PHIL 101 MICA Different Philosophers Offer Varying Definitions of Morality Essay
In your paper, you have to accomplish two things.
First, explain why, according to Socrates, would it be unwise to think one’s own group has all the goodness and the rest of society isn’t so good? In your answer, be sure to think about the mistakes that blind loyalty can lead to, and the long-run consequences to dividing up society into good and bad sides. In other words, why is Polemarchus wrong about justice? After all, typical people in a fight for equality and opportunity are eager to harm their opposition, just as Polemarchus would. Make sure that you answer this question: If Socrates is right, and Polemarchus is wrong, how should a group struggling for justice respond to injustice done against them?
Second, explain how Kant’s categorical imperative applies to this question: Is it morally right for every child to be vaccinated against bad diseases like measles and mumps? Be sure to explain how you imagine a world in which that moral rule is the rule for everyone. In that imagined world, would everyone prefer that this rule is followed by everyone? Based on your answer to that question, describe how you reach your final answer: would Kant agree, or disagree, that it is morally right for every child to get vaccinated? Then describe how you would explain to people against child vaccination, using only reasoning based on Kant’s ethics, why their opinion can’t be morally right.
Book 1 of Plato’s Republic
It begins with Socrates and Glaucon leaving a multicultural religious festival. Glaucon is
They are stopped by Polemarchus and Adeimantus (Plato’s other bother) and others and
brought back to Polemarchus’ father’s home. Upon arriving Socrates greets the father,
Cephalus is elderly, and appears to have the wisdom associated with old age.
Cephalus is rich, and enjoys the high social status that comes with prosperity.
Cephalus is traditional, and upholds the old customs and rituals with great pride.
Cephalus tells Socrates about his taking greater joy in the pleasures of a reasonable and
orderly life, than in the youthful bodily pleasures of sex and drink. Unlike most old people
who are miserable because they can no longer enjoy pleasures of the body, Cephalus enjoys
the way that old age “brings great peace and freedom from such things” (329d)
Cephalus asserts that his better character allows him to live better in old age. Socrates asks
if his wealth is actually responsible. Cephalus suggests that it is a bit of both: having money
has allowed him to remain secure in his good character; he hasn’t been poor and tempted to
do wrong deeds or be unjust to others. Cephalus also explains that old people worry about
punishment in Hades for their unjust deeds, but he doesn’t owe anyone anything, so he has
no fear (330e-331b)
Cephalus has offered an idea about justice: Justice is honesty and returning what is owed
This mention of justice leads Socrates to investigate what exactly is justice. He questions the
idea of justice given by Cephalus with a counterexample: Person A borrows a weapon from
person B. Later, B goes crazy and wants the weapon back from A. [Presumably, B wants the
weapon to go harm some other person.] If A refuses and deceives B in the process, A is
stealing the weapon and being dishonest to B. Would A truly be unjust to B, in this situation?
Socrates says No – The right thing for A to do is to refuse to give back the weapon (331d).
The idea of Cephalus must be incorrect and deficient.
What is a better idea of justice?
Cephalus gives up, and excuses himself. He won’t debate philosophy with Socrates, and he
has no more ideas. He represents Tradition, and he clings to the simple idea of Justice that
wealth and status endorses. It is a businessperson’s idea of Justice – the settling of a bargain
or a contract. Still, Cephalus gets something right about Justice:
Justice requires ‘repayment’ from those who have taken something.
Let this simple idea be labeled as “Retributive Justice.” Sounds familiar? This is the same
idea as “eye for an eye” justice: the wrongdoer must suffer the same wrong done to
Polemarchus inherits the argument from his father. He agrees with Socrates that it would be
unjust for Person A to return the weapon to B, because that would not be good for B.
A and B are friends, and friends are good and just to their friends (332a). Polemarchus
endorses this idea of justice:
Justice is doing good for one’s friends and doing harm to one’s enemies
Who are one’s friends? In the world of Polemarchus, his friends are the people like him and
his family – the people that inhabit his privileged world of high social status and money.
Who are enemies? All the people who are different: the other classes of society and anyone
envious of money and status who might try to steal some for themselves.
Still, Polemarchus also gets something right about Justice:
Justice is doing good to good people, and doing harm to bad people.
Let this idea be labeled as “Procedural Justice.” Sounds familiar? Before handing out any
justice, figure out who is good, and who is bad. Retributive Justice and Procedural Justice
should work together: First, use a procedure (like a trial) to determine who is truly bad, and
how bad, and then deliver retributive justice only to those bad people.
Polemarchus doesn’t really understand the value of procedural justice. Socrates points out
(333-334) how Polemarchus only knows how to be blindly loyal to his “friends” – all the
people like him, with his status and position in society. This is “class loyalty” – be loyal and
good only to people in your own social group (and be mean and bad to anyone else, who is a
potential enemy). This loyalty is appropriate during warfare – it is the soldier’s virtue
(332e). Socrates keeps wonder what the just person is good for. What is a just person able
to do, that an unjust person cannot? Polemarchus adds that his idea of justice works in
business with making and keeping contracts (333a) – this sounds like his father’s
Socrates suggests that all the just seems to be good for is, according to Polemarchus,
guarding the tools of expert crafts when those crafts are not being used. Since with other
arts, the practitioner knows how to do harm as well as good – so the doctor knows not only
how to cure a person but also how to make a person sick – it follows that the art of justice
works the same way. That is, if justice is the safe-guarding of things that are not in use, then
the just person is also capable of stealing things that are not in use. So, according to
Polemarchus’ idea of justice, Socrates concludes justice would allow stealing from enemies
in order to benefit friends. This is also going on in the business world: those who already
have power from wealth use that power to take even more money from the poor. That is
what the world of Polemarchus is like: the aristocrats keep their high status and privilege
by preventing the ‘lower’ classes from fairly gaining more wealth for themselves. The rich
simply assume that other parts of society aren’t as good and just as they are.
This is the prejudice of privilege: We, the superior, are superior in every way. Other parts
of society are inferior to us, and inferior (and less good) in every way. Therefore, we justly
deserve to stay on top. Other social groups have to look out for themselves. If you are poor,
you stay loyal to others like you who are poor, too. Each social class is loyal only to itself.
Each member of a social class can think like Polemarchus: “My social class consists of people
like me, who deserve my loyalty, and I will be good to them, and I will try to harm my
enemies from other social classes.”
Socrates exposes this way of thinking to Polemarchus (334). Socrates points out that blind
loyalty to one’s friends can’t always be just, because there may be bad people among one’s
friends. Polemarchus says that justice is doing good to people who appear to be your friends
and harm to those who appear to be your enemies. But Socrates is quick to point out that
we all make mistakes, so it’s possible that someone you believe to be your friend really is
not your friend because he’s a bad person, and that it’s possible that someone you believe to
be your enemy really is not your enemy because she’s a good person. You would sometimes
be benefitting a bad person, and at other times you would be harming a good person, which
contradicts Polemarchus’ original idea of justice. There probably are bad people among
your “friends”, and there probably are good people among one’s “enemies”. Socrates then
argues that if a person is just according to Polemarchus, that person may try to do injustice
to those who haven’t done anything wrong. Polemarchus sees these points, and he doesn’t
want to say that it could be just to harm those who aren’t unjust. So, he is forced to agree
with Socrates. They agree (335a):
Justice is doing good to those who are truly good, and doing harm to those who
are truly bad.
This is much better definition of Procedural Justice. This kind of Justice requires both
Goodness and Knowledge: the desire to do good and protect good people, and the need for
accurate knowledge about who really is a good person, and who really is a bad person.
Socrates then points out (335) that being Just and being Good are tightly connected. He
argues as follows:
Harming someone makes them worse than before.
When people become worse people, their virtues are worsened or weakened.
Justice is a human virtue.
Therefore, when someone is harmed, that person becomes more unjust.
A true virtue makes people better and more virtuous.
True justice can only make people better and more virtuous (justice could never
make anyone more unjust).
7. Therefore, the just person would only try to benefit people and never really
That’s the tight connection between Justice, Knowledge, and Goodness: The truly just
person has the knowledge to know how to deliver justice to bad and unjust people without
making them less good and more unjust. We have reached Socrates’ idea of justice:
Justice requires making all people more Good, and more Just.
This kind of justice is “Social Justice”. Social Justice seeks the betterment and improvement
of all people, never the degradation of anyone. Justice requires doing good and lifting people
up towards Goodness and Justice. Social Justice ranks higher than the other kinds of justice:
Social Justice controls how Procedural Justice should work, and Procedural Justice should
control how Retributive Justice should work.
Polemarchus is finally forced to agree with Socrates (335e) but he doesn’t realize the bigger
implications. His social class – the aristocracy – survives on top only by keeping the other
social classes down, using dead tradition, aloof authority, uncaring privilege, blind prejudice
and loyalty, and coldhearted meanness towards all other parts of society. Occasionally, a
few rich people are charitable towards the poor, but the wealthy class as a whole never
really wants the lower classes to become as Good and Just as they can afford to be. Instead,
the rich point at the poor as bad people, who have to be bad because they are poor and
never will get better. This is the prejudice of privilege again. Social Justice stands firmly
against all class privilege.
Thrasymachus interrupts the conversation (336b). Who is Thrasymachus? He was a
professional “sophist” – a “wise man” of Greece – who offered lessons to wealthy young men
who want to be important in the politics of their city. There were many sophists wandering
between Athens and other Greek cities, offering their political wisdom and lesson in public
speaking to whoever could pay them. Thrasymachus refuses to announce his own view of
justice, until the other young men agree to pay him some money later. [Socrates was proud
to say that he never took money for his teaching – he had a day job anyways.]
