Plato's Republic by Plato

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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 to defend itself against rich opponents. As long as the city keeps to its program for education, it will stay unified and devoted to keeping all things in common.

Socrates declines to enter into specifics on laws regarding contracts, manners, and religion. While he expects religious matters to be determined by the temple of Apollo at Delphi and manners to emerge smoothly from the well-educated citizens, he dismisses the possibility of difficulties in determining the specifics of regulatory law within his ideal state. If the society finds itself constantly changing the law, it will be a sign that the society has fallen away from health. In this situation the person who tells a society what its members need to do to solve their problems will be seen as “the greatest enemy of all” (426a).

In this section, Plato once again inserts references to Socrates’ life. Socrates proclaimed that fundamental changes were needed to restore Athens to health, and his reward was execution. Plato is bitter that Athens continues to bestow blessings on those who (in his opinion) only flatter it. Since these men will not prescribe the bitter medicine that is necessary to cure Athens’ ills, Plato sees them as false statemen.

This passage also incorporates the “doctrine of the mean”—“mean” in this case meaning average. Rather than praising extremes, such as unlimited wealth, the doctrine of the mean prefers the middle. This is the philosophy behind Socrates’ rejection of both wealth and poverty, which leads him to have the Guardians guard against both of these extremes. Both moderns and Athenians might find Socrates’ critique of wealth poorly constucted, but the abstract form of the argument, of avoiding extremes, seems sensible.

3. Justice in the State (427d–434d)

Socrates says that the city he has described is perfect and possesses the virtues of wisdom, courage, moderation (alt. trans. “self-discipline”), and justice. The Guardians, though few, have imparted their wisdom to the city. The soldiers, who will preserve what they have been taught to believe fearful, provide its courage. Insofar as the well-educated element of the city controls the base desires of the masses and all of the elements of the city agree that the best-educated element should rule, the city is self-disciplined. Because the members of the city don’t interfere in each other’s business or possessions, the city is just.

Socrates initially constructed a hypothetical city to enable the reader to see justice writ large. Now he is preparing for a return to the initial problem of justice in the individual. After...

(The entire section is 1,270 words.)