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The Republic of Plato, perhaps the greatest single treatise written on political philosophy, has strongly influenced Western thought concerning questions of justice, rule, obedience, and the good life. The work is undoubtedly the best general introduction to Plato’s philosophy. It contains not only his ideas on the state and human...

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The Republic of Plato, perhaps the greatest single treatise written on political philosophy, has strongly influenced Western thought concerning questions of justice, rule, obedience, and the good life. The work is undoubtedly the best general introduction to Plato’s philosophy. It contains not only his ideas on the state and human nature but also his theory of forms, his theory of knowledge, and his views of the role of music and poetry in society. Plato presents a penetrating analysis of each of the important philosophical questions. Socrates and his illustrious student Plato force the reader, by their dialectical technique of question and answer, of definition and exception, to take an active part in the philosophical enterprise.

The work is divided into ten books, or chapters, written as a dialogue with Socrates as the main character. One cannot fail to catch the magnificence of Plato’s literary and philosophical style, for all the available translations contain passages of great force and beauty.

Justice

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The opening book of the Republic is concerned with the question, “What is justice?” Invited by Polemarchus to the home of his father, Cephalus, Socrates and others (among them Glaucon, Adeimantus, and Thrasymachus) begin, in an easy fashion, the search for an answer. First Cephalus and then his son Polemarchus defend the idea that justice is the restoration of what one has received from another. Socrates asks if this definition would apply in a situation in which weapons borrowed from a friend were demanded by him when quite obviously he was no longer of sound mind. It is a homely example of the type that Socrates loved to give; and as usual, when examined, it raises important considerations. Justice, among other things, involves not only property but also conditions, such as a sound mind, which cannot be merely assumed.

The next definition is that justice is doing good to friends and harm to enemies. However, knowledge is needed in order to be able to judge who one’s friends and enemies are. The definition is then modified: Do good to the just and harm to the unjust. Socrates brings up an objection that is a central feature of many of his discussions of the good life. He argues that doing harm to the unjust makes them worse than they are. He holds that it can never be just to make people worse than they are by doing harm to them.

The most serious discussion of this book, which sets the tone for the remainder of the Republic, occurs next. Thrasymachus, who had been sitting by listening to the argument with ill-concealed distaste, impetuously breaks in and takes it up. He presents a position that has since been stated many times: Because the stronger party makes the laws, justice is that which is to the advantage or interest of the stronger party. Socrates attacks this definition: He points out that people do not always know what their interest is or wherein it lies. When the stronger party errs in judgment, then what? Thrasymachus replies that rulers are not rulers when they err. Note that in admitting this, Thrasymachus has already moved away from his original position and toward that of Socrates, which is that might alone does not make right; might together with some kind of knowledge capable of preventing errors makes right. Socrates presses his advantage further. Whenever we consider an art and its practice, be it medicine, piloting a ship, or ruling, it is practiced not for the sake of the art or its practitioner but for those who are to receive its benefits, be they patients, passengers, or the ruled.

Thrasymachus angrily declares that anyone but a philosopher could see that society “honors” the powerful person over the powerless. Corrupt people with impunity dissolve contracts and pay no taxes. People may privately proclaim the virtues of justice, but publicly, the opposite prevails, and people are admired and respected for daring to practice that which is ordinarily frowned on. In fact, Thrasymachus claims, the tyrant is the happiest person. Socrates points out that Thrasymachus has challenged the whole conduct of living.

Socrates repeats the point that an art is practiced for the benefit of those for whom its services are intended and not for the benefit of the practitioner. Any payment received for practicing an art is independent of the aim of the art. In ruling, the benefit is for the ruled, not the ruler. No one rules willingly; people accept the responsibility only because they fear to be ruled by a worse person. Thrasymachus replies that ideal justice is a virtue that a person of intelligence cannot afford, whereas what is called “injustice” is in reality only good prudence. Under questioning, Thrasymachus admits that the just person does not try to get the better of other just people, but rather of unjust people who are the individual’s opposites. “Get the better of” appears to mean “take advantage of” in the widest possible sense. Even to instruct someone is somehow to take advantage of him. In a vein much like the one taken above, Socrates argues that in every form of knowledge and ignorance (every art or its lack), the person who knows tries to benefit those who do not know, not those who know. When the ignorant are in control, not knowing the art, they do not know in what way to practice it or on whom. Hence, they try to get the better of all—be they wise or ignorant.

For Socrates, knowing one’s art and for whom it is intended is a sign of virtue. “Virtue” appears to mean “the proper function of anything”; what the proper function of a thing is, however, demands appropriate study and knowledge. Those who are just try to get the better of only those who are unjust and of no others, whereas the unjust try to get the better of all. The latter, then, are the ignorant and the ineffectual; the former, the intelligent, and hence the wise and the good. The soul’s virtue is found in proper rule of the individual. Just people with knowledge can rule themselves and others, whereas unjust men, factitious, disrupted, and not knowing what to do and what not to do, can rule neither themselves nor others.

The first book ends as Socrates reminds his disputants that they have been getting ahead of themselves; it is a bit foolish to talk about justice (a virtue) when they have not yet defined it.

The State

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In book 2, Glaucon and Adeimantus press Socrates to prove that the just life is worth living, and Glaucon illustrates his wish by means of the legend of the ring of Gyges. Gyges, so the story goes, gained possession of a ring that when turned made its wearer invisible. With this advantage, he was able to practice evil with impunity. Socrates is to consider an individual with the advantage of Gyges and contrast him with a person who is his opposite. It is his task to show that the life of the just person, no matter what indignities are suffered, is worth living and that it is preferable to that of Gyges. He is to show that virtue is its own reward no matter what the consequences.

Socrates, with misgivings, takes on the task. He suggests, inasmuch as they are searching for something not easily found, justice, that they turn to a subject that will most readily exhibit it. The state is analogous to the individual, and justice, once found in the state, will apply also to its counterpart, the individual.

He begins his quest by a kind of pseudohistorical analysis of the state. People are not self-sufficient and thus cannot supply themselves with all the necessities of life. However, by pooling their resources, and by having people do what they are best suited to do, they will provide food, shelter, and clothing for themselves. The city that these people create then engages in exporting and importing, sets up markets, and steadily advances from its simple beginnings. From simple needs, the people pass increasingly to luxurious wants. Because the necessities of life are no longer sufficient, the people turn to warfare to accumulate booty. Armies are needed and a new professional is born: the soldier, with appropriate characteristics. The soldiers must be as watchdogs, gentle to their friends and fierce to their enemies. (Note that in discussing the characteristics of the soldiers, a spirited group that forms only a part of the state, and analogously, a spirited part of the individual, Socrates suggests a feature formerly given as a possible definition of justice.) The soldier must know his friends, the citizenry, and his enemies, the barbarians, and be good to the one and harm the other. This may be an aspect of justice, but it is not the complete definition. The state also needs rulers, or guardians, who are to be carefully selected and trained.

Plato holds music and gymnastics to be a significant part of the guardian training. He concludes book 2 and takes up much of book 3 with arguments for censorship of the tales of Hesiod and Homer, especially any wherein the gods, who ought to be examples of noble, virtuous beings, are presented as deceitful, lustful, brutal, and petty. He believed that Greek society was in decline, that moral behavior was no longer understood or practiced by the Athenians, and that, to a large measure, the degrading tales of the gods were responsible. He no doubt mistook a symptom for a cause. The moral decline of a people involves many things of which trashy literature is only a sign; the desire for such things cannot be cured by censorship. He thought that the young imitate in their behavior the activities they perceive in the imitative arts. If they read stories in which the “heroes” are immoral, if they see plays in which the protagonists are effeminate and slavish, then they will tend to act similarly. Plato argues that the guardians may know of such people, but to act as they do will bring about bad habits. Furthermore, to imitate means to do or be more than one thing—that is, to be both that which one imitates and also one’s own self—and in this society it is enough to do or be one thing and that well.

In order to convince the inhabitants of this state that people are fit for one and only one job—to be either guardians (rulers), auxiliaries (soldiers), or workers—the rulers will institute a “noble lie.” This lie or myth will be to the effect that people are molded by the gods to be one of the three types noted. Plato likens these classes to gold, silver, and bronze and holds that the people are to look on themselves as having these “metals” in their makeup from birth. There will be some “mobility” between classes if ability is discovered, but generally they will remain static.

