Plato's Study Guide

Plato's REPUBLIC

BOOK I

1: The Conversation with Cephalus (329a-331d): How does the conversation between Cephalus and Socrates evolve into a dialogue about the nature and definition of "justice?" What is the definition of justice proposed by Cephalus? How is the definition evaluated? What is wrong with defining justice in terms of always telling the truth and paying one's debts? What sort of definition do you think Socrates is looking for?

2: The Conversation with Polemarchus (33ld-336a):

Putting trust in Simonides: What is implied in the introductory remarks by Polemarchus? [One should understand that quoting famous poets in ancient times was practically akin to quoting scripture in the modern era.)

The Craft Analogy: is living a just life analogous to a craftsman's knowledge and capacity to realize a prescribed end? What role does this analogy play in the dialogue between Socrates and Polemarchus? (332c-334c). Notice that there is no mixture yet between the various crafts under discussion. What does this imply about the "craft" of justice? Is justice not something that might mix with the other crafts? How would the discussion be affected if justice were allowed to mix with the other crafts?

After the discussion of justice as a craft, Polemarchus reiterates his faith in the definition attributed to Simonides: "justice is to benefit one's friends and harm one's enemies" (334b). [The issue here concerns how to determine what is right. It was commonly assumed that to determine what is "right" is to arrive at a proper conception of what is "just." But what if our sense of "right" and "wrong" is dictated by pragmatic considerations? Would it follow that our sense of justice should also be determined by the force of pragmatic considerations? Should we be suspicious of positions that define right and wrong from a pragmatic standpoint?]

Friendship and "Friendship": "When you say friends, Polemarchus, do you mean those whom a man believes to be helpful to him, or those who are helpful even if they do not appear to be so?" (334c) What is the nature and significance of this distinction? Is Meno's aporia relevant to this discussion? How do you decide when someone is to count as a "true" friend?

Justice as Human Excellence / the Proper Function of the Just Man: "Is it [ever] the [proper function] of the just man to harm anyone at all?" (335b) To harm something, even your enemy, is to contribute to the deterioration of that entity's excellence. If one accepts that justice is itself a human excellence, then, as Socrates is quick to point out, "men who are harmed necessarily become more unjust" (335d).

But how can someone practice justice to bring about injustice? As it is never the function of heat to cool things, so we must recognize that it is never the function of a just man to harm someone. Thus it cannot possibly be the proper function of a just man to harm his enemies. So Simonides could never have said that it is just to help your friends and harm your enemies, could he! For a wise and blessed man such as he would be incapable of such a falsehood! It must be the teaching of some tyrant out to ruin the reputation of a wise man! [What's going on here?]

Enter Thrasymachus, the proponent of tyranny: "Give us your definition, Socrates." But don't call it "needful" or "advantageous" or "beneficial" or "useful." [What do you make of this qualification? What do you make of the response by Socrates?]

3: The Conversation with Thrasymachus (336b-354c):

"My dear man," responds Socrates, "how could one answer, when in the first place he does not know and does not profess to know, and then, if he has an opinion, an eminent man forbids him to say what he believes? It is much more seemly for you to answer, since you say you know and have something to say" (337e-338a). [Is Socrates just baiting Thrasymachus, or is he making a legitimate point?]

Might makes Right: "I say that the just is nothing else than the advantage of the stronger. Well, why don't you praise me?" At least Thrasymachus knows what sort of response is appropriate. [Cp. Meno's three attempts to define virtue.] Justice, he points out, is "the same in all cities," namely, "the advantage of the established government, and correct reasoning will conclude that the just is the same everywhere, the advantage of the stronger" (339a). So it comes down to advantage after all! If one can make laws that are advantageous to one's position in life, then one will excel at the practice of justice. But rulers are not infallible. They can easily propose laws that are not in their best interests. Furthermore, it is proper for those who are subject to these laws to obey them, even if this means acting in ways that are not conducive to the best interests of the ruler. But this would mean that "it is just to do not only what is to the advantage of the stronger, but also the opposite, what is not to their advantage" (339d).

