Plato’s Republic (Politeia) is the greatest work of political philosophy par excellence, offering the best teaching to better understand ourselves and our relationship to the just city. Why is it the greatest work? Because it offers an examination of the virtues, primarily the greatest of the virtues, justice. Unlike courage or moderation, a closer look at justice reveals its unique character. Justice is what allows for the possibility of all other virtues to come into being. However, justice is also protean and not easily tied down. Perhaps it may not simply be reduced to a single definition. To borrow a phrase from Immanuel Kant, could justice merely be the grounds for beings to inhabit and express their virtue, rather than justice being the “thing-in-itself?” In the Politeia, Plato reveals, however disingenuously, the problems of the political regime, and therefore the problems of the greatest of regimes, since we are called upon to examine a political community in the abstract at its apex, rather than its downfall. Since the topic of Plato’s Republic concerns the greatest regime, and the greatest regime would be resilient and enduring in the face of various ascents and descents caused by the passage of time, surely this is a regime that we cannot locate anywhere in existence. Whether this regime is, in fact, possible is later addressed by Sir Thomas More, a studious reader of Plato, when he describes in the Utopia (a Greek term meaning literally “no place”) a non-existent city.
At any rate, Plato often shrouds his writings in layers of hidden meaning. Therefore, we would do well to leave no stone unturned and begin with the title and form of the dialogue as it has come down to us. In order to better understand Plato, we must proceed as investigators piecing together a great puzzle. While we cannot speak with either Plato or Socrates or any of their contemporaries, we rely whole-handedly on the authority of the text for evidence, and the text comes down to us in the form of a dialogue. The title of this particular dialogue comes down to us as the Politeia, which was the original Greek word meaning the “body politic,” or more specifically the “regime”. It was, however, later translated by the great Latin lover of the Greeks, Cicero, as Res Publica, which may be translated to mean the “commonwealth” or the “public affair”. From his Latin translation, we have inherited our own crude version of the word, called ‘The Republic’. Today, our word for a republic means a particular regime, or particular “form of government”. However, this degeneration of the word should not cloud our ability to try to understand Plato’s Politeia as he understood it. We, who are given the remarkable privilege of approaching and conversing with the ancients, must avoid the temptation to boorishly enter their world. Instead, we should tread lightly, with grace and virtue. After all it is a commonly held opinion that the most recent generation has climbed higher, has progressed further, and can therefore survey things from a superior point of reference. It is prejudice against those who have come before us. Progress of this kind diminishes our intellectual capacities. Instead we should ask: What can Plato teach us about ourselves?
The Platonic dialogue is the form in which we experience Plato. We know very little about the man Aristocles, called Plato, or “the broad”. He came from noble birth, and was a young follower of Socrates, as was noted in Plato’s Apology. He is also related to two of the chief characters in the Republic: Glaucon and Adeimantus, both sons of Ariston, and brothers of Plato. He lived in the 5th/4th BC century Athens and fought in the Peloponnesian War which saw the downfall of Athens to Sparta, and the imposition of an oligarchy. Plato later founded a school, the Akedemia, located in an ancient olive grove outside the city walls of Athens (the school was named for a legendary Athenian hero). Incidentally, according to popular myth, Plato was beckoned to Syracuse in order to teach a young pupil who then became a tyrant (Dionysius I) and then enslaved Plato. Other than this scant background, our image of Plato is hazy. I believe this haziness is deliberate. Unlike when reading a verbose and clearly laid out treatise, as we find in the writings of Immanuel Kant, in the Platonic dialogues we experience a dramatic, or perhaps poetic, locus of action which drives the plot of the dialogue while we consider difficult ideas. Nowhere do we find the “Platonic Doctrine” in Plato’s dialogues. In choosing to disguise himself in this way, by concealing his true convictions, we are called to dig deeper and discover his teaching.
A Platonic dialogue has two types –it can be either performed or narrated. A performed dialogue is happening in the present-moment, without the framing of a particular speaker, while a narrated dialogue is bookended by a narrator speaking to one or many other people at a different place and time, likely after the action in the dialogue has occurred. In the Republic we find the latter of these two types.
