The Republic (Plato)
Title page of the oldest manuscript: Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, Gr. 1807 (9th century)
|around 380 BC|
|Part of a series on|
|The dialogues of Plato|
|Allegories and metaphors|
The Republic (Greek: Πολιτεία, Politeia) is a Socratic dialogue, written by Plato around 380 BC, concerning the definition of δικαιοσύνη (justice), the order and character of the just city-state and the just man, reason by which ancient readers used the name On Justice as an alternative title (not to be confused with the spurious dialogue also titled On Justice). The dramatic date of the dialogue has been much debated and though it must take place some time during the Peloponnesian War, "there would be jarring anachronisms if any of the candidate specific dates between 432 and 404 were assigned". It is Plato's best-known work and has proven to be one of the most intellectually and historically influential works of philosophy and political theory. In it, Socrates along with various Athenians and foreigners discuss the meaning of justice and examine whether or not the just man is happier than the unjust man by considering a series of different cities coming into existence "in speech", culminating in a city (Kallipolis) ruled by philosopher-kings; and by examining the nature of existing regimes. The participants also discuss the theory of forms, the immortality of the soul, and the roles of the philosopher and of poetry in society.
- 1 Structure
- 2 Topics
- 3 Reception and interpretation
- 4 Place in Plato's corpus
- 5 See also
- 6 Notes
- 7 Further reading
- 8 Translations
- 9 External links
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Cephalus, Polemarchus and Thrasymachus each attempt to define justice. Their definitions are overturned by Socrates and the first book ends in aporeia concerning its essence.
Glaucon and Adeimantus continue the argument of Thrasymachus for the sake of continuing the dialogue. Glaucon gives a speech in which he argues first that the origin of justice was in social contracts aimed at preventing one from suffering injustice without having the ability to take revenge, second that all those who practice justice do so unwillingly and out of fear of punishment and third that the life of the unjust man is far more blessed than that of the just man. After Glaucon's speech, Adeimantus adds that the unjust should not fear any sort of divine judgement in the afterlife, since the very poets whom wrote about such judgement also wrote that the gods would grant forgiveness to those humans whom made ample religious sacrifice. Adeimantus reasons that the unjust man could grow wealthy by injustice, devoting a percentage of this gain to religious sacrifices, thus rendering him innocent in the eyes of the gods. Socrates suggests that they look for justice in a city rather than in an individual man. They describe the origin and development of the city, before admitting the need for a guardian class to defend and attack on its account. This begins a discussion concerning the type of education which ought to be given these guardians in their early years.
Socrates and his companions conclude their discussion concerning the education of the guardians and begin to dialogue concerning their type of lifestyle. In summary, Socrates asserts that both male and female guardians be given the same education, that all wives and children be shared and that ownership of private property ought to be prohibitted amongst them.
Socrates and his companions conclude their discussion concerning the lifestyle of the guardians, thus simultaneously concluding their initial assessment of the city as a whole. They thus proceed to search for the four cardinal excellences (virtues) of wisdom, courage, temperance and justice. They find wisdom amongst the guardian rulers, courage amongst the guardian warriors (or auxiliries), temperance amongst all classes of the city in arguing to whom should rule and whom ought to be ruled and finally justice as the state in which each part of the whole performs only its work, not meddling in the performance of work belonging to other parts.
Socrates, having to his satsifaction defined the just constitution of both city and psyche, moves to elaborate upon the four unjust constitutions of the same. Adeimantus and Polemarchus interrupt, asking Socrates instead to first explain how the sharing of wives and children in the guardian class is to be defined and legislated, a theme first touched on in Book III. Socrates is overwhelmed at their request, categorizing it as three 'waves' of attack which his reasoning much stand firm against. These three waves challenge Socrates' claims that (1) both male and female guardians ought to receive the same education, that (2) human reproduction ought to be regulated by the state and that all offspring should be ignorant of their actual biological parents and that (3) such a city and its corresponding philosopher-king could actually come to be in the real world.
Socrates concludes his response to the third wave of Adeimantus and Polemarchus initiated in Book V by detailing the exception education under which a philosopher-king must be reared. In short such a person must (against incredible odds) be born, educated properly in music and gynmastic and trained thoroughly in the excellencies of character. As if this were not a high enough standard, Socrates adds that such a person must go on even further to study the highest of all studies, the idea of goodness itself. Upon being urged to describe this idea of goodness, Socrates doubts his ability and instead offers two analogies, later to be known as the famous Analogy of the Sun and Analogy of the Divided Line.
Socrates elaborates upon the immediately preceding Analogies of the Sun and Divided Line in the Allegory of the Cave, in which the he insists that the psyche must be freed from bondage to the visible world by making the painful journey into the intelligible world. He continues in the rest of this book by further elaborating upon the cirriculum which a would-be philosopher-king must study.
Socrates begins by summarizing all the preceding topics of their dialogue, before moving to what was initially intended at the beginning of Book V, a description of the four unjust constitutions and how they are related. Having designated the monarchy or aristocracy ruled by the philosopher-king(s) as the just city, Socrates alleges that through improper breeding this ideal constitution degenerates into timocracy, the rule of the honored. Timocracy degenerates into oligarchy, the rule of the rich few, which in turn degenerates into democracy, the rule of the many. Democracy, in its fullest form, legitimates all lifestyles and practices through its worship of 'equality' and 'liberty'. This leads to a lack of order, which is restored by the final of the four unjust constitutions, tyranny.
Having discussed the tyrannical constitution of a city, Socrates wishes to discuess the tyrannical constitution of a psyche. This is all intended to answer Thrasymachus' earliest argument in Book I, that the life of the unjust man (here understood as a true tyrant) is more blessed than that of the just man. The discussion concludes by refuting Thrasymachus' argument and designating the most blessed life as that of the just man and the most miserable life as that of the unjust man.
Concluding a theme brought up most explicitely in the Analogies of the Sun and Divided line in Book VI, Socrates finally reject any form of imitative art and sadly concludes that such artists have no place in the just city. He continues on to argue for the immortality of the psyche and even espouses a theory of reincarnation. He finishes by detailing the rewards of being just, both in this life and the next.
Three interpretations of the Republic are presented in the following contents of the present section; they are not exhaustive in their treatments of the work, but are examples of contemporary interpretation.
- Books I–V: the eutopia portraying the ideal community and the education of the Guardians, parting from attempting to define justice;
- Books VI–VII: define “philosopher”, since philosophers are the ideal rulers of such a community;
- Books VIII–X: discuss the pros and cons of various practical forms of government.
The core of the second part is discussed in the Allegory of the Cave, and articles related to the Theory of (ideal) forms. The third part concerns the Five regimes and is strongly related to The Laws dialogue; and the Myth of Er.
Cornford, Hildebrandt, and Voegelin
- I.1. 327a—328b. Descent to the Piraeus
- I.2—I.5. 328b—331d. Cephalus. Justice of the Older Generation
- I.6—1.9. 331e—336a. Polemarchus. Justice of the Middle Generation
- I.10—1.24. 336b—354c. Thrasymachus. Justice of the Sophist
- II.1—II.10. 357a—369b. The Question: Is Justice better than Injustice?
- Part I: Genesis and Order of the Polis
- II.11—II.16. 369b—376e. Genesis of the Polis
- II.16—III.18. 376e—412b. Education of the Guardians
- III.19—IV.5. 412b—427c. Constitution of the Polis
- IV.6—IV.19. 427c—445e. Justice in the Polis
- Part II: Embodiment of the Idea
- V.1—V.16. 449a—471c. Somatic Unit of Polis and Hellenes
- V.17—VI.14. 471c—502c. Rule of the Philosophers
- VI.19—VII.5. 502c—521c. The Idea of the Agathon
- VII.6—VII.18. 521c—541b. Education of the Philosophers
- Part III: Decline of the Polis
- VIII.1—VIII.5. 543a—550c. Timocracy
- VIII.6—VIII.9. 550c—555b. Oligarchy
- VIII.10—VIII.13. 555b—562a. Democracy
- VIII.14—IX.3. 562a—576b. Tyranny
- IX.4—IX.13. 576b—592b Answer: Justice is Better than Injustice.
- X.1—X.8. 595a—608b. Rejection of Mimetic Art
- X.9—X.11. 608c—612a. Immortality of the Soul
- X.12. 612a—613e. Rewards of Justice in Life
- X.13—X.16. 613e—621d. Judgment of the Dead
The paradigm of the city — the idea of the Good, the Agathon — has manifold historical embodiments, undertaken by those who have seen the Agathon, and are ordered via the vision. The centre piece of the Republic, Part II, nos. 2–3, discusses the rule of the philosopher, and the vision of the Agathon with the allegory of the cave, which is clarified in the theory of forms. The centre piece is preceded and followed by the discussion of the means that will secure a well-ordered polis (City). Part II, no. 1, concerns marriage, the community of people and goods for the Guardians, and the restraints on warfare among the Hellenes. It describes a partially communistic polis. Part II, no. 4, deals with the philosophical education of the rulers who will preserve the order and character of the city-state.
In Part II, the Embodiment of the Idea, is preceded by the establishment of the economic and social orders of a polis (Part I), followed by an analysis (Part III) of the decline the order must traverse. The three parts compose the main body of the dialogues, with their discussions of the “paradigm”, its embodiment, its genesis, and its decline.
The Introduction and the Conclusion are the frame for the body of the Republic. The discussion of right order is occasioned by the questions: “Is Justice better than Injustice?” and “Will an Unjust man fare better than a Just man?” The introductory question is balanced by the concluding answer: “Justice is preferable to Injustice”. In turn, the foregoing are framed with the Prologue (Book I) and the Epilogue (Book X). The prologue is a short dialogue about the common public doxai (opinions) about “Justice”. Based upon faith, and not reason, the Epilogue describes the new arts and the immortality of the soul.
Leo Strauss identified a four-part structure to the Republic, perceiving the dialogues as a drama enacted by particular characters, each with a particular perspective and level of intellect:
- Book I: Socrates is forcefully compelled to the house of Cephalus. Three definitions of justice are presented, all are found lacking.
- Books II–V: Glaucon and Adeimantus challenge Socrates to prove: Why a perfectly just man, perceived by the world as an unjust man, would be happier than the perfectly unjust man who hides his injustice and is perceived by the world as a just man? Their challenge begins and propels the dialogues; in answering the challenge, of the “charge,” Socrates reveals his behavior with the young men of Athens, whom he later was convicted of corrupting. Because Glaucon and Adeimantus presume a definition of “Justice,” Socrates digresses; he compels the group’s attempt to discover justice, and then answers the question posed to him about the intrinsic value of the just life.
- Books V–VI: The “Just City in Speech” is built from the earlier books, and concerns three critiques of the city. Leo Strauss reported that his student Allan Bloom identified them as: communism, communism of wives and children, and the rule of philosophers. The “Just City in Speech” stands or falls by these complications.
- Books VII–X: Socrates has “escaped” his captors, having momentarily convinced them that the just man is the happy man, by reinforcing their prejudices. He presents a rationale for political decay, and concludes by recounting The Myth of Er (“everyman”), consolation for non-philosophers who fear death.
Definition of justice
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In the first book, two definitions of justice are proposed but deemed inadequate. Returning debts owed, and helping friends while harming enemies, are common sense definitions of justice that, Socrates shows, are inadequate in exceptional situations, and thus lack the rigidity demanded of a definition. Yet he does not completely reject them, for each expresses a common sense notion of justice which Socrates will incorporate into his discussion of the just regime in books II through V.
At the end of Book I, Socrates agrees with Polemarchus that justice includes helping friends, but says the just man would never do harm to anybody. Thrasymachus believes that Socrates has done the men present an injustice by saying this and attacks his character and reputation in front of the group, partly because he suspects that Socrates himself does not even believe harming enemies is unjust. Thrasymachus gives his understanding of justice and injustice as "justice is what is advantageous to the stronger, while injustice is to one's own profit and advantage". Socrates finds this definition unclear and begins to question Thrasymachus. Socrates then asks whether the ruler who makes a mistake by making a law that lessens their well-being, is still a ruler according to that definition. Thrasymachus agrees that no true ruler would make such an error. This agreement allows Socrates to undermine Thrasymachus' strict definition of justice by comparing rulers to people of various professions. Thrasymachus consents to Socrates' assertion that an artist is someone who does his job well, and is a knower of some art, which allows him to complete the job well. In so doing Socrates gets Thrasymachus to admit that rulers who enact a law that does not benefit them firstly, are in the precise sense not rulers. Thrasymachus gives up, and is silent from then on. Socrates has trapped Thrasymachus into admitting the strong man who makes a mistake is not the strong man in the precise sense, and that some type of knowledge is required to rule perfectly. However, it is far from a satisfactory definition of justice.
At the beginning of Book II, Plato's two brothers challenge Socrates to define justice in the man, and unlike the rather short and simple definitions offered in Book I, their views of justice are presented in two independent speeches. Glaucon's speech reprises Thrasymachus' idea of justice; it starts with the legend of Gyges who discovered a ring that gave him the power to become invisible. Glaucon uses this story to argue that no man would be just if he had the opportunity of doing injustice with impunity. With the power to become invisible, Gyges is able to seduce the queen, murder the king, and take over the kingdom. Glaucon argues that the just as well as the unjust man would do the same if they had the power to get away with injustice exempt from punishment. The only reason that men are just and praise justice is out of fear of being punished for injustice. The law is a product of compromise between individuals who agree not to do injustice to others if others will not do injustice to them. Glaucon says that if people had the power to do injustice without fear of punishment, they would not enter into such an agreement. Glaucon uses this argument to challenge Socrates to defend the position that the unjust life is better than the just life. Adeimantus adds to Glaucon's speech the charge that men are only just for the results that justice brings one- fortune, honor, reputation. Adeimantus challenges Socrates to prove that being just is worth something in and of itself, not only as a means to an end.
Socrates says that there is no better topic to debate. In response to the two views of injustice and justice presented by Glaucon and Adeimantus, he claims incompetence, but feels it would be impious to leave justice in such doubt. Thus the Republic sets out to define justice. Given the difficulty of this task as proven in Book I, Socrates in Book II leads his interlocutors into a discussion of justice in the city, which Socrates suggests may help them see justice not only in the person, but on a larger scale, "first in cities searching for what it is; then thusly we could examine also in some individual, examining the likeness of the bigger in the idea of the littler"
For over two and a half millennia, scholars have differed on the aptness of the city-soul analogy Socrates uses to find justice in Books II through V. The Republic is a dramatic dialogue, not a treatise. Socrates' definition of justice is never unconditionally stated, only versions of justice within each city are "found" and evaluated in Books II through Book V. Socrates constantly refers the definition of justice back to the conditions of the city for which it is created. He builds a series of myths, or noble lies, to make the cities appear just, and these conditions moderate life within the communities. The "earth born" myth makes all men believe that they are born from the earth and have predestined natures within their veins. Accordingly, Socrates defines justice as "working at that which he is naturally best suited," and "to do one's own business and not to be a busybody" (433a-433b) and goes on to say that justice sustains and perfects the other three cardinal virtues: Temperance, Wisdom, and Courage, and that justice is the cause and condition of their existence. Socrates does not include justice as a virtue within the city, suggesting that justice does not exist within the human soul either, rather it is the result of a "well ordered" soul. A result of this conception of justice separates people into three types; that of the soldier, that of the producer, and that of a ruler. If a ruler can create just laws, and if the warriors can carry out the orders of the rulers, and if the producers can obey this authority, then a society will be just.
The city is challenged by Adeimantus and Glaucon throughout its development: Adeimantus cannot find happiness in the city, and Glaucon cannot find honor and glory. Ultimately Socrates constructs a city in which there is no private property, women and children are held in common (449c-450c, 3 times), and there is no philosophy for the lower castes. All is sacrificed to the common good and doing what is best fitting to your nature; however, is the city itself to nature? In Book V Socrates addresses this issue, making some assertions about the equality of the sexes (454d). Yet the issue shifts in Book VI to whether this city is possible, not whether it is a just city. The rule of philosopher-kings appear as the issue of possibility is raised. Socrates never positively states what justice is in the human soul, it appears he has created a city where justice is lost, not even needed, since the perfect ordering of the community satisfies the needs of justice in human races' less well ordered cities.
In terms of why it is best to be just rather than unjust for the individual, Plato prepares an answer in Book IX consisting of three main arguments. Plato says that a tyrant's nature will leave him with "horrid pains and pangs" and that the typical tyrant engages in a lifestyle that will be physically and mentally exacting on such a ruler. Such a disposition is in contrast to the truth-loving philosopher king, and a tyrant "never tastes of true freedom or friendship." The second argument proposes that of all the different types of people, only the Philosopher is able to judge which type of ruler is best since only he can see the Form of the Good. Thirdly, Plato argues, "Pleasures which are approved of by the lover of wisdom and reason are the truest." In sum, Plato argues that philosophical pleasure is the only true pleasure since other pleasures experienced by others are simply a neutral state free of pain.
Socrates points out the human tendency to be corrupted by power leads down the road to timocracy, oligarchy, democracy and tyranny. From this, he concludes that ruling should be left to philosophers, who are the most just and therefore least susceptible to corruption. This "good city" is depicted as being governed by philosopher-kings; disinterested persons who rule not for their personal enjoyment but for the good of the city-state (polis). The paradigmatic society which stands behind every historical society is hierarchical, but social classes have a marginal permeability; there are no slaves, no discrimination between men and women. The men and women are both to be taught the same things, so they are both able to be used for the same things (451e). In addition to the ruling class of guardians (φύλακες), which abolished riches, there is a class of private producers (demiourgoi), who may be rich or poor. A number of provisions aim to avoid making the people weak: the substitution of a universal educational system for men and women instead of debilitating music, poetry and theatre—a startling departure from Greek society. These provisions apply to all classes, and the restrictions placed on the philosopher-kings chosen from the warrior class and the warriors are much more severe than those placed on the producers, because the rulers must be kept away from any source of corruption.
In Books V-VI the abolition of riches among the guardian class (not unlike Max Weber's bureaucracy) leads controversially to the abandonment of the typical family, and as such no child may know his or her parents and the parents may not know their own children. Socrates tells a tale which is the "allegory of the good government". No nepotism, no private goods. The rulers assemble couples for reproduction, based on breeding criteria. Thus, stable population is achieved through eugenics and social cohesion is projected to be high because familial links are extended towards everyone in the City. Also the education of the youth is such that they are taught of only works of writing that encourage them to improve themselves for the state's good, and envision (the) god(s) as entirely good, just, and the author(s) of only that which is good.
In Books VII-X stand Plato's criticism of the forms of government. It begins with the dismissal of timocracy, a sort of authoritarian regime, not unlike a military dictatorship. Plato offers an almost psychoanalytical explanation of the "timocrat" as one who saw his father humiliated by his mother and wants to vindicate "manliness". The third worst regime is oligarchy, the rule of a small band of rich people, millionaires that only respect money. Then comes the democratic form of government, and its susceptibility to being ruled by unfit "sectarian" demagogues. Finally the worst regime is tyranny, where the whimsical desires of the ruler became law and there is no check upon arbitrariness.
Theory of universals
The allegory of the cave primarily depicts Plato's distinction between the world of appearances and the 'real' world of the Forms, as well as helping to justify the philosopher's place in society as king. Plato imagines a group of people who have lived their entire lives as prisoners, chained to the wall of a cave in the subterranean so they are unable to see the outside world behind them. However a constant flame illuminates various moving objects outside, which are silhouetted on the wall of the cave visible to the prisoners. These prisoners, through having no other experience of reality, ascribe forms to these shadows such as either "dog" or "cat".
Plato then goes on to explain how the philosopher is akin to a prisoner who is freed from the cave. The prisoner is initially blinded by the light, but when he adjusts to the brightness he sees the fire and the statues and how they caused the images witnessed inside the cave. He would see that the fire and statues in the cave were just copies of the real objects; merely imitations. This is analogous to the Forms. What we see from day to day are merely appearances, reflections of the Forms. The philosopher, however, will not be deceived by the shadows and will hence be able to see the 'real' world, the world above that of appearances; the philosopher will gain knowledge of things in themselves. In this analogy the sun is representative of the Good. This is the main object of the philosopher's knowledge. The Good can be thought of as the form of Forms, or the structuring of the world as a whole.
The prisoner's stages of understanding correlate with the levels on the divided line which he imagines. The line is divided into what the visible world is and what the intelligible world is, with the divider being the Sun. When the prisoner is in the cave, he is obviously in the visible realm that receives no sunlight, and outside he comes to be in the intelligible realm.
The shadows witnessed in the cave correspond to the lowest level on Plato's line, that of imagination and conjecture. Once the prisoner is freed and sees the shadows for what they are he reaches the second stage on the divided line, the stage of belief, for he comes to believe that the statues in the cave are real. On leaving the cave, however, the prisoner comes to see objects more real than the statues inside of the cave, and this correlates with the third stage on Plato's line, understanding. Lastly, the prisoner turns to the sun which he grasps as the source of truth, or the Form of the Good, and this last stage, named as dialectic, is the highest possible stage on the line. The prisoner, as a result of the Form of the Good, can begin to understand all other forms in reality.
At the end of this allegory, Plato asserts that it is the philosopher's burden to reenter the cave. Those who have seen the ideal world, he says, have the duty to educate those in the material world. Since the philosopher recognizes what is truly good only he is fit to rule society according to Plato.
The dialectical forms of government
While Plato spends much of the Republic having Socrates narrate a conversation about the city he founds with Glaucon and Adeimantus "in speech", the discussion eventually turns to considering four regimes that exist in reality and tend to degrade successively into each other: timocracy, oligarchy (also called plutocracy), democracy and tyranny (also called despotism).
Socrates defines a timocracy as a government of people who love rule and honor. Socrates argues that the timocracy emerges from aristocracy due to a civil war breaking out among the ruling class and the majority. Over time, many more births will occur to people who lack aristocratic, guardian qualities, slowly drawing the populace away from knowledge, music, poetry and "guardian education", toward money-making and the acquisition of possessions. This civil war between those who value wisdom and those who value material acquisition will be in struggle until a just medium is compromised. The timocracy values war insofar as it satisfies a love of victory and honor. The timocratic man loves physical training, and hunting, and values his abilities in warfare.
Temptations create a confusion between economic status and honor which is responsible for the emergence of oligarchy. In Book VIII, Socrates suggests that wealth will not help a pilot to navigate his ship, as his concerns will be directed centrally toward increasing his wealth by whatever means, rather than seeking out wisdom or honor. The injustice of economic disparity divides the rich and the poor, thus creating an environment for criminals and beggars to emerge. The rich are constantly plotting against the poor and vice versa. The oligarchic constitution is based on property assessment and wealth qualification. Unlike the timocracy, oligarchs are also unable to fight war, since they do not wish to arm the majority for fear of their rising up against them (even more so fearing the majority than their enemies), nor do they seem to pay mercenaries, since they are reluctant to spend money.
As this socioeconomic divide grows, so do tensions between social classes. From the conflicts arising out of such tensions, the poor majority overthrow the wealthy minority, and democracy replaces the oligarchy preceding it. The poor overthrow the oligarchs and grant liberties and freedoms to citizens, creating a most variegated collection of peoples under a "supermarket" of constitutions. A visually appealing demagogue is soon lifted up to protect the interests of the lower class. However, with too much freedom, no requirements for anyone to rule, and having no interest in assessing the background of their rulers (other than honoring such people because they wish the majority well) the people become easily persuaded by such a demagogue's appeal to try and satisfy people's common, base, and unnecessary pleasures.
The excessive freedoms granted to the citizens of a democracy ultimately leads to a tyranny, the furthest regressed type of government. These freedoms divide the people into three socioeconomic classes: the dominating class, the elites and the commoners. Tensions between the dominating class and the elites cause the commoners to seek out protection of their democratic liberties. They invest all their power in their democratic demagogue, who, in turn, becomes corrupted by the power and becomes a tyrant with a small entourage of his supporters for protection and absolute control of his people.
Reception and interpretation
The idea of writing treatises on systems of government was followed some decades later by Plato's most prominent pupil Aristotle. He wrote a treatise for which he used another Greek word "politika" in the title. The title of Aristotle's work is conventionally translated to "politics": see Politics (Aristotle).
Aristotle's treatise was not written in dialogue format: it systematises many of the concepts brought forward by Plato in his Republic, in some cases leading the author to a different conclusion as to what options are the most preferable.
Zeno of Citium, the founder of Stoicism, wrote his own imitation of Plato's Republic, c. 300 BC. Zeno's Republic advocates a form of anarchism in which all of the citizens are philosophers, and advocates a more radical form of sexual communism than that proposed by Plato.