The issue here emphasizes the need to distinguish between appearance and reality: But do you mean the apparent advantage of the stronger, Thrasymachus? Or do you mean the real advantage, whether apparent or not? Well, it would be absurd, he responds, to think it is right to make laws that are advantageous only in appearance, when we could make laws that are truly to our personal advantage. It's just like the

doctor who mistreats a patient, isn't it? We would say that the knowledge of his craft "left him," causing him to make a mistake, which means that "at that time he is not [truly] a practitioner of his craft" (340e). Indeed, Thrasymachus proclaims with unbridled confidence that "no craftsman, wise man, or ruler is ever in error at the time that he is a ruler in the precise sense" [If Thrasymachus is right about this, it would imply that justice is not always "tied down." But it would also seem to imply that justice results from correct guidance. Even so, his position leaves unanswered the question of whether it is ever right to direct the actions of others for one's own personal benefit, as when one seeks to exercise power for personal benefit.]

3a: The "Proper Art of Ruling": Socrates begins his evaluation of this position by drawing an analogy to the captain of a ship. As a "ruler of sailors," the captain is where he is "because of his craft and his authority over sailors." Furthermore, Socrates points out, there is a benefit the captain can provide to his fellow sailors (who are said to be the chief objects of his concern). Just as the craft of medicine seeks to further the advantage of the body (and not the practitioner), so too will the true captain seek the advantage of his "flock." Indeed, Socrates concludes, "no other ruler in any kind of government, insofar as he is a ruler [in the proper sense], seeks what is to his own advantage." He seeks only that which is "to the advantage of his subject, who is the proper concern of his craft; it is this that he keeps in view: all his words and actions are directed to this end" (342e).

To which Thrasymachus replies: "You obviously believe that rulers in the cities, true rulers that is, have a different attitude towards their subjects than [a shepherd] has towards [his] sheep" (343b). [It may be that they do, but should they?] Unable to contain himself any further, Thrasymachus offers his coup de grace:: "You must look at it in this way, my naive Socrates: the just is everywhere at a disadvantage compared with the unjust" (343d). (Does Thrasymachus have a point here? What are his reasons for thinking this? Why might someone be sympathetic to this point of view? Is Thrasymachus contending that we ought always to strive for a life of perfect injustice, or is he claiming that it just happens to be in our best interests to be perfectly unjust (given the prevailing character of human society)?]

"And so," Thrasymachus concludes, "injustice, if it: is on a large enough scale, is a stronger, freer, and more powerful thing than justice and, as I said from the first, the just is what is advantageous to the stronger, while the unjust is to one's own advantage and benefit (344c). [Compare this with the original contention (at 338c, and reiterated at 341a -- where he claims that "the just is, as I said from the start, to do what is advantageous to the stronger."). How do these definitions differ? What might account for the refinement at 344c? Has Thrasymachus made his point in a convincing fashion? Or has he merely presented us with a strong conviction that stands, like a hypothesis, in need of final confirmation?

3b: The Fundamental Point at Issue (343a-345e): What is the "proper art of ruling," and what is more beneficial in the long run: a life aimed at the target of perfect injustice, where the power to deceive and manipulate others is so well-refined that you have the reputation for being a perfectly just individual? Or a life aimed at the target of perfect justice, where one aspires to rule, not in one's own self-interest, but in the interests of the whole "flock?" (If Socrates is correct, the issue here is a personal issue, for we are deciding on "a whole way of living," the manner of living that would be "most profitable" to us in the long run. The challenge before us is to evaluate what it would mean to plan our lives in accordance with a framework of values consistent with the views advocated by Thrasymachus, and to compare this with an evaluation of what it would mean to plan our lives in accordance with a framework of values consistent with the views of Socrates and Plato.)

"For my own part," Socrates contends, "I tell you that I do not believe that injustice is more profitable than justice, not even if one gives it full scope and does not put obstacles in its way" (345a). (What do you make of this contention? Has Socrates defended himself? If not, then we must view this position as a hypothesis in need of justification.]