Let us set the scene. We rely on Socrates’s memory as he recounts past events to an unknown scribe. Socrates recalls the previous night in which he descended to the Piraeus, the naval port of Athens. The Piraeus is where all things foreign and strange were brought to Athenian shores. Socrates went down to the Piraeus together with Glaucon, whose name means “bright eyed” or “grey eyed” or even “owl eyed” (recall the Homeric descriptions of “grey-eyed Athena”). Socrates descended in order to pray to a goddess, presumably Bendis, a foreign god. Equally, Socrates is curious about a new festival. This is Socrates, the philosopher, and his purpose for going down to the Piraeus is conveyed as evening of delights wherein he intended to pray to a strange new goddess and to quench his curiosity. However, Socrates quickly hopes to escape back upward to the city with Glaucon. Why is Socrates eager to return to Athens? In his hurried state, Socrates is physically compelled to wait when a slave-boy tugs at his robe (the slave is owned by Polemarchus, the “War-lord”). Glaucon, not Socrates, agrees to the slave-boy’s demand. Perhaps Glaucon had also forced Socrates to join him in the Piraeus, as well. A moment later a group of men join from the procession: Polemarchus, Adeimantus (brother of Glaucon), Niceratus, and others not yet listed by name. Polemarchus speaks first to Socrates, noting that his contingent a group composing a much larger number, should force Socrates to remain. Polemarchus appeals to size and force, the principle that “might makes right,” while Socrates suggests perhaps, instead, persuasion might be a superior way to convince someone to stay or leave. Polemarchus responds in kind, that he and his group will not listen to persuasive words, a suggestion to which Glaucon capitulates. However Adeimantus steps in amidst this friendly banter. Rather than compel Socrates, he attempts to persuade the philosopher by enticing him with the allure of a torch-race event on horse back which is soon to be performed. Polemarchus adds that the group can visit the spectacle after dinner. Thus, from the outset, Socrates is promised dinner and a show. He relents and the resolution is agreed to, but only by Glaucon. Now, greatly outnumbered and desirous of spectacles, both foreign and strange, Socrates is successfully ensnared. In further reading, we know that both promises (of dinner and a horseback race) are never fulfilled in the Republic.
This opening drama is crucial, as it mirrors themes in the discussion to come. The actions of this group of men reveals something to us about the nature of justice –a mix of force and persuasion is used to compel people to do things, promises are made (but are they kept?), and matters are resolved by means of a compact, or an agreement. The souls of each character are revealed through their actions: Socrates, the philosopher, is reluctant and encourages persuasion over force; Glaucon is the spirited warrior who is easily overcome by superior forces with superior numbers; and Polemarchus is the War-Lord who employs the use of compulsion. Adeimantus, the austere poet, is the only one who meets Socrates on the level of Persuasion. There is a kindred friendliness among these two men, Socrates and Adeimantus. However, underlying this friendliness is a certain degree of danger. The Republic is, indeed, a dangerous dialogue that takes place outside the city of Athens proper under cover of night, without food or drink (recall the contrast to the Symposium) and the topic is of a political regime greater than Athenian democracy. The discussion is an inquiry into the nature of justice, and therefore it appeals to a higher authority than the laws and customs of Athens. It is a dialogue that challenges the established conventions of Athens –in particular the gods of Athens and the regime of democracy. For Socrates, it concerns the defense of the philosopher in the city, or “polis”, as a corollary to the Apology. Later in his life, Socrates will be brought to trial on corruption changes but he will not be able to persuade the jury of his innocence. Therefore, it is important for Socrates to narrate his own defense, the defense of philosophy in The Republic. For those men in the Piraeus, the conversation concerns Justice and the best regime, but on a more fundamental level the Republic is a defense of philosophy. The irony is that some of those men in the Piraeus are soon to experience a grave injustice imposed on Athens by The Thirty Tyrants. However, taking place yers prior to the mania of the Thirty Tyrants, Plato’s Republic shows a friendly company of ten men freely discussing the nature of justice in happy and peaceful times. Three of those present in The Republic will meet a grizzly demise, namely Lysias, Polemarchus, and Niceratus. Polemarchus will be executed and Socrates will be suspected of encouraging the tyranny. Lysias, a member of the house of Cephalus, will lead a revolution to reinstate democracy against the Thirty. We know that the men in the dialogue, who are presently engaged in a free-ranging discussion about the best regime, are -ill-fated to soon experience the worst regime.
At any rate, Socrates is compelled to join Glaucon, Polemarchus, Adeimantus, Niceratus, and others at the home of Polemarchus’s father, Cephalus, in the Piraeus. The patriarch Cephalus is a metic, a foreigner who is allowed to live in Athens and practice his business. He is a charming but simple old man. Others present for the conversation include: Lysias and Euthydemus, Polemarchus’s brothers, Thrasymachus, the foreigner rhetorician, Charmides, and Cleitophon. Most of these men remain at Cephalus’s home throughout the night while the conversation continues but most remain silent (and some do not speak at all). The conversation begins when Cephalus welcomes Socrates and they discuss the passage of old age and the ways in which money eases the burden, even though Cephalus ultimately determines that good character is far more important than the accumulation of money in old age. He cites Pindar in noting that a just and holy life is preferable. As a man gets older, his fears grow about the tales of the afterlife and the accompanying divine rewards awaiting those who have acted justly in their lifetimes. Cephalus is a follower of the law, in the hopes of rewards and under the fear of punishment. Justice is first casually introduced by Cephalus. It is something good for the sake of rewards –justice is akin to customary law (dike is nomos). For example, Cephalus is fearful about rumors of the next life because during his youth, Cephalus was ravaged by the passions, particularly sexual promiscuity. He is ashamed of his incontinence inspired by eros. He did not have control over his body as a young man and so he wonders if he has behaved immorally. Cephalus claims that if one is to behave justly, he must tell the truth and pay his debts. In other words, a just person should act in accordance with the law. Eventually, Socrates, not Cephalus, initiates the discussion of justice by negating this account of jusice –justice is not merely honesty and giving back what is owed. As an example, it would be unjust to give weapons back to a man who is in a temporary fit of madness. Why? A man overcome by madness is chaotic and not bound by the laws of the city. Therefore, repayment is not just in every circumstance. The key to this example concerns a person’s psychological state of being. However, Cephalus is a simple man, who enjoys the ease and luxury of a conventional life. He knows justice when he sees it and he is content to leave it at that. He has no place in a conversation that questions the law and abstracts from eros. He does not explicitly disagree with Socrates but he leaves laughing to attend to religious sacrifices, and his son, Polemarchus, inherits the argument.
Polemarchus becomes the democrat to his father’s oligarch. He cites Simonides by claiming that justice is giving to each what is owed. Cephalus was to Pindar as Polemarchus is to Simonides. Cephalus’s definition of justice was for the good of the receiver –the repayment of debts– while Polemarchus’s definition is for the good of the giver. The common theme is that justice can be found in a kind of monetary transaction. Why money? Money is based on quantity, number, and is therefore measurable. Both Cephalus and Polemarchus see justice as a kind of balance. Repayment is good for the person in debt (Cephalus) and it is also good for the lender (Polemarchus). Perhaps we may find justice somewhere in between the two. However, are all lenders good and, therefore, deserving of their repayment? For Polemarchus, justice is expanded upon –justice is doing good to friends and harming enemies, because enemies are owed harm and friends are owed goodness. It is just for them to each be dealt either harm or goodness. This view, appropriately, comes from the War-Lord. However, any kind of harm received is bad, and not good, and therefore justice cannot be what is owed to each. Socrates, rather dubiously, equates justice with the good. What is just is moral to Socrates. Is justice always good for an individual? Can the just always be the same as the good? Perhaps not. As a philosopher, Socrates is concerned with dangerously trans-political questions which force us to unshackle ourselves from commonly held opinions about justice. Morality requires knowledge, episteme, of good and evil. Justice, on the other hand is what the city is striving toward. It supersedes the law and the regime, yet it guides both. This strange relationship is part of the problem of justice. The city gives the grounds for which morality can occur, and yet the city cannot exist without the idea of justice. This troublesome relationship between justice and morality is central to the problem of justice. Men must be living within the city, in the world of generation and decay, and yet they inquire into the nature of justice, an unchanging trans-political idea, but they cannot do it without the city. Man’s nature is intimately connected to and dependent upon justice. As evidenced in the dialogue, philosophic inquiry is easiest within the regime of democracy, where questions are encouraged.