The English translation of the title of Plato's dialogue is derived from Cicero's De re publica, a dialogue written some three centuries later. Cicero's dialogue imitates the style of the Platonic dialogues, and treats many of the topics touched upon in Plato's Republic. Scipio Africanus, the main character of Cicero's dialogue expresses his esteem for Plato and Socrates when they are talking about the "Res publica". "Res publica" is not an exact translation of the Greek word "politeia" that Plato used in the title of his dialogue: "politeia" is a general term indicating the various forms of government that could be used and were used in a Polis or city-state.
While in Plato's Republic Socrates and his friends discuss the nature of the city and are engaged in providing the foundations of every state they are living in - which was Athenian democracy, oligarchy or tyranny - in Cicero's De re publica all comments are more parochial about (the improvement of) the organization of the state the participants live in, which was the Roman Republic in its final stages.
In antiquity, Plato's works were largely acclaimed; still, some commentators had another view. Tacitus, not mentioning Plato or the Republic nominally in this passage (so his critique extends, to a certain degree, to Cicero's Republic and Aristotle's Politics as well, to name only a few), noted the following (Ann. IV, 33):
|Nam cunctas nationes et urbes populus aut primores aut singuli regunt: delecta ex iis (his) et consociata (constituta) rei publicae forma laudari facilius quam evenire, vel si evenit, haud diuturna esse potest.||Indeed, a nation or city is ruled by the people, or by an upper class, or by a monarch. A government system that is invented from a choice of these same components is sooner idealised than realised; and even if realised, there will be no future for it.|
The point Tacitus develops in the paragraphs immediately preceding and following that sentence is that the minute analysis and description of how a real state was governed, as he does in his Annals, however boring the related facts might be, has more practical lessons about good vs. bad governance, than philosophical treatises on the ideal form of government have.
In the pivotal era of Rome's move from its ancient polytheist religion to Christianity, Augustine wrote his magnum opus The City of God: Again, the references to Plato, Aristotle and Cicero and their visions of the ideal state were legion: Augustine equally described a model of the "ideal city", in his case the eternal Jerusalem, using a visionary language not unlike that of the preceding philosophers.
Hegel respected the form of Plato's theories of state and ethical life much more than he did that of his early modern predecessors, those such as Locke, Hobbes or Rousseau, since it was the fashion of these thinkers, and of that time, to use the fiction of a "state of nature" in which the individual was considered as to his or her "natural" needs, desires and freedom. For Hegel this was a contradiction since nature and the individual are contradictory, the individual and the individual freedoms that define individuality as such, are latecomers on the stage of history. Therefore these philosophers unwittingly projected man as an individual, i.e., abstracted from modern society, onto a state of nature. Plato on the other hand had managed to grasp the real ideas of his time:
Plato is not the man to dabble in abstract theories and principles; his truth-loving mind has recognized and represented the truth of the world in which he lived, the truth of the one spirit that lived in him as in Greece itself. No man can overleap his time, the spirit of his time is his spirit also; but the point at issue is, to recognize that spirit by its content
For Hegel, Plato's Republic is not an abstract theory or ideal which is beyond, or too good for the real nature of man, but is not ideal enough, it is not good enough for the ideals which were already inherent or nascent in the reality of his time; a time when Greece was about to enter decline. One such nascent idea was about to crush the Greek way of life. The real idea of individual freedom, Hegel avers, was what destroyed the ancient Greek way of life, and therefore Modern freedoms — or, Christian freedoms, in Hegel's view — such as the free choice of the class to which one belongs, or of what property to possess or which career to follow, were excluded from Plato's Republic:
Plato recognized and caught up the true spirit of his times, and brought it forward in a more definite way, in that he desired to make this new principle an impossibility in his Republic.
Greece being at a crossroads, Plato's new "constitution", defined in The Republic, was an attempt to preserve Greece or, in modern terms, it was a reactionary reply to the new freedoms of private property etc., that were only given legal form through Rome. Accordingly, in ethical life, it was an attempt to introduce a religion that elevated all individuals, metaphorically or not, to be the possessors of an immortal soul.
In his 1934 Plato und die Dichter (Plato and the Poets), as well as several other works, Hans-Georg Gadamer describes the utopic city of the Republic as a heuristic utopia that should not be pursued or even be used as an orientation-point for political development. Rather, its purpose is said to be to show how things would have to be connected, and how one thing would lead to another — often with highly problematic results — if one would opt for certain principles and carry them through rigorously. This interpretation argues that large passages in Plato's writing are ironic, a line of thought initially pursued by Kierkegaard.
The city portrayed in the Republic struck some critics as harsh, rigid, and unfree; indeed, as totalitarian. Karl Popper gave a voice to that view in his 1945 book The Open Society and Its Enemies. Popper singled out Plato's state as a dystopia; Popper thought Plato's envisioned state totalitarian as it advocated a government composed only of a distinct hereditary ruling class, with the working class - who Popper argues Plato regards as "human cattle" - given no role in decision making. He argues that Plato has no interest in what are commonly regarded as the problems of justice - the resolving of disputes between individuals - because Plato has redefined justice as "keeping one's place".