Is Thrasymachus right that the life of the unjust man is preferable to that of the just man? Is it "high-minded foolishness" to seek a just course in life? Is it "good judgment" to seek an unjust course? Is injustice perhaps a virtue based on the wisdom that is necessary to secure profit and advantage at the expense of others? (348a-349a). Or is there something about justice that serves to bring about "a sense of common purpose and friendship?" (351d) Doesn't injustice promote "factions" between parts of a whole, factions that work against the goal of functional excellence? But is it true that the unjust man is "at odds with himself and not of one mind?" Even if this were so, would it override the advantages of injustice?

3c: Function and Excellence of Function: Having established to his satisfaction that injustice serves only to create dissension and conflict between people attempting to function collectively, Socrates concludes that the presence of injustice in a soul will always disrupt the potential for collective achievement. If there is any collective achievement, it must surely be due to the presence of justice, as when thieves band together to practice their craft in a collective fashion: for as Socrates points out, "they could not have kept their hands off each other if they had been completely bad, but clearly they had some justice [in their relations with one another] which forbade them to wrong each other and their enemies at the same time" (352d).

Is Socrates right about this? If so, what does it imply about the relative advantages to be gained from a life of injustice (where one must work alone in pursuit of private goals) and a life lived in pursuit of perfect justice (where one stands to gain from the leverage of common purpose and collective harmony)? [Is the issue still a "one-to-one" comparison? Or has the advantage of the unjust man encountered a new, and richer, challenge -- from the kind of advantage gained by individuals who work in tandem to preserve and enhance their collective leverage and security in life? It seems as though the just man is no longer destined to stand alone in his quest for personal advantage, whereas the unjust man must stand alone, to the extent that he practices his craft in accord with the ideal of perfect injustice. Is it fair, when weighing the relative merits of the just and unjust lives, to allow justice to "gang up" on injustice in this way?]

Should we be convinced at this point that the just man is really better off than the unjust man? Is he really happier? "I think it is clear even now that he is better off," Socrates points out; "but we must look into this further, for the argument concerns no casual topic, but one's whole manner of living" (352d). [Has this point come up before? (Cp. 329d/344e)]

Quality of eyesight and quality of life: To support his intuition that the just man is better off than the unjust man, Socrates develops an analogy between the function of eyes and the function of souls (352e-353e). What do you take to be the point of this analogy? Does it make sense to think of blindness as a deficiency of functional capacity? If so, does it make sense to extend this concept, by analogy, to the vice of ignorance and, ultimately, to injustice itself? What sense does it make to think of perfect vision as an "excellence" of functional capacity? What sense does it make to extend this concept, again by analogy, to the virtues of wisdom and justice? What does "vision" have to do with the capacity of a human soul to excel at its proper function in life?

4. Key Themes from Book One: At the conclusion of Book One, Socrates points out to Thrasymachus that the discussion has slowly moved away from the issue of greatest importance: inquiry into the nature of justice evolved into an investigation of whether justice is a vice or a virtue, and whether it is something we aspire to from ignorance or because we are wise. This in turn gave way to an examination of the claim by Thrasymachus that injustice is more profitable and advantageous than justice. In the process, several points were developed about the importance of striving for "justice," but in the end, these points are of no use to us unless we understand the nature of justice itself. "For, when I do not know what justice is, I shall hardly know whether it is a kind of virtue or not, or whether the just man is unhappy or happy" (354c). (Are we not left in the same position at the end of the Meno? The concluding remarks of Plato's Meno are a natural extension of the distinction (developed earlier in thedialogue) between "true opinion" and "knowledge." Is t here a similar distinction at work behind the scenes of the concluding remark to Book I of the Republic? In what way do the conclusions concerning "justice" and "virtue" parallel one another? What is the general point?

4a.Striving for a "Just" Manner of Living: Socrates warns us against accepting any of his conclusions about why we should strive for justice until we can establish a proper conception of the nature of "justice itself." Does this imply that we should ignore or reject the points he has developed along the way about the importance of striving for justice? What if Socrates were given the chance to inquire further into the nature of justice? What if he were to define its true nature? Wouldn't this position us to defend or undermine the integrity of his conclusions about why we should strive for a "just" manner of living?

Here are some summary themes and questions related to Book I to keep in mind as you read on:

The "craft" analogy: is it appropriate to view justice as a "craft?" What is the chief strength of this analogy? What is the chief weakness (relating to mixture)?