According to Thrasymachus,
The just is the advantage of the stronger
This is the “Might Makes Right” view of Justice. Thrasymachus says that every society has a
government – those who hold the power to make and unmake the laws for that society. This
group of rulers always designs laws which somehow favor that same ruling group. “a
democracy sets down democratic laws; a tyranny, tyrannic laws; and the others do the
same” (338e). For example:
A King (the tyrant) wants laws that somehow help to keep himself in power, and
prevent anyone else from getting enough power to raise a challenge.
An aristocracy (the wealthy) wants laws that somehow help keep them in power,
and prevent any other part of society from gaining enough wealth/power to raise a
A democracy (the whole population except the wealthiest and most tyrannical)
wants laws that somehow keep them in power, and prevent rich people and tyrants
from raising a challenge.
In general, the first job of any ruling power is to keep that power – otherwise, it is subjected
to the rule of some other part of society (not good for them!). Notice how Thrasymachus’
view is just like Polemarchus’ original view, but applied to the level of social groups
competing for political power rather than just status and privilege in general. Each kind of
ruling power is blindly loyal to itself and regards the other potential powers as bad enemies.
Socrates points out that even tyrants can make mistakes – they can turn out to be wrong
about which laws help keep them in power. [In fact, most tyrants are good at getting
supreme power but not good at keeping that power for very long. Most tyrants can’t even
rule well enough to keep their subjects from revolting.] Thrasymachus admits that a ruling
power can make mistakes. But he says that the genuine ruler only rules by intelligently
using justice (Socrates can agree with this first part) and justice is only what is good for the
ruler (Socrates doesn’t agree with the second part).
Thrasymachus has admitted that the genuine ruler must be someone knowledgeable about
justice and someone who practices the skills of ruling well to promote justice. Of course, he
only means his kind of “might makes right” justice here. Socrates can agree that the genuine
ruler must be knowledgeable about justice, so there must be a skill set, a craft, to ruling
intelligently with justice (340-341).
Socrates now raises a trap for Thrasymachus (341d-242).
1. A person knowledgeable in a craft is an expert in that craft, who holds authority
over those who need that craft. (A doctor tells patients what to do to get healthy.)
2. An expert applies one’s craft in order to benefit those who need that craft. (A doctor
prescribes what is good for the patient’s health.)
3. For any craft, an expert in that craft rules over those who need that craft only in
order to benefit them. (Experts never rule only to benefit themselves.)
Socrates has forced Thrasymachus into a contradiction. Thrasymachus agrees to these two
A. A ruling power only rules according to what serves its own best interests, not
the best interests of the ruled. (This is “just” for Thrasymachus)
B. A ruling power is expert in the craft of ruling (as Thrasymachus admits), which
only serves the best interests of the ruled (due to #3 above).
A and B cannot both be true, so Thrasymachus is trapped in a contradiction. His view of
justice must be abandoned. Exercising power in the name of justice can never be what is in
the interests of the stronger. Justice is only to the advantage of everyone, especially the
weaker. (This is Socrates’ view all along – social justice.)
Thrasymachus responds. The craft of ruling is different from the other crafts. The craft of
ruling is like the craft of shepherding (343b).
According to Socrates’ view, the shepherd rules over the sheep for their benefit – but this
isn’t really true! The sheep may like the shepherd, and benefit from the shepherd’s care for
a while, but eventually the plump sheep are picked out from the herd and killed for meat.
Shepherds take care of sheep for their own good, and the good of the master who owns the
sheep. A shepherd is only a good shepherd if he can profit from taming and protecting the
sheep until they are slaughtered for the master. In the real world, this is what politics is all
about, according to Thrasymachus.
The people are all sheep. They don’t understand that they are protected by laws long
enough for them to be taken advantage of. People would be better off in the wild without
rulers, but it’s too late for that nowadays, and everyone lives where there are laws made by
rulers. Ordinary people are obedient and naïve. They obey the laws which aren’t really good
for them, but only good for the ruler.
From taxes to benefits, to public office to private honors, the unjust person has it all: power,
status, fame, and wealth. The just person ends up with little or nothing. In fact, the
completely unjust person – the true tyrant – is happiest; whereas the completely just person
only gets an unhappy life. That’s what Thrasymachus expects. The supreme ruling power is
above the law, because it makes the law, and the law can exempt the ruler. [Hint – in any
country, figure out who can change any law – that’s the real supreme ruler. For example, in
a democracy, who can change any law?)
For Thrasymachus, whoever has supreme power is the strongest around, by definition (if
there was a stronger power, that power would take over). Strength is a “natural” virtue –
either you have enough, or you don’t – what you are given by birth for your natural talents
controls your fate, for Thrasymachus. That means that nature decides, ultimately.
This “natural justice” ranks higher than the other kinds of justice:
Social Power (the strong rule)
Procedural Justice (the weak obey the Law)
Retributive Justice (the weak suffer for any rebellion)
“Justice” is simply the exercise of the Social Power exercised by the supreme ruler.
Thrasymachus must think that the craft of ruling is a special kind of skill only needed by the
Socrates must disagree that the craft of ruling is unlike most every other craft (356-347). He
insists that the goal of any craft isn’t just to give money or status to the expert (although fair
wages make sense). Also, if Thrasymachus’ view was right, everybody would eagerly want
to rule, but most people only want authority to help others and to make sure no one
incompetent is allowed to be an authority. In fact, contrary to Socrates, Thrasymachus really
does think that everyone does want to be a ruler, from vanity, pride, or lust for power. That
is why competition to be ruler is so fierce and often violent. Whoever is the ruler power
holds power because of a violent conflict that proved who really is stronger. The strongest
end up ruling (until overthrown by a stronger power), and the strongest impose “just” laws
on everyone else that only benefit the ruling power. Might makes Right.
Socrates has to directly deal with Thrasymachus’ claim that it is better for someone to live
unjustly (as a ruler) than to live as an ordinary just person. Three questions arise:
1. Which is a virtue, justice or injustice, and which the vice?
2. Which is mightier (more powerful and more profitable), justice or injustice?
3. Who is happier — the just person or the unjust person?
According to Thrasymachus, injustice is a virtue and justice a vice. Following this view and
the claim that the unjust person is greedy, the just person only gets what he deserves,
whereas the unjust person gets not only his share but all other shares. In fact, the just
person wants only what is his and his alone, not what belongs to others. The unjust person,
however, wants and takes not only what is his and his alone but also what belongs to others.
Socrates raises an argument against Thrasymachus (349-350) which goes back to
Thrasymachus’ claim that the ruler will be knowledgeable about how to practice the craft of
ruling. For any craft, those who are genuine experts will tend to practice the craft in a
similar way – no ‘expert’ would instead try to practice the craft in an individualistic manner.
No expert would try to simply “outperform” the others by doing things very differently.
Experts tend to converge on the same knowledge – if one expert is a little better at
something, he or she teaches the others, so they can do it better to. No expert in a craft tries
to privately practice the craft without sharing it with other experts. No expert uses skills to
take advantage of other practitioners, or to take advantage of those who need the craft’s
help. Only someone ignorant of a craft would try to “outdo” and take advantage of the
However, the ideal ruler according to Thrasymachus must do all of these bizarre things, as
the ruler always rules only for his or her own benefit. Socrates concludes (350b) that
Thrasymachus’ ruler must actually be ignorant and not virtuous. Furthermore, since
wisdom is a virtue (of course), then justice must be a virtue and beneficial for everyone, and
injustice must be a vice and bad for everyone.
To examine the question of which is mightier, justice or injustice, Socrates imagines a group
of criminals – it could be an entire city, an army, pirates, or robbers, just as long as it is a
group committed to doing something unjust. He asks if it would be possible for such a group
“to accomplish anything if its members acted unjustly to each other” (351c). It doesn’t seem
so, for cooperation is required for them to accomplish anything, be it just or unjust. But if
they’re acting unjustly toward one another, there is no cooperation but distrust and
suspicion. At 351d, Socrates observes that “it’s injustice that produces factions, hatreds, and
quarrels among themselves, and justice that produces unanimity and friendship.” So even
for a group of criminals to do their unjust act, they cannot be totally unjust: they need
justice within the group in order to act.
Moreover, injustice produces hatred not only between groups and men, but also within
oneself. Injustice makes action impossible for a person because he is at war with himself:
there is a civil war within his very soul. Injustice, Socrates argues at 352a, “will make him
unable to act, because he is at faction and is not of one mind with himself, and second, an
enemy both to himself and to just men” as well as the gods. In other words, to be mighty and
powerful is to be able to get things done. Since injustice prohibits accomplishing anything,
and justice makes it possible to achieve things, justice is mightier and more powerful than
Now we come to the last of the three questions about justice. Who is happier, the just or the
Socrates points out that things, like eyes and ears or pens and pencils, all have functions.
The function of eyes is vision, of ears hearing. So anything that does its function well we call
virtuous; if something does not function well but poorly, it is vicious or bad. What about the
soul, where one’s character lives? What are its functions?
Ruling and deliberating seem to be proper functions of the soul; but above all the purpose
or function of a soul is living. So a bad soul rules badly. A good soul deliberates well. And
since ruling and deliberation are not only functions of the soul but have to do with justice, it
seems that justice is also a virtue of the soul. So if a good ruler and a good deliberator are
characteristics of a just soul, and if to do such functions well is to be virtuous, then a just
soul is a virtuous soul. And if the primary function of a soul is to live, a virtuous soul must be
a soul that is living well. For the Greeks, the word for living well is eudaimonia, which is
often translated as happiness. However, we need to be careful. Today, especially in America,
to say that you’re happy suggests a happy-go-lucky cheerfulness that is not the same thing
as living well, though being cheery may be something that a person who is living well does
from time to time. Perhaps a better way of thinking about the sense of eudaimonia at work
here is to think of it in terms of flourishing, just as a plant that is living well – is being
virtuous – is one that flourishes, especially in comparison to a plant that isn’t living as well.
