Title page of the oldest manuscript: Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, Gr. 1807 (late 9th century)
|Published||c. 380 BC|
The Republic (Greek: , Politeia; Latin: Res Publica) is a Socratic dialogue, written by Plato around 380 BC, concerning justice (?), the order and character of the just city-state, and the just man. It is Plato's best-known work, and has proven to be one of the world's most influential works of philosophy and political theory, both intellectually and historically.
In the dialogue, Socrates discusses with various Athenians and foreigners about the meaning of justice and whether the just man is happier than the unjust man. They consider the natures of existing regimes and then propose a series of different, hypothetical cities in comparison, culminating in Kallipolis (?), a city-state ruled by a philosopher king. They also discuss the theory of forms, the immortality of the soul, and the role of the philosopher and of poetry in society. The dialog's setting seems to be during the Peloponnesian War.
While visiting the Piraeus with Glaucon, Polemarchus asks Socrates to join him for a celebration. Socrates then asks Cephalus, Polemarchus, and Thrasymachus their definitions of justice. Cephalus defines justice as giving what is owed. Polemarchus says justice is "the art which gives good to friends and evil to enemies." Thrasymachus proclaims "justice is nothing else than the interest of the stronger." Socrates overturns their definitions and says that it is to your advantage to be just and disadvantage to be unjust. The first book ends in aporia concerning its essence.
Socrates believes he has answered Thrasymachus and is done with the discussion of justice.
Socrates' young companions, Glaucon and Adeimantus, continue the argument of Thrasymachus for the sake of furthering the discussion. Glaucon gives a speech in which he argues first that the origin of justice was in social contracts aimed at preventing one from suffering injustice and being unable to take revenge, second that all those who practice justice do so unwillingly and out of fear of punishment, and third that the life of the unjust man is far more blessed than that of the just man. Glaucon would like Socrates to prove that justice is not only desirable, but that it belongs to the highest class of desirable things: those desired both for their own sake and their consequences.
After Glaucon's speech, Adeimantus adds that, in this thought experiment, the unjust should not fear any sort of divine judgement in the afterlife, since the very poets who wrote about such judgement also wrote that the gods would grant forgiveness to those humans who made ample religious sacrifice. Adeimantus demonstrates his reason by drawing two detailed portraits, that the unjust man could grow wealthy by injustice, devoting a percentage of this gain to religious sacrifices, thus rendering him innocent in the eyes of the gods.
Socrates suggests that they look for justice in a city rather than in an individual man. After attributing the origin of society to the individual not being self-sufficient and having many needs which he cannot supply himself, they go on to describe the development of the city. Socrates first describes the "healthy state", but Glaucon asks him to describe "a city of pigs", as he finds little difference between the two. He then goes on to describe the luxurious city, which he calls "a fevered state". This requires a guardian class to defend and attack on its account. This begins a discussion concerning the type of education that ought to be given to these guardians in their early years, including the topic of what kind of stories are appropriate. They conclude that stories that ascribe evil to the gods are untrue and should not be taught.
Socrates and his companions Adeimantus and Glaucon conclude their discussion concerning education. Socrates breaks the educational system into two. They suggest that guardians should be educated in these four virtues: wisdom, courage, justice and temperance. They also suggest that the second part of the guardians' education should be in gymnastics. With physical training they will be able to live without needing frequent medical attention: physical training will help prevent illness and weakness. Socrates asserts that both male and female guardians be given the same education, that all wives and children be shared, and that they be prohibited from owning private property.
Socrates and his companions conclude their discussion concerning the lifestyle of the guardians, thus concluding their initial assessment of the city as a whole. Socrates assumes each person will be happy engaging in the occupation that suits them best. If the city as a whole is happy, then individuals are happy. In the physical education and diet of the guardians, the emphasis is on moderation, since both poverty and excessive wealth will corrupt them (422a1). Without controlling their education, the city cannot control the future rulers. Socrates says that it is pointless to worry over specific laws, like those pertaining to contracts, since proper education ensures lawful behavior, and poor education causes lawlessness (425a-425c).
Socrates proceeds to search for wisdom, courage, and temperance in the city, on the grounds that justice will be easier to discern in what remains (427e). They find wisdom among the guardian rulers, courage among the guardian warriors (or auxiliaries), temperance among all classes of the city in agreeing about who should rule and who should be ruled. Finally, Socrates defines justice in the city as the state in which each class performs only its own work, not meddling in the work of the other classes (433b).
The virtues discovered in the city are then sought in the individual soul. For this purpose, Socrates creates an analogy between the parts of the city and the soul (the city-soul analogy). He argues that psychological conflict points to a divided soul, since a completely unified soul could not behave in opposite ways towards the same object, at the same time, and in the same respect (436b). He gives examples of possible conflicts between the rational, "spirited," and appetitive parts of the soul, corresponding to the rulers, auxiliaries, and producing classes in the city.
Having established the tripartite soul, Socrates defines the virtues of the individual. A person is wise if he is ruled by the part of the soul that knows "what is beneficial for each part and for the whole," courageous if his spirited part "preserves in the midst of pleasures and pains" the decisions reached by the rational part, and temperate if the three parts agree that the rational part lead (442c-d). They are just if each part of the soul attends to its function and not the function of another. It follows from this definition that one cannot be just if one doesn't have the other cardinal virtues.
