This is one of Plato's longer dialogues. In it Socrates gets into an argument about whether it is the just or the unjust who do best in life. As part of his argument he describes his conception of the ideal state. The Republic is also where Socrates makes one of his more complete descriptions of the doctrine of the forms, including the famous cave analogy.

A rather long rant largely on the subject of ideal government. Plato espouses a sort of hierarchical semi-meritocratic oligarchic communism, complete with mandatory indoctrination of the youth and censorship of the arts. (Poets are subversive, don't you know.)

In the Republic, a large portion of the book is used to describe Socrates' Kalipolis or ideal city-state. Socrates' Kalipolis is composed of:
1. Producers - Which include farmers and craftsmen
2. Guardians - Protectors of the Kalipolis
3. Rulers - aka Philosopher-Kings
These 3 classifications were also referenced as the metals bronze, Silver, and Gold.
Another interesting piece of the Republic was Socrates' rankings (and the justification of those rankings) of four forms of character types and the city states that result when those character types rule. The types rank as follows: (with the Kalipolis, obviously above all)
1. Kalipolis
2. Timocracy- Ruled by those who are ruled souly by their spirit where the desire for honor, good reputation, and victory reside.
3. Oligarchy - Ruled by those who are ruled by their necessary appetites.
4. Democracy - Ruled by those who are ruled by their unnecessary appetites.
5. Tyranny - Ruled by those who are ruled by fear and their lawless unnecessary appetites.
The Republic

by Plato, translated by Benjamin Jowett.

A Civilization advance.
The concept of the republic first appeared in ancient Rome, where local provinces sent representatives to the Senate, which governed all Roman lands. Normally, both the head of state and the local representatives in a republic are elected; no one is granted a position by birth or divine right. A republican structure is one of the few systems of government that has been used successfully in nations of great size and cultural diversity. The republic allows unprecedented freedom, at least to a significant portion of the citizens, which in turn fosters economic growth.
Prerequisites: Literacy and Code of Laws.
Allows for: Conscription and Banking.

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Plato’s The Republic

In the history of man very few writings stand the test of time without becoming dated and losing their meaning. Among those that have stood the test of time is Plato’s Republic. For 2,500 years we have struggled to answer the questions he puts forward in it. Since it was first written we have seen the rising and fall of great empires, and revolution after revolution as we have searched for the ideal state.

Life in Athens
The year Plato was born, 429 B.C.E. was among the most heartbreaking years in the history of Athens. The Athens was a city under siege, not by a great army, that would come soon enough, but by a virus (According to current research by the CDC it was probably Ebola) that killed thousands. Among the dead was the great Athenian king, Pericles. It was under the rule of Pericles that Athens grew into a great center of art, learning, and democracy. Pericles using funds from Delian League treasury began building his new vision of a new Athens, which included the Parthenon. Athens at the time was teeming with artists and craftsmen. Among the scores of craftsmen working in Athens at the time was a stonemason, Socrates, who would in time change young Plato’s way of thinking and even the course of his life.

Socrates would stand around on street corners asking people, those questions that today, we are still trying to answer today. What is Justice? What is a good man? What is a good ruler? This manner of questioning and debating with his students became know as the Socratic method. While he was tolerated a for a while the defeat of Athens in the Peloponnesian War (431BCE-404BCE) led to a time of uncertainty and period when it was not permissible to question the authority of the state. It was in this Athens that Socrates was tried, convicted, and executed for corrupting the youth of Athens in 399 BCE. Plato a student of Socrates for twenty years, who had been planning a career in politics, was moved by the execution of Socrates to become a teacher of his wisdom.

The questions Socrates raised lie at the heart of Plato’s Republic. No writing of Socrates has come down to us through history, many of Plato’s writings have. He largest is the Republic. It attempts to answer among other things what is the good life.

The Republic
Without a doubt the importance of The Republic cannot be understated, for it begins a twenty-five century quest that is still on going. Aristotle, Locke, and Marx have all wrestled with its issues.

The Republic is divided into ten parts or books. Each of these books is a lesson thought in the Socratic method by Socrates himself. The main goal of the work is describe the ideal state. Plato argues that the main purpose of a state is to teach its citizens to be just. He also argues that a man should work in the line of work that he is best suited. He also divides society into three classes rulers, warriors, and workers. It is this ideal state, this oligarchy where each man knows; his job, his place, and is just.

In Book I he agues that a ‘good’ man should do that for which he is best suited. In his conversations about justice he leads his student to series of questions designed to point this out:

“…You would admitted that one man is a musician and another is not a musician… And the musician is wise, and he who is not a musician is unwise… And he is good in as far as he is wise, and bad in as gar as he is unwise… And do, you thing… that a musician when he adjusts he lyre would desire or claim to exceed or have the advantage of a musicians in the tightening and loosening the strings… But he would claim to exceed the non-musician.”

Here we see that Plato and Socrates believe that a good man knows his job and therefore is wise and good.