All things in the world exist in a state of generation, growth, and decay. The contemporaries of Socrates, particularly the Athenians, are well aware of this decay. And this decay comes to serve as an important background to the dialogue. The exchange-minded definitions of justice from Cephalus and Polemarchus are left susceptible to the bombastic entrance of a tyrant, Thrasymachus. His central claim is that justice is the advantage of the stronger. It is an appropriate claim for a foreign Sophist, a rhetorician. Thrasymachus embodies the self-contradicting claim that justice is no different from injustice, and therefore justice is meaningless, yet somehow injustice is still preferable for Thrasymachus. For him, justice is neutral (or relative), in that it is the same as the law, which is ever-changing. The letter of the law is always just, whatever it is. Curiously, Socrates agrees that justice is a kind of advantage, but perhaps not of the stronger. At any rate, it comes to light that the city cannot exist in Thrasymachus’s interpretation. The city relies on the faith of its people. Justice requires belief, and the city requires its denizens to have faith in justice. The people of the city need faith in order for the city to exist. To what extent, then, is the conversation in the Piraeus a theological, rather than a philosophic, inquiry? Justice is the idea toward which the city is always striving, though cannot ever possibly attain in full, and it is also the glue that holds together the men in the city as one. Justice makes the city whole, balanced, and keeps its people mentally healthy. As with the other ideas espoused by Socrates, justice requires belief, and therefore, perhaps his accusers were not entirely false in accusing Socrates of introducing new gods to the city. Socrates has, in fact, offered a new kind of theology in seeking after ideas, but in the process, Socrates has successfully tamed the tyrant, Thrasymachus. By reorienting his spiritedness, or rather his viciousness and lack of gracefulness, Socrates has denied the possibility of relativism, and reaffirmed the possibility of justice. However, the blushing Thrasymachus has not necessarily learned anything, but rather he has been tamed. The tyrant has been kept at bay.
At this point, Socrates acknowledges Book I as merely a prelude. We have only been given a glimpse into the just city and the just man. The next part of the dialogue is initiated by the courageous and spirited Glaucon and he compels the conversation to continue. Now, Socrates turns with the discussion to the Athenian brothers –Glaucon and Adeimantus. A more dignified and noble air takes hold as the conversation turns away from foreign threats. Glaucon and Adeimantus, brothers of Plato, demand a defense of justice for its own sake. They want a more convincing apology for justice than the one Socrates has given to Thrasymachus. In order to instigate a convincing defense of justice from Socrates, Glaucon delivers a false attack on justice. In anticipation of Socrates’s response, he gives a “state of nature” theory, not unlike Hobbes. Glaucon says: In the beginning, men discovered that making compacts with one another was more profitable for them, to limit their suffering. Compacts, therefore, serve as a mean between what is best, being able to commit injustice without repercussion, and suffering injustice at the hands of another. As a defense of justice, and spoken more beautifully and graciously than Thrasymachus ever could, Glaucon next presents a story borrowed and revised from Herodotus’s Histories. Glaucon delivers a version of the “Ring of Gyges”, in which a supernatural ring has the power to turn Gyges invisible, and where the eyes of the law cannot see him. Empowered by this new ability, he sleeps with the queen, commits regicide, and becomes the king himself. In Herodotus’s version, Gyges and the Lydians, together, can be read as an apology for the guilt of Herodotus, a man who traveled widely and looked upon the sacred things of other peoples, gaining knowledge and disguising by his writing, perhaps in a transgressive and unjust manner. Glaucon reforms this narrative. For him, the story of Gyges demonstrates that every man, if given the opportunity to be unseen, will surely break custom, tradition, and law, by claiming ultimate power. To Glaucon, every man is naturally unjust, but is merely prevented from acting upon his impulses under the eye of the law. Glaucon’s demand for a defense of justice has far more depth than Thrasymachus’s. While Thrasymachus has vice in his rhetoric, Glaucon demonstrates courage. However, Glaucon is also fearful –he is scared that he may act unjustly if he were to come upon a ring like Gyges. He wants to know that justice will prevent himself and others from avariciously snatching absolute power when given the chance. Adeimantus speaks next as he comes to the aid of his brother, and he demands a defense of justice from Socrates without consideration for the rewards for behaving justly, which was initially praised by Cephalus. The poetic, and therefore austere Adeimantus is concerned with the promises of rewards after death for behaving justly, though he does not actually believe in them, or at least not in the way that Glaucon believes in them. Without recourse to the promises of the poets, Adeimantus demands Socrates defend justice for its own sake. Therefore, the task is set for Socrates: to defend justice even when no one is watching, and also to defend justice regardless of rewards or punishments.