Socrates, having to his satisfaction defined the just constitution of both city and psyche, moves to elaborate upon the four unjust constitutions of these. Adeimantus and Polemarchus interrupt, asking Socrates instead first to explain how the sharing of wives and children in the guardian class is to be defined and legislated, a theme first touched on in Book III. Socrates is overwhelmed at their request, categorizing it as three "waves" of attack against which his reasoning must stand firm. These three waves challenge Socrates' claims that
Socrates' argument is that in the ideal city, a true philosopher with understanding of forms will facilitate the harmonious co-operation of all the citizens of the city. This philosopher-king must be intelligent, reliable, and willing to lead a simple life. However, these qualities are rarely manifested on their own, and so they must be encouraged through education and the study of The Good. Just as visible objects must be illuminated in order to be seen, so must also be true of objects of knowledge if light is cast on them. Just as light comes from the Sun, so does truth come from goodness. Goodness as the source of truth makes it possible for the mind to know, just as light from the Sun makes the eyes able to see.
Socrates elaborates upon the immediately preceding Analogies of the Sun and of the Divided Line in the Allegory of the Cave, in which he insists that the psyche must be freed from bondage to the visible/sensible world by making the painful journey into the intelligible world. He continues in the rest of this book by further elaborating upon the curriculum which a would-be philosopher-king must study. This is the origin of the quadrivium: arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music.
Next, they elaborate on the education of the philosopher king. Until age 18, would-be guardians should be engaged in basic intellectual study and physical training, followed by two years of military training. However, a correction is then introduced where the study of gymnastics (martial arts) and warfare - 3 plus 2 years, respectively - are supplanted by philosophy for 5 years instead. Next, they receive ten years of mathematics until age 30, and then five years of dialectic training. Guardians then spend the next 15 years as leaders, trying to "lead people from the cave". (This refers to "the Allegory of the Cave") Upon reaching 50, they are fully aware of the form of good, and totally mature and ready to lead.
Socrates discusses four unjust constitutions: timocracy, oligarchy, democracy, and tyranny. He argues that a society will decay and pass through each government in succession, eventually becoming a tyranny, the most unjust regime of all.
The starting point is an imagined, alternate aristocracy (ruled by a philosopher-king); a just government dominated by the wisdom-loving element. When its social structure breaks down and enters civil war, it is replaced by timocracy. The timocratic government is dominated by the spirited element, with a ruling class of property-owners consisting of warriors or generals (Ancient Sparta is an example). As the emphasis on honor is compromised by wealth accumulation, it is replaced by oligarchy. The oligarchic government is dominated by the desiring element, in which the rich are the ruling class. The gap between rich and poor widens, culminating in a revolt by the underclass majority, establishing a democracy. Democracy emphasizes maximum freedom, so power is distributed evenly. It is also dominated by the desiring element, but in an undisciplined, unrestrained way. The populism of the democratic government leads to mob rule, fueled by fear of oligarchy, which a clever demagogue can exploit to take power and establish tyranny. In a tyrannical government, the city is enslaved to the tyrant, who uses his guards to remove the best social elements and individuals from the city to retain power (since they pose a threat), while leaving the worst. He will also provoke warfare to consolidate his position as leader. In this way, tyranny is the most unjust regime of all.
In parallel to this, Socrates considers the individual or soul that corresponds to each of these regimes. He describes how an aristocrat may become weak or detached from political and material affluence, and how his son will respond to this by becoming overly ambitious. The timocrat in turn may be defeated by the courts or vested interests; his son responds by accumulating wealth in order to gain power in society and defend himself against the same predicament, thereby becoming an oligarch. The oligarch's son will grow up with wealth without having to practice thrift or stinginess, and will be tempted and overwhelmed by his desires, so that he becomes democratic, valuing freedom above all.
Having discussed the tyrannical constitution of a city, Socrates wishes to discuss the tyrannical constitution of a psyche. This is all intended to answer Thrasymachus' first argument in Book I, that the life of the unjust man (here understood as a true tyrant) is more blessed than that of the just man (the philosopher-king).
First, he describes how a tyrannical man develops from a democratic household. The democratic man is torn between tyrannical passions and oligarchic discipline, and ends up in the middle ground: valuing all desires, both good and bad. The tyrant will be tempted in the same way as the democrat, but without an upbringing in discipline or moderation to restrain him. Therefore, his most base desires and wildest passions overwhelm him, and he becomes driven by lust, using force and fraud to take whatever he wants. The tyrant is both a slave to his lusts, and a master to whomever he can enslave.