In book 4, Socrates holds that the city should be neither too wealthy nor too poor, neither too large nor too small, neither too populous nor too scarcely populated. It should be a place where men and women have equal opportunity and where each person does the task for which he or she is best suited. Such a city will be wise and brave, temperate and just. These are the cardinal virtues, and therefore, we are well on our way toward finding in the city those virtues we had hoped to see in the individual.

In the city, wisdom is found in the rule of the guardian; in the individual, in the rule of intelligence. To function properly, we saw, is to be virtuous. This, to Plato, is the essence of wisdom, especially since acting virtuously takes knowledge. Courage is a way of preserving the values of the city through education. Knowing what to fear and what not to fear, a knowledge gained through law, characterizes courage. Temperance is a kind of order; the naturally better part of the soul controls the worst part, as in the city the naturally superior part governs the inferior. Thus, the intelligence of the few controls the passions of the many, as people’s intelligence governs their appetites through their will. Justice, lastly, is found in the truth that each one must practice the one thing for which one’s nature is best suited. To do one’s “business” and not to meddle with others, to have and to do that which is one’s own—that is justice. Although within the class of artisans there may be some mixing of tasks—the carpenter may perform some other craft—there cannot be mixing of the classes of gold, silver, or bronze.

The Three Waves

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In book 5, Plato discusses the “three waves” that are needed if the ideal state is to be possible. The rulers are to be selected from those who show the proper aptitude, women as well as men. This is the first wave. The second wave is that communal life must be shared by the ruling class. Marriage and children will be held in common. All within a certain age group are to be designated “parents,” a younger group, “children” and “brothers and sisters,” and so on. Plato argues that family loyalty is an asset that, when practiced on a public scale, will retain its value, whereas the deficits of private family life, such as the factiousness between families, will be eliminated. “Mine” and “not mine” will apply to the same things. The ruler will arrange communal marriages by lot; unknown to the betrothed, however, the lottery will be fraudulently arranged for reasons of eugenics. Another myth or lie is told for the state’s benefit. The third wave, and most difficult to bring about, is that philosophers must be kings, or kings, philosophers. If this can occur, then political power and intellectual wisdom will be combined so that justice may prevail.

In books 6 and 7, Plato presents three analogies to illustrate parts of the three waves. Plato believed that those features that objects of a certain kind have in common, for example, the features common to varied art objects, all beautiful, are all related to a single perfect ideal, or form, which he called “the feature itself,” in this case “beauty itself.” This is an intellectual reality properly “seen” by the rational element of the soul, just as the many instances are perceived by sight or by means of the other senses. The good itself, the highest of all forms, is the proper object of the philosopher’s quest.

In his first analogy, Plato likens the good to the sun. Just as the sun provides light so that people can see physical objects, the good provides “light” so that the soul may perceive intellectual forms.

Plato’s second analogy also emphasizes the distinction between the senses and the rational element of the soul as sources of knowing. Imagine a line whose length has been divided into two unequal parts; furthermore, these parts are then divided in the same proportion as the first division. If the line is labeled AE, the first point of division C and the other two points of the subdivisions B and D, then the proportions shown in the diagram hold. Hence BC = CD.

CE/AC = DE/CD = BC/AB

Now what do these segments represent? The first segment of the original line with its two segments Plato styles “the world of opinion,” and he calls the first of its segments “conjecture” (AB) and the second “belief” (BC). We gain information regarding this world through our senses. We pass from creatures who let the world come to us with little or no thought, only conjecture—a world of shadows and reflections—to persons who have beliefs as to what the shadows represent—a world of physical objects such as trees, hammers, and houses.

The second segment of the original line is titled “the world of knowledge,” and its sections “understanding” and “thinking” respectively; this is the world of forms mentioned in the analogy of the sun. Plato considers mathematics the mental activity most characteristic of understanding by the use of images. In geometry, there is, among other things, an attempt to define precisely the various mathematical figures (circle, triangle, square, and so forth). Unlike the world of physical objects, which is mutable, these definitions, which state the formal properties of these objects, are unchanging. In thinking, one finds the highest form of mental activity: dialectical thought, or thinking by the use of ideas. From contemplating the unchanging forms or ideas of physical things, the mind progresses to the reality of perfect beauty, justice, and goodness. The process of education in the perceptual world moves from bare opinion through belief, a practical rather than a theoretical understanding of the truths of the world of things seen, to understanding and thinking, wherein the eternal truths of the world of things thought are known.

