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 insofar as it enables him to control his passions, as Cephalus has done, and praise justice for its value in the afterlife, as Cephalus now does. But while Cephalus’ life epitomizes that of a just man in normal society, Socrates finds that he has not really reflected on justice.

Notice the references to sayings of the poets. In a society in which books were an oddity, poetry was a major part of a young man’s education. Most revered of the poets was Homer, author of The Iliad and The Odyssey, who was referred to simply as “the poet.” His Iliad served the Greeks as a combination of the Bible and the works of Shakespeare.

Socrates’ “kidnapping” to Polemarchus’ house foreshadows the debate that will later take place between Socrates and Thrasy¬machus. Superior force convinces Socrates to accompany Polemarchus’ party, but Socrates offers debate as a method of ensuring his escape.

2. The Conventional View of Justice Continued: Polemarchus (331e–336a)

Elaborating on his father’s position, Polemarchus asserts that “it is just to give to each what is owed,”...

(The entire section is 1072 words.)