In order to tackle this difficult task, Socrates suggests, as a group, they found a “city in speech”, in order to find justice in a whole city rather than in one single man. Why found a “city in speech”? A city is bigger so perhaps it will be easier to spot justice. Socrates then speaks a city into being –the city originates because each individual a great many needs. That is, the city arises out of necessity because no man is unto himself an island. The first city is founded upon the need for 1) food 2) housing 3) clothing, and it is composed of about four or five men, each performing their own job. Note that eros is not a necessity for the founding of the city. In fact, this early city is hardly a city at all. It is a loose exchange of individuals, and the city will need to augment its needs if it is to strive toward justice. The city needs to grow and acquire craftsmen. Adeimantus, the austere poet, suggests that perhaps justice lies in the need these men have for one another, but Glaucon interrupts and accuses the city of being a “city of sows”, and demands modern luxuries for its inhabitants. This anarchic city, though Socrates calls it the “true” or the “healthy” city, is merely a fable. It is unrecognizable and foreign to modern man, a fact which Glaucon so fiercely reminds us. The demand for luxury comes from the spirited warrior type, like Glaucon. By overstepping the boundary of what is merely needed to survive, the men of this city must now claim new land to expand and acquire more money, and now the feverish young city must go to war. Thus, we must determine which natures will be best for protecting the city –we are in need of guardians– and they should be philosophic (lovers of learning), spirited, swift, and strong. However, they must also be educated and this education requires the city’s founders, Socrates, Glaucon, and Adeimantus, to supervise the story-tellers who will educate the city. The rulers must be allowed to lie to the citizens for the benefit of the city and for the demise of its enemies. The guardians must also be educated in music and gymnastics. With respect to the guardians, Socrates proposes creating a “noble lie” to persuade the people of the city and its rulers for the sake of the city. He hesitantly suggests that this “noble lie”, which is an old Phoenician thing, will be used to compel the people toward the good of the city. The founders will convince the people that they are born of the earth, fashioned by a god, and reared into a kind of caste system. Some will be born gold, others silver, and bronze –leaders, guardians, and craftsmen. Again, the just city is dependent on a kind of lie, or at least an admittedly false theology. Faith is critical to justice, at least for the city as a whole, even if that faith is untrue. Lastly, private property will be abolished, and anyone can enter any room at any time, thus eliminating the challenge posed by Glaucon with the parable of the Ring of Gyges. No one will have invisibility or privacy.