Now that Socrates or really Plato, our author, has proven that a wise man knows his job he proceeds in Book III to explain his ‘royal lie’. “Citizens, we shall say to them in our tale, you are brothers, yet God has framed you differently. Some of you have the of command, and these he has composed of gold, wherefore also they have the greatest honor; others of sliver, to be auxiliaries; other again who are to be husbandmen and craftsmen he has made of brass and iron. But as you are of the same original family a golden parent will sometimes have a silver son, or a silver parent a golden son.”

The purpose of this lie is to show rulers are different, yet we see at the end Plato’s ‘royal lie’ that there are those who will fall short of their parents’ station and those who will exceed it. Thus in the end he leaves open the possibility to move up or down the strict class structure of his ideal state.

In the end we learn that a just man is happier than an unjust man, and if they a not able to guide their own lives it is the job of the ruler to do so. In his ideal state the ruler who is wise indeed guides his craftsmen, just as Pericles guided the building of Athens.

Plato’s Place in History
Among the greatest achievements of Plato was the founding of the Academy in 387 BCE it is considered by many to be the forerunner to today’s modern university. For nearly a thousand years Plato’s Academy turn out scholars who traveled the classic world teaching its philosophies. Among the students who attended the lectures of Plato was Aristotle. Aristotle studied under Plato for nineteen years, and while he did not agree with Plato on some fundamental points, his work Politics in which he examines 158 governments is a continuance of Plato’s work. After Aristotle left the Academy he ended up as tutor to young Alexander the Great.

The work of Socrates and his students opened up a whole new way of thinking, but it was the written works of Plato that saved them for the ages. His Republic provides a starting point from which the modern notions of philosophy and government both spring forth.
Many books have been written throughout the course of history. Some have been acclaimed as influential, few have gained the status of immortal. Among these immortal books lies the Western Canon, a list of philosophical writings hailed as essential in forming a philosophical background. One such writing is Plato’s The Republic.

On the surface, The Republic seems to have been written by Socrates, Plato’s teacher. However, at the time of its creation, Socrates had been dead, put to death by the same city he spent his life instructing. Plato wanted to keep the memory of Socrates alive by using him as the main character. To do this, Plato wrote this dialogue as Socrates asking his followers questions aimed at defining justice. Plato develops what he believes is justice through the answers provided by the students. In order to develop the idea of justice he first formulates a perfectly just society by using Socrates’ method of question and answer.

This perfectly just society has three castes forming a pyramid. The base of the pyramid, constituting the majority of the society, is the producers. This element of society followed nothing more than their desires. These people would go about their daily lives as doctors and merchants, buying and selling products and services. They would perform one job, and one job alone. This job would be what they were naturally suited for, what they had an aptitude for, such as farming or building. A doctor would not be found building a house or farming. Instead, he would stick to healing. This he saw a just, everyone doing what they were best suited for. In all other aspects the producers would live their lives very similarly to the present American social system.

The rest of the population made up the Guardian class. This was the educated class. They were taken from birth and educated in the right modes of music, logical thinking, physical conditioning, and given a formal philosophical background. For years, the guardian class would receive a formal education. The city would provide them with their basic needs. They would be provided shelter in the home of a citizen. They would be given enough food to sustain them. However, they would not lead a luxurious life. Luxuries would deter them from the proper mind set that Guardians should have. Guards were not to be after possession, but personal pride. Therefore, only their most basic and simple needs would be provided for. In order to procreate, the city would host a sort of breeding festival for the Guardians to produce children at as high a caliber, thus providing the city with another generation of Guardians. As their education progressed, those who appear to devote their lives toward furthering justice would be placed in the highest caste, that of the philosopher king. The remaining in the guardian class would form the Auxiliaries.

The Auxiliaries simply would carry out the orders of the Philosopher Kings. They were the soldiering class of the city, protecting the city from all outside enemies. A majority of their training would be physical. However, they would not stop educating themselves in the hope of one day becoming a philosopher king.

The Philosopher King was at the top of society’s pyramid. He was there, not because he wished to rule, instead he was there because he did not want someone of less intelligence ruling over him. There was also an aspect of personal pride and respect. A philosopher king was never after money, luxury, or outside recognition. He was not one who would be after prizes, trophies, or awards. Instead, a philosopher king ruled so that an idiot would not rule him. He ruled for the personal feeling of doing a good job.

With this setup and class system, many believe that Plato favored a utopia. This, however, was not his plan. Instead, Plato defined justice. This system of government provided a just system. The elements and ideas in the dialogue can be applied to everyday life. With this in mind, a reader can utilize this to live a just life in an otherwise unjust world.

Another topic worth mentioning is Sigmund Freud’s idea of the id, ego, and superego. When Freud’s ideas are placed next to Plato’s system of government in The Republic, they are identical. The id becomes the producers, the ego is the Auxiliaries, and the superego is the Philosopher King. Thus, Plato’s ideas have made their way in to modern thought. However, these ideas are definitely not followed in today's world. Plato hails the intellectual ruler who is after nothing but personal pride. With campaign finances what they are, the election of George W. Bush to the Presidency, and the fact that Colin Powell will not become a leader one can see how little Plato’s ideals are adhered to.

Plato’s thoughts might not be followed, but they still exist, and are studied by many intellectuals. Many people read and re-read his dialogue. In fact, because of its immortal basis in philosophy, it has been placed in the Western Canon, the list of writings that most western thinkers study to get a broad philosophical background.

The Republic;
Why this book, is so immensely good, and (even more importantly)
Why you should read it

Plato's Republic is, any many ways, the exact opposite of contemporary political science - This is what makes it such a substantial work for politically interested people. In contrast with just about every other book on political science, The Republic is written in a captivating way. It discusses politics and political change - but it does not just tell you what needs to be changed, but also how and why - two questions frequently ignored otherwise.

Plato's radical way of observing politics is a substantial challenge to the modern reader. It provokes you to to think critically about politics, society, and the way in which we study them - the primary objective of any good book.

The best example of a thought-provoking issue is how readers today react to Plato's critique of democracy. The fun part is that everybody assumes that they have an answer of why democracy is the best form of government. By raising fundamental questions, both political and philosophical, the reader is forced to reconsider (or at least rethink) their views. Plato teaches us to have a closer look at our biases about democracy - we are forced to "defend" our form of government, based on reason in stead of emotion or authority

Another thing you can't help but admire with Plato is his way of manipulating his discussion partners. Closely related to other, less amicable debate techniques, but also with truly good speech and deduction techniques, Plato invariably puts his point across nicely.

In any case; If you have any interest in politics at all, go read this book!

Plato's account of education in The Republic (Part 1)

In Book Three of The Republic, Plato provides an account of the type of education (or mousiké, which is best translated as education, but denotes something slightly different; according to translator Desmond Lee, mousiké includes training in philosophy, music, poetry and so on. This is a bit different from what we think of as education today!) he considers appropriate for children chosen to be the Guardians of The Republic (Plato's ideal state). Rather than prescribing an education in which one learns subjects such as mathematics, literature and so on, Plato chooses to proclaim that the Guardians be educated in a manner that will enable them to be the ultimate military force. In Plato's view, this involves not only teaching certain skills, but also restricting students from being exposed to certain "inappropriate" materials and/or aspects of society. In two sections, he deals with the mental and physical training which are necessary to successfully produce the Guardians. I will briefly discuss each section of Plato's conception of a proper education as described in The Republic, Book Three.

§1. Mental Training

Plato examines the moral and theological qualities of the poets (most notable Homer and Hesiod) and their works. In traditional Athenian education, reading poetry was considered essential. Unlike the Judeo-Christian cultures, the Ancient Greeks did not have theological scriptures based on some sort of direct contact with or divine revelation from God. Instead of a Bible, Torah or Qu'ran, the collected myths and epic poems (which arose from the culture) of Greece provided both the ontological and ethical bases for the culture. Plato, however, identifies flaws within this tradition.

First, Plato says (of course, Plato always makes his points through the character of Socrates, who engages in dialogues with others) that the misrepresentation of God is unacceptable. Plato's conception of God as the Good (Thomas Aquinas also writes of the summum bonum much later) dictates that God is perfectly good, and therefore changeless and incapable of deceit, and must never be otherwise represented1. In traditional Greek mythology, the gods (aside from being a pantheon rather than a theological unity) are depicted anthropromorphically. They can be cruel, sadistic, selfish, petty and vengeful: We can admit to our state no stories about Hera being tied up by her son, or Hephaestus being flung out of Heaven for trying to help his mother when she was getting a beating2. In addition, they can change shape, and often take the forms of human beings as well as animals. Initially, this may appear to simply go along with the idea of deities being omnipotent, but this may not actually be the case. In the myths, whenever a god takes the form of an animal, he or she is subject to the physical qualities of that animal. For instance, when Zeus takes the form of a snake, he has sexual intercourse in the manner of a snake, and moves like a snake, and so on. Again, while this may be attributed to a deity's omnipotence, Plato sees it as oxymoronic because by taking the form of an earthly creature, a god (Plato uses the terms God and god(s) interchangeably) automatically becomes less than absolutely perfect. Since God is absolutely perfect, according to Plato, there is no possibility that he would take any form other than that of God; this is not from the lack of omnipotence on God's part, it simply would not and does not happen. Because of this fallacy, Plato says that the poetry of Homer and similar bards is theologically incorrect and must not be permitted to be used in the education of the Guardians.

Second, the moral fibre of the gods as portrayed in Greek mythology is somewhat less than inflexible; they are often seen displaying licentious behaviour:

And then there is the story of how Zeus stayed awake, when all the other gods and men were asleep, with some plan in mind, but forgot it easily enough when his desire for sex was aroused; he was indeed so struck by Hera's appearance that he wanted to make love to her on the spot, without going indoors, saying that he had never desired he so much since the days when they first used to make love 'without their parents' knowledge'3
Also, the heroes of epics such as the Odyssey and the Iliad are depicted in moments where they show a fear of death; indeed, the afterlife itself is depicted in a rather morose way . To Plato, this is not suitable for students to be trained with It looks, then, Plato says, that we shall have to control story-tellers on this topic too. We must ask the poets to stop giving their present gloomy account of the after-life, which is both untrue and unsuitable to produce a fighting spirit, and make them speak more favourably of it.4