Because of this, tyranny is the regime with the least freedom and happiness, and the tyrant is most unhappy of all, since the regime and soul correspond. His desires are never fulfilled, and he always must live in fear of his victims. Because the tyrant can only think in terms of servant and master, he has no equals whom he can befriend, and with no friends the tyrant is robbed of freedom. This is the first proof that it is better to be just than unjust. The second proof is derived from the tripartite theory of soul. The wisdom-loving soul is best equipped to judge what is best through reason, and the wise individual judges wisdom to be best, then honor, then desire. This is the just proportion for the city or soul and stands opposite to tyranny, which is entirely satiated on base desires. The third proof follows from this. He describes how the soul can be misled into experiencing false pleasure: for example, a lack of pain can seem pleasurable by comparison to a worse state. True pleasure is had by being fulfilled by things that fit one's nature. Wisdom is the most fulfilling and is the best guide, so the only way for the three drives of the soul to function properly and experience the truest pleasure is by allowing wisdom to lead. To conclude the third proof, the wisdom element is best at providing pleasure, while tyranny is worst because it is furthest removed from wisdom.
Finally, Socrates considers the multiple of how much worse tyranny is than the kingly/disciplined/wise temperament, and even quantifies the tyrant as living 729 times more painfully/less joyfully than the king. He then gives the example of a chimera to further illustrate justice and the tripartite soul.
The discussion concludes by refuting Thrasymachus' argument and designating the most blessed life as that of the just man and the most miserable life as that of the unjust man.
Concluding a theme brought up most explicitly in the Analogies of the Sun and Divided Line in Book VI, Socrates finally rejects any form of imitative art and concludes that such artists have no place in the just city. He continues on to argue for the immortality of the psyche and even espouses a theory of reincarnation. He finishes by detailing the rewards of being just, both in this life and the next. Artists create things but they are only different copies of the idea of the original. "And whenever any one informs us that he has found a man who knows all the arts, and all things else that anybody knows, and every single thing with a higher degree of accuracy than any other man--whoever tells us this, I think that we can only imagine to be a simple creature who is likely to have been deceived by some wizard or actor whom he met, and whom he thought all-knowing, because he himself was unable to analyze the nature of knowledge and ignorance and imitation."
"And the same object appears straight when looked at out of the water, and crooked when in the water; and the concave becomes convex, owing to the illusion about colours to which the sight is liable. Thus every sort of confusion is revealed within us; and this is that weakness of the human mind on which the art of conjuring and deceiving by light and shadow and other ingenous devices imposes, having an effect upon us like magic."
He speaks about illusions and confusion. Things can look very similar, but be different in reality. Because we are human, at times we cannot tell the difference between the two.
"And does not the same hold also of the ridiculous? There are jests which you would be ashamed to make yourself, and yet on the comic stage, or indeed in private, when you hear them, you are greatly amused by them, and are not at all disgusted at their unseemliness--the case of pity is repeated--there is a principle in human nature which is disposed to raise a laugh, and this which you once restrained by reason, because you were afraid of being thought a buffoon, is now let out again; and having stimulated the risible faculty at the theatre, you are betrayed unconsciously to yourself into playing the comic poet at home."
With all of us, we may approve of something, as long we are not directly involved with it. If we joke about it, we are supporting it.
"Quite true, he said. And the same may be said of lust and anger and all the other affections, of desire and pain and pleasure, which are held to be inseparable from every action--in all of them poetry feeds and waters the passions instead of drying them up; she lets them rule, although they ought to be controlled, if mankind are ever to increase in happiness and virtue."
Sometimes we let our passions rule our actions or way of thinking, although they should be controlled, so that we can increase our happiness.
Three interpretations of the Republic are presented in the following section; they are not exhaustive in their treatments of the work, but are examples of contemporary interpretation.
The core of the second part is the Allegory of the Cave and the discussion of the theory of ideal forms. The third part concerns the Five Regimes and is strongly related to the later dialogue The Laws; and the Myth of Er.
The paradigm of the city--the idea of the Good, the Agathon--has manifold historical embodiments, undertaken by those who have seen the Agathon, and are ordered via the vision. The centerpiece of the Republic, Part II, nos. 2-3, discusses the rule of the philosopher, and the vision of the Agathon with the allegory of the cave, which is clarified in the theory of forms. The centerpiece is preceded and followed by the discussion of the means that will secure a well-ordered polis (City). Part II, no. 1, concerns marriage, the community of people and goods for the guardians, and the restraints on warfare among the Hellenes. It describes a partially communistic polis. Part II, no. 4, deals with the philosophical education of the rulers who will preserve the order and character of the city-state.
In part II, the Embodiment of the Idea, is preceded by the establishment of the economic and social orders of a polis (part I), followed by an analysis (part III) of the decline the order must traverse. The three parts compose the main body of the dialogues, with their discussions of the "paradigm", its embodiment, its genesis, and its decline.
The introduction and the conclusion are the frame for the body of the Republic. The discussion of right order is occasioned by the questions: "Is justice better than injustice?" and "Will an unjust man fare better than a just man?" The introductory question is balanced by the concluding answer: "Justice is preferable to injustice". In turn, the foregoing are framed with the Prologue (Book I) and the Epilogue (Book X). The prologue is a short dialogue about the common public doxai (opinions) about justice. Based upon faith, and not reason, the Epilogue describes the new arts and the immortality of the soul.