So it goes with human beings. And that is just what Socrates is arguing.
The just soul is wise and knows how to act. It not only knows how to act it is able to act and
to act well: it can achieve its noble goals in both word and deed. And in being able to
function as it should – to be virtuous in knowingly achieving its noble goals in both word
and deed – such a soul flourishes, it lives well: such a person is happy.
Thrasymachus appears to have been defeated. His ideal ruler cannot really know how to
rule, or even how to be happy, if that ruling power is misused to make everyone else worse.
Socrates has clarified his own position.
The highest justice is social justice, which promotes the good of every
person and all society. Ruling is just if it is for the benefit of the ruled.
A ruling power is expert in the craft of ruling only if that power rules in the
best interests of the ruled. Therefore, the expert ruler is just and delivers justice.
But Socrates does not seem to be happy with himself at the end of Book I. He compares
himself to a glutton at a banquet, just walking around taking a bit of this, and a bit of that,
without any care for order or presentation – and especially for getting to the main feast or
purpose of this banquet. We may have established that justice is virtuous, is mightier than
injustice, and that the just person is happier than the unjust. But we still do not know what
justice specifically consists of in the real world (what would be truly just laws?), and we
don’t know how to find expert rulers or how to put them in power.
Book 2 and 3 of Plato’s Republic
Glaucon wants a better argument. Making Thrasymachus look foolish isn’t the same thing
as proving that justice leads to living a good life.
Let’s recall the difference between Thrasymachus and Socrates:
Social Justice (justice promotes the good of all)
Procedural Justice (justice is knowledgeable)
Retributive Justice (justice equalizes matters)
Social Power (the strong rule)
Procedural Justice (the weak obey the Law)
Retributive Justice (the weak are kept weak, no equality)
To get the inquiry going again, Glaucon asks Socrates if justice is an intrinsic good, an
instrumental good, or both (357c-e).
To call something an intrinsic good is to say that whatever that thing is it is good in and of
itself. An example would be health: a person values her health not because of any good
benefits that health may bring (though those are nice too) but because it is simply good to
be healthy. Life is simply better.
An instrumental good is something that may not be intrinsically good but is definitely worth
having or doing because of the good or beneficial effects it brings. For some people,
exercising daily may not be something they enjoy in and of itself, but they do it anyway
because it has the effect of making them healthier. Some goods are both intrinsically and
We have seen how Thrasymachus thinks that justice is actually bad for everyone except the
ruler, and justice is simply an instrumental good for the ruler.
Socrates argues, contrary to popular opinion, that justice is both an intrinsic and
instrumental good. That is, it is good in and of itself to be just, and that being just brings
good consequences too. Most people, Glaucon observes (359a-b), believe justice to be an
instrumental good. They find the practice of justice (being honest and fair, obeying all the
laws) to be drudgery. It is work they would rather not do but are obliged to do for the
consequences of doing it outweigh those of neglecting justice.
Glaucon then proposes to revive Thrasymachus’ argument and embolden it. He’ll present
the position in the strongest and most thorough way. Once he has done so, it will be up to
Socrates to do what nobody else has done in Glaucon’s experience: praise justice and do so
persuasively. Socrates agrees to the challenge.
Glaucon offers his own explanation for the origins of injustice and justice. Humans, he
argues, are naturally unjust. They find great reward in practicing injustice. However,
humans also recognize that being the victim of injustice is among the greatest evils. Out of
this tension between the benefit of doing injustice and the suffering of being a victim of
injustice grows justice. That is, justice is the result of people coming together to form
agreements in contracts and laws that are a compromise between the benefits and
sufferings of injustice. It is one thing to practice injustice and get away with it; quite another
thing to be the victim of injustice without being able to take vengeance. So justice as
expressed in the laws curtails injustice by threatening greater harm than the benefits of
doing injustice. Justice only works, however, if people actively and consistently practice it.
This makes it a form of drudgery because we would all rather be doing injustice, but we
need to remind ourselves regularly that suffering injustice is far worse than doing injustice
Glaucon tells the myth of the Ring of Gyges 359d–360b to illustrate his point that injustice,
not justice, is the natural way humans are. Glaucon tells a tale about a shepherd who came
across a hole in the earth after a storm and earthquake opened it. Inside he found a tomb
with a skeleton with a ring on its finger. The shepherd took the ring and wore it. While at a
meeting with other shepherds, he happened to turn the ring on his finger: “when he did this,
he became invisible to those sitting by him, and they discussed him as though he were away.
He wondered at this, and, fingering the ring again, he became visible. Thinking this over, he
tested whether the ring had this power, and that was exactly his result: when he turned the
collet inward, he became invisible, when outward, visible. Aware of this, he immediately
contrived to be one of the messengers to the king. When he arrived, he committed adultery
with the king’s wife and, along with her, set upon the king and killed him. And so he took
over the rule.” (360a)
Glaucon uses this myth to develop further the contrast between the just man and the unjust
man. He asks that we imagine there being two such rings of invisibility. Give one to the just
man, the other to the unjust man, and see what happens. Glaucon describes (360b–d) just
what would happen: “if there were two such rings, and the just man would put one on, and
the unjust man the other, no one, as it would seem, would be so adamant as to stick by
justice and bring himself to keep away from what belongs to others and not lay hold of it,
although he had license to take what he wanted from the market without fear, and to go into
houses and have intercourse with whomever he wanted, and to slay or release from bonds
whomever he wanted, and to do other things as an equal to a god among humans. And in so
doing, one would act no differently from the other, but both would go the same way. And
yet, someone could say that this is a great proof that no one is willingly just but only when
compelled to be so. Men do not take it to be a good for them in private, since wherever each
supposes he can do injustice, he does it. Indeed, all men suppose injustice is far more to
their private profit than justice. And what they suppose is true, as the man who makes this
kind of an argument will say, since if a man were to get hold of such license and were never
willing to do any injustice and didn’t lay his hands on what belongs to others, he would
seem most wretched to those who were aware of it, and most foolish too, although they
would praise him to each others’ faces, deceiving each other for fear of suffering injustice.
So much for that.”
Glaucon has expanded Thrasymachus’ position. Maybe Thrasymachus is right: everyone
desires power over others, but most everyone is not strong enough to keep that power. The
next best option is equality – at least each person won’t be ruled badly by someone else.
Social rules and laws are about justice as equality. However, this legal justice only works if
law-breakers get procedural and retributive justice. A person has to get caught doing
injustice. However, if a person were given the abilities of a god, then that person would do
whatever he wanted, without a care for the consequences. And what that person would
want is everything to belong to his, regardless of whether it is rightfully his or not. Get rid of
the possibility of getting caught doing injustice, and that is exactly what all people would do.
Justice is not only too much work, it’s also a stupid thing to do if you could get away with
Glaucon then suggests that Thrasymachus is right: the completely unjust person is truly
happiest and that the just person is truly wretched.
The completely unjust person is the supreme ruler, who only seems to be just. The people
regard him as the most just person, because he makes the Law, and the people think that
the Law is justice. (Foolish people!). The reality is that the supreme person is above the Law
and makes Law only for his own personal benefit, not for justice, and that is why the
supreme ruler is the happiest (362b–c).
The complete just person is the obedient common person, who actually seems to be unjust.
Always tame and obedient, this just person will never get ahead in life, and won’t
accumulate much or gain a fine reputation. If this person actually dares to resist the Law
and fight for true justice, he or she will be a criminal and gain a reputation for being unjust.
Glaucon describes the fate of the truly just person: “the just man… will be whipped; he’ll be
racked; he’ll be bound; he’ll have both his eyes burned out; and, at the end, when he has
undergone every sort of evil, he’ll be crucified and know that one shouldn’t wish to be, but
to seem to be, just.” (361e–362a)
Adeimantus joins in. He points out how everyone wants the reputation for justice to get
ahead in life. Parents tell their children to develop reputations for justice because of the
rewards it brings. The rewards in human life include money, power, good marriage, good
business, and so on. People do not care if you are really just (it is nearly impossible to tell),
so they instead look only for the signs, and the signs can be faked.
Adeimantus continues by noting how poets and other writers and speech givers talk about
justice and injustice. At 363e–364c, Adeimantus says, “With one tongue they all chant that
moderation and justice are fair, but hard and full of drudgery, while intemperance and
injustice are sweet and easy to acquire, and shameful only by opinion and law. They say that
the unjust is for the most part more profitable than the just; and both in public and in
private, they are ready and willing to call happy and to honor bad men who have wealth or
some other power and to dishonor and overlook those who happen in some way to be weak
or poor, although they agree they are better than the others. But the most wonderful of all
these speeches are those they give about gods and virtue. They say that the gods, after all,
allot misfortune and a bad life to many good men too, and an opposite fate to opposite men.
Beggar priests and diviners go to the doors of the rich man and persuade him that the gods
have provided them with a power based on sacrifices and incantations. If he himself, or his
ancestors, has committed some injustice, they can heal it with pleasures and feasts; and if he
wishes to ruin some enemies at small expense, he will injure just and unjust alike with
certain evocations and spells. They, as they say, persuade the gods to serve them.”
What is a young person to think, Adeimantus wonders, after hearing such tales about the
nature of justice and injustice? At 365b–c, he states the matter succinctly, “For the things
said indicate that there is no advantage in my being just, if I don’t also seem to be, while the
labors and penalties involved are evident. But if I’m unjust, but have provided myself with a
reputation for justice, a divine life is promised. Therefore, since as the wise make plain to
me, ‘the seeming overpowers even the truth’ and is the master of happiness, one must
surely turn wholly to it.”
