Socrates, visiting Polemarchus’ house, enters into a conversation on the nature of justice. Several different definitions are presented by the various guests. After finding each of these lacking, Socrates attempts to define justice himself. This requires that he first describe justice on the scale of the state (or “The Republic”). Here, Socrates finds justice to be each person performing the task at which he1 excels.
Since the modern “fevered” state necessitates soldiers, Socrates asserts that a method must be found to ensure that they do their job well. He then lays out a system of education that will make them the best possible soldiers. Out of this well-disciplined group, the rulers of society—the Guardians—will be chosen. The goal of society will be the happiness of the community, a goal that will be achieved because of the beliefs held by the various classes.
After discussing the role of philosophy and the philosopher in society, Socrates concludes that the philosopher would be the ideal ruler. Socrates uses the parable of the ship of state, the simile of the divided line, and the allegory of the cave to express the philosopher’s ability to see the truth and use this knowledge to guide the state. Socrates then discusses the various inferior forms government can take, concluding that a despotic government is worst, with democracy only slightly better.
Returning to the question of justice, Socrates asserts...
(The entire section is 491 words.)
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Summary and Analysis
Book 1 Summary and Analysis
1. Introduction: Cephalus and the Conventional View of Justice (327–331d)
While walking back to town with Glaucon, Socrates is invited to spend the evening at Polemarchus’ house. Upon arrival, Socrates and Polemarchus’ father, Cephalus, discuss the changes that occur with age. Cephalus says he is happy to be free of the passions of youth, adding that age is an easy burden to bear for those who are “sensible and good-tempered” (329d). With prodding from Socrates, Cephalus goes on to say that he is happy that he is well-off, insofar as it has made it easier for him to avoid wrongdoing. This knowledge gives him peace, because he is unafraid of what his judgment will be in the world of the dead.
Socrates then asks Cephalus if it is sufficient to say that one has lived justly merely if one has been truthful and returned what one has borrowed. When Cephalus agrees, Socrates presents the question of returning a weapon to a man gone mad. Since obeying Cephalus’ definition of justice would produce a bad result, Socrates finds Cephalus’ definition insufficient.
Polemarchus interrupts, saying his father’s definition is correct. Cephalus takes this opportunity to depart, leaving his son to continue the argument.
In this section, justice, the main topic of The Republic, is introduced casually by Cephalus. Socrates will later find justice valuable in the individual...
(The entire section is 1072 words.)
Book 2 Summary and Analysis
1. Justice as a Convenience (357–367e)
Glaucon, playing devil’s advocate, argues that justice is a good that is unenthusiastically practiced for the benefits it brings. Justice and law are established by men acting in common in order to avoid being on the receiving end of injustice. Glaucon gives the story of Gyges’ ring of invisibility to show that every man would prefer to act unjustly if removed from fear of punishment, adding that anyone who didn’t would be considered an idiot.
Glaucon then contrasts the life of a perfectly unjust man with a reputation for being just to the life of a perfectly just man with a reputation for injustice. Glaucon says it is clear that the just man will be miserable and the unjust blessed, proving that it is better to seem rather than to be just; and, thanks to the unjust man’s ability to propitiate the gods, he will be favored by them as well.
Adeimantus joins in, arguing that justice is valued for the benefits that come from it: first, from the good reputation it gives; and second, for the blessings it leads the gods to bestow in this life and the next. He concludes by asking Socrates, who has spent his life studying this matter, to compare justice to injustice, showing that justice is superior, not by virtue of its material benefits, but by virtue of its positive effect on a man’s soul.
According to Desmond...
(The entire section is 1165 words.)
Book 3 Summary and Analysis
1. Educating the Guardians: Failings of Poetry (386–392c)
Socrates adds that, because bravery in war is necessary, children must not be taught to be afraid of death. Stories that portray “Hades’ domain” as “full of terror” will be banned, as well as laments by heroes (386b). Socrates cites many passages from the Iliad and the Odyssey that would not be permitted. Further constraints will be put on literature to discourage laughter and lying and encourage self-restraint.
Socrates’ critique of Homer as a bad influence becomes even clearer in this book, which provides numerous quotes that show (to Plato) how Homer has misguided Greek’s beliefs. While Plato’s heretical implications can be dismissed today, his censorship would do much to ruin the very aspects that have made Homer’s works timeless literary works.