Leo Strauss identified a four-part structure to the Republic, perceiving the dialogues as a drama enacted by particular characters, each with a particular perspective and level of intellect:
In the first book, two definitions of justice are proposed but deemed inadequate. Returning debts owed, and helping friends while harming enemies, are commonsense definitions of justice that, Socrates shows, are inadequate in exceptional situations, and thus lack the rigidity demanded of a definition. Yet he does not completely reject them, for each expresses a commonsense notion of justice that Socrates will incorporate into his discussion of the just regime in books II through V.
At the end of Book I, Socrates agrees with Polemarchus that justice includes helping friends, but says the just man would never do harm to anybody. Thrasymachus believes that Socrates has done the men present an injustice by saying this and attacks his character and reputation in front of the group, partly because he suspects that Socrates himself does not even believe harming enemies is unjust. Thrasymachus gives his understanding of justice and injustice as "justice is what is advantageous to the stronger, while injustice is to one's own profit and advantage". Socrates finds this definition unclear and begins to question Thrasymachus. Socrates then asks whether the ruler who makes a mistake by making a law that lessens their well-being, is still a ruler according to that definition. Thrasymachus agrees that no true ruler would make such an error. This agreement allows Socrates to undermine Thrasymachus' strict definition of justice by comparing rulers to people of various professions. Thrasymachus consents to Socrates' assertion that an artist is someone who does his job well, and is a knower of some art, which allows him to complete the job well. In so doing Socrates gets Thrasymachus to admit that rulers who enact a law that does not benefit them firstly, are in the precise sense not rulers. Thrasymachus gives up, and is silent from then on. Socrates has trapped Thrasymachus into admitting the strong man who makes a mistake is not the strong man in the precise sense, and that some type of knowledge is required to rule perfectly. However, it is far from a satisfactory definition of justice.
At the beginning of Book II, Plato's two brothers challenge Socrates to define justice in the man, and unlike the rather short and simple definitions offered in Book I, their views of justice are presented in two independent speeches. Glaucon's speech reprises Thrasymachus' idea of justice; it starts with the legend of Gyges, who discovered a ring that gave him the power to become invisible. Glaucon uses this story to argue that no man would be just if he had the opportunity of doing injustice with impunity. With the power to become invisible, Gyges is able to seduce the queen, murder the king, and take over the kingdom. Glaucon argues that the just as well as the unjust man would do the same if they had the power to get away with injustice exempt from punishment. The only reason that men are just and praise justice is out of fear of being punished for injustice. The law is a product of compromise between individuals who agree not to do injustice to others if others will not do injustice to them. Glaucon says that if people had the power to do injustice without fear of punishment, they would not enter into such an agreement. Glaucon uses this argument to challenge Socrates to defend the position that the unjust life is better than the just life. Adeimantus adds to Glaucon's speech the charge that men are only just for the results that justice brings one fortune, honor, reputation. Adeimantus challenges Socrates to prove that being just is worth something in and of itself, not only as a means to an end.
Socrates says that there is no better topic to debate. In response to the two views of injustice and justice presented by Glaucon and Adeimantus, he claims incompetence, but feels it would be impious to leave justice in such doubt. Thus the Republic sets out to define justice. Given the difficulty of this task as proven in Book I, Socrates in Book II leads his interlocutors into a discussion of justice in the city, which Socrates suggests may help them see justice not only in the person, but on a larger scale, "first in cities searching for what it is; then thusly we could examine also in some individual, examining the likeness of the bigger in the idea of the littler" (368e-369a).
For over two and a half millennia, scholars have differed on the aptness of the city-soul analogy Socrates uses to find justice in Books II through V. The Republic is a dramatic dialogue, not a treatise. Socrates' definition of justice is never unconditionally stated, only versions of justice within each city are "found" and evaluated in Books II through Book V. Socrates constantly refers the definition of justice back to the conditions of the city for which it is created. He builds a series of myths, or noble lies, to make the cities appear just, and these conditions moderate life within the communities. The "earth born" myth makes all men believe that they are born from the earth and have predestined natures within their veins. Accordingly, Socrates defines justice as "working at that which he is naturally best suited", and "to do one's own business and not to be a busybody" (433a-433b) and goes on to say that justice sustains and perfects the other three cardinal virtues: Temperance, Wisdom, and Courage, and that justice is the cause and condition of their existence. Socrates does not include justice as a virtue within the city, suggesting that justice does not exist within the human soul either, rather it is the result of a "well ordered" soul. A result of this conception of justice separates people into three types; that of the soldier, that of the producer, and that of a ruler. If a ruler can create just laws, and if the warriors can carry out the orders of the rulers, and if the producers can obey this authority, then a society will be just.
The city is challenged by Adeimantus and Glaucon throughout its development: Adeimantus cannot find happiness in the city, and Glaucon cannot find honor and glory. This hypothetical city contains no private property, no marriage, or nuclear families. These are sacrificed for the common good and doing what is best fitting to one's nature. In Book V Socrates addresses the question of "natural-ness" of and possibility for this city, concluding in Book VI, that the city's ontological status regards a construction of the soul, not of an actual metropolis.