Plato’s third analogy is that of the cave. Imagine prisoners chained in a cave in a way that all they can see is a wall in front of them. On the wall, shadows appear cast from a parapet behind them where a fire burns and where bearers carry all sorts of objects. This is, of course, analogous to the world of shadows (sense experience) represented by the segment AB of the divided line. Miraculously, a prisoner frees himself and sees the cause of the images and the light that casts them; he is in the world of belief. Noticing an opening that leads out of the cave, he crawls into the sunlight, the world of forms, and is so dazzled that he is blinded. However, gradually he adjusts to the light, sees the true reality, the realm of ideas, and is tempted to remain there forever. However, he is compelled by a sense of obligation to return to the cave and to instruct the chained. They disbelieve, for all they know is the world of gloom and shadows, and they would jeer him, or worse, tear him to pieces; but he persists and rededicates his life to their instruction. Thus the philosopher, having the world of forms for his contemplation, must return to be king, to rule by a sense of duty, if there is to be justice.

Plato outlines an educational program for the philosopher-king that continues from the music and gymnastics taught the guardians. For ten years, he studies arithmetic, geometry, solid geometry, and astronomy. He is in the realm of understanding, and the point of his mathematical training is to prepare him for study of and grasp of ideal forms. For five years, he studies dialectical thought so that the ultimate principle of reason, the form of good, shall be known to him. Then, at the age of thirty-five, he begins his period of practical application of these principles, and after fifteen years, he ascends the throne at fifty.

The Decline of the State

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In book 8, Plato discusses the decline of the state, which is paralleled by the decline of the individuals who make it up; the state is analogous to the individual. From the rational state, one moves to the spirited one (the guardians), the chief virtue of which is honor. When the spirited element is again dominated by appetites, then wealth is sought and the oligarchy born. From wealth, one goes to the government of the many who, overthrowing the few, proclaim the virtues of the group. Appealing to the mob, the demogogue takes over, and the full decline of the ideal state and its members has occurred.

There is a weird similarity; from love of reason to insatiable lust, the state and the individual have degenerated. There is the rule of one in both cases, but people have gone from one who knows what to do and what not to do to one who knows nothing and whose every impulse is one’s master. People of intelligence use their reason to direct their will and thus to control their appetites, but tyrants control nothing. Tyrants are controlled by their appetites. People who are slave to their appetites are masters of nothing; those who are masters of nothing are the most miserable of people. They are always in pain. Thus book 9 closes, with the passage from true pleasure to pain, from the just person to the unjust. Socrates has shown Glaucon and Adeimantus what the happy life, the just life, is.

Book 10 contains the famous Myth of Er and touches somewhat on what Plato means by “idea” or “form” and on the danger of art in the state. To each class of particulars that have something in common, Plato holds there is a form or idea in which these particulars participate and that gives them their common quality. The quality is a reflection of the idea, so a bed painted by an artist has as its model a physical bed that has in common with other beds the idea of “bedness” itself. There can be but one idea-form of beds, for if there were another, the two forms would have a third in which they would participate, and so on, ad infinitum. Plato’s criticism of art as imitation was based on the claim that art is three steps removed from reality (because works of art are copies of the aspects of things and things are themselves copies of the ideas).

The Republic closes with an argument for the immortality of the soul. The soul’s only illness is injustice; yet injustice is not fatal. By loving justice—by harmonizing reason, spirit, and appetite—people can keep their souls healthy, and the soul will prosper forever.

Republic

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The best society, according to Plato, is a harmonious one, the result of rational coordination of the populace by carefully selected and trained rulers.

Plato identified three classes of citizens who, if they are to live in harmony, must be satisfied with their position on the social hierarchy. At the bottom are the artisans and laborers, who supply the material needs of the state. Next are the soldiers, who defend the state. At the top are the rulers, the few who are selected at birth to be taught how to organize best the state’s social life.

