Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 491
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...
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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 that the just life is happier and justice leads to a profitable life. Following the path of justice makes society better, and the gods reward a just man. Asserting the existence of a soul, Socrates tells his final parable, the Myth of Ur. This enables him to show that the benefits of justice continue in the afterlife, where the unjust are punished and repeat the mistakes they made on earth. In conclusion, Socrates finds that virtue and the good life are indeed profitable, in this world and the next.
Estimated Reading Time
Although The Republic’s conversational style makes it surprisingly easy to read, some sections are difficult to digest. In addition, taking time to reflect on the work as one reads it aids comprehension.
For this reason, a good understanding of the book necessitates it be read in at least two sittings. For a reader who is generally unfamiliar with the ideas presented in The Republic, four sittings would not be unreasonable.
Suggested breaks Approximate reading time
Books I–III 90 minutes
Books IV–VI 2 hours
Books VII–VIII 90 minutes
Books IX–X 90 minutes
These breaks are easily digestible, with the important elements of the book distributed evenly among them.
NOTE: Quotes within this work are from the second (1991) edition of Allan Bloom’s 1968 translation. While the ten “books” follow the original limitations of papyrus transcription, the line numbers refer to the customary breaks of Stephanus’s 1578 edition, included in almost every version of The Republic. The work starts at line 327; breaks between books are occasionally discontinuous.