Later in the Republic, Socrates will replace this foundation of Greek society with a new myth, one that unifies rather than divides society.
2. Proper Forms of Music and Poetry (392c–403c)
While constraints on the representation of heroes and gods are easily produced, it is more difficult to define how the poets should deal with men, given that justice has not yet been defined. At present, poets use descriptions of justice similar to those presented by Glaucon, Adeimantus, and...
(The entire section is 1771 words.)
Book 4 Summary and Analysis
1. Happiness of the Guardians (419–421c)
Adeimantus questions whether or not the Guardians will be happy, as they will possess none of those things that are “conventionally held to belong to men who are going to be blessed” (419a).
Socrates responds that, while the Guardians will likely be happy, the goal has been the happiness of the whole city. The conventional definition of happiness as wealth would make craftsmen poor at their crafts. It would be far worse for the Guardians to be corrupted in such a way, for if they fail at their task the city will be destroyed.
Most interesting in this passage is the references it makes to Socrates’ trial. Adeimantus asks Socrates for his apology—or defense—against the accusations he lists. These courtroom terms, according to Allan Bloom, remind us that Socrates’ way of thinking was thought to be injurious to the state. “[F]rom the various instances in which he is forced to make an apology, one can piece together the true reasons for Socrates’, and hence the philosopher’s, conflict with the city…[E]very use of this word casts an ominous shadow.” (Bloom, 1991: 455)
2. Maintenance of Unity (421d–427c)
Socrates says that to keep the city at its best, it is necessary for the Guardians to keep wealth and poverty out of the city. The city will easily be able...
(The entire section is 1270 words.)
Book 5 Summary and Analysis
1. The Position of Women (451d–457b)
Adeimantus asks Socrates to elaborate about the community of wives and children which he had briefly mentioned earlier. Referring to the previous analogies to watchdogs, Socrates asserts that the women in society should be trained and expected to perform the same duties as the men. Women and men are not of different natures, so women are capable of performing every occupation. Therefore, having women serve as Guardians is quite natural, as it is among the many things at which they may excel. Men will naturally be better than women at every task as well as being stronger; but training the women in this way will result in the state producing “the best possible women and men” (457e).
This is a highly disputed passage. Its references to the playwright Aristophanes, who parodied women’s equality in his Ecclesiazusae—as well as Socrates in the Clouds—are clear, but how serious Plato is about women’s equality is not.
Desmond Lee says that the concept of women’s equality was “in the air” before the Republic was written, which is why Aristophanes was inspired to parody them in the Ecclesiazusae (Lee, 1974:225). In contrast, Allan Bloom says that the idea that women could lead the same sort of life as men had not previously existed “in the thoughts of serious men” (Bloom, 1991:380). By discussing it,...
(The entire section is 1632 words.)
Book 6 Summary and Analysis
1. The Philosopher’s Character (484–487a)
Philosophers who have true vision are best suited to guard the laws and customs of a city. Other people are blind compared to them. Philosophers love truth, spurn physical pleasures, and don’t fear death. They are temperate, courageous, and just. Philosophers also learn easily and have a good memory. Finally, philosophers’ grace and sense of proportion enable them to easily understand the nature of the forms. These, then, are the people to whom the state must be entrusted.
The description of a philosopher that Plato puts in Socrates’ mouth is anything but humble. To some degree, it is designed specifically to counteract the charges of the Athenians that philosophers (especially Socrates) sought to overturn the moral foundations of the state; instead, they are depicted as the only true guardians of the laws and customs. The other aspects respond to the common Athenian belief that philosophers themselves were immoral, as summarized in the next section.
The description Socrates paints of the true philosopher is congruent with the previous description of the Guardian. The philosopher is more remarkable, however, because he acquired these noble traits without the full support of society.
2. The Corruption of the Philosopher (487b–497a)
Adeimantus counters Socrates’ description with...
(The entire section is 1766 words.)
Book 7 Summary and Analysis
1. The Allegory of the Cave (514–521b)
Socrates continues his indirect description of the Good with his allegory of the cave. In the cave, men live shackled to the wall, only capable of staring straight ahead. All they can see are the shadows of images carried between a curtain and a fire by some other people, who talk and make noises. The prisoners assume that what they see and hear is reality.