The "proper art" of ruling: what is the basis for defending the claim that a true ruler will always see his advantage tied inseparably to the advantage of the whole? On what grounds, if any, will Plato be able to undermine the force of the idea that the best rulers are those who excel at the art of deception and perfect injustice?

Perfect vision and justice: Is the "just" manner of living really analogous to the functional perfection of eyes? Once defended, how does this analogy help to establish the proper telos of the human function? What role does the concept of "vision" play in the argument?

 

BOOKS II / III / IV

1: The Challenge Posed to Socrates (357a-367e):

At the outset of Book II, Glaucon and Adeimantus pose --and challenge Socrates to refute -- a stronger version of the position advocated by Thrasymachus in Book I. Glaucon asks Socrates if he is satisfied with merely "appearing" to have persuaded Thrasymachus and the rest that the just manner of living is superior to the unjust way of life: "or do you want truly to convince us that it is better in every way to be just than unjust?" (357b) Glaucon, playing the role of devil's advocate, proceeds to restate and defend the position underlying the notion (advocated by Thrasymachus) that perfect injustice is the best means to the good life.

He begins by distinguishing between three different "kinds" of good. What is the difference between "a kind of good which we welcome not because we desire its consequences but [simply] for its own sake: joy, for example," and the kind of good "which we welcome for its own sake and also for its consequences: knowledge, for example?" And how does the third kind of good differ from these? The third kind of good is desired, not for its own sake, but only for "the rewards and other benefits" that can be expected from a given course of action. [Working for a living, going to the dentist, studying for an exam, going to college...? Being nice? Being honest?)

Glaucon then asks Socrates where we should put justice. "I would put it in the finest class," Socrates replies, for it is something to be "welcomed both for itself and for its consequences." Glaucon points out that this is contrary to the opinion "of the many" who would put justice "in the wearisome class, [as something] to be pursued for the rewards and popularity which come from a good reputation," but which should otherwise be avoided, as it is a tiresome and disagreeable sort of thing when considered on its own merits alone.

Glaucon points out that he has yet to be persuaded by either position, and admits an eagerness to learn the effect justice and injustice have when present in our souls. He then summarizes the view of the common man toward justice: "those who practice justice do so against their will because they lack the power to do wrong." Given complete freedom to act as we see fit, wouldn't we act for our own interests, even if this meant acting against the interests of others? Give a just person the Ring of Gyges: won't they strive for personal gain at the expense of those with whom they interact? If we were operating with the powers of the ring, would we have any reason to take into account the impact of our actions on others? Why wouldn't we give up our quest for justice, and exploit the advantages of injustice? (cf. 359c-360d)

"When fathers speak to their sons," Adeimantus chimes in, "they say one must be just -- but they do not praise justice itself, only the high reputations it leads to," and they do this hoping their sons will gain the sweet benefits that come to those who acquire the reputation of being a good and just individual (363a). Thus while they stress the importance of being just, parents commonly "lay even greater emphasis on the results of reputation." In this way, the appearance of justice is considered more important than the true reality. As Adeimantus explains, "the advantages said to be mine if I am just are of no use, I am told, unless I also appear so; while the troubles and penalties are obvious." In contrast, he points out, "the unjust man who has secured for himself a reputation for justice" is commonly thought to live "the life of a god." Since "appearance" so easily and forcibly "overwhelms truth and controls happiness," should I not strive to build around me "a facade" designed to present the illusion of a just manner of living to anyone who approaches me? --furthermore, shouldn't I be sure to keep behind this facade "the greedy and crafty fox of the wise Archilochus?" (365b-c) [Can you see why someone might be strongly tempted to hold this position? Have you been in a position where possession of the "Ring of Gyges" might have made a difference in how you acted? Imagine watching someone operating with the power or leverage to practice injustice without fear of recrimination: what would your reactions be to the exercise of that power? What if the powers and actions were yours? Would that change your analysis?]