Content is one part of the puzzle; Plato takes time to pay attention to form in his investigation of poetry. In the epics, the poets often spoke as the characters they were portraying, straying out of a consistent narrative form. Plato objects to this, saying that he does not want ... Guardians to deviate from their own character by representing other characters, especially bad characters.5 He privileges straight ahead prose over forms of poetry and literature that involve the first person representation of characters in their narration. Plato prohibits this literary form of identity juggling in order to stress the importance of each man playing his specified role. A man, he says, cannot play many parts as well as he can one.6

Obviously, Plato's goal is to keep the Guardians from having the minds set on anything other than the Good. That is not necessarily to say that the Guardians are meant to understand the Good in the same way that a philosopher might; they have nothing to compare and contrast their received view with. Their access to material that portrays any sort of undesirable theological or moral ideas is to be entirely cut off, so that they have an inflexible understanding of the world. Since The Republic is to be built on the ideals of order and goodness, the opinions of the Guardians will be utterly in sync with state-sanctioned religion and morals. They will carry out the wishes of its leaders as though as though those wishes were their own; in truth, their wishes will be entirely in accord as those which the state makes known to them. This is the project of Plato's mental training: to produce warriors who will unquestioningly march into battle to defend the ideals of The Republic without the fear of death.


1D. Lee in Plato's The Republic, trans. Desmond Lee (1955; London: Penguin Books, 1987) 70.
2Plato, 74.
3Plato, 87.
4Plato, 81.
5Lee in Plato, 90.
6Plato, 94.

An update (aside from the bigger update that will be done soonish- ok, consider it an afterthought): Given that Plato posits an immortal soul, and that he says that you can only learn what is already in your soul and can be recollected through education, it appears to me that

Plato is proposing to manipulate and control immortal souls!

I know some people think that Hegel is arrogant and presumptious, but I think this takes the cake. Plato is on some proto-Orwellian shit.
In The Apology of Socrates, Plato laments the execution of Socrates for his questioning of the fundamental tenets of society. He holds the philosopher’s right to ask ‘Why?’ above all else, for it is only through dialectic argument that one may finally arrive at the truth. This would appear, then, to be a clear acknowledgement of the need for personal intellectual freedom in a society. Each individual has their own perspective on the world, and since in the end no one can definitively prove theirs to be true, each must be allowed his own. Yet years later in what has arguably been his most influential text, The Republic, he is so confident in his homespun dogma that he crafts a society where not only is its ideology unquestionable, but is largely to be kept hidden. Revulsed by the corruption and depravity he saw in Athens, and in fact inherent in all existing forms of government, he set out to assemble the ideal state, one whose very nature would be in line with universal Justice. It’s a wild ride, this mad pursuit of his, and along the way he yields up many an idea both insightful and revolutionary, but his sin of pride mires his quest from the beginning. It’s sorrowfully ironic that one who is puppet master to ‘he who does not know’ should be so utterly confident in his beliefs; but he is, and this undermines all he sets out to achieve.

At the very least, one cannot say that Plato’s goals are not noble, and his effort not valiant. He wants no less than to right the world’s wrongs, for about him he sees much to be deplored. He wishes to create an ideal society; however, unlike Marx would latter attempt, he does not do so on purely secular lines. The mighty city he fashions is built atop the ideological foundation of his Theory of the Forms. Plato holds that behind the chaotic and fluctuating world we perceive through our senses is another world, a truer world, that of the Forms. This realm may only be accessed by the inquisitive rational mind, and in it lie hierarchically the true natures, the very essences, of that which we perceive in our world, be they mundane objects such as tables and chairs, or abstract concepts such as good and evil. This is the true face of reality behind the mask of perception, but it is so radically foreign to the mind accustomed to the mask that few would ever stumble across it, and those that do would never be able to convince those left behind of its verity. Regardless, it is the truth absolute, and as such sound governance can come solely from its wisdom.

It is with this in mind that Plato fashions his ideal society; he divides it into philosophical Rulers who take their mark from their study of the Forms of justice and good, Guardians who enforce their dictates, and a working class that is the economic base for it all. In many ways his Calipolis achieves a kind of perfection that has not been matched in the thousands of years since its conception. The Rulers are not those who lust for power, but rather those who lust for knowledge. The philosopher-king is entranced solely by his study of the Forms, but out of compassion wields this wisdom for the good of the state. His society is truly equal, for as people are positioned within it on the value of individual merit and ability, women, nor indeed any other minority, need fear discrimination. Another pitfall of conventional society Plato manages to circumvent is that of corruption. Those with any semblance of power, which is to say the Rulers and Guardians, take their wages from the working class and are barred from owning private property, instead taking and sharing the minimal material objects they’re allowed in common. Education is another solid feature of Plato’s society. Plato wishes to see everyone achieve their potential, and those children showing promise are raised up from wherever they may stand to refine their bodies and their minds as far as they might. Have they the potential, any child from any class may one day become a Ruler. Those not fit for philosophical study, namely the working class, are to have their careers paired with their natural dispositions. Thus Plato satisfies everyone’s needs as best they can be simultaneously satisfied.

Plato’s society is built around his conception of the Good, and it is this that imbues it with all its merit, and all its atrocity. If one looks at Plato’s ideas in The Republic as Plato himself must, which is to say as absolutely and unquestionably true, then his society is indeed the utopia he takes it to be. Yet if one approaches skeptically, Plato’s utter certainty in himself seems almost farcical, and the idea of any execution of his plans unallowable. Firstly, if Plato himself were to look at all he states he would realize himself in the wrong. While analyzing the human faculty of knowledge, Plato comes to the conclusion that “…the many conventional notions of the mass of mankind about what is beautiful or honorable or just and so on are adrift in a sort of twilight between pure reality and pure unreality.” He believes that human knowledge is to varying degrees true or untrue, but never entirely accurate to reality. This is a brilliantly humble notion, yet for some reason Plato sees himself to be exempt from it. Perhaps he sees himself to have already walked the road of not knowing, to have already asked all the questions and therefore assuredly be in the right. How vain!, for one man to consider himself in possession of the Truth, moreover after having just acknowledged that none else had ever done so before. As a philosopher he should know that all reasoning is marred in a priori assumptions and fallacious logic.

Regardless, he is utterly certain in his convictions, building his entire society atop them. But when his society is viewed apart from his ideology, it appears starkly as just another tyranny. Plato’s society is not actually in itself just, but only just in that it strives to align both state and individual with the external, universal Form of justice. To achieve this Plato uses the same instruments as every other dictator: censorship and oppression. Poets may not express any theme Plato himself deems untrue, stories may not be told whose moral does not fit in with his own, and actors may not represent characters deviating from his ideal. As for the masses, those unfit to comprehend Plato’s elaborate ideas, they must be deceived into submission with fairy tales and outright lies. “If anyone is to practice deception, either on the country’s enemies or its citizens, it must be the Rulers of the commonwealth, acting for its benefit.” So for an artist of philosopher to represent the world as something other than Plato conceives it is to be the worst sort of offence, but because Plato is always right, for him it’s just fine. Plato grants that the masses will never achieve the nirvana-like understanding that the Rulers strive for, and admittedly won’t live happy lives toiling to support the system, but Plato justifies this by saying that they toil at what they are innately destined to do, and hence will live satisfied lives. Plato fails to realize that not everyone’s vocation is productive; what if one’s calling is surfing and sunbathing, or playing guitar and smoking pot? It just doesn’t matter, because Plato is the father that knows best, and he says you’re going to be a farmer. The citizens of Plato’s fair city are, then, oppressed in every way. Body and mind they are slave to the state: they will think what they’re told to think, and do what they’re told to do.

All this is acceptable to Plato because it serves a purpose: to unite the community with the Forms of justice and good. However he himself acknowledges that human understanding exists “fluctuating in that half-way region” between pure reality and pure unreality, and though he may think himself above delusion and misconception, he is human, and he is not. As such, it is preposterous that an entire state should be subject to the idle fancies of some wistful thinker. Certainly he should be allowed to think as he will; but just as it is not my place to tell him he is wrong, it is not his place to tell me he is right. Neither of us can convince the other of our perspective, a fact that Plato illustrates all too well in his Allegory of the Cave. As much as his story is representative of the delusion of the masses and the value of the philosopher, it is equally an allegory of the irreconcilability of human perspectives. Those in the cave would kill he who’d seen the real world before accepting his truth, and Plato takes this to mean that those in the Cave are wrong and must be converted. What he does not see is that there are infinite tunnels leading from the Cave to infinite worlds, for all are beheld in our imaginations. There is no end to the ways in which a person may perceive the world, and as no one would want this privilege, to imagine one’s existence, one’s environment, one’s self, taken away from them, they must then extend this privilege to everyone. Plato, like a cantankerous child in the sandbox, takes away everyone else’s buckets and shovels, forcing them to play only with the castle he builds.

The true nature of reality does not come preassembled, just waiting to be discovered and disseminated, but rather is like some random heap of Lego bits and pieces for each of us to assemble as we see fit. Modern society recognizes the right of the individual to piece together these parts into a unified perspective, and grants us this privilege with fundamental, indelible rights, found for example in Canada in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Plato, however, though himself the sole proprietor of truth, and it was his utter confidence in his beliefs that invalidated his society from the start. Were one to accept his Theory of the Forms, then yes, his Calipolis is indeed an ideal society. But in purely pragmatic terms, his society is an unabashedly despotic theocracy where the majority of citizens are naught but brainwashed slaves who toil away their joyless lives in menial work to support an upper-class of idle dreamers. Plato was right that utopia will only come to exist when all of society is united as one, but they cannot rightly be united under a lie, and they cannot all be united under the perspective of one person. What is required is a proper social contract, whereby everyone is united in their desire for freedom by ensure freedom for everyone else. If a single, undeniable Unifying Theory of Existence cannot be found, and for the moment it cannot, then society must learn to accommodate all perspectives as best as can feasibly be done, rather than hammering out dissension and deceitfully obtaining compliance as Plato would have us do.

This is a short paper I wrote for my political theory course I took as a breadth requirement for my degree this past year.