The rule of philosopher-kings appear as the issue of possibility is raised. Socrates never positively states what justice is in the human soul/city; it appears he has created a city where justice is not found, but can be lost. It is as though in a well-ordered state, justice is not even needed, since the community satisfies the needs of humans.
In terms of why it is best to be just rather than unjust for the individual, Plato prepares an answer in Book IX consisting of three main arguments. Plato says that a tyrant's nature will leave him with "horrid pains and pangs" and that the typical tyrant engages in a lifestyle that will be physically and mentally exacting on such a ruler. Such a disposition is in contrast to the truth-loving philosopher king, and a tyrant "never tastes of true freedom or friendship". The second argument proposes that of all the different types of people, only the philosopher is able to judge which type of ruler is best since only he can see the Form of the Good. Thirdly, Plato argues, "Pleasures which are approved of by the lover of wisdom and reason are the truest." In sum, Plato argues that philosophical pleasure is the only true pleasure since other pleasures experienced by others are simply a neutral state free of pain.
Socrates points out the human tendency to be corrupted by power leads down the road to timocracy, oligarchy, democracy and tyranny. From this, he concludes that ruling should be left to philosophers, who are the most just and therefore least susceptible to corruption. This "good city" is depicted as being governed by philosopher-kings; disinterested persons who rule not for their personal enjoyment but for the good of the city-state (polis). The paradigmatic society which stands behind every historical society is hierarchical, but social classes have a marginal permeability; there are no slaves, no discrimination between men and women. The men and women are both to be taught the same things, so they are both able to be used for the same things (451e). In addition to the ruling class of guardians (?), which abolished riches, there is a class of private producers (demiourgoi), who may be rich or poor. A number of provisions aim to avoid making the people weak: the substitution of a universal educational system for men and women instead of debilitating music, poetry and theatre--a startling departure from Greek society. These provisions apply to all classes, and the restrictions placed on the philosopher-kings chosen from the warrior class and the warriors are much more severe than those placed on the producers, because the rulers must be kept away from any source of corruption.
In Books V-VI the abolition of riches among the guardian class (not unlike Max Weber's bureaucracy) leads controversially to the abandonment of the typical family, and as such no child may know his or her parents and the parents may not know their own children. Socrates tells a tale which is the "allegory of the good government". The rulers assemble couples for reproduction, based on breeding criteria. Thus, stable population is achieved through eugenics and social cohesion is projected to be high because familial links are extended towards everyone in the city. Also the education of the youth is such that they are taught of only works of writing that encourage them to improve themselves for the state's good, and envision (the) god(s) as entirely good, just, and the author(s) of only that which is good.
In Books VII-X stand Plato's criticism of the forms of government. It begins with the dismissal of timocracy, a sort of authoritarian regime, not unlike a military dictatorship. Plato offers an almost psychoanalytical explanation of the "timocrat" as one who saw his father humiliated by his mother and wants to vindicate "manliness". The third worst regime is oligarchy, the rule of a small band of rich people, millionaires that only respect money. Then comes the democratic form of government, and its susceptibility to being ruled by unfit "sectarian" demagogues. Finally the worst regime is tyranny, where the whimsical desires of the ruler became law and there is no check upon arbitrariness.
The allegory of the cave primarily depicts Plato's distinction between the world of appearances and the 'real' world of the Forms, as well as helping to justify the philosopher's place in society as king. Plato imagines a group of people who have lived their entire lives as prisoners, chained to the wall of a cave in the subterranean so they are unable to see the outside world behind them. However a constant flame illuminates various moving objects outside, which are silhouetted on the wall of the cave visible to the prisoners. These prisoners, through having no other experience of reality, ascribe forms to these shadows such as either "dog" or "cat".
Plato then goes on to explain how the philosopher is akin to a prisoner who is freed from the cave. The prisoner is initially blinded by the light, but when he adjusts to the brightness he sees the fire and the statues and how they caused the images witnessed inside the cave. He sees that the fire and statues in the cave were just copies of the real objects; merely imitations. This is analogous to the Forms. What we see from day to day are merely appearances, reflections of the Forms. The philosopher, however, will not be deceived by the shadows and will hence be able to see the 'real' world, the world above that of appearances; the philosopher will gain knowledge of things in themselves. In this analogy the sun is representative of the Good. This is the main object of the philosopher's knowledge. The Good can be thought of as the form of Forms, or the structuring of the world as a whole.
The prisoner's stages of understanding correlate with the levels on the divided line which he imagines. The line is divided into what the visible world is and what the intelligible world is, with the divider being the Sun. When the prisoner is in the cave, he is obviously in the visible realm that receives no sunlight, and outside he comes to be in the intelligible realm.
The shadows witnessed in the cave correspond to the lowest level on Plato's line, that of imagination and conjecture. Once the prisoner is freed and sees the shadows for what they are he reaches the second stage on the divided line, the stage of belief, for he comes to believe that the statues in the cave are real. On leaving the cave, however, the prisoner comes to see objects more real than the statues inside of the cave, and this correlates with the third stage on Plato's line, thought. Lastly, the prisoner turns to the sun which he grasps as the source of truth, or the Form of the Good, and this last stage, named as dialectic, is the highest possible stage on the line. The prisoner, as a result of the Form of the Good, can begin to understand all other forms in reality.
