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Plato's Republic

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The Republic itself is nothing at the start of Plato's most famous and influential book. It does not exist. Not only does it not exist in actuality, but it does not exist in theory either. It must be built. It architect will be Socrates, the fictional persona Plato creates for himself. In the first episode Socrates encounters some acquaintances during the festival of Bendis. His reputation for good conversation already well-established, Socrates is approached by some dilettante philosopher acquaintances and drawn into a dialogue. The discussion quickly moves to justice thanks to Socrates. The other philosophers, including Thrasymachus, Polermarchus, Glaucon, and Adeimantus enthusiastically consent to such a worthy topic. However, it is unlikely at this point that any of these philosophers?save Socrates, of course?anticipates the ambition and enormity of their undertaking.

In Book I, Socrates entertains two distinct definitions of justice. The first is provided by Polermarchus, who suggests that justice is "doing good to your friends and harm to your enemies." The definition, which is a version of conventionally morality, is considered. Very soon though, its faults are clearly apparent. It is far to relative to serve as a formulation of the justice. Moreover, its individual terms are vulnerable; that is to say, how does one know who is a friend and who an enemy? And are not friends as much as enemies capable of evil? And when a friend acts wickedly, should he not be punished? And next, what does it mean that an action is good or bad? The perils of giving credence to false appearances is introduced early on as a major theme. It will be dealt with at length in the succeeding books. Thus surely an idea as noble as justice will not stand on such precarious ground. Socrates is dissatisfied. A second definition, offered by Thrasymachus, endorses tyranny. "Obedience to the interest of the stronger," is likewise mined for its value, shown to be deficient, and discarded. Tyranny, Socrates demonstrates employing several analogies, inevitably results in the fragmentation of the soul. Benevolent rule, on the other hand, ensures a harmonious life for both man and State. Justice is its means and good is its end. That "justice is the excellence of the soul" is Socrates' main conclusion. But there are too many presumptions. Although his auditors have troubled refuting his claims, Socrates knows he has been too vague and that should they truly wish to investigate the question of justice, he will have to be more specific. Book I ends with yet another question. Is the just life more pleasurable, more rewarding than the unjust? Rather all at once the philosophers have inundated themselves. But the first book has succeeded in one major way. It has established the territory of the over-arching argument of the entire work;

The philosophers continue the debate in Book II by introducing a new definition that belongs more to political philosophy than pure philosophy: that justice is a legally enforced compromise devised for the mutual protection of citizens of a state. In other words, justice is a fabrication of the State that prevents citizens from harming one another. Socrates is certainly up to the challenge. He dislikes the idea that justice does not exists naturally, but that it must be externally and superficially imposed to discourage unjust behavior. Adeimantus' mentioning of the State seems fortuitous, but it is as if Socrates has been waiting for it all along. Uncertain whether they can arrive at an acceptable definition of justice any other way, Socrates proposes they construct a State of which they approve, and see if they might not find justice lurking in it somewhere. This State is arises, Socrates says, "out of the needs of mankind." And the immense project of building a State from its very foundation has officially commenced. Basic necessities are addressed first, then the primitive division of labor, followed by the rudiments of education. Within the ideal State, Socrates maintains, there will be no need for "bad fictions," or manipulative poetics in general, since education must be perfectly moral.

The arts in education are primarily dealt with in Book III. Socrates concludes his attack on the "libelous poetry" that portrays his beloved virtues in so many negative lights. It is not of use to the State. Or if it is to be of use, it must be stringently didactic and partake of none of the indulgence and rhapsody common to their tradition and to contemporary poets as well. Even Homer is indicted. Instead the citizens of the state, at this early stage they are generically named guardians, are to be nourished only on literature?broadly termed ?music' by Socrates?clearly illustrating courage, wisdom, temperance, and virtue (just behavior). The second part of education, gymnasium, consists mostly of the physical training of the citizens. At this point Socrates' State needs rulers. Who better to rule than the best and most patriotic citizens produced by the rigorous education apparatus. These very select few are now more strictly called the guardians, while non-guardians remain citizens. The guardians will be the rulers. The book closes with the Phoenician myth, which Socrates feels would serve as effective mythical explanation for their State. Through the myth citizens are told they are made of a certain mix of metals, gold and silver, iron and brass, etc. They are born like this and are to take the requisite social station because of it. However, should a citizen of gold or silver be born to parents of an inferior metal, he will rise socially as is just; and the rule will also function in the reverse situation. The myth provides the State with an accessible, allegorical illustration of its stable, hierarchical social organization.

In Book IV the happiness of the guardians, so strenuously trained, is questioned. Socrates takes the objections of his auditors in due stride, reminding them of their original premise: that the State is to be for the good of the many and not the few. Their State has grown larger in the meantime, and is beginning to divide its labors. Defense and security against neighbors and foreign invasion enