Plato's Republic by Plato

Start Your Free Trial

Download Plato's Republic Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Book 2 Summary and Analysis

1. Justice as a Convenience (357–367e)

Summary
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.

Analysis
According to Desmond Lee, Plato here returns to Thrasy¬machus’ arguments because “the view which he represents needs a clearer statement and a fairer treatment” (Lee, 1974:102). This gives Socrates an opportunity to defeat Thrasymachus’ views through more than rationalization.

While expanding Thrasymachus’ basic argument, Glaucon adds to it what would now be called a “social contract” explanation for the origin of justice. Its story of a people choosing obedience to the law as preferable to anarchy and injustice is not unique (see Hobbes’ The Leviathan), but the idea of the people themselves making these laws is—especially at this time—typically Greek.

This section also provides an arena for Plato to discuss the question of reputation. Throughout his works, Plato criticizes the great importance Athenians placed on good reputation and appearance. Plato preferred that people focus on who they are inside rather than wasting time worrying about what other people thought of them.

2. Primitive Social Organization: The City of Pigs (368–372d)

Summary
Socrates decides to first examine justice on the scale of the community. Socrates claims that society is formed because individuals are not self-sufficient. Within the social context, it is best that each member practice the single skill at which he excels. The town is allowed simple craftsmen, farmers, laborers, and merchants, and Socrates lays out for them a simple life that they will enjoy in “peace and health.” (372d)

Analysis
The life that Socrates sketches in these passages is seen critically by Glaucon, who shortly refers to it as a city of pigs (or sows). For the highly civilized Athenians (and for moderns), a life devoid of such small luxuries as plates, furniture, and meat would seem more like an animal’s life than a Greek’s.

Even so, this city of simple tastes is Socrates’ vision of a healthy ¬society—not Athens. The maligned city of pigs stands favorably contrasted to the luxury-ridden “fevered” state described next.

3. Civilized Society: Introduction of Guardians (372e–374e)

Summary
To meet Glaucon’s desire for a more civilized society, Socrates introduces luxury to his state. To support the influx of craftsmen and the expanded desires of the townsfolk, the state must be enlarged. Socrates says this can be done only by taking land from someone else, which will lead to war. Following the principle of specialization, Socrates insists that a separate class of soldiers will also become necessary. Socrates therefore proposes to determine what type of character is required of those chosen to guard the city—the...

(The entire section is 1,165 words.)