

++++++Lastly, we must discuss what separates a just individual from a ruler. There is more than just the education that has been before mentioned in Book III that separates a just man from one fit to rule, there is also, more importantly, the question of a person’s nature. While an education can heighten one’s natural aptitudes, a person’s nature is inborn and hard to change. Socrates lists several traits that rulers would need to have: having a good memory, a quick learner, personable, and a friend of truth, justice, courage, and moderation ( Book 6, 846e-847a). Furthermore, a ruler would need to be able to grasp the Form of the Good. If the rulers can grasp the Good, then they are then able to grasp the other Forms (Book 6, 504d-505a) just as the Sun provides the light to makes vision possible to perceive the things around us, the Good illuminates the being of the Forms, making them knowable ( Book 6, 507a-509c). Since the knowledge of the Good allows one to reason without having to rely on previous assumptions or their senses, then that means that those who can grasp the Good are able to get at true knowledge and not merely superficial knowledge derived from appearances or formed from deductions. This allowed the rulers to know what is truly good for the city and distinguished them from the auxiliaries or the craftsmen who had a lesser education and less of an inclination towards the seeking of truth or knowledge.

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Works Cited

Plato, and John M. Cooper. Complete Works. Hackett, 2009.