The Challenge: The challenge put to Socrates is to praise the just manner of living without bringing into play any considerations for the benefits or advantages that come to those who have the reputation for being just. If Adeimantus is right, "no one has ever blamed injustice or praised justice in any other way than by alluding to

the reputations, honors, and rewards which follow justice." The challenge, then, calls for Socrates to defend the intrinsic value -- as opposed to the instrumental value -- of the just manner of living. To defend justice in this manner, Socrates must elaborate on "what the very presence of justice or injustice in his soul does to a man even if it remains hidden from gods and men" (366e). [Here it will not be enough to argue that there are intrinsic benefits to the just manner of living; Socrates must also explain how these intrinsic benefits accrue to us in virtue of our way of life.]

[What sense do you make of the "appearance/reality" distinction implied in the arguments of Glaucon and Adeimantus? Do facades play a role in your pursuit of personal advantage in life? How do you decide when it is enough merely to appear virtuous in the eyes of others, and when it is important to actually be virtuous (even if no one else notices)?]

2: The Search for Justice (368a-444e):

Glaucon's challenge to Socrates calls for an assessment of the impact of the just manner of living on our quality of life. But do we have a definition of justice yet? (In Book I, justice was presented to us as a blend of harmony, wisdom, and the proper art of ruling. Was it not also associated with the perfect practice of one's craft? Allied with the notion of "excellence of function," the concept of justice was closely associated with the ideal of perfection, and identified with the fulfillment of proper function. But why do you think Plato believed that perfect justice is the proper telos of human nature?) To answer the challenge posed by Glaucon, Plato needs to show that justice is manifest in the ideal of perfect human function. But more importantly, he must show how it is manifest. Indeed, he must indicate what it means to say that justice is the crowning achievement of the human enterprise, and he must indicate how injustice operates as an obstacle to human fulfillment.

What then is justice, and what does it have to do with human fulfillment? How are we to go looking for it? As Socrates points out, it is commonly assumed that there is "the justice of one man" and also "the justice of a whole city." If "justice" has a true and stable nature, it will have to exhibit one and the same "form" in each and every case where it is present (whether in the life of an individual or in the institutions of a polis.). So the proper definition of justice would capture the proper limits that "shape" this true and stable nature. Why not look for justice in the city, then? For surely we can focus more easily on the tangible components of an ideal city than on the intangible makeup of a human soul. Perhaps by identifying the essential "mix" of components necessary for a just society we can move, by analogy, to an understanding of the ideal composition (or "constitution") of a human soul. On this assumption, it is proposed that we "first investigate what justice is in the cities, and afterwards let us look for it in the individual" (369a).

2a: Plato's Vision of a Just Society: Plato contends that justice in the polis is thoroughly integrated with, and dependent on, the virtuous character of the guardian-rulers of the society. Thus, in seeking to establish a just society, we would need to pay special attention to the process of choosing and raising the leadership of our society. In seeking to develop a "just" society, we would need, above all, to select "the man whose nature is best suited to guard the city" (374e). For this reason, Plato turns his attention to questions about the proper nurture and education of the ruling element of the ideal city, for he must ensure that the ruling element of this society would be predisposed to guarding the proper interests and values of the city.

Censorship and the Formation of Character: Plato is convinced that we must do what we can "to control the story tellers." They must be persuaded against telling stories that are not conducive to the nurture and development of guardians of the ideal of perfect justice. Since stories are one of the earliest influences in the formation of our character, we must use this opportunity to tell stories that help to "fashion" the minds of the young in a way that predisposes them to a life of virtue (377c). Furthermore, since the young "cannot distinguish what is allegorical from what is not," and since the beliefs they acquire at that age "are hard to expunge and usually remain unchanged," it is "most important" that the first stories they hear "should be well told and dispose them to virtue" (378e). Furthermore, it may be necessary to tell stories that are deceptive or false, in order to turn the young away from the "pathways of vice and injustice" (382c).