If a man were released and forced outside, the brilliance would be painful and make everything difficult for him to understand. Socrates says the man would prefer the cave, but as his eyes acclimated he would realize that he had been living a life of illusion in a world where he never even realized the sun existed. He might, out of pity, return to the cave to try to enlighten his former fellows, but if he attempted to release them to experience what they would see as madness, they would try to kill him.
Socrates says that this allegory explains why philosophers are so often mocked by society; they have been blinded by the truth of the Good, and those to whom they try to explain themselves find their ideas incomprehensible. These people are trapped in the illusory world of the senses just as much as the prisoners were trapped in the cave.
Socrates believed the ability to perceive the world of forms “is in the soul of each” (518c), requiring only a proper education to be released. The rulers of...
(The entire section is 1386 words.)
Book 8 Summary and Analysis
1. Introduction to the Four Imperfect Societies and Their Characteristic Individuals (543–545c)
After recapitulating the elements of the ideal state, Socrates names the four imperfect states. The first and best is the Cretan or Spartan type (called “timarchy”); the second is oligarchy; the third, democracy; and the fourth and worst is tyranny. Socrates says that there are also five sorts of men: the best, corresponding to the aristocratic regime of the city in speech, and one for each of the degenerate regimes. Socrates describes these five men as falling on a descending scale of justice. He leaves until later the question of their varying degrees of happiness.
Plato here establishes the pattern the rest of this book will follow: a description of a less-than-perfect state is followed by a description of the person who corresponds to this state. He will continue the previously used parallel between the city and the individual character, including the arrangement of the three elements of each, except that the arrangement will now show the origin of different social and psychological ills.
2. Timarchy (545d–550c)
The degeneration of the ideal state starts when disagreement arises within the ruling class. Using a complex mathematical formula derived from Pythagorean theory and Greek numerology, Socrates explains that the problems arise...
(The entire section is 1523 words.)
Book 9 Summary and Analysis
1. The Tyrannical Individual (571–576b)
In order to explain the evolution of the tyrannical man, Socrates sub-divides the unnecessary pleasures, creating a category of anti-social pleasures. While these may exist within everyone, most people control theirs through the influence of the law and the active intervention of their power of reason. The tyrant is a mixture of lust, drunkenness, and madness, evil passions that can exist in anyone (as is revealed by one’s dreams) but which the tyrant alone makes no attempt to restrain. By indulging his passions, the tyrannical man will find they grow insatiable and exhaust his funds attempting to satisfy them. He will completely lose all restraints and will commit every crime.
As more of these types are formed, they form gangs. When their numbers become great enough, the people of a state will choose the worst man among them to be ruler. The ruling tyrant will plunder the people, while his tyrannical lackeys will prove to be only fair-weather friends, leaving him when a better opportunity presents itself. The tyrannical type is perfectly unjust and the worst type of man.
Plato describes the tyrannical sort as the kind of person no man would wish to be. He is faithless, indulges in low pleasures, and cannot be trusted. Plato’s description would make it difficult for any man of honor to wish to be a tyrant. Even if Thrasymachus were still...
(The entire section is 1047 words.)
Book 10 Summary and Analysis
1. Critique of Art (595–605b)
Socrates reemphasizes the importance of the limits placed on poetry in the city in speech. Artists’ products are only imitations of reality, twice removed from the true characteristic of the world of forms. Artists’ (specifically poets’) claims to have broad knowledge about mankind are false. Socrates supports his claim by showing that nothing of value has come from Homer’s writings and that poets have not been men of action. Poets cannot be true educators because they do not know what is good.
Since artists neither use nor create the objects they depict, their representations lack the benefit of expert knowledge. For this reason, concludes Socrates, artists have no true standards to guide what they produce. This leads them to choose as their standard public opinion, a critique that above all applies to the tragic poets. Furthermore, because representing the actions of the reasoning element of the brain is difficult, as well as boring to the public, dramatic poets focus on representing the lower elements. This encourages these bad elements in the individual as well as the state. It is therefore right to exclude poetry from the good state.
According to Desmond Lee, this section has been inserted into the Republic in order to strengthen its earlier critique of poetry “against anticipated or actual criticism” (Lee, 1974:421). This time...
(The entire section is 1736 words.)