But getting away with injustice isn’t easy. It’s easy to commit it, but it’s almost as easy to get
caught. The benefits only come from doing injustice if you can get away with practicing it in
the first place. Adeimantus considers what the unjust would say to such a complaint at
365d–366a. “‘Nothing great is easy,’ we’ll say. ‘But at all events, if we are going to be happy
we must go where the tracks of the arguments lead. For, as to getting away with it, we’ll
organize secret societies and clubs; and there are teachers of persuasion [– Sophists –] who
offer the wisdom of the public assembly and the court. On this basis, in some things we’ll
persuade and in others use force; thus we’ll get the better and not pay the penalty.’
Adeimantus is suggesting that in order to get away with injustice, the unjust work behind
the scenes, setting up secret societies, special schools, pay off both priest and god through
the wealth they’ve acquired through the appearance of being just while really doing unjust
things. And if that doesn’t work, the unjust will simply use force to get their way.
Adeimantus concludes this argument for the supremacy of injustice over justice by noting
not only that nobody has ever given praise for justice as an intrinsic good but only as having
instrumental value: the only good that comes from being just is the rewards it brings –
rewards that can come from only having the reputation or the appearance of being just.
Socrates agrees to investigate what justice is, for all society and for a single person.
However, to investigate anything within a single individual can be a daunting task.
Whenever someone needs to look at something small, it can be useful to first examine a
larger model, and then return to the small thing for a better look. Socrates says that a city (a
‘polis’) is the large model and an individual person should be looked at afterwards.
Moreover, just as justice is a property of a soul, it’s also a property of a city. So if we can find
justice in the polis, then we should be able to find it in the individual soul.
There is no better place to begin than the beginning, it seems, so that is where Socrates
begins his investigation of the city at the beginning of a city. At 369b, Socrates says a polis
“comes into being because each of us isn’t self-sufficient but is in need of much…”
Continuing at 369c, Socrates says, “when one man takes on another for one need and
another for another need, and, since many things are needed, many men gather in one
settlement as partners and helpers, to this common settlement we give the name city…”
Compare this origin of the city – it grows from people working to mutually benefit each
other – to the origin story that Glaucon provided about justice having to arise from a state of
In both cases, there is some need that must be met. For Glaucon, the need is to keep other
people from doing injustice to each other. It is what we would call today a matter of rational
self-interest. This view on the origins of law is taken up by a great student of ancient
philosophy, the modern philosopher Thomas Hobbes. Writing during the English Civil War
in the 1600s, Hobbes imagined that human beings before living together in civic life were in
a state of nature. It was a competitive war of all against all, where you were always trying to
get the better of everyone else. Hobbes argued that even though each human is unique, we
were all equal when it came down to one important thing: we’re all equally able to kill each
other. Some of us might do it through brute force, others through smarts, and still others
through getting others to help us out temporarily. This state of nature, where we all had
equal rights to do whatever it takes to survive and get whatever it is we can get, did not
make for a good life. Hobbes described life in this state of nature as “solitary, poor, nasty,
brutish and short.” To get out of this terrible way of living, Hobbes argued, humans agreed
to live together, to cooperate instead of compete. This agreement – a social contract –
outlined the responsibilities of the State to do whatever it could to protect the right to life
that naturally belonged to humans. All other rights – like the right to do whatever it takes to
get the better of another, the right to take advantage of others, the right to do what the State
now sees as unjust – were given up in exchange for protection by the State.
Socrates’ origin of civil society, of the city, differs in an important way. While born out of
necessity, it is not out of the hyper-competitive rational self-interest that Glaucon (in
defending Thrasymachus) and Hobbes described. Socrates simply recognizes that in order
for a human being to live a basic life, certain bare necessities need to be met. Necessities like
food, shelter, clothing, shoes, and basic medicine. He then considers what would be better
for a person: to live alone and try to be a jack of all trades, spending four hours every day
doing one of these five jobs: four hours for farming, four hours for building and maintaining
a shelter, four hours for making and repairing clothes, four hours for footwear and its
upkeep, and four hours for fixing any illness or injuries, leaving just another four hours for
sleep? Could someone develop enough mastery of each of these basic tasks to just get by? It
doesn’t seem likely. Moreover, since we are all different, some of us may be, by our very
natures, more predisposed to one skill over another. Some of us might be better at and
enjoy farming more than medicine, and vice versa. Still others would find their skills strong
and rewarding in housebuilding, weaving, or shoemaking.
If that is the case – that a person is better off pursuing one specific art, craft, or skill, and
that people are better off cooperating by sharing the products of their special skill in
exchange for the products of others’ special skills – then the principle to establish a city is,
as Socrates states at 370b, “one man, one art” – or as I will also put it: one person, one job!
Each person then performs the one task to which his nature is most well-suited. The jobs
Socrates initially offers include: farmers, housebuilders, weavers, cobblers, and doctors. But
none of these jobs can make the tools that are necessary for doing them well, so we also
need carpenters, smiths, herdsmen (for the city not only needs sheep and cattle to eat, but
cattle and horses with which to plow and haul). The city is also unlikely to be completely
self-sufficient, so it will need to import some goods. But in order to import, the city needs to
export in trade. And this also means that more farmers and other craftsmen are necessary,
not only to meet the need of these new workers in the city, but also to meet the demands of
export. These new workers, the merchants and sea merchants, are not the only necessary
ones for this city. There need to be tradesmen within the city to handle the exchange of
goods between farmers and carpenters, for example. It seems silly to have a farmer spend
all day in the market trying to sell his goods, when there could be someone else to do it for
him, like a grocer. So we have tradesmen to handle this exchange of goods. But this
exchange would be made even easier if there was a common unit of exchange – a currency –
which means the city also needs bankers. The merchants, the tradesmen, and the bankers
all practice skills that are more or less intellectual ones; they don’t have a great demand on
physical strength. But what about those people who have great physical strength but not
much intellectual heft? Those are the physical laborers who earn their wage by helping
more specialized craftspeople to move heavy things or provide brute strength. (372a–c)
Socrates finds this city quite pleasing. This is a simple life of simple pleasures. This city
would stay very traditional. The grandchildren would live their lives the way their
grandparents did, and probably practice the same crafts. Change would be bad. There’s no
need for much education, or fancy entertainment. Life is a rural, traditional society can
remain pretty much the same for thousands of years. In this kind of simple city, there would
be a kind of nice natural justice, and everyone’s needs would be met equally. (Not the mean
and violent natural justice of Thrasymachus.)
Glaucon doesn’t mind tradition, but he hates the idea of a city having no wealth and no
luxuries. There wouldn’t even be doctors or teachers. (No philosophers needed – and no
politicians needed!). Where are the finer things of civilized life?
Socrates takes Glaucon’s point seriously. Socrates says (372e) that the simple city he just
described is “the true city.” What Glaucon wants instead is a “city with a fever” – an
unhealthy city. To produce all the luxuries of a fancy city, many more jobs have to be
created and filled. No longer are the basic necessities being met but new jobs, from dessert
chefs to actors and playwrights, from jewelry makers to dancers, are popping up
everywhere. There’ll be more teachers for not just the basics but these new skills. And more
servants like wet nurses, governesses, maids, barbers and beauticians. And more cooks for
not just the traditional meals but for the new and exotic. And these new workers still need
their basic needs met, so more of the original craftspeople are required. And both these new
luxury workers and these new basic-necessity workers need their luxuries and basic
necessities, so the city continues to grow and grow.
More doctors will become necessary, not only for the growing size of the city, but because
these luxuries also bring greater injury and disease. Furthermore, more land will become
necessary because the city’s original farmland won’t be enough to sustain the growth of the
city. This leads Socrates to conclude (373d) that we “must… cut off a piece of our neighbors’
land, if we are going to have sufficient for pasture and tillage, and they in turn from ours, if
they let themselves go to the unlimited acquisition of money, overstepping the boundary of
the necessary.” In other words, Socrates has identified the origins of war: expanding control
of territory. (Not the fight to see who has the strength to rule.)
This need for more land and resources brings with it a need to get new land and resource as
well as to protect the land and resource the polis already has. To meet this need the city
must grow some more. The city needs a warrior class, a professional army, not a citizen
army. This proposal is especially surprising to Socrates’ interlocutors because Athens did
not have a professional army. What made an Athenian a citizen was his being wealthy
enough to afford heavy armor that he would wear in battle. Thus, the citizens would be
called upon to practice the art of warfare only when there was actual war. Still more
shocking is the fact that Sparta, Athens’ great enemy, had two main classes, the citizenwarrior class and the helots, or slaves. The helots did everything, from farming and cooking
to housebuilding and housekeeping. The citizens did only one thing: prepare for war. Once
or twice a year, the elders would have the youth practice killing, not by having them kill
animals, but by having them go on a surprise killing spree, which would also have the effect
of thinning out the slave population.
Socrates, of course, does not appeal to Sparta’s regime in his argument, but Plato knew his
audience would see the parallel. Socrates only points to the principle upon which the city is
being constructed: one person, one job. He imagines how any skill would be executed if it
were only a hobby or taken up that very day. Such a person would not do a very good job at
that skill on his first day or without sufficient experience and knowledge of the craft. So
goes with warfare.