[Study this issue carefully!] On the surface, Plato is using his distinction between "true" lies and "verbal" lies to motivate an argument for why it is both important and appropriate to censor the poets. But while the gods may have no use for lies -- however "noble" they might be -- we ourselves may have a very legitimate use for lies, provided they are noble fictions (based on good intentions, and molded by the hand of reason) and not true lies (based on ignorance, or formed under the influence of deception). [What do you make of the distinction between "true" lies and "verbal" lies at 382a-c? Compare this with the discussion of "noble fictions" and the "myth of the metals" at 414c-415d. You might also recall the conversation between Cephalus and Socrates on the issue of keeping promises and telling the truth (331c). What is implied in the power to tell "noble fictions?" Does this make it right to tell them? Do you agree with Plato that we should censor negative influences and tell false stories as a key stage in the process by which we strive to promote aspirations to a life of perfect virtue in our young? But who determines what will count as "perfect virtue?" Has Plato answered this question yet? What sort of answer has been ruled out up to this point in the Republic? What was ruled out in the Apology?]

Why does Plato advocate censorship of the poets? "We shall ask Homer and the other poets not to be angry if we delete these and all similar passages. They are poetic and pleasing to the majority of listeners," he admits, "but the more poetic they are the less they should be heard by children and by men who must be free and fear slavery more than death" (387b). [What sort of slavery would Plato have us fear more than death? What is the connection between poetry and slavery? What might it mean to be a slave to ignorance, desire, or passion? How might poetry contribute to this sort of enslavement of the soul? Is it possible to be enslaved by reason?]

Plato's strongest assault on the poets comes in Book III, when he admonishes them for telling "bad tales about men" in matters of great importance to us: "they say that many unjust men are happy and many just men wretched, that injustice is profitable if it escapes notice, [and] that justice is another's good and one's own punishment" (392b). Once we have discovered the nature of justice, Plato concludes, we will sanction only those stories and poems that are consistent with the idea that justice "is by nature beneficial to its possessor, whether he is reputed to be just or not" (392c).

To support this point, Plato introduces his theory of the relationship between imitation and the formation of character. "Have you not noticed that imitations, if they last from youth for some time, become part of one's nature and settle into habits of gesture, voice, and thought?" (395d, cp. 378e). Because the young pick up so much from watching the behavior of others -- primarily by imitating what they see "working" for those around them -- should we not strive to attain excellence in the craft of censorship? Shouldn't we try to figure out how to remove any influence that might dispose our young to an unjust manner of living?

[What are some implications of an attitude like this? What is required to attain "excellence" at the craft of censorship? If we cannot master this competence, what kinds of restrictions should constrain the practice of censorship? What will legitimize the criteria we appeal to when setting out to determine whether or not a censorship practice is appropriate?]

[What about the issue of violence on television? What about our political right to free speech, or academic freedom? We have not yet encountered the ultimate standards governing Platonic censorship, but it should be clear that his standards will differ from those implied in the American "Bill of Rights," for instance. In fact, isn't there a basic conflict between the Socratic ideal of "self-control" (388d-392) and our modern fascination with personal freedom. How would you describe this conflict? Perhaps the basis for the conflict lies in our respective notions about freedom. For Plato, freedom is an ideal conceived within limits set by Reason; we, on the other hand, tend to conceive freedom in relation to the "will's" capacity for unrestrained choice. What is Plato telling us about the opportunity for unrestrained choice in an environment unburdened by the practice of censorship?]

[Do you agree with Plato that there are intrinsically "good" and "bad" ways to fashion the minds of the young? Do you see any irony in his use of censorship to promote an appreciation for justice in the ruling element of his "ideal" society? Under what conditions, if any, will the end justify the means?) --you should revisit this issue as you read the Allegory of the Cave in Book VII.]

Nurture and the Arts: "The rhythm and the tune must conform to the words" (400d). What does this mean to you? [Compare the reflections on "harmony" developed in Book I. Would jazz music make the cut? What about a song that pulls the listener in more than one direction at a time? What is Plato implying about music and songs of this type? Is he suggesting they have the power to incline us toward a life of fragmented values and character? Would that be a good reason for censoring them? (Cp. 424b-425a!)]

Nurturing a Desire for Harmony: The young must aim at harmony in everything they do, if they are to excel at their proper function (400e). They can find this in music, painting, sculpture, weaving, architecture, and any other craft. But they can find the roots of injustice there, as well, for where there is the potential for harmony there is also the potential for disharmony. Why should this be a concern to us? If Plato is right, "unseemliness, poor rhythm, and discord are closely akin to poor language and poor character, while their opposites are closely akin to (and imitations of) a good and moderate character" (401a). For this reason, he argues, we must strive to gain leverage over the artists and craftsmen, "and forbid them to represent, whether in pictures or in buildings or in any other works, character that is vicious, mean, unrestrained, or graceless" (401b). [Would artwork commissioned in Germany during the Nazi era pass Plato's test? What would you look for?]