At the end of this allegory, Plato asserts that it is the philosopher's burden to reenter the cave. Those who have seen the ideal world, he says, have the duty to educate those in the material world. Since the philosopher recognizes what is truly good only he is fit to rule society according to Plato.
While Plato spends much of the Republic having Socrates narrate a conversation about the city he founds with Glaucon and Adeimantus "in speech", the discussion eventually turns to considering four regimes that exist in reality and tend to degrade successively into each other: timocracy, oligarchy (also called plutocracy), democracy and tyranny (also called despotism).
Socrates defines a timocracy as a government of people who love rule and honor. Socrates argues that the timocracy emerges from aristocracy due to a civil war breaking out among the ruling class and the majority. Over time, many more births will occur to people who lack aristocratic, guardian qualities, slowly drawing the populace away from knowledge, music, poetry and "guardian education", toward money-making and the acquisition of possessions. This civil war between those who value wisdom and those who value material acquisition will continue until a compromise is reached. The timocracy values war insofar as it satisfies a love of victory and honor. The timocratic man loves physical training, and hunting, and values his abilities in warfare.
Temptations create a confusion between economic status and honor which is responsible for the emergence of oligarchy. In Book VIII, Socrates suggests that wealth will not help a pilot to navigate his ship, as his concerns will be directed centrally toward increasing his wealth by whatever means, rather than seeking out wisdom or honor. The injustice of economic disparity divides the rich and the poor, thus creating an environment for criminals and beggars to emerge. The rich are constantly plotting against the poor and vice versa. The oligarchic constitution is based on property assessment and wealth qualification. Unlike the timocracy, oligarchs are also unable to fight war, since they do not wish to arm the majority for fear of their rising up against them (fearing the majority even more than their enemies), nor do they seem to pay mercenaries, since they are reluctant to spend money.
As this socioeconomic divide grows, so do tensions between social classes. From the conflicts arising out of such tensions, the poor majority overthrow the wealthy minority, and democracy replaces the oligarchy preceding it. The poor overthrow the oligarchs and grant liberties and freedoms to citizens, creating a most variegated collection of peoples under a "supermarket" of constitutions. A visually appealing demagogue is soon lifted up to protect the interests of the lower class. However, with too much freedom, no requirements for anyone to rule, and having no interest in assessing the background of their rulers (other than honoring such people because they wish the majority well) the people become easily persuaded by such a demagogue's appeal to try and satisfy people's common, base, and unnecessary pleasures.
The excessive freedoms granted to the citizens of a democracy ultimately leads to a tyranny, the furthest regressed type of government. These freedoms divide the people into three socioeconomic classes: the dominating class, the elites and the commoners. Tensions between the dominating class and the elites cause the commoners to seek out protection of their democratic liberties. They invest all their power in their democratic demagogue, who, in turn, becomes corrupted by the power and becomes a tyrant with a small entourage of his supporters for protection and absolute control of his people.
The idea of writing treatises on systems of government was followed some decades later by Plato's most prominent pupil Aristotle, whose Politika systematises many of Plato's concepts, in some cases differing from his conclusions.
Zeno of Citium, the founder of Stoicism, wrote his own imitation of Plato's Republic, c. 300 BC. Zeno's Republic advocates a form of anarchism in which all of the citizens are philosophers, and advocates a more radical form of sexual communism than that proposed by Plato.
The English title of Plato's dialogue is derived from Cicero's De re publica, written some three centuries later. Cicero's dialogue imitates Plato's style and treats many of the same topics, and Cicero's main character Scipio Africanus expresses his esteem for Plato and Socrates.
Res publica is not an exact translation of Plato's Greek title politeia. Rather, politeia is a general term for the actual and potential forms of government for a Polis or city-state, and Plato attempts to survey all possible forms of the state. Cicero's discussion is more parochial, focusing on the improvement of the participants' own state, the Roman Republic in its final stages.
In antiquity, Plato's works were largely acclaimed, but a few commentators regarded them as too theoretical. Tacitus, commented on such works as The Republic and Aristotle's Politics in his Ann. (IV, 33):
|Nam cunctas nationes et urbes populus aut primores aut singuli regunt: delecta ex iis (his) et consociata (constituta) rei publicae forma laudari facilius quam evenire, vel si evenit, haud diuturna esse potest.||Indeed, a nation or city is ruled by the people, or by an upper class, or by a monarch. A government system that is invented from a choice of these same components is sooner idealised than realised; and even if realised, there will be no future for it.|
In this work, Tacitus undertakes the prosaic description and minute analysis of how real states are governed, attempting to derive more practical lessons about good versus bad governance than can be deduced from speculations on ideal governments.
In the pivotal era of Rome's move from its ancient polytheist religion to Christianity, Augustine wrote his magnum opus The City of God: Again, the references to Plato, Aristotle and Cicero and their visions of the ideal state were legion: Augustine equally described a model of the "ideal city", in his case the eternal Jerusalem, using a visionary language not unlike that of the preceding philosophers.