At this point, Adeimantus interrupts Socrates and demands an apology on behalf of the guardians, as they will surely be unhappy, even though the city belongs to them, and they shall not share in its fruits. He notes an imbalance in the distribution of goods within the city. However, Socrates responds in kind by claiming that their quest is for the happiness of the whole city, not merely of one particular portion of it. Therefore, justice is concerned with the whole, and by proxy its parts. Thus far, with Adeimantus, Socrates has not explicitly denied that justice may be found in man’s need for other people and in the concern for the happiness of the whole city. In general, Nature assigns its fair share of happiness to each individual. Their health and happiness depends on the city as a whole. At any rate, the key to this communistic city is its education, which must be preserved without deviating from the laws, to form good and noble souls. The purpose of education is to mold souls. Thus, the city is established and the founders’ job is complete, though the future legislators will continue to revise and improve particular laws, always believing they are getting closer to finding the limit of wrongdoing, when in reality they are merely cutting off the heads of a hydra, creating new problems while attempting to solve old ones. Now, Glaucon interrupts again and reminds Socrates that what he was originally tasked with doing was to find justice, himself, without coming to its aid. Justice must be defended for its own sake. Therefore Socrates proceeds with Glaucon and begins by identifying the “four cardinal virtues”, as defined by later medieval generations: wisdom, courage, moderation, justice. If the city is rightly founded, it will contain all four of these virtues. Therefore, the trio searches together in the hopes of locating wisdom, courage, and moderation in the city: wisdom is found in the small ruling part of the city, courage is found sufficiently for this discussion in the power and preservation of the rearing of the guardians, and moderation is found to be an accord of “the worse” and “the better” and it stretches throughout the city to make the weak stronger.
Suddenly, Socrates spots justice –a virtue which has been rolling around in front of them the whole time. Justice is the practice of minding one’s own business and not behaving as a busybody. For each person practicing his own function of the city, this is what allows for all other virtues to come into being and once having come into being, it provides them with preservation (433a-433c). Justice is ever-striving toward the image of the early anarchic city, the city of sows, though it can never, in actuality, return to such a state. The meddling of the three classes in the city (busybodies) would cause the greatest harm to the city, while the minding of each one’s business does the greatest good for the city. However, before they can wholly conclude this inquiry and agree upon this definition of justice, Socrates recalls the original parallel that was created between the just city and the just man. They had founded the city in order to have a better look at justice. Now that they have located justice within the city, and need to put it to the test, they must again consider justice in one single man, and the parallel caste-system within a man’s soul: gold, or ruling; silver, or spirited; and bronze, or knowledgeable. The tripartite soul depends on this notion of justice Socrates haas discovered and it is ruled by wisdom, courage, and moderation; or else its opposites. Consider the example of a man conflicted internally, Socrates recalls a story of Leontius and his struggle over which part of the soul will rule –moderation or desire? In concluding this definition of justice, Socrates claims that minding one’s own business does not apply to external affairs, but rather only to those that are internal. He does not allow the three parts of the soul to fraternize and compete, but rather they unite to become one whole soul, one composed of many, and harmonizes and rules itself rightly. According to this definition, Socrates says that injustice would be a kind of meddling, inharmony, and rebellion. Virtue would be a certain health, beauty, and good condition of the soul, while vice is a sickness, ugliness, and weakness. Therefore the attempt to complete the parallel between city and soul has been finalized at the close of Book Four, though we may be tempted to ask Socrates how honest he is in this assessment, as he proceeds to identify the many soul types. He says there are as many different soul types as there are regimes: five soul types and with each soul type comes a complementary regime. Are we persuaded by Socrates’s proposed mirror between city and soul?
Socrates was about to discuss four forms of badness, relative to each remaining regime, when Polemarchus suddenly interrupts and grabs the cloak of Adeimantus. The two of them, plus the votes of Glaucon and Thrasymachus, force Socrates to further discuss the ownership of women and children in common. On the question of women, they will be considered on par with men in war, gymnastics, music, and all other things. Women will be equal to men. Children will be held in common, as well. Whether or not this restriction is only to be enforced upon the guardians is left unclear. As the discussion unfolds, Glaucon asks Socrates whether or not this city can actually come into being, or is it merely a city in speech? Socrates responds by noting that unless philosophers rule as kings, the city will never rest from its ills. This illumination is important. It causes a new discussion to unfold: the nature of the philosopher – a desirer of learning, a lover of wisdom. A philosopher loves wisdom in the same way that erotic men are drawn toward beautiful youth, lovers of wine are drawn toward the drink, and a lover of honor is drawn to become a lieutenant or general. This conversation is not of eros. All men desiring things are drawn to the whole, not the part. A philosopher is desirous and ravenous of every kind of learning, to better understand the whole. This is his eros. However, the activity of the philosopher requires the acquisition of knowledge. Therefore, what is knowledge? What is the difference between knowledge (episteme) and right opinion (doxa)? The problem of knowledge is also discussed most notably in Plato’s Theaetetus and Meno. At any rate, there are three stages of the love of learning: ignorance, opinion, and knowledge –the latter two are the most problematic. Opinion is fleeting, though one may accidentally hit the target with a right opinion occasionally, but knowledge is permanent. It is is dependent upon being and not becoming. As such, a distinction comes to light between to be and not to be, the famous problem of Hamlet, and the Philosopher’s concern is in the light of the things that have being. Perhaps it is important to note: midway through the dialogue, that the conversation has now moves to the nature of the philosopher.