These three classes of citizens correspond to the three parts of human beings as Plato understood them. The first of these is appetite, the physical needs and desires of individuals. The second is spirit, the emotional core of individuals. The third is reason, which gives unity to the human personality. Artisans and laborers are dominated by appetite, soldiers are dominated by spirit, and rulers are dominated by reason.

The ideal state is characterized by community, or harmony. Plato opposed private property and individualism because they can fragment a society, advocating instead communal property, housing, and work--even communal sex and childrearing. In a like manner, because education should foster social harmony, poets and fiction writers who question the state must be censored.

The type of government closest to the ideal state is what Plato called timocracy, or rule by the principles of military honor. The next best is oligarchy, or rule by a few. Government by the people, democracy, ranks third, surpassing only tyranny, or dictatorship by one individual.

Additional Reading

Brumbaugh, Robert S. Plato for the Modern Age. New York: Crowell-Collier, 1962. A good introduction to Plato’s thought and the Greek world in which he developed it.

Copleston, Frederick. A History of Philosophy: Greece and Rome. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1969. Copleston devotes several clear chapters to a discussion of the full range of Plato’s view.

Cropsey, Joseph. Plato’s World: Man’s Place in the Cosmos. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995. Discusses Plato’s views on human nature with attention to his political theories.

Gonzalez, Francisco, ed. The Third Way: New Directions in Platonic Studies. Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1995. A helpful sampling of late twentieth century research on Plato, his continuing significance, and trends of interpretation in Platonic studies.

Hall, Robert W. Plato. London: Allen and Unwin, 1981. An excellent discussion of Plato’s political thought, most of it devoted to the Republic. Two chapters in particular—“Athenian Democracy” and “Plato’s Political Heritage” help place Plato and his work within wider historical, cultural, and political contexts.

Howland, Jacob. “The Republic”: The Odyssey of Philosophy. New York: Twayne, 1993. The ideal starting point for the study of the Republic. Provides a chapter discussing literary and historical contexts, a chronology of Plato’s life and works, extensive notes, and a bibliography.

Irwin, Terrence. Plato’s Ethics. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995. A thorough study of Plato’s moral philosophy, including its political implications.

Jones, W. T. The Classical Mind. Vol. 1 in A History of Western Philosophy. 2d ed. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1969. A reliable introduction to the main themes and issues on which Plato focused.

Kahn, Charles H. Plato and the Socratic Dialogue: The Philosophical Use of a Literary Form. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996. A study of Plato’s use of the dialogue form as a means for exploring and developing key philosophical positions and dispositions.

Kraut, Richard, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Plato. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1992. Eminent Plato scholars analyze and assess key Platonic dialogues and issues in Plato’s thought.

Lycos, Kimon. Plato on Justice and Power: Reading Book I of Plato’s “Republic.” Albany: State University of New York Press, 1987. A useful, if somewhat advanced introduction to the Republic, focusing on book 1, which, Lycos argues, shows “how inadequacies of traditional Greek views about justice are to be overcome.”

Pappas, Nikolas, ed. Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Plato and the “Republic.” New York: Routledge, 1995. Helpful articles that clarify key Platonic concepts and theories.

Plato. Republic. Translated by Robin Waterfield. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994. This fine translation of the Republic contains an introduction, a bibliography, and notes.

Moravcsik, J. M. E. Plato and Platonism: Plato’s Conception of Appearance and Reality in Ontology, Epistemology, and Ethics and Its Modern Echoes. Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell, 1992. A scholarly study of Plato’s key distinction between appearance and reality and the continuing impact of that distinction.

Rutherford, R. B. The Art of Plato: Ten Essays in Platonic Interpretation. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1995. Well-informed essays on key elements of Plato’s theories.

Sayers, Sean. Plato’s “Republic”: An Introduction. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2000. An accessible commentary on the works of the philosopher.

Tarrant, Harold. Plato’s First Interpreters. Ithica, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2000. An examination of the earliest debates about Plato’s ideas.

Tuana, Nancy, ed. Feminist Interpretations of Plato. University Park: Pennsylvania State University, 1994. Scholarly essays evaluate Plato’s understanding of gender issues and appraise his philosophy from the perspectives of feminist theory.

Williams, Bernard A. O. Plato. New York: Routledge, 1999. An excellent biographical introduction to the thoughts of the philosopher, clearly presented. Bibliography.