Islamic philosophers were much more interested in Aristotle than Plato, but not having access to Aristotle's Politics, Ibn Rushd (Averroes) produced instead a commentary on Plato's Republic. He advances an authoritarian ideal, following Plato's paternalistic model. Absolute monarchy, led by a philosopher-king, creates a justly ordered society. This requires extensive use of coercion, although persuasion is preferred and is possible if the young are properly raised. Rhetoric, not logic, is the appropriate road to truth for the common man. Demonstrative knowledge via philosophy and logic requires special study. Rhetoric aids religion in reaching the masses.
Following Plato, Ibn Rushd accepts the principle of women's equality. They should be educated and allowed to serve in the military; the best among them might be tomorrow's philosophers or rulers. He also accepts Plato's illiberal measures such as the censorship of literature. He uses examples from Arab history to illustrate just and degenerate political orders.
Hegel respected Plato's theories of state and ethics much more than those of the early modern philosophers such as Locke, Hobbes and Rousseau, whose theories proceeded from a fictional "state of nature" defined by humanity's "natural" needs, desires and freedom. For Hegel this was a contradiction: since nature and the individual are contradictory, the freedoms which define individuality as such are latecomers on the stage of history. Therefore, these philosophers unwittingly projected man as an individual in modern society onto a primordial state of nature. Plato however had managed to grasp the ideas specific to his time:
Plato is not the man to dabble in abstract theories and principles; his truth-loving mind has recognized and represented the truth of the world in which he lived, the truth of the one spirit that lived in him as in Greece itself. No man can overleap his time, the spirit of his time is his spirit also; but the point at issue is, to recognize that spirit by its content.
For Hegel, Plato's Republic is not an abstract theory or ideal which is too good for the real nature of man, but rather is not ideal enough, not good enough for the ideals already inherent or nascent in the reality of his time; a time when Greece was entering decline. One such nascent idea was about to crush the Greek way of life: modern freedoms--or Christian freedoms in Hegel's view--such as the individual's choice of his social class, or of what property to pursue, or which career to follow. Such individual freedoms were excluded from Plato's Republic:
Plato recognized and caught up the true spirit of his times, and brought it forward in a more definite way, in that he desired to make this new principle an impossibility in his Republic.
Greece being at a crossroads, Plato's new "constitution" in the Republic was an attempt to preserve Greece: it was a reactionary reply to the new freedoms of private property etc., that were eventually given legal form through Rome. Accordingly, in ethical life, it was an attempt to introduce a religion that elevated each individual not as an owner of property, but as the possessor of an immortal soul.
In his 1934 Plato und die Dichter (Plato and the Poets), as well as several other works, Hans-Georg Gadamer describes the utopic city of the Republic as a heuristic utopia that should not be pursued or even be used as an orientation-point for political development. Rather, its purpose is said to be to show how things would have to be connected, and how one thing would lead to another--often with highly problematic results--if one would opt for certain principles and carry them through rigorously. This interpretation argues that large passages in Plato's writing are ironic, a line of thought initially pursued by Kierkegaard.
The city portrayed in the Republic struck some critics as harsh, rigid, and unfree; indeed, as totalitarian. Karl Popper gave a voice to that view in his 1945 book The Open Society and Its Enemies, where he singled out Plato's state as a dystopia. Popper divorced Plato's ideas from those of Socrates, claiming that the former in his later years expressed none of the humanitarian and democratic tendencies of his teacher. In particular, Popper accuses Plato of betraying Socrates. Gilbert Ryle, reviewing Popper's text just two years after its publication and agreeing with him, wrote that Plato "was Socrates' Judas." Popper thought Plato's envisioned state totalitarian as it advocated a government composed only of a distinct hereditary ruling class, with the working class--who Popper argues Plato regards as "human cattle"--given no role in decision making. He argues that Plato has no interest in what are commonly regarded as the problems of justice--the resolving of disputes between individuals--because Plato has redefined justice as "keeping one's place".
Eric Voegelin in Plato and Aristotle (Baton Rouge, 1957), gave meaning to the concept of 'Just City in Speech' (Books II-V). For instance, there is evidence in the dialogue that Socrates himself would not be a member of his 'ideal' state. His life was almost solely dedicated to the private pursuit of knowledge. More practically, Socrates suggests that members of the lower classes could rise to the higher ruling class, and vice versa, if they had 'gold' in their veins--a version of the concept of social mobility. The exercise of power is built on the 'noble lie' that all men are brothers, born of the earth, yet there is a clear hierarchy and class divisions. There is a tripartite explanation of human psychology that is extrapolated to the city, the relation among peoples. There is no family among the guardians, another crude version of Max Weber's concept of bureaucracy as the state non-private concern. Together with Leo Strauss, Voegelin considered Popper's interpretation to be a gross misunderstanding not only of the dialogue itself, but of the very nature and character of Plato's entire philosophic enterprise.
Some of Plato's proposals have led theorists like Leo Strauss and Allan Bloom to ask readers to consider the possibility that Socrates was creating not a blueprint for a real city, but a learning exercise for the young men in the dialogue. There are many points in the construction of the "Just City in Speech" that seem contradictory, which raise the possibility Socrates is employing irony to make the men in the dialogue question for themselves the ultimate value of the proposals. In turn, Plato has immortalized this 'learning exercise' in the Republic.