The philosopher comes to light as one who is concerned with what is, the things that do not exist in the world of generation and decay. The philosopher requires a strong memory. This is the nature of the philosophic type, as part of his defense. Socrates’s praise of philosophy, his defense of philosophy, is questioned by Adeimantus who interrupts to note that not in speech, but in deed, does the philosopher become odd and perhaps vicious, or else completely useless to the city. How can philosophers rule if they are either odd or wholly useless? Socrates invokes an image. A shipowner may seem useless as he cannot row the ship, steer the ship, or any other particular skill, but the shipowner must pay attention to things that may seem useless, like the seasons and the stars. Similarly, the ship of state requires a stargazer who may guide the city. But it should be remembered that all things decay, and all great things are at the risk of falling. Philosophy is the handmaid to the city, though the philosophers may never become rulers. They are natural owners of the city, not the guardians. Although, there is a natural tension between philosophy and politics. The philosopher dwells upon the ideas in the realm, or on the things that are, and he has little time for the petty squabbles of men in the city, and this tension is partly why the city in speech shall not ever come into being and the philosophers shall not ever rule. Glaucon interrupts, and Socrates discusses the ideas as a realm not unlike geometry. Socrates sets down four affections in the soul for Glaucon: intellection, in relation to the highest, thought in relation to the second, trust to the third, and imagination to the last.
In Book VII, and when speaking to Glaucon, Socrates delivers the famous “Allegory of the Cave”. He likens human education to men living like slaves in a cave with a long tunnel at the back. Other men carry artifacts that make shadows on the wall. All their lives, the masses of men are chained to the floor and they see the shadows and believe in the shadows as truth. However, if one man is released, he is brought up to the realm of the sun. This educational activity will have to be forced as an act of compulsion –a man will have to be dragged up out of the cave. It would take his eyes time to adjust to the light of the sun. He will consider himself happy and pity the others in the cave. But if he is to go back down into the cave and reclaim his former spot chained to the floor, the others would surely mock his claims and kill him. The job of Socrates and Glaucon as founders is to permit the right education for the philosophic types, for the sake of the whole good of the city. Education is primary.
The next book, Book VIII, returns to the discussion that Socrates initially began at the beginning of Book V, before he was interrupted. Recall, that it was concluded by Glaucon and Socrates that the regime ruled by the philosophers is the best regime, but it is followed by four other forms of badness, four regimes in successive order of decay. They are as follows: Aristocracy with decays into Timocracy, then Oligarchy, Democracy, and lastly Tyranny. Socrates discusses the different soul types for each corresponding man. Adeimantus interrupts and says that the Timocratic man is not unlike Glaucon, a claim which Socrates rebuts. Each soul type is discussed at length: the Timocratic man is a lover of honor, victories, and is warlike and stubborn; Oligarchic man is a rich ruler while the poor have no part in the ruling offices and the concern of money-making is primary; Democratic man is a man of many colors, beautiful to look at and diverse, obsessed with all things being equal and is a busybody, containing all other regimes, as the Democratic man wanders aimlessly following his every desire; and lastly the most pleasant regime leaves itself vulnerable to the the greatest of all evils –the Tyrannic man– who incites faction against those who have wealth in a democracy and pretends to be gracious and gentle while gaining control of the law for his own vengeful machinations. He is a terrible savage. The following book discusses the rise of the Tyrant in detail and Glaucon answers his own initial question (by declaration from Socrates), that the just man is happiest, and the unjust man, most unhappy, thereby refuting the troublesome claim of Thrasymachus that injustice is preferable to justice in Book I.