Eric Voegelin in Plato and Aristotle (Baton Rouge, 1957), gave meaning to the concept of ‘Just City in Speech’ (Books II-V). For instance, there is evidence in the dialogue that Socrates himself would not be a member of his 'ideal' state. His life was almost solely dedicated to the private pursuit of knowledge. More practically, Socrates suggests that members of the lower classes could rise to the higher ruling class, and vice versa, if they had ‘gold’ in their veins — a crude version of the concept of social mobility. The exercise of power is built on the ‘Noble Lie’ that all men are brothers, born of the earth, yet there is a clear hierarchy and class divisions. There is a tri-partite explanation of human psychology that is extrapolated to the city, the relation among peoples. There is no family among the guardians, another crude version of Max Weber's concept of bureaucracy as the state non-private concern. Together with Leo Strauss, Voegelin considered Popper's interpretation to be a gross misunderstanding not only of the dialogue itself, but of the very nature and character of Plato's entire philosophic enterprise.
Strauss and Bloom
Some of Plato’s proposals have led theorists like Leo Strauss and Allan Bloom to ask readers to consider the possibility that Socrates was creating not a blueprint for a real city, but a learning exercise for the young men in the dialogue. There are many points in the construction of the "Just-City-in-Speech" that seem contradictory, which raise the possibility Socrates is employing irony to make the men in the dialogue question for themselves the ultimate value of the proposals. In turn, Plato has immortalized this ‘learning exercise’ in the Republic.
One of many examples is that Socrates calls the marriages of the ruling class 'sacred'; however, they last only one night and are the result of manipulating and drugging couples into predetermined intercourse with the aim of eugenically breeding guardian-warriors. Strauss and Bloom's interpretations, however, involve more than just pointing out inconsistencies; by calling attention to these issues they ask readers to think more deeply about whether Plato is being ironic or genuine, for neither Strauss nor Bloom present an unequivocal opinion, preferring to raise philosophic doubt over interpretive fact.
Leo Strauss's approach developed out of a belief that Plato wrote esoterically. The basic acceptance of the exoteric-esoteric distinction revolves around whether Plato really wanted to see the "Just-City-in-Speech" of Books V-VI come to pass, or whether it is just an allegory. Strauss never regarded this as the crucial issue of the dialogue. He argued against Karl Popper's literal view, citing Cicero's opinion that the Republic's true nature was to bring to light the nature of political things. In fact, Strauss undermines the justice found in the "Just-City-in-Speech" by implying the city is not natural, it is a man-made conceit that abstracts away from the erotic needs of the body. The city founded in the Republic "is rendered possible by the abstraction from eros."
An argument that has been used against ascribing ironic intent to Plato is that Plato's Academy produced a number of tyrants, men who seized political power and abandoned philosophy for ruling a city. Despite being well-versed in Greek and having direct contact with Plato himself, some of Plato's former students like Clearchus, tyrant of Heraclea; Chairon, tyrant of Pellene; Eurostatos and Choriskos, tyrants of Skepsis; Hermias of Atarneus and Assos; and Calippus, tyrant of Syracuse ruled people and did not impose anything like a philosopher-kingship. However, it can be argued whether these men became "tyrants" through studying in the Academy. Plato's school had an elite student body, part of which would by birth, and family expectation, end up in the seats of power. Additionally, it is important to remember that it is by no means obvious that these men were tyrants in the modern, totalitarian sense of the concept. Finally, since very little is actually known about what was taught at Plato's Academy, there is no small controversy over whether it was in fact even in the business of teaching politics at all.
Views on the City-Soul analogy
Many critics, both ancient and modern (like Julia Annas), have suggested that the dialogue's political discussion actually serves as an analogy for the individual soul, in which there are also many different "members" that can either conflict or else be integrated and orchestrated under a just and productive "government." Among other things, this analogical reading would solve the problem of certain implausible statements Plato makes concerning an ideal political republic. In a definitive treatment of the subject, Blössner (2007)  presents and argues for the case that the Republic is best understood as an analysis of the workings and moral improvement of the individual soul with remarkable thoroughness and clarity. This view, of course, does not preclude a legitimate reading of the Republic as a political treatise (the work could operate at both levels). It merely implies that it deserves more attention as a work on psychology and moral philosophy than it has sometimes received.
All these 20th-century views have something in common: they view it as a theoretical work, not a set of guidelines for good governance. Plato scholars see it as their task to provide the background knowledge that is needed to gain a fair understanding of what was meant by the author of the Republic. Then the uniqueness of the Republic shows up in the way it clarifies genuine connections of political causes and effects in real life, precisely by providing them with a heuristically rich context.
Nonetheless Bertrand Russell argues that at least in intent, and all in all not so far from what was possible in ancient Greek city-states, the form of government portrayed in the Republic was meant as a practical one by Plato.