One of many examples is that Socrates calls the marriages of the ruling class 'sacred'; however, they last only one night and are the result of manipulating and drugging couples into predetermined intercourse with the aim of eugenically breeding guardian-warriors. Strauss and Bloom's interpretations, however, involve more than just pointing out inconsistencies; by calling attention to these issues they ask readers to think more deeply about whether Plato is being ironic or genuine, for neither Strauss nor Bloom present an unequivocal opinion, preferring to raise philosophic doubt over interpretive fact.
Leo Strauss's approach developed out of a belief that Plato wrote esoterically. The basic acceptance of the exoteric-esoteric distinction revolves around whether Plato really wanted to see the "Just City in Speech" of Books V-VI come to pass, or whether it is just an allegory. Strauss never regarded this as the crucial issue of the dialogue. He argued against Karl Popper's literal view, citing Cicero's opinion that the Republic's true nature was to bring to light the nature of political things. In fact, Strauss undermines the justice found in the "Just City in Speech" by implying the city is not natural, it is a man-made conceit that abstracts away from the erotic needs of the body. The city founded in the Republic "is rendered possible by the abstraction from eros".
An argument that has been used against ascribing ironic intent to Plato is that Plato's Academy produced a number of tyrants who seized political power and abandoned philosophy for ruling a city. Despite being well-versed in Greek and having direct contact with Plato himself, some of Plato's former students like Clearchus, tyrant of Heraclea; Chaeron, tyrant of Pellene; Erastus and Coriscus, tyrants of Skepsis; Hermias of Atarneus and Assos; and Calippus, tyrant of Syracuse ruled people and did not impose anything like a philosopher-kingship. However, it can be argued whether these men became "tyrants" through studying in the Academy. Plato's school had an elite student body, some of whom would by birth, and family expectation, end up in the seats of power. Additionally, it is important to remember that it is by no means obvious that these men were tyrants in the modern, totalitarian sense of the concept. Finally, since very little is actually known about what was taught at Plato's Academy, there is no small controversy over whether it was even in the business of teaching politics at all.
Many critics, both ancient and modern (like Julia Annas), have suggested that the dialogue's political discussion actually serves as an analogy for the individual soul, in which there are also many different "members" that can either conflict or else be integrated and orchestrated under a just and productive "government." Among other things, this analogical reading would solve the problem of certain implausible statements Plato makes concerning an ideal political republic. In a definitive treatment of the subject, Blössner (2007) presents and argues for the case that the Republic is best understood as an analysis of the workings and moral improvement of the individual soul with remarkable thoroughness and clarity. This view, of course, does not preclude a legitimate reading of the Republic as a political treatise (the work could operate at both levels). It merely implies that it deserves more attention as a work on psychology and moral philosophy than it has sometimes received.
The above-mentioned views have in common that they view the Republic as a theoretical work, not as a set of guidelines for good governance. However, Popper insists that the Republic, "was meant by its author not so much as a theoretical treatise, but as a topical political manifesto" and Bertrand Russell argues that at least in intent, and all in all not so far from what was possible in ancient Greek city-states, the form of government portrayed in the Republic was meant as a practical one by Plato.
One of Plato's recurring techniques in the Republic is to refine the concept of justice with reference to various examples of greater or lesser injustice. However, in The Concept of Injustice,Eric Heinze challenges the assumption that 'justice' and 'injustice' form a mutually exclusive pair. Heinze argues that such an assumption traces not from strict deductive logic, but from the arbitrary etymology of the word 'injustice'. Heinze critiques what he calls 'classical' Western justice theory for having perpetuated that logical error, which first appears in Plato's Republic, but manifests throughout traditional political philosophy, in thinkers otherwise as different as Aristotle, Aquinas, Locke, Rousseau, Hegel and Marx.
In 2001, a survey of over 1,000 academics and students voted the Republic the greatest philosophical text ever written. Julian Baggini argued that although the work "was wrong on almost every point, the questions it raises and the methods it uses are essential to the western tradition of philosophy. Without it we might not have philosophy as we know it."
The Republic is generally placed in the middle period of Plato's dialogues--that is, it is believed to be written after the early period dialogues but before the late period dialogues. However, the distinction of this group from the early dialogues is not as clear as the distinction of the late dialogues from all the others. Nonetheless, Ritter, Arnim, and Baron--with their separate methodologies--all agreed that the Republic was well distinguished, along with Parmenides, Phaedrus and Theaetetus.
However, the first book of the Republic, which shares many features with earlier dialogues, is thought to have originally been written as a separate work, and then the remaining books were conjoined to it, perhaps with modifications to the original of the first book.
Several Oxyrhynchus Papyri fragments were found to contain parts of the Republic, and from other works such as Phaedo, or the dialogue Gorgias, written around 200-300 CE. Fragments of a different version of Plato's Republic were discovered in 1945, part of the Nag Hammadi library, written ca. 350 CE. These findings highlight the influence of Plato during those times in Egypt.