Once this question has been answered, Socrates attempts to return to the connection between city and soul. Just as the city is divided threefold, so will the soul be divided: the wisdom-loving part, the victory-loving part, and the gain-loving part. The relationship between the three is determined by which is superior, and dependent on a gravity-based cosmos, in which a soul can recognize what is located above and what is below. The good man keeps a harmonized regime in his soul, and Socrates speculates that perhaps there is a pattern laid up in heaven for the man who keeps his own regime, and does not worry about any other, thus minding his own business and not becoming a busybody, as the democratic man is prone to become. Recall this was a part of the initial claim made by Cephalus at the outset.
Lastly, in the final book of the Politeia, Socrates returns to the question of the poets. How did we return to the question of the poets? Recall they were banned from the city for being untrustworthy. The mimetic art has been reiterated as inferior, it is a distraction and a false mirror of the ideas. Also it fosters and arouses feelings of pity, pain and pleasure, as in the case of Homer. In the discussion of regimes, two are most associated with the base desires of man –democracy and tyranny. Both encourage eros, and the tyrant is eros incarnate. Leo Strauss claims that eros is the idea which Socrates abstracts from in the Republic, which is the opposite of the abstraction in the Symposium. The Poets praise eros over and against the activity of the philosopher. The prudent legislator may learn a great deal from the poets, as the poets know best the nature of the passions which the law attempts to regulate. At any rate, in seeking a solution to the ancient quarrel between poetry and philosophy, Socrates reconsiders the banishment of the poets, and he leaves the door open for poetry. Poetry may be allowed back into the city if it can justify itself on the basis of argument. Perhaps only hymns to the gods should be allowed back into the city, or perhaps Socrates reinvents poetry for the sake of the good and for the sake of the city. He reinvents poetry, apportioned toward the ideas, a philosophic poetry, and therefore a more just form of poetry. He ends the dialogue with a praise of the rewards that may come to those who live a life in accord with virtue. Socrates reorients Glaucon, who now looks at Socrates with wonder, as he delivers a tale of the immortality of the soul. Glaucon is scared and in need of reassurance –he is worried– not unlike Cephalus at the beginning of the dialogue, about the tales of life after death. Socrates delivers the Myth of Er, an account of the immortality of the soul. Er was a soldier killed in battle, but his body did not decay, and when he came back to life on the pyre he told a remarkable story of the penalties and rewards for those who behave justly or unjustly in life, and the consequences. However, the soul is immortal and the determination is left to man, himself, not the gods. The closer one gets to the ideas, the higher he rises. Thus, Socrates ends this dangerous discussion by reintroducing poetry and reorienting its focus by depriving it of its natural proclivity for eros. Socrates reaffirms Glaucon’s supernatural beliefs and also reassures his fears, while presenting a strangely impious story in the Myth of Er. By now, the sun is rising after a rigorous discussion about justice which has continued throughout night. Despite Socrates’s initial eagerness to depart from the Piraeus, he was both compelled and persuaded to stay at the home of Cephalus by promises of dinner and entertainment in the form of a horseback torch-race –promises which go unfulfilled.
The teaching of the Republic regarding the nature of justice exposes to us the nature of the city, and the city can only be made intelligible when its limits are made perfectly manifest. Therefore it is sufficient to raise the question of the whole, and understand the imperfect exposition of the Republic. We reside within the city, and from within the city we inquire into the nature of justice. Justice is trans-political, as are all virtues and ideas, yet the curious and problematic case of justice is that it is both the pre-requisite and also the idea toward which the city is always striving. Justice is the nature of the city. It is the condition upon which the whole of the city, and the people within it, rely. The healthy city is the just city, and justice is the virtue upon which all other virtues are dependent, in both the city and the soul.
For this reading I used Allan Bloom’s essential translation of Plato’s Republic, as well as Leo Strauss’s The City and Man and his lectures.