Developing an Aesthetic Sensitivity: "Nurture in the arts is most important, because their rhythm and harmony permeate the inner part of the soul" (401d). [What do you think Plato means by this? Why might it be important for us to absorb archetypes of rhythm and harmony into the inner reaches of our soul? While Plato may be right in assuming we learn primarily by imitation, we should not overlook the fact that analogy plays an important role in the process by which imitations are "mapped" onto character. Because of this, we stand to gain from exposure to the arts in two ways: we could become inspired to develop the power of artistic creativity; but we could also develop the aesthetic sensitivity we need to pursue a just manner of living. As a result of this exposure, Plato argues, rhythm and harmony can become ingrained in our character, "like a fine dye," perhaps even to the point of withstanding the "detergent" action of pleasure, pain, fear, and appetite (430a). Do you agree with Plato's emphasis on proper nurturing in the arts? What do we stand to gain (or lose) from an appreciation of harmony and rhythm? What do we stand to gain (or lose) from exposure to artistic creations promoting disharmony, imbalance, or anarchy? Do you think Plato is on the right track when he argues that the latter forms of art inspire a "playful lawlessness" that "quietly flows over" into the character and life-pursuits of those who are affected? (424b-e). Might this eventually alter the spirit of contracts, laws and institutions? If so, how?]

2b: Justice and the Ideal "Constitution" of the City: Having conceived a vision of the ideal city, Socrates and Glaucon set out to identify the source and nature of its virtuous character. Socrates points out that if the city has been "rightly founded," it will be "completely good," as it will be in possession of the four cardinal virtues: wisdom, courage, moderation, and justice (427e). Glaucon agrees with Socrates that the Republic would be wise, since its guardian element would possess the capacity for sound judgment. After all, would they not deliberate on matters that pertain to "the city as a whole," and strive always "to maintain good relations both internally and with other cities" (428d)? But how are we to conceive the source and nature of the city's courage? The first thing to note might be the intimate connection between courage and wisdom: The guardians are responsible for the wisdom in the city because they know what to fear and avoid (in the way of bad influences and dispositions). The auxiliaries are responsible for the courage in the city because they act always to preserve the integrity of these beliefs against the solicitations for compromise that all too often accompany our pleasures, pains, desires and fears (429d). Another point to consider is that courage is (at least for the time being) sustained by the force and conviction of true opinions. As Socrates points out, the fine-tuning of the auxiliary's character is aimed at securing a firm loyalty to the guardian element of the city:

What we were in fact contriving was that, in obeying us, [the auxiliaries] would absorb the laws most beautifully like a dye, so that, as they had the right nature and the proper education, their belief as to what they should fear and so on would become fast, and that the detergents which are extremely effective would not wash it out, [--detergents like] pleasure, pain, fear, and appetite. (430a)

[What does this passage suggest to you about the relation between courage and wisdom in the ideal city? Would the same relation be appropriate in a less than ideal city? Is loyalty that is grounded in opinion always a worthy ideal? Or is it worthy only when the opinions that empower the loyalty happen to be true?]

What about moderation? Shouldn't this virtue be understood in relation to wisdom and courage? Socrates points out that moderation is often conceived as a kind of "self-mastery" (430e). "Yet the expression 'self-control' is laughable, for the controller of self and the self that is weaker and controlled is the same person!" So people must mean that there is "a better part" and "a worse part" in each of us (including the city), and that one will exhibit the virtue of moderation whenever the better part is in control of the worse. How then is moderation manifest in the ideal city?