One of Plato’s recurring, and seemingly logical techniques in the Republic is to refine the concept of justice with reference to various examples of greater or lesser injustice. However, in The Concept of Injustice, Eric Heinze challenges the assumption that ‘justice’ and ‘injustice’ form a mutually exclusive pair. Heinze argues that such an assumption traces not from strict deductive logic, but from the arbitrary etymology of the word ‘injustice’. Heinze critiques what he calls ‘classical’ Western justice theory for having perpetuated that logical error, which first appears in Plato’s Republic, but manifests throughout traditional political philosophy, in thinkers otherwise as different as Aristotle, Aquinas, Locke, Rousseau, Hegel and Marx.
Place in Plato's corpus
The Republic is generally placed in the middle period of Plato's dialogues—that is, it is believed to be written after the early period dialogues but before the late period dialogues. However, the distinction of this group from the early dialogues is not as clear as the distinction of the late dialogues from all the others. Nonetheless, Ritter, Arnim, and Baron—with their separate methodologies—all agreed that the Republic was well distinguished, along with Parmenides, Phaedrus and Theaetetus.
However, the first book of the Republic, which shares many features with earlier dialogues, is thought to have originally been written as a separate work, and then the remaining books were conjoined to it, perhaps with modifications to the original of the first book.
- Allegory of the Cave
- Analogy of the divided line
- Metaphor of the sun
- Mixed government
- Myth of Er
- Noble Lie
- Philosopher king
- Plato's Republic in popular culture
- Plato's number
- Ring of Gyges
- Ship of state
- Theory of Forms
- The Form of the Good
- Brickhouse, Thomas and Smith, Nicholas D. Plato (c.427-347 BC), The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, University of Tennessee, cf. Dating Plato's Dialogues.
- Lorenz, Hendrik (22 April 2009). "Ancient Theories of Soul". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved 2013-12-10.
- Nails, Debra (2002). The People of Plato: A Prosopography of Plato and Other Socratics. Hackett Publishing. ISBN 0-87220-564-9, p 324
- National Public Radio (August 8, 2007). Plato's 'Republic' Still Influential, Author Says. Talk of the Nation.
- Plato: The Republic. Plato - His Philosophy and his life, allphilosophers.com
- Baird, Forrest E.; Walter Kaufmann (2008). From Plato to Derrida. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Prentice Hall. ISBN 0-13-158591-6.
- Russell, Bertrand, History of Western Philosophy, begin of Book I, part 2, ch. 14.
- Plato. "Book I Line 344c." Plato Republic. Indianapolis: Hackett, 2004. Print.
- “Suppose that a short-sighted person had been asked by some one to read small letters from a distance; and it occurred to some one else that they might be found in another place which was larger and in which the letters were larger, …” (368, trans. Jowett)
- Most recently, Niall Livingstone, A Commentary on Isocrates' Busiris. Mnemosyne Supplement 223. Leiden: Brill, 2001 (see review by David C. Mirhady in Bryn Mawr Classical Review). For earlier consideration of the similarities, see H. Thesleff, Studies in Platonic Chronology, Helsinki 1982, pp. 105f., and C. Eucken, Isokrates, Berlin 1983, pp. 172 ff. Both Thesleff and Eucken entertain the possibility that Isocrates was responding to an earlier version of Republic than the final version we possess.
- Hegel, "Lectures on the Philosophy of History", vol II, p. 96
- Hegel, "Lectures on the Philosophy of History", vol II, p. 99
- Popper, Karl (1950) The Open Society and Its Enemies, Vol. 1: The Spell of Plato, New York: Routledge.
- History of Political Philosophy, co-editor with Joseph Cropsey, 3rd. ed., Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987, p.68
- History of Political Philosophy, co-editor with Joseph Cropsey, 3rd. ed., Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987, p.60
- Malcolm Schofield, "Plato and Practical Politics", in C. Rowe and M. Schofield (eds.), The Cambridge Companion to Greek and Roman Political Thought, Cambridge University Press 2005, pp. 293-302.
- Blössner, Norbert. The City-Soul Analogy, G. R. F. Ferrari (Translator). In: G. R. F. Ferrari (Ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Plato's Republic, Cambridge University Press, 2007. (Ch. 13; pp. 345–385).
- Russell, B. (2004) History of Western Philosophy, end of Book I, part 2, ch. 14.
- The Concept of Injustice (Routledge, 2013).
- Brandwood, Leonard, The Chronology of Plato's Dialogues (Cambridge University Press, 1990), p. 251.
- Brandwood (1990), loc. cit.
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- Texts of The Republic:
- At Libertyfund.org: Plato's Republic: Translated by Benjamin Jowett (1892) with running comments & Stephanus numbers
- At MIT.edu: Plato's Republic: Translated by Benjamin Jowett
- At Perseus Project: Plato's Republic: Translated by Paul Shorey (1935) annotated and hyperlinked text (English and Greek)
- At Project Gutenberg: e-text Plato's Republic: Translated by Benjamin Jowett with introduction.
- Approaching Plato: A Guide to the Early and Middle Dialogues
- Plato's Republic entry in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on Ethics and Politics in The Republic