The Usefulness of Socrates' 'Noble Lie'

The ‘noble lie’ that Socrates proposes at the end of book three of the Republic (414b-415d) is intended as support for the city model that he, Adeimantus and Glaucon have been building. The lie is a means of justifying the social and political structure of the city to its citizenry. The ‘nobility’ of the lie is meant to rest in its goal. By reinforcing the social order, and by binding each class to one another in a spirit of brotherhood, the lie contributes to the stability of the society. Certain truths are contained in the lie, but although it is seemingly made with good intentions, the fact of its necessity suggests that there are fundamental problems with the model. In the end, the lie could prove to be the biggest problem of all.

Socrates recognizes that it is going to take more than honour and pride instilled through education to ensure that the guardian class stays in line with the established order. He says: “ ‘Could we . . . somehow contrive one of those lies that come into being in case of need . . . some one noble lie to persuade, in the best case, even the rulers, but if not them, the rest of the city?’ ” (414c) The myth is meant to cement the guardians, auxiliaries and artisans together as a kind of ‘super-family’. “ ‘All of you in the city are certainly brothers,’ ”(415a), they will be told. Socrates is bringing in again the idea of familial attachment that he had banished before the discussion of the lie. In its original form, it was thought that this attachment would encourage people to hold their families as a priority before the needs of the city. Shifting this familial attachment to the city is meant to shift the loyalty of each citizen from the personal to the communal. In caring for their brothers, the citizens of each class are meant to submit to the order of things by performing the tasks assigned to them by their lot in life.

This is where the ‘nobility’ of this lie is to be found. One may think of the lie as noble in that it cements the citizens into a mutually dependent whole. Without a common bond, what would ultimately hold the city together? What would prevent the guardian-class from becoming a nomadic band of high-minded mercenaries, or the artisans from being a self-sufficient city with a citizen militia? Why should the guardians protect and care for a class that, by the standards of the guardians’ own education, seems beneath them? How could the artisans relate to the austere and intellectual guardians, and desire to be ruled by them, rather than by themselves? The lie is noble then, in that it creates the sensibility that (supposedly) allows Socrates’ experiment in justice to exist. It justifies the interdependency that allows this particular city to exist, and not some other that might develop naturally from the founding conditions that were laid down at the beginning of Socrates' conversation with Glaucon and Adeimantus.

One can say that there are some truths in this founding myth. People are born with different abilities and aptitudes, and some are more fit to rule than others. Those who are fit to rule however, can come from anywhere, and should be sought and recognized for what they are. Given the proper chance, a well-suited person from any background can succeed. Those in the city have common origins, and need each other to survive, and live well. All of these ideas are contained in the founding myth, and give it a ‘ring of truth’, perhaps. These truths strengthen the power of the myth, in that they lend their credibility to the story as a whole. The artisans, who don’t have the guardian’s education, may intuitively sense these truths and accept the myth as a whole. The guardians, however, may come to recognize the myth for what it is, but hold on to it and perpetuate it for the sake of these truths.

The fact that this lie seems necessary to the well-being of the city, however, reveals that there are real problems with this model. The need to fabricate a reason to hold the city together underlines the schisms inherent in the way the city is designed. While the guardian-rulers and guardian-auxiliaries are made for each other, the third class of artisans has a lifestyle, education and outlook that are fundamentally different from that of the guardians. Beyond the lie, there isn’t much to prevent the sundering of the city, or perhaps an ultimate subjugation of the artisans by the guardians, should things go badly. If the lie fails, the city, at worst, would be destroyed. At best, it would greatly deviate from their plans. The problems caused by the structure of the city are intractable, and to be rid of them, the city would have to be rebuilt.

All citations from: The Republic of Plato, translated by Allan Bloom, Basic Books, 1991.

Introduction

Plato's Republic is both a political and a moral work in that it discusses both individual morality and the nature of justice in a political community. The book's argument is focused on a discussion of the benefits of justice to the individual, and it ends when Socrates is done describing the benefits both in this life and the next of practicing justice. However, in the course of this discussion many political issues are discussed. Whether or not Plato wrote Republic primarily as a political or moral work, the city/soul analogy means that it necessarily carries a political message. This message is twofold.

Firstly, it contains a specific and prescriptive political program which describes how to establish a city which is 'wholly good' (427e). Secondly, it contains a more general message, one which is highly sceptical about politics as an activity and very pessimistic about the possibilities of collective human action. The philosopher-kings gain most pleasure from engaging in contemplation with their peers, but must engage in political action by necessity to keep the city going and so maintain the conditions for their own personal fulfilment. Hence it is man's fallibility which makes politics necessary, so the philosophers have no choice but to descend back into the cave to engage in it. Callipolis is designed so as to contain the optimum amount of justice – as a political community it is just, and the individuals within contain balanced and just souls. One would not be possible without the other, and so both are interconnected.

The political

The political dimension of The Republic first becomes apparent when Thrasymachus claims that no city exists which is non-exploitative, something Socrates never refutes. He instead describes how the ideal form of such a city can be logically imagined, whilst admitting that it would require 'heaven-sent' conditions for it to come about (592a – b). In constructing the concept of the ideal city, Plato, through Socrates, passes extensive comment on how the politics of the city should be constructed. Its institutions are described, as are its fundamental laws. The system of education is specifically designed to perpetuate the political system that the interlocutors lay down, and itself is deemed sufficient to guarantee that legislation in the areas not specifically discussed will be worthy of the city.