White, Nicholas P. A Companion to Plato’s “Republic.” Indianapolis, Ind.: Hackett, 1979. A tremendously learned and cogent commentary, based on a book-by-book summary of the Republic. The introductory chapters before the summary are especially helpful, as is the bibliography.

Stephen Satris John K. Roth

Republic

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The Work

Republic consists of a lengthy discussion of the advantages of choosing justice rather than injustice. In order to persuade his interlocutors, Socrates, the protagonist of Republic, uses every rhetorical device available to him, blending images and arguments into a whole that is worthy of the name “cosmos.” Included in the work are fictional regimes, noble lies, an analogy of the good, allegories exposing human ignorance, geometrical explanations of knowledge, an image of the soul in speech, and a myth. The interlocutors, however, remain skeptical. They see no reason to believe that the soul has conflicting powers that are in need of intelligent governance, and they doubt that a philosopher king would rule the city more successfully than would a greedy tyrant who might agree to satisfy the interlocutors’ own greed.

Framed among the most refined set of images available to philosophy, Socrates’ failure to persuade is also a success. So rich is Socrates’ ability to demonstrate the truth of his claim that it has provoked innumerable commentaries. The power of the dialogue lies in its drama. Captured at the end of a religious festival, Socrates is forced to argue the merits of justice and the disadvantages of injustice. Under the tyrannical rule of Cephalus, who believes that justice is good only for those whose appetites have become dull with time, Socrates gives in to his craving for arguments and must find a way out of his own injustice. Cephalus leaves the discussion and hands his power to his son Polemarchus, who claims that justice is good for collecting debts. Thrasymachus, a guest, believes that justice proves advantageous for strong persons who can use justice to subdue the weak.

Aware that justice has been shattered and that each speaker has taken from it what suits his preference, Socrates does justice to justice. Since justice requires the ordering of many parts into a unity governed without tyranny and with concern for the well-being of both the parts and the whole, the philosopher must attempt to educate his interlocutors. The hardest to persuade are Thrasymachus and Adeimantus, who are men of appetites; like the appetites that govern them, they are insatiable unless they are restrained but are also fragile and can be destroyed easily by excessive discipline. In respect to the city, the larger picture of the soul, this is tantamount to saying that Socrates must convince the artisans, or the masses, to accept the rule of the philosopher king. Appetites and artisans respond to whatever appears to be pleasurable. The philosopher, therefore, must carefully select images that are simultaneously appealing and restraining. The story of Gyges and the tale of Er meet this need, awakening desire for the pleasures of justice and rejection of the pain that follows injustice. Spiritedness, in turn, receives a strong dose of fiction. Intelligence thrives on the divided line. In order to educate whole souls and entire cities, one must use didactic devices that function as a whole. Republic itself is that whole. It should be kept in mind, however, that this whole is not available to the dramatis personae of the work. Therefore, the fact that the interlocutors are not persuaded by Socrates does not diminish the power of the drama. Republic is written in the first person and is presumed to be Socrates’ recollection of past events. In fact, only the unnamed audience must be truly persuaded.

Socrates’ instruction relies on two parallel triads that are presumed to share a common virtue:

Justice is the virtue of the city and the soul taken as a whole. Training into moderation proceeds through imitation, courage comes about through fictions, and wisdom (rational thought) arises from the study of music and geometry. Geometry satisfies intelligence’s desire to look into the nature and structure of things, and music prepares intelligence to govern the many, forming a beautiful unity that never neglects the well-being of its parts. Justice, then, is learned through music. Presumably, music keeps intelligence in touch with the whole soul, for “someone properly reared in rhythm and harmony would have the sharpest sense of what has been left out or what is not a beautiful product of craft or what is not a fine product of nature.” When intelligence matures in reason, or logos, music takes the form of dialectic. This claim makes good sense if one recalls that Greek is a language with pitch and rhythm.