Since warfare is more important than most other tasks – after all, would you rather have a
poorly made chair or an easily-defeated army? – these warriors if they are to be good
guardians of the city need not only more time to develop their skills but also have a specific
nature that makes them most well-suited to the task of guarding the city. Socrates
approaches the question of the nature of this guardian class by drawing on an analogy with
At 375a, Socrates says, “surely both of them [young dogs and well-born young men] need
sharp senses, speed to catch what they perceive, and, finally, strength if they have to fight it
out with what they have caught.” Be it man or dog, courage is necessary too. Moreover,
Socrates points out, the most defining characteristic of any animal, if it is to fight well, is
spirit, or heart – the Greek, thumos, indicates rage or anger, of which the heart is the seat. At
375ab, Socrates asks, “Haven’t you noticed how irresistible and unbeatable spirit is, so that
its presence makes every soul fearless and invincible in the face of everything?” In other
words, if the city’s army is to be successful, then its soldiers cannot be afraid but be ready to
fight. Spirit (courage) is the quality that such men must possess if they are going to be good
But this ease, if not downright eagerness, to fight is problematic. The benefits of having
warriors who are eager and willing to kill enemies are obvious; but this same trait, this
spiritedness, can threaten the rest of the city, the people whom the warriors are to guard
and protect. These guardians must be both spirited and gentle. Yet how can this be
possible? Gentleness and spiritedness appear to be opposed to one another. How can rage
and tenderness be a trait of the same soul? It seems impossible. “Yet,” Socrates says at
375c–d, “if a man lacks either of [these traits], he can’t become a good guardian. But these
conditions resemble impossibilities, and so it follows that a good guardian is impossible.”
Indeed, who guards the guardians? Who watches the watchmen? How is it possible to give a
special authority to few, namely the authority to prevent wrong-doing to the city, both from
outsiders and from within, without those few people abusing such powers? Consider any
experience you may have with the police or soldiers.
Socrates has the answer to this paradox. Dogs are often friendly and gentle to the people
with whom they are familiar, but unfriendly, even hostile, to strangers, to people with
whom they have no experience. From this seemingly innocuous point, Socrates then
declares that guardians must not only be spirited but also philosophic (possess some
wisdom). Socrates argues that a well-trained guardian can be gentle and kind to those
whom he knows – his fellow citizens – while also being hostile and spirited to those of
whom he is ignorant, his enemies from foreign lands. Socrates concludes at 376c that “the
man who’s going to be a fine and good guardian of the city for us will in his nature be
philosophic, spirited, swift, and strong.” These are the key virtues: Wisdom, courage, and
Since being philosophic is a central trait of a guardian, then the guardian is a lover of
learning. Since the job of the guardian is of the greatest importance, Socrates finds it fitting
to consider in detail the education of the guardian. The education begin with the youth. The
young are exposed to gymnastics and physical training, but music comes first. What sort of
stories, songs, and so forth should children hear? Since children are so easily shaped by
what they experience, the city should regulate who gets to speak with the children, what
gets said to the children, and all other matters of influence upon the children. Whoever
teaches the children can control the destiny of the whole society. “Music” represents the
instilment of a love for harmony. The child that loves harmonious music and tales about
harmonious people, then that child will grow up to be an adult that loves social harmony
The city rulers are thus in the business of regulating speech: censorship is endorsed for the
sake of the children. What shall be permitted? Consider the ideals of this city, and especially
of the guardian class. The rulers want the guardians to recognize their fellow citizens as
friends, not enemies, so all music should promote that ideal. Since this ideal means that
there should be no infighting among the citizens, especially at the hands of the guardians,
any story that has as its heroes or main characters individuals who are regularly in conflict
with one another is a story that must be banned.
Socrates then systematically goes through the Greek religion. He would forbid the telling of
any legends about the gods depicting them as less than perfectly harmonious and virtuous.
The laws of Socrates’ city would strictly regulate all music, poetry, storytelling, theater, and
religion in the city.
Socrates puts forth two rules that all poets and other makers of music (in this expanded
sense) must follow. First, gods must always be presented as they truly are, which is good
and perfect. The second rule is that the gods, since they are good and perfect, must never
deceive. There would be no cause for a god to lie. Furthermore, a genuine god can never
change (no deviation from perfection) and never needs anything from humans. All the gods
can truly do is benefit humanity.
These rules are significant. The inference to be made from them is that the Athenian rituals
and stories of the gods, all of which embrace the diversity, conflict, and regular
transformations of gods, these traditional beliefs do nothing but corrupt the youth.
[Remember the criminal charges brought against Socrates: he was accused of impiety
towards the gods and the corruption of the youth. Plato has now explained that only the
traditional religion is responsible for corrupting the youth, and those gods don’t deserve
Book III begins with the continued analysis of musical (harmonious) and virtuous
education. In order to encourage courage, especially in the face of death, no tales about the
afterlife that make people fearful are permitted. Socrates generally advocates courage,
order, and control, for two specific goals: making war and making peace. So the only music
allowed in the city are of two types: those that promote warfare and those that promote
peace. Among the former are military marches that keep soldiers unified and in the same
ordered rhythm, as well as funeral marches that honor those who fearlessly died in battle,
so that others will not hesitate to follow if necessary. Peacekeeping music must be similar to
war-making music because peacekeeping similarly requires unity and order. But instead of
a marching beat, the music must promote a sort of tranquility or friendliness in the soul.
Socrates further describes the diet and physical regimen of the guardians. They must play
similar roles for the whole city: Socrates argues (412a) that this feverish and growing city
needs an overseer to cultivate and guard against disease or disharmony. The best overseers
must be the very best of the guardians in every sense. Not only must they have the greatest
physical prowess, they must have the greatest self-control, courage, and love for the city.
For they must recognize, remember, and never deter from the conviction that what is best
for the city is best for themselves and vice versa. Ruling over a city is very much like being a
doctor attending to the city’s overall health.
Who is really qualified to become an expert ruler?
To identify such an individual, Socrates describes (413c-414a) the tests and trials children
must go through in order to become guardians. For instance, at 413d-414c, Socrates says,
“these men when they are young must be brought to terrors and then cast in turn into
pleasures, testing them far more than gold in fire. If a man appears hard to bewitch and
graceful in everything, a good guardian of himself and the music he was learning, proving
himself to possess rhythm and harmony on all these occasions – such a man would certainly
be most useful to himself and the city.”
And what does Socrates say about the very best? “And the one who on each occasion, among
the children and youths and among the men, is tested and comes through untainted, must
be appointed ruler of the city and guardian… Isn’t it then truly most correct to call these
men complete guardians? They can guard over enemies from without and friends from
within – so that the ones will not wish to do harm and the others will be unable to. The
young, whom we were calling guardians up to now, we shall call auxiliaries and helpers of
the rulers’ convictions.”
Auxiliaries = the young men with proven virtues and strengths to be the military.
Guardians = the finest older men from the military who have expertise to rule.
Having made this distinction between the guardians and the auxiliaries, Socrates then
moves to a theme briefly introduced earlier in the discussion of music. At 414b, Socrates
asks if there is “some one noble lie to persuade, in the best case, even the rulers, but if not
them, the rest of the city.” Socrates is now fulfilling his promise to control the city’s religion.
Job one of the religion is to encourage the guardians to do their job. It doesn’t matter if this
myth is true – that is irrelevant. Does it WORK?
The Noble Lie that Socrates tells is also known as the Myth of the Metals (414d-3).
Highlights of this myth:
The Earth is the mother of all people, and the land is the sacred home of the city’s
The Earth Mother made auxiliaries into the military, and made the guardians ready
The auxiliaries and guardians have a sacred duty to defend the homeland and
protect their brothers and sisters – all the people of the homeland.
Each person is made from some metals – each person has some gold, some silver,
and some iron or bronze.
Auxiliaries have lots of silver, while guardians have lots of gold. BUT children will
get a mixture from their parents, so it is possible for a silver child to be born from
gold parents, or the other way around.
“Hence the god commands the rulers first and foremost to be of nothing such good
guardians and to keep over nothing so careful a watch as the children, seeing which of these
metals is mixed in their souls. And, if a child of theirs should be born with an admixture of
bronze or iron, by no manner of means are they to take pity on it, but shall assign the proper
value to its nature and thrust it out among the craftsmen or the farmers; and, again, if from
these men one should naturally grow who has an admixture of gold or silver, they will
honor such ones and lead them up, some to the guardian group, others to the auxiliary,
believing that there is an oracle that the city will be destroyed when an iron or bronze man
is its guardian.” (415b-c)
This myth, if believed by everyone, will ensure that the guardians don’t simply put their
own children into power after themselves – every child has to be trained and tested before
getting judged worthy to rule. This myth would prevent hereditary rule (like the prince
automatically becoming the king). This myth also teaches the guardians and the military to
protect their homeland “kin” and protect the city from outside attack.
Socrates then explains how the military and guardians must live. They are not primarily
made from iron or bronze, so they are not destined for living ordinary lives working at jobs,
earning a wage, and acquiring material possessions or wealth. They won’t need any
possessions at all!
The guardians and auxiliaries are to live separately in a military camp where they can
receive their education and do their own tasks without distraction. Their living quarters are
simple, very much like a barracks. They take all their meals in common. In fact, in order to
keep the guardians more like good and noble sheep dogs and from becoming hungry wolves
(416d–417b), there’s no private property and no private lives for the guardians. They live in
common, share nearly everything, and keep no secrets from each other. Moreover, their
only wage is just enough food – not too much, not too little – because the handling of money
is corruptive. Socrates says, “We’ll tell them that gold and silver of a divine sort from the
gods they have in their soul always and have no further need of the human sort; nor is it
holy to pollute the possession of the former sort by mixing it with the possession of the
mortal sort, because many unholy things have been done for the sake of the currency of the
many, while theirs is untainted.” Should the guardians begin handling money, then their
interests turn away from what’s best for the city, towards greediness and vanity, “rushing
[the city] toward a destruction that lies very near.” (417b)
Write a 200 word Observation by telling us about the kind of people that you have
seen using their power poorly, but they justify their unfair behavior by saying:
“That’s the way things have always been done around here.” (sounds like Cephalus)
“We have to do things this way, because we are better than that other group.” (sounds
“We’re going to do things my way, because I have the power now.” (sounds like
Give us specifics (but do NOT give us real names of actual people!) about a situation
you have witnessed, and why you think that this person in power was unfair and
unjust, like one of these three examples.