In the light of the latter, Plato could be seen to be cutting the political discussion short to get back to the topic of personal morality. However, the discussion of the city's laws, culture and institutions seems to exceed that which is necessary to sustain the analogy to the soul. Plato's focus here on education carries a joint political and moral message. Plato is convinced of man's educability, and education is a way of forging a cohesive political community and guaranteeing it does not disintegrate.

However, it is also the key to an individual striking the balance in their soul between the three warring parts and hence attaining individual morality. Here we see one example where the political and moral parts of The Republic are inseparable – the city could not be ideal without the education proposals laid out, and these proposals are designed to hone the individual morality of individuals. A political order, as an aggregate of individuals, necessarily takes its character from the nature of these individuals. Hence these proposals are politically and morally desirable.

Early on, Socrates decides on a definition of justice which is essentially political. Justice, he says, consists of 'this business of everyone performing his own task' (433b). The principle of the division of labor was established early on as necessary to producing an effective city, but this division necessarily intertwines people together and requires them to make moral choices in their lives. It is important that early on Plato puts the following words in Socrates' mouth: 'The origin of a city lies, I think, in the fact that we are not, any of us, self-sufficient; we have all sorts of needs' (369b). As none of us are self-sufficient and we hence have to live in political communities, questions of morality are all asked within this framework.

This means that The Republic's moral component must have a political dimension, even if it is possible to imagine Socrates' definition of the good life as possible outside of a political community. Philosophers could theoretically spend their time seeking the Form of the Good outside of a human society, but the interlocutors decide when they reject the 'city of pigs' (the uncultured city) that by eliminating culture from their city they would also eliminate education, and so create a city of idiots: hardly likely to produce philosopher-kings. Civilization is hence a prerequisite for philosophizing and achieving morality. As Plato also writes throughout The Republic of the danger of adverse social and cultural contexts tarnishing the morality of an individual, the nature of the political context becomes a matter of first order importance in Plato’s discussion of justice in the soul.

The second source of political discussion to Plato in The Republic is the city/soul analogy. After the long discussion of the city’s laws, institutions and its culture, he turns to the soul and carries the parts of the analogy across which he believes to be relevant. The most relevant part in his opinion is the division of labour – as the city is divided into several classes of people who form distinct functions, the soul has a similar tripartite division. However, it must be questioned whether the analogy is logically viable. Socrates believes that the city’s excellence consists in its division of labour and specialization, but it does not necessarily follow that this must be the source of the soul’s excellence. This means the analogy does not necessarily strengthen Plato's argument, and the discussion of the soul’s nature would have been possible without using analogy at all.

However, the analogy is an incredibly rich heuristic device and allows Plato to make relevant comments on both morality and politics simultaneously. In this way as well it is impossible to separate the political parts of the work from the moral; as Thrasymachus remarks, the character of a city's political order reflect the character of its rulers, be they the whole people in a democracy or one tyrant. However, it is telling to consider just how utopian the city used in the analogy is, although the analogy still holds because Socrates also considers it a remote possibility that a philosopher-king with an analogously well-ordered mind could emerge.

Like the Form of the Good, the ideal city cannot be known outside the world of forms, but virtue is sufficiently constituted by a constant orientation towards the good, or towards the ideal city. The Republic hence describes a political techne (science) possessed by philosopher-kings by which the perfect city can be aimed for, even if the light from the Good can never penetrate the cave and illuminate it entirely.

The moral

The moral element of The Republic argues that personal morality and justice consist of having a well-balanced and cohesive soul in which reason is sovereign, spirit the deputy, and the desires are restrained. This is a rather strange concept of personal morality, as it does not make any specific prescriptions on the activities of 'making money, or taking care of his body, or some political action, or contractual agreements with private individuals' (443e) which Socrates says a man with such a soul can now engage in. At this point in the dialogue, Socrates has done little to convince us that a man with such a soul will act in a way which is considered just.

It is when he comes to describe the character of the tyrannical individual that Socrates describes why a well-ordered soul will cause an individual to act justly. An unbalanced soul is associated with rampant desire and hence immorality and criminality. The morality of the philosopher-king resides in his constant orientation towards the Good and his all-consuming eros (desire) for it, qualities which are likely to dissuade him from dissolute or immoral behaviour. The morality of the rest of the population is taken to be represented by their deference to the class hierarchy and the sovereignty of the philosopher-kings in matters of rule, as they do not have knowledge of the political techne.

There are hence different rules for different groups in the political order, which confuses The Republic's moral message and the issue of whether it is primarily political. As has already been noted, orientation towards the Form of the Good is a theoretical possibility in a non-political environment; however, the moral behaviour of the mass of the population is defined with reference to the city. The philosopher-kings are not much freer, for if they choose not to rule then the city will disintegrate and they will become corrupted and unable to seek the Good.

Conclusion

It appears then that the relationship of politics and morals in The Republic is highly complex. The inner polity of the soul and the outer polity of the city cannot exist without each other, and so it is conceded that neither form will ever exist in reality. Plato says that the only politics a philosopher-king would wish to engage in are those of the perfect city, and as the perfect city can never exist he is sending a highly pessimistic message about politics in general: individuals who are supremely virtuous and wise shun politics down in the cave.