Most of the people in the ideal city would experience a wide range of appetites and pleasures. Only in those individuals who are "the best by nature and [also] the best educated" would we expect to find appetites and pleasures that are "simple and measured and directed by reasoning," having been brought under the control of intelligence and true opinion [431c]. In the ideal city, then, the desires of the "inferior many" must be brought under the control of "the desires and knowledge of the fewer and better," who are, by their nature and training, better suited to rule over the interests of the whole. Thus while the courage and wisdom of the ideal city are found only in particular elements of the population, the virtue of moderation is "spread throughout the whole, among the weakest and the strongest," and is that which "makes them all sing the same tune" (432a). In the final analysis, then, moderation exists in the ideal city to the extent that there is "agreement" between the inferior and superior elements "as to which of the two must rule, both in the city and in each individual." It is agreed that the superior elements will rule: the guardians will be entrusted to make the laws; the auxiliaries will be entrusted to enforce the laws; everyone else agrees to operate within the resulting limits. In this way, the city's character is shown to exhibit a harmonic tension between the virtues of wisdom, courage, and moderation.

But what binds together the working elements of the polis ? What keeps the masses from striving to wrest control away from the ruling elements? What secures the loyalty of the auxiliaries? What compels the guardians to rule in support of the interests of the whole?

Perhaps the key lies in the fourth virtue. "We have heard many people say, and have often said ourselves, that justice is to perform one's own task and not to meddle [in the tasks of] of others" [433b]. Perhaps the presence of "justice" is the key to the appearance of wisdom, courage and moderation in the city. But if justice means that we all stick to our "natural" tasks and do these well, without meddling in the affairs of others, how is this any different from the way things stand in a polis that already manifests the virtues of wisdom, courage, and moderation? What more is there that might deserve to be singled out as an additional virtue, the one we call justice? Does justice come into being only after a factionless unity has been established between the working elements of the whole? If so, why would Plato refer to it as one of the four cardinal virtues? Perhaps we should conclude that justice serves to pull the working elements into line. But what role can justice play in motivating the possibility of a factionless unity? Is there a sense in which justice is both the key to this possibility and the denouement? Why would each element in the ideal city be motivated to pursue its own proper task?

[How does Plato's conception of the proper art of ruling (in Book I) help us to understand the proper relation between Reason, Spirit, and Appetite? What is Plato's conception of the ideal constitution of a human soul? (cp. 444b; also compare the Ship of State parable, which is introduced at the beginning of Book VI (488ff).)]

 

TAKE-HOME ESSAY EXAM ON PLATO

Part One

Write a concise response to each of the following questions. Each response should take the form of a complete, well-ordered paragraph. Each paragraph should reveal and develop a central concept emphasized in the reading. State the point succinctly before developing its key elements. Please do not paraphrase or quote from the text if you can avoid it.

1. What role does the ring of Gyges play in the challenge posed to Socrates by Glaucon and Adeimantus at the outset of Book II? (Study 357b-361d and 365a-367e before you write.)

2. What is the key to the argument in support of the practice of censorship (as discussed in Books II and II)? (Study 376c.5-378e, 382a-d, 387b, 389b-c, 391d-392c, 395c-396a, 398a-b, 399e-402a.)

3. What is the point of the myth of the metals? (Study 412b-415d.)

4. How does justice relate to the three parts of the soul and their corresponding virtues? (Study 351b-354d and 439a-444d.)

Part Two

Write an essay that addresses one of the following sets of questions. Identify an organizing theme to bring unity to your discussion. The essay should not exceed 1250 words (or roughly 6 double-spaced pages) unless you are making significant progress and need more space to finish up.

Option I: How does Plato's conception of the proper art of ruling (in Book I) relate to his conception of the proper relationship between reason, spirit, and appetite? What is the relevance of the parable of the ship (487e-489d)? What motivates his concern about the damaging impact of negative environmental influences on character formation? Do you agree that censorship of negative influences is essential to establishing a "natural order" in human beings? Why do you think Plato's theory of character development emphasizes exposure to geometry, music, and poetic stories?

Option II: What do you make of Plato's contention that all our actions are done "for the sake of the Good" (505e)? If we are already in pursuit of the Good -- that is, if all of our actions are always already directed at securing progress toward a life that is truly to our greatest advantage -- then why so much emphasis on character development and the importance of proper models and targets? How is the cave allegory relevant to this point? And what do you make of Plato's program of study to "turn the soul around" (523a-527d and 531d-534e)?