Books 4, 5, 6 of Plato’s Republic
Book 4 begins with Adeimantus asking Socrates to defend his account of the city. The life of
the guardians and auxiliaries does not seem to be a very good or enjoyable life. These men
will live simple lives without any material possessions or wealth, all while the craftspeople,
the moneymakers, get to have all the fun and luxuries. Socrates obliges and provides an
answer at 420b-421c that goes like this: Remember, we’re trying to construct the best city
that is happiest overall; we are not trying to conceive a city where happiness is
concentrated in just one part. Besides, it’s foolish to judge any whole by how its parts are on
their own. Moreover, the guardians are as happy as they need to be in order for them to do
their job. For theirs is far more important than other crafts, so those other jobs can tolerate
some sub-standard products, but not so with the guardians. If the guard becomes corrupted,
then the city falls.
Corruption has two sources: wealth and poverty. Wealth makes a person lazy and less likely
to work or to do well. So production slows and/or quality decreases. Poverty corrupts
because it prevents a person from having the resources necessary for doing his job well, so
production is slow and/or quality is low. The way that wealth and poverty corrupts has a
tendency to lead towards conflict and warfare. Specifically with the concern that if the
guardians have no money, how will they defend the city against other cities led by the
wealthy rules? Socrates finds this an easy problem to resolve. The just city’s guardians
would be professional and well-funded by taxes, and they can’t be bribed by other cities
since the guardians have no need for money.
Those wealthy cities aren’t really as strong as they appear. The true unity of the just city,
Socrates claims, makes it the only city worthy of the name. All these plausible opponents are
not truly cities, because they are not one, but many. That is, there is such wealth inequality
that there is division within division of rich and poor. So among the rich, there are rich and
poor, and among the poor, there are richer and poorer, etc. Because of the animosity that
grows from such inequality, these so-called cities can never be unified: someone will always
be trying to get the better of the other, making them weaker than the just and unified city of
the guardians. Socrates is claiming that class inequality and class warfare always harms and
weakens a political unit (a city, or a whole nation).
The guardians must protect against this division within the city by preserving the founding
principle of one person, one job. This division is due to a city’s becoming too small or too
big. By ensuring that the city is self-sufficient, the guardians keep the threat of division at
bay. Part of their task is to ensure the principle of one person, one job is maintained by
being ready to take different-souled children away from their parents so that the metals do
not mix. Perhaps that Myth of the Metals would be effective at this job.
This, of course, Socrates points out, is just another instance of how all the laws of the city
are in service to one: the guarding of education. For this, all things in the city must be
arranged such that “friends have all things in common.” So long as education is preserved
and no innovation is introduced, the city should only grow in strength and wisdom.
Since innovation must be avoided at all costs, children are to be encouraged to play in a
lawful as opposed lawless manner. Remember, as Socrates puts it at 425bc, “the starting
point of a man’s education sets the course of what follows too.” Taking this principle to
heart, Socrates says it isn’t worthwhile to go through all the other laws about contracts,
markets, and judicial procedures. Either men will figure it out by sticking to the original
constitution, or they’ll spend their lives constantly re-writing the laws in the vain hope that
they’ll eventually get it right this time. Likening such men in law to the rich hypochondriacs,
Socrates states at 426a, “they believe the greatest enemy of all is the man who tells the truth
— namely, that until one gives up drinking, stuffing oneself, sex and idleness, there’ll be no
help for one in drugs, burning, or cutting, nor in charms, pendants, or anything of the sort.”
As far as religion goes, Socrates notes that men have no idea about the divine, save for what
little is said in the Noble Lie.
With this, at 427cd, the city is founded. So where is justice?
It is agreed that the city is perfectly good, and that if the city is perfectly good, then it must
be wise, courageous, moderate, and just. Ancient Greece commonly regarded these virtues
as the most important, and Socrates and his friends assume this. Socrates suggests that if
the first three can be identified, then the fourth, justice, must be what is left. So by a process
of elimination, Socrates hunts down and discovers the first two with relative ease.
Socrates discovers wisdom in just a few in the city. At 428c–d, Socrates asks, “Is there in the
city we just founded a kind of knowledge belonging to some of the citizens that counsels not
about the affairs connected with some particular thing in the city, but about how the city as
a whole would best deal with itself and the other cities?… It’s the guardian’s skill.”
Just as the guardians are the wisest and where wisdom is found, the auxiliaries are the
bravest and where courage is found in the city.
From 430d–432b, moderation is discovered but not in the same way as the first two
cardinal virtues. Instead of moderation being found in a specific class within the city, it is a
relation between the classes (430e–431b). Consider how many different crafts there are in
the multitude, all the various desires to be met. Contrast that to the few functions of the
guardians and their simple pleasures in learning. Through the leadership by the few of the
many, moderation or self-control of the city is attained, as “a kind of harmony… that
stretch[es] through the whole, from top to bottom of the entire scale, making the weaker,
the stronger and those in the middle… sing the same chant together” (431e–432a).
Socrates then looks for justice in the city (432b–434d). Socrates realizes that justice is
visible, saying at 433a “That rule we set down at the beginning as to what must be done in
everything when were founding the city… is… justice… that each one must practice one of
the functions in the city, that one for which his nature made him naturally most fit.” Socrates
continues at 433a–b “…that justice is the minding of one’s own business and not being a
busybody, this we have both heard from many others and have often said ourselves.” At
433b, “the practice of minding one’s own business… is justice.” In fact, justice makes the
other three virtues possible because justice is what is at the start of the city. Since the four
virtues are connected, and the work of wisdom, courage, and moderation are as important
as each person doing his own job, it seems that this function must be justice. At 433e, we are
told that it is just that “no one have what belongs to others, nor be deprived of what belongs
to him.” At 433e–434a, “the having and doing of one’s own and what belongs to oneself” is
justice. Socrates has discovered the true meaning of Cephalus’s idea of justice.
Now consider what this conception of justice implies. Within a class or similar souled
people, very little harm is done to the city if a carpenter tries to become a shoemaker or vice
versa. But, as Socrates says at 434a–b, “when one who is a craftsmen or some other kind of
money-maker by nature, inflated by wealth, multitude, strength, or something else of the
kind, tries to get into the class of the warrior, or one of the warriors who’s unworthy into
that of the adviser and guardian, and these men exchange tools and honors with one
another; or when the same man tries to do all things at once – then I suppose it’s also your
opinion that this change in them and this meddling are the destruction of the city.” And at
434bc, “Meddling among the classes, of which there are three, and exchange with one
another is the greatest harm for the city and would most correctly be called extreme evildoing.”
And so, at 434c, Socrates concludes, “the money-making, auxiliary, and guardian
classes doing what’s appropriate, each of them minding its own business in a city” is
With the city founded and justice identified within it, the time has come to use this large
model to find justice within the soul itself.
Socrates makes some careful distinctions in order to discern whether the soul has a
tripartite structure, just like the city. He argues that for each particular desire or appetite
there is one particular thing for it. For example, if you’re thirsty, you have a desire for drink
and only drink. That is, thirst is not for a good drink or a bad one, just a drink. Another
desire would be for the goodness or badness. Keeping this in mind, Socrates argues, you
often stop drinking even though you still may be thirsty: you still want more to drink but
you stop because you have prevailing reasons to do so. For instance, you may want to share,
or you have to be somewhere else and don’t have the time to finish drinking. And so,
Socrates concludes at 439c–d, we have a distinction between desire and reason.
The soul, then, has at least two parts. Does it have a third that somehow corresponds to
spirit? Socrates notes how the nobler the person, the more does his or her spirit align itself
with reason to overcome desire, making it possible for someone to undergo any difficulty in
the name of justice, for instance: but it also makes one’s spirit boil if injustice is suffered.
At 441a–c Socrates points out how animals and young children are full of spirit, but they do
not calculate and reason. Therefore, spirit is not identical to or a part of reason.
Thus, the soul has three parts: reason (for wisdom), spirit (for courage), and appetite (for
Reason rules; spirit wars. Harmony is reached between the two through education. This
harmony then masters the desires. At 442a-b, Socrates says, “And these two [reason and
spirit], thus trained and having truly learned their own business and been educated, will be
set over the desiring – which is surely most of the soul in each and by nature most insatiable
for money – and they’ll watch it for fear of its being filled with the so-called pleasures of the
body and thus becoming big and strong, and then not minding its own business, but
attempting to enslave and rule what is not appropriately ruled by its class and subverting
everyone’s entire life.”
Having found the cardinal virtues in the city, can we find them, Socrates wonders, in the
soul? Courage is found in the spirited part; wisdom in the rational. At 442c–d, Socrates says,
“Isn’t the moderate because of the friendship and accord of these parts – when the ruling
part and the two ruled parts are of the single opinion that the calculating part ought to rule
and don’t raise faction against it?” So the virtue of moderation is possible when the parts of
the soul work together, not against each other.
Is there justice anywhere in the soul? Socrates reminds us of the characteristics of the
unjust man: that he spends too much money, robs temples, steals in general, betrays, breaks
his oaths, cheats on his wife, neglects his parents, and fails to care for the gods. Socrates at
443c–444a describes justice in the individual soul: “But in truth justice was, as it seems,
something of this sort; however, not with respect to a man’s minding his external business,
but with respect to what is within, with respect t o what truly concerns him and his own. He
doesn’t let each part in him mind other people’s business or the three classes in the soul
meddle with each other, but really sets is own home in good order and rules himself; he
arranges himself, becomes his own friend, and harmonizes the three parts, exactly like three
notes in a harmonic scale, lowest, highest and middle. And if there are some other parts in
between, he binds them together and becomes entirely one from many, moderate and
harmonized. Then, and only then, he acts, if he does act in some way – either concerning the
acquisition of money, or the care of the body, or something political, or concerning private
contracts. In all these actions he believes and names a just and fine action one that
preserves and helps to produce this condition, and wisdom the knowledge that supervises
this action; while he believes and names an unjust action one that undoes this condition,
and lack of learning, in its turn, the opinion that supervises this action.” From this it follows
that injustice in the soul is a civil war within, “a meddling, interference, and rebellion of a
part of the soul against the whole” (444b).
