Plato's Republic by Plato

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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 unconvinced by Socrates’ argument, he would be unlikely to defend the life of a tyrant to the gathering without appearing to be a pervert.

2. Comparative Happiness of the Five Individuals (576c–588)

Socrates concludes that the tyrant is the unhappiest man, his state the worst. A tyrant’s state is enslaved, poor, frightened, and miserable. The tyrant himself is the most miserable person in this state, because he lives in a condition of constant fear. While he has complete power to act arbitrarily, he lacks true freedom because he is dominated by his emotions. The philosopher-king is the happiest and his state is the best.

Glaucon agrees with Socrates’ ranking of the happiness of the five men and states, adding that they also show similar degrees of excellence. Socrates then examines the lives of the five different men to determine which is most pleasant. Referring to the three elements of the mind and their pleasures, Socrates says that only the man in whom reason dominates could make a true judgment on which of the pleasures is best. This man also has the widest experience of the world’s pleasures. Since the philosopher has the best judgment and the broadest experience of all, his choice of philosophy as the highest pleasure must be correct. The life of the philosopher is therefore the most pleasant.

Socrates adds that the philosopher’s pleasures, because they partake of the world of forms more than they do the mortal world, are also more real than any sensual pleasures. Pursuing philosophy will lead to the best possible results.

As a postscript, Socrates notes that the tyrant’s life is 729 times more miserable than that of the philosopher-king.

Plato uses this section to respond to the claim (stated by Thrasymachus) that the tyrant is the happiest of men. As defended by Socrates, however, the argument in favor of philosophy is worthy of a sophist. Because Plato likes philosophy, he naturally decides that a philosopher is the best judge of everything, allowing no contrary argument to be presented. His theory of forms, which he asserts is an empirical truth, allows intellectual pursuits to be prioritized as more real than those concerned with the material world. These premises allow him to conclude that the philosopher’s life is most pleasant of all because philosophers say it is so and because philosophers pleasures are more real, according to a philosophical definition.

It is unfortunate that Plato’s argument is built upon such questionable premises. Better support is found in his description of the misery of the...

(The entire section is 1,047 words.)