The city itself is only held together by an elaborate system of lies and myths which deny most of the common people their individualism, and the philosopher-kings are taken to be acting morally because of their individual search for wisdom, not because of their civic values or method of rule. The Republic's account of political justice is hence very basic, as it is taken to consist in the utilitarian notion that everyone should do what they are best at, acting in a merely supporting role for the ultimate good. There is little clue as to how people should conduct themselves in everyday affairs, although we are told that when properly educated they cannot fail to do so. Furthermore, the relationship between the rulers and the common people is far from ideal –

'Don’t you think it's a disgrace, and a sure sign of poor education, to be forced to rely on extraneous justice – that of masters or judges – for want of a sense of justice of one's own?' (405b)

The good and virtuous life is unattainable for those who must have surrogate justice through the decisions of others. The appropriate conclusion seems to be that The Republic is primarily a work expressing a morality of the excellent life, a life which is beyond the reach of most people. As a political order must by necessity exist, it should be one which advances the virtues of the excellent life and facilitates those capable to seek the Form of the Good. However, this order requires the existence of individuals with the morality which Plato considers to be supremely virtuous and it exists to perpetuate this virtue. The perfectly balanced inner polity of the guardians is hence the key to the city's political structure, and is in fact a corollary of the political techne they possess by virtue of their balanced souls. So, in the final analysis, The Republic is primarily a moral work, but one which passes extensive comment on the nature and practice of politics, which is itself inseparable from the psychology of the individuals who practice it.

"Plato is boring." - Nietzsche1

The Republic's main virtue appears to be that it is old. Also, it is Greek. It is also possible that reading it is intended to be an ordeal of toil and pain to aid in the selection of future rulers. This would explain its ubiquitous nature in introductory political science classes. Having been compelled to read the text multiple times myself, I lean towards this last explanation.

The Republic is Plato's attempt to devise a society based upon justice, or rather the idealized form of Justice. After an awful lot of poorly written pseudo-dialogue, the conclusion is reached by Plato's imaginary dinner party that the order and stability brought about by a caste society (with the possibility of some social mobility) is justice. The lowest, or iron and brass caste is to be composed of laborers, craftsmen, farmers, blacksmiths, etc. People who do actual work.

The second, the Auxiliaries, or the silver caste, were to be soldiers and police forces in the city. They are to resist the common tendency of People Who Have Swords to acquire personal wealth from others because they'll be taught not to. This strikes me as one of the more ridiculous items in The Republic -- in view of the world the ancient Greeks existed in, as it is my understanding that People Who Have Swords had a long tradition of taking things from people without swords. But on the contrary, the United States has managed to maintain a standing army of People Who Have Guns for quite some time, relying on indoctrination, propaganda, and various abstract concepts (such as duty and honor), so it appears that Plato was right on this score. Who knew? (Certainly not the Founding Fathers, who had the same healthy fear of a concentration of People Who Have Guns that I have.)

The third, highest caste, the caste of gold, and the caste that (it goes without saying) would have contained everyone at the imaginary dinner party is the Rulers or Guardians. Bred to rule (as membership in the castes was to be mostly hereditary), educated in philosophy, and set to many tasks designed to test their ability as future rulers, Guardians were to reluctantly accept the burden of rulership and lead the community on a perfect course with absolute authority.

The central concept underlying The Republic, not addressed directly in the text, is Plato's form of The Good. In other works Plato argues that there is a knowledge of right and wrong (in contrast to the Sophist's perceived relativism), that this form (concept) can be learned (although Plato explains the learning process as remembering innate ideas planted by the divine), and that anyone who has knowledge of The Good cannot help but follow it.

I'm willing to grant these three contentions, but I think the argument for The Republic falls apart in the space between them. Sure -- there are right and wrong choices, they can be learned, and once properly understood a ruler would always choose them. But there is a far too likely probability that the Good will not be understood by the Guardians. The best argument for complete freedom of speech and expression is that the greater the variety of opinions offered on the subject, the greater the likelihood of the correct one being explored and accepted by a community, and the insular nature of the Guardians seems to be extremely susceptible to the sort of intellectual blinders that stymie progress (of course since the goal of The Republic seems to be stability instead of progress this probably would not have occurred to Plato. But I like air conditioning and indoor plumbing.). Plato desires to see almost all traces of individuality suborned to the interest of the state - but judging from the history of human understanding and growth on earth, it would seem that it is in the interest of the state to promote this very individuality.

In the safeguards he places before someone who is to become a Guardian, Plato seems to recognize this problem, and yet is satisfied by his solution. What is curiously missing is a mechanism within the community to correct mistaken Guardians. The Guardians will just simply always be right. Why, I might think that sounded almost... Utopian -- if everybody didn't always tell me that The Republic is a blueprint for a real state and not an exercise in mental masturbation.


1. From Twilight Of The Idols: Or How One Philosophizes With a Hammer -- this is often misquoted as "Plato was a bore." I mean, even as it is, I took it out of context. Let's be as precise as possible when abusing dead white men. =)

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