Socrates concludes this analysis with an analogy between virtue and health, and vice and
disease. Since the just man has an excellent soul, his body will also become excellent. An
unjust man, with his bad soul, will have a bad body. Therefore, the just man is stronger and
mightier than the unjust man. It is better for a person to be just and do justice.
Book 5 begins with Socrates talking about five regimes and their corresponding souls. He
names just one, the only good regime, which is aristocracy or kingship. But before he can get
into the four bad regimes and souls, Polemarchus interrupts Socrates. Polemarchus and the
others accuse Socrates of passing over an important part of the argument: what are the lives
of women and children like?
Socrates says that women should receive the same treatment and education as men. It
seems the only difference between the two is with regards to reproduction. Does that imply
that women can’t have the same jobs as men? Socrates rejects that idea (453e). The
guardians, male and female alike, should get the same education and do the same job. Since
there is nothing special to being a guardian that has anything to do with being male or
female, one’s sex or gender won’t determine one’s function. What does matter is one’s
ability to perform the job. Since women are typically not as strong as men, women will
usually serve in functions where significant upper-body strength is not necessary.
Otherwise, there’ll be no difference – women will equally serve in the military, as rulers, and
work in any profession. To say that women and men have different natures that demand
they have different jobs is as absurd as saying that the amount of hair on a person’s head
has anything to do with a man’s ability to do his job. The only difference between men and
women is with regard to sexual function and reproduction. With regard to all other matters,
sex and gender have no bearing on a person’s ability to do a job. Thus, the women with gold
and silver souls have the same education and same responsibilities as the men with gold
and silver souls.
However, this means that women must live as the men do, if they are to fulfill their
responsibilities as auxiliaries or as guardians (457c–d). “All these women are to
belong to all these men in common, and no woman is to live privately with any man. And the
children, in their turn, will be common and neither will a parent know his own offspring,
nor a child his parent.” Parents won’t know who their children are; and children don’t know
who their parents are. This way of life makes a good fit with the Myth of the Metals. If
guardians can’t figure out who their own children are, then they can’t give their children
any special treatment or ensure that they become guardians too. Instead, all children have
to go through the same educational and military training to test their souls.
Socrates says that the guardians “live a life more blessed than that most blessed one of the
Olympic victors” (465d). And the guardians will display the greatest virtues.
The traditional practices of warfare are then criticized. Instead of enslaving prisoners, they
will be spared and corrected. There will be no plundering of corpses and no burning of the
land. This is especially so if these opposing forces are Greek: for all Greeks are kin, so it is
not truly war, but faction. War is the name given to hatred of the alien or barbarian (470b).
Such an army that views itself as one strong and unified family would be a very intimidating
force. Victory is practically guaranteed.
One final matter has to be settled. At 473d–e, Socrates says, “Unless… the philosophers rule
as king or those now called kings and chiefs genuinely and adequately philosophize, and
political power and philosophy coincide in the same place, …, there is no rest from ills for
the cities… nor I think for human kind, nor will the regime we have now described in speech
ever come forth from nature, insofar as possible, and see the light of the sun. This is what
for so long was causing my hesitation to speak: seeing how very paradoxical it would be to
say. For it is hard to see that in no other city would there be private or public happiness.”
Socrates is reasoning like this. The guardians have complete power over the city. They are
held responsible for doing what is best for the city. They are entrusted with making the laws
of the city. Finally, they must preserve the harmony of the city. Basically, the guardians are
supposed to be the experts in establishing and upholding justice in the city.
As for philosophers, genuine philosophers like Socrates have no power over cities.
However, they possess the wisdom to determine what justice truly is, and why it is in fact
best for all people, living as citizens in a city, and keeping harmony in their own souls.
Philosophers can figure out the overall structure of the just city and they can predict what
kinds of laws would be best for a just city. Basically, the philosophers are supposed to be the
experts in determining how to uphold justice in a city.
Why would we need two different professions basically working on the same job? That
makes no sense to Socrates. And why would we have two professions, both knowledgeable
about justice, yet one having power and the other having no power? That makes no sense
either. The worst outcome is that these two separate professions get into conflict with each
other. That would happen if the guardians weren’t as good at philosophy as the
philosophers. But why should we allow that to happen? The smart answer is obvious: we
really aren’t talking about two different professions! There is only one genuine profession
involved here: the profession of philosophy. The guardians must also be the best
philosophers. They must receive the finest training in philosophy from their elder
guardians, and teach philosophy to the best students coming up through the ranks.
Socrates defends the need for these philosopher-kings. He notes that when anybody desires
anything it is a desire of that whole thing, not some part of it, but all of it. “The philosopher
is a desirer of wisdom, not of one part and not another, but all of it” (475b).
If the philosopher-kings can genuinely know what is virtuous and just, then there would be
a single profession of experts on that kind of knowledge. Is such knowledge really possible?
Socrates launches into a discussion of knowledge.
True, there are many opinions about politics and justice. Such diversity about what is
cannot be knowledge, for knowledge is of what is and always is: of what is unchanging. But
this views and opinions can’t be ignorance either. For ignorance is of what is not. To repeat:
knowledge is of what is (reality) and ignorance is of what is not (just appearance). These inbetweens must be something else; they are opinions. Opinion cannot be knowledge because
knowledge depends on what is (476). So opinion and knowledge are different powers or
abilities or faculties. So, if knowledge is of something and ignorance is of nothing, then
“opinion… opines neither that which is nor that which is not” (478b). So at 478e, Socrates
says, “it would remain for us to find what participates in both – in to be & not to be – and
could not correctly be addressed as either purely and simply, so that, if it comes to light, we
can justly address it as the opinable, thus assigning the extremes to the extremes and that
which is in between to that which is in between.”
The common people all believe different things about the same things. Some may find this
one thing, x, to be ugly while others find it pretty. So x is somewhere in-between: people
opine about it (479c-d). But the philosopher sees this x as what it participates in, in this
case, the form of the Beautiful, which is the same everywhere and when. Therefore, the
philosopher has knowledge, which is unchanging and not an opinion, which is changing.
In Book 6, Socrates explains what knowledge is, and how to tell the difference between
knowledge and ignorance.
Socrates attacks the status quo of Athenian education: the sophists. They miseducate the
young by appealing to the opinions of the masses. They put on a public show that entices
the youth who then go on imitating them – sophists can argue each side of an issue and be
equally persuasive. Such sophists and their students, who would become public officials,
resort to any lengths to get what they want, and when they fail to persuade, “they punish
the man who’s not persuaded with dishonor, fines, and death” (492d).
In a democracy, people all think that their own opinions are knowledge, and the leaders of
the people flatter the people, and tell them that they are wise. That only spreads ignorance
and corrupts the souls of democratic people. Philosophers can only hide from politics, avoid
the common people, and discuss philosophy among themselves (496a-e).
But philosophy can know what knowledge is.
Knowledge is always True.
Knowledge is about the Real.
The truly real cannot be described by knowledge that contains a contradiction, or
suffers from a counterexample (506).
The Socratic method to verify knowledge is this: Start from a definition of a thing, and
change it to eliminate contradictions and prevent counterexamples – when that definition
no longer contains any contradictions, and there are no counterexamples, then that
definition knows what it is talking about – it is knowledge of something real.
Socrates introduced a metaphysical-epistemological spectrum. At one extreme is ignorance,
which is of what is not. At the other is knowledge, which is of what is. Between ignorance
and knowledge is opinion. Between nothing and being is becoming. At best nonphilosophers have opinions about what comes into and out of being. That is, they opine
about changing things, about appearances but not reality. Philosophers, however, are the
ones who know and what they know is what is: they know the truth about reality.
Let’s start by comparing hearing and seeing (507). In order to hear, there are only two
things required: sound and ears. If there is no sound, the ears have nothing to hear; if there
are no ears, the sound will not be heard. Does vision work the same way? If there is nothing
to see, then the eyes have nothing to see; if there are no eyes, then that which is to be seen
won’t be seen. But consider this: if you’re put into a dark room, can you still hear? Yet you
cannot see. Indeed, you can see if there is a third thing, right? All we would have to do is
turn on the lights in the room, and your eyes will be able to see the things that are to be
seen. So whereas hearing requires just two things, ears and sounds, vision requires three
things, eyes, things to see, and light. Since the Sun is what makes all light ultimately
possible, Socrates argues, the Sun is what makes the visible possible.
The Sun makes sight possible, but the sun is not sight itself. From this, Socrates claims, it
follows that the Sun is good. Without the Sun, our eyes do not see; without sight, how can
we act? We are blind to the world and any action we take is necessarily out of ignorance. If
there is only a little light, then we see only a little and act out of opinion about what there is
This connection between the visible and the intellectual goes deeper. Not only is the Sun
good for the body in that it affords us bodily activity, it is clearly connected to how we
understand the visible world. At 508e–509a, Socrates says, “what provides the truth to the
things known and gives the power the one who knows, is the idea of the good. And, as the
cause of knowledge and truth, you can understand it to be a thing known; but, as fair as
these two are – knowledge and truth – if you believe that it is something different from
them and still fairer than they, your belief will be right. As for knowledge and truth, just as
in the other region it is right to hold light and sight sunlike, but to believe them to be sun is
not right; so, too, here, to hold these two to be like the good is right, but to believe that
either of them is the good is not right.”