Dialectic harmonizes. If one analyzes the divided line musically, one notices that its center is a continuous note that is interrupted by pauses marked by the lines that divide images from sensations and thoughts from truths. At the end of sensation, one sees a longer pause that is analogous to the rest that is inspired in the soul by the trust that seeing an object causes. When the object that is being observed causes a contrapuntal sensation, the soul, which is provoked to think, continues the melody. The sensation in question provokes thought by “tending to go over to the opposite.” Seeing the index finger, the middle finger, and the little finger, one is satisfied to call them fingers. One pauses. Their relationship, however, gives mixed messages, calling the index finger both large and small. What is required is a measure, a gathering of the parts into a harmonious whole that is analogous to the organization that is required by the parts of the city and the powers of the soul. The dialectician is the one who grasps the explanation of the being, or ousia, of each thing and unifies the many according to their nature. He provides a melody, conducts the orchestra, and hears and cherishes every note that is played, but never imposes an interpretation on the players. He governs by minding his own business. That minding of one’s own business precisely defines what justice is. It should not surprise one then, that the best ruler of both the city and the soul is the philosopher king.

Additional Reading

Brumbaugh, Robert S. Plato for the Modern Age. New York: Crowell-Collier, 1962. A good introduction to Plato’s thought and the Greek world in which he developed it.

Copleston, Frederick. A History of Philosophy: Greece and Rome. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1969. Copleston devotes several clear chapters to a discussion of the full range of Plato’s view.

Cropsey, Joseph. Plato’s World: Man’s Place in the Cosmos. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995. Discusses Plato’s views on human nature with attention to his political theories.

Gonzalez, Francisco, ed. The Third Way: New Directions in Platonic Studies. Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1995. A helpful sampling of late twentieth century research on Plato, his continuing significance, and trends of interpretation in Platonic studies.

Hall, Robert W. Plato. London: Allen and Unwin, 1981. An excellent discussion of Plato’s political thought, most of it devoted to the Republic. Two chapters in particular—“Athenian Democracy” and “Plato’s Political Heritage” help place Plato and his work within wider historical, cultural, and political contexts.

Howland, Jacob. “The Republic”: The Odyssey of Philosophy. New York: Twayne, 1993. The ideal starting point for the study of the Republic. Provides a chapter discussing literary and historical contexts, a chronology of Plato’s life and works, extensive notes, and a bibliography.

Irwin, Terrence. Plato’s Ethics. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995. A thorough study of Plato’s moral philosophy, including its political implications.

Jones, W. T. The Classical Mind. Vol. 1 in A History of Western Philosophy. 2d ed. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1969. A reliable introduction to the main themes and issues on which Plato focused.

Kahn, Charles H. Plato and the Socratic Dialogue: The Philosophical Use of a Literary Form. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996. A study of Plato’s use of the dialogue form as a means for exploring and developing key philosophical positions and dispositions.

Kraut, Richard, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Plato. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1992. Eminent Plato scholars analyze and assess key Platonic dialogues and issues in Plato’s thought.

Lycos, Kimon. Plato on Justice and Power: Reading Book I of Plato’s “Republic.” Albany: State University of New York Press, 1987. A useful, if somewhat advanced introduction to the Republic, focusing on book 1, which, Lycos argues, shows “how inadequacies of traditional Greek views about justice are to be overcome.”

Pappas, Nikolas, ed. Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Plato and the “Republic.” New York: Routledge, 1995. Helpful articles that clarify key Platonic concepts and theories.

Plato. Republic. Translated by Robin Waterfield. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994. This fine translation of the Republic contains an introduction, a bibliography, and notes.

Moravcsik, J. M. E. Plato and Platonism: Plato’s Conception of Appearance and Reality in Ontology, Epistemology, and Ethics and Its Modern Echoes. Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell, 1992. A scholarly study of Plato’s key distinction between appearance and reality and the continuing impact of that distinction.

Rutherford, R. B. The Art of Plato: Ten Essays in Platonic Interpretation. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1995. Well-informed essays on key elements of Plato’s theories.

Sayers, Sean. Plato’s “Republic”: An Introduction. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2000. An accessible commentary on the works of the philosopher.

Tarrant, Harold. Plato’s First Interpreters. Ithica, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2000. An examination of the earliest debates about Plato’s ideas.

Tuana, Nancy, ed. Feminist Interpretations of Plato. University Park: Pennsylvania State University, 1994. Scholarly essays evaluate Plato’s understanding of gender issues and appraise his philosophy from the perspectives of feminist theory.

Williams, Bernard A. O. Plato. New York: Routledge, 1999. An excellent biographical introduction to the thoughts of the philosopher, clearly presented. Bibliography.

White, Nicholas P. A Companion to Plato’s “Republic.” Indianapolis, Ind.: Hackett, 1979. A tremendously learned and cogent commentary, based on a book-by-book summary of the Republic. The introductory chapters before the summary are especially helpful, as is the bibliography.

Stephen Satris John K. Roth

Bibliography

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Additional Reading

Brumbaugh, Robert S. Plato for the Modern Age. New York: Crowell-Collier, 1962. A good introduction to Plato’s thought and the Greek world in which he developed it.

Copleston, Frederick. A History of Philosophy: Greece and Rome. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1969. Copleston devotes several clear chapters to a discussion of the full range of Plato’s view.

Cropsey, Joseph. Plato’s World: Man’s Place in the Cosmos. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995. Discusses Plato’s views on human nature with attention to his political theories.

Gonzalez, Francisco, ed. The Third Way: New Directions in Platonic Studies. Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1995. A helpful sampling of late twentieth century research on Plato, his continuing significance, and trends of interpretation in Platonic studies.

Hall, Robert W. Plato. London: Allen and Unwin, 1981. An excellent discussion of Plato’s political thought, most of it devoted to the Republic. Two chapters in particular—“Athenian Democracy” and “Plato’s Political Heritage” help place Plato and his work within wider historical, cultural, and political contexts.

Howland, Jacob. “The Republic”: The Odyssey of Philosophy. New York: Twayne, 1993. The ideal starting point for the study of the Republic. Provides a chapter discussing literary and historical contexts, a chronology of Plato’s life and works, extensive notes, and a bibliography.

Irwin, Terrence. Plato’s Ethics. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995. A thorough study of Plato’s moral philosophy, including its political implications.

Jones, W. T. The Classical Mind. Vol. 1 in A History of Western Philosophy. 2d ed. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1969. A reliable introduction to the main themes and issues on which Plato focused.

Kahn, Charles H. Plato and the Socratic Dialogue: The Philosophical Use of a Literary Form. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996. A study of Plato’s use of the dialogue form as a means for exploring and developing key philosophical positions and dispositions.

Kraut, Richard, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Plato. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1992. Eminent Plato scholars analyze and assess key Platonic dialogues and issues in Plato’s thought.

Lycos, Kimon. Plato on Justice and Power: Reading Book I of Plato’s “Republic.” Albany: State University of New York Press, 1987. A useful, if somewhat advanced introduction to the Republic, focusing on book 1, which, Lycos argues, shows “how inadequacies of traditional Greek views about justice are to be overcome.”

Pappas, Nikolas, ed. Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Plato and the “Republic.” New York: Routledge, 1995. Helpful articles that clarify key Platonic concepts and theories.

Plato. Republic. Translated by Robin Waterfield. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994. This fine translation of the Republic contains an introduction, a bibliography, and notes.

Moravcsik, J. M. E. Plato and Platonism: Plato’s Conception of Appearance and Reality in Ontology, Epistemology, and Ethics and Its Modern Echoes. Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell, 1992. A scholarly study of Plato’s key distinction between appearance and reality and the continuing impact of that distinction.

Rutherford, R. B. The Art of Plato: Ten Essays in Platonic Interpretation. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1995. Well-informed essays on key elements of Plato’s theories.

Sayers, Sean. Plato’s “Republic”: An Introduction. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2000. An accessible commentary on the works of the philosopher.

Tarrant, Harold. Plato’s First Interpreters. Ithica, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2000. An examination of the earliest debates about Plato’s ideas.

Tuana, Nancy, ed. Feminist Interpretations of Plato. University Park: Pennsylvania State University, 1994. Scholarly essays evaluate Plato’s understanding of gender issues and appraise his philosophy from the perspectives of feminist theory.

Williams, Bernard A. O. Plato. New York: Routledge, 1999. An excellent biographical introduction to the thoughts of the philosopher, clearly presented. Bibliography.

White, Nicholas P. A Companion to Plato’s “Republic.” Indianapolis, Ind.: Hackett, 1979. A tremendously learned and cogent commentary, based on a book-by-book summary of the Republic. The introductory chapters before the summary are especially helpful, as is the bibliography.

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