Furthermore, just as the Sun makes generation, growth and nourishment possible but is not
identical to generation, growth nor nourishment, the good makes possible knowledge and
truth but is not identical to them. The sun exceeds them “in dignity and power” (509b).
Socrates now moves to the Divided Line illustration (509d-511e).
He first divides the visible from the intelligible. So we have two unequal segments, one
visible, the other intelligible. Then he divides each of those segments according to the ratio
by which the first division was made. At the bottom of this line, the bottom segment of the
visible region, are images. These include shadows, and reflections (or other similar sorts of
appearances) in water and mirrors and other shiny objects. The next segment, above the
images, are things. These include animals, plants, and all other artifacts. Note that these
things are what produces the shadows and reflections that make up the images.
The upper division of the line is the region of the intelligible. Its lower part, above the world
of things, is composed of mathematical objects. Just as we use elements of the visible realm
to achieve specific goals in the intelligible, we use this lower part of the intelligible realm to
produce artifacts in the visible realm. The highest realm reverses course away from ends to
beginnings, away from the visible to the purely intelligible.
Corresponding to the contents or objects of each of these levels are the habits of mind, so to
speak, that deal with each. At the bottom one imagines images, so we call this habit
imagination. Next are things over which we have many different opinions which we must
trust. The mathematical objects are neither images nor things trusted but things properly
thought. Finally, intellection is behind dialectic and the forms.
Here is another way to depict Plato’s Divided Line:
And another version:
Now, consider the significance of this for politics, which seems to be the art of always
changing one’s opinion on how to organize public affairs. But also consider what this means
for how you conduct your personal or private affairs. Consider your lives on the Internet,
where you present yourselves in ways that may not clearly or easily mirror how you are in
person. Consider how you interact with others on the Internet, especially those whom
you’ve never met in person.
Books 7 and 8 of Plato’s Republic
Book 6 elaborates on the nature of the Good by first drawing analogy between the Sun and
the Good; where the former makes vision possible but is not identical to but is greater than
vision, the latter is greater and more magnificent than what it makes possible, the whole of
being and the knowledge of it. To continue how this worldview works, Socrates moves to
the Divided Line from the Sun Analogy by playing on this parallel between the Sun and the
good. In Book 7, Socrates uses his Allegory of the Cave to explain further what he means
concerning the kinds of knowledge.
The Divided Line
Starting from the bottom, the fourth lowest level is for false images, which the imagination
is interested in. There is no agreement among people about them – each person sees them
The third level is for ordinary material objects, which we accept because we can perceive
them. There is some agreement about them among people, but perspectives still divide the
opinions of people.
The second level is for mathematical objects, and truths about them are knowable by
anyone who uses reason, so there must be agreement among all people.
Finally, the first level is for the Forms – the things than the intellect knows are real because
they pass the highest test for knowledge (such as Justice).
Plato suspected this his readers would find these stories somewhat difficult to understand,
so to help his readers understand what he was after he developed one of the most famous
and most influential thought experiments: the Allegory of the
“Next, then, make an image of our nature in its education and want of education, likening it
to a condition of the following kind. See human beings as though they were in an
underground cave-like dwelling with its entrance, a long one, open to the light across the
whole width of the cave. They are in it from childhood with their legs and necks in bonds so
that they are fixed, seeing only in front of them, unable because of the bond to turn their
heads all the way around. Their light is from a fire burning far above and behind them.
Between the fire and the prisoners there is a road above and behind them. between the fire
and the prisoners there is a road above, along which we see a wall, built like the partitions
puppet-handlers set in front of the human beings and over which they show the puppets…
Then also see along this wall human beings carrying all sorts of artifacts, which project
above the wall, and statues of men and other animals wrought from stone, wood, and every
kind of material; as is to be expected, some of the carriers utter sounds while others are
silent… They’re like us. For in the first place, … such men would have seen [nothing] of
themselves and one another other than the shadows cast by the fire on the side of the cave
facing them… [as would be the case] about the things carried by… If they were able to
discuss things with one another… they would hold that they are naming these things going
by before them that they see… And… if the prison also had an echo from the side facing
them… whenever one of the men passing by happens to utter a sound… they would [not]
believe that anything other than the passing shadow was uttering the sound… Then most
certainly, such men would hold that the truth is nothing other than the shadows of artificial
This allegory is striking. Plato is arguing that humans effectively live in a world of mere
images and shadows, mistaking mere appearances for the truth about reality. Living our
lives in the dark, entirely ignorant of how the world truly is, humans have been living a
dream, without any idea that what they believe to be the truth is far removed from reality.
Socrates continues at 515c, asking about the prisoners,
“Now consider, what their release and healing from bonds and folly would be like if
something of this sort were by nature to happen to them. Take a man who is released and
suddenly compelled to stand up, turn his neck around, to walk and look up toward the light;
and who, moreover, in doing all this in pain and, because he is dazzled, is unable to make
out those things whose shadows he saw before. What do you suppose he’d say if someone
were to tell him that before he saw silly nothings, while now, because he is somewhat
nearer to what is and more turned toward beings, he sees more correctly; and, in particular,
showing him each of the things that pass by, were to compel the man to answer his
questions about what they are? Don’t you suppose he’d be at a loss and believe that what
was seen before is truer than what is now shown? … And, if he compelled him to look at the
light itself, would his eyes hurt and would he flee, turning away to those things that he is
able to make out and hold them to be really clearer than what is being shown?… And if
someone dragged him away from there by force along the rough, steep, upward way and
didn’t let him go before he had dragged him out into the light of the sun, wouldn’t he be
distressed and annoyed at being so dragged? And when he came to the light, wouldn’t he
have his eyes full of its beam and be unable to see even one of the things now said to be
true?… Then I suppose he’d have to get accustomed, if he were going to see what’s up above.
At first he’d most easily make out the shadows; and after that the phantoms of the human
beings and the other things in water; and, later, the things themselves. And from there he
could turn to beholding the things in heaven and heaven itself, more easily at night —
looking at the light of the stars and the moon — than by day — looking at the sun and
sunlight… Then finally I suppose he would be able to make out the sun – not its appearances
— in water or some alien place, but the sun itself by itself in its own region – and see what
Now imagine yourselves what this experience must be like. Once you saw that the Sun was
indeed the source of much beauty and truth, from the passing of time, the change of seasons,
the visible, and everything within the cave, how would you relate to life before leaving the
Cave and now? Would you want to return to the Cave? Plato argues that a person who had
left the cave would rather “undergo anything whatsoever than to opine those things [in the
cave] and live that way… that he would prefer to undergo everything than live that way”
(516d–e). Now imagine that you had to go back into the cave. How would you adjust? How
would the others react to you? At first, it would be difficult to see, and what little you could
see, you’d probably be mistaken about and seem like a fool to the cave dwellers. They would
find your sense of things, in light of your experience leaving the cave, to be corrupted, “that
it’s not even worth trying to go up… And if they were somehow able to get their hands on”
you, they’d kill you — especially if you tried to free them too (517a).
At 517b–c, Socrates begins explaining the meaning of this image. He says, “this image as a
whole must be connected with what was said before. Liken the domain revealed through
sight to the prison home, and the light of the fire in it to the sun’s power; and, in applying
the going up and the seeing of what’s above to the soul’s journey up to the intelligible place,
you’ll not mistake my expectation, since you desire to hear it. A god doubtless knows if it
happens to be true. At all events, this is the way the phenomena look to me: in the knowable
the last thing to be seen, and that with considerable effort, is the idea of the good; but once
seen, it must be concluded that this is in fact that the cause of all that is right and fair in
everything — in the visible it gave birth to light and its sovereign; in the intelligible, itself
sovereign, it provided truth and intelligence — and that the man who is going to act
prudently in private or in public must see it.”
Consider some of the consequences of this conception of education Plato puts forth. First,
how does a person educated in this manner relate to the ignorant and unlearned? Especially
as the educated person is adjusting to living among the masses, there will be great
disagreements about many things, especially the nature of justice. So the educated person
ends up spending more time in court defending himself against people who have only
experienced the shadows of justice. Second, as Socrates puts it at 518b, “education is not
what the professions of certain men assert it to be. They presumably assert that they put
into the soul knowledge that isn’t in it, as though they were putting sight into blind eyes.”
At 518c, Socrates gives the Platonic alternative that “this power [of sight or education] is in
the soul of each, and that the instrument with which each learns — just as an eye is not able
to turn toward the light from the dark without the whole body — must be turned around
from that which is coming into being together with the whole soul until it is able to endure
looking at that which is and the brightest part of that which is. And we affirm that this is the
From this Platonic orientation of education and striving toward the good, Socrates reminds
us that the cardinal virtues are more like the body than the soul: they enable bodily action.
Yet prudence is more than bodily action, it is a specific way of engaging the world with
keener sight and keener ability. Depending on the uses to which that individual puts his
talents, however, either great good or great evil can be done. To cultivate the appropriate
orientation in an individual with such physical gifts is just the problem we encountered
from the start. How to create perfect guardians, that is beings both physically and
intellectually sound and in harmony?
The problem is restated at 519b–c: “…those who are without education and experience of
truth would never be adequate stewards of a city, nor would those who have been allowed
to spend their time in education continuously to the end — the former because they don’t
have any single goal in life at which they must aim in doing everything they do in private or
in public, the latter because they won’t be willing to act, believing they have emigrated to a
colony on the Isles of the Blessed while they are still alive.” In other words, the intellectuals
are living a blissful life contemplating theory; whereas the cave-dwelling men of action
never ever both with theory yet always engaged in praxis. The philosopher-king needs to be
both theorist and practitioner.
The job of the founders of the city “is to compel the best natures to go to the study which we
were saying before is the greatest, to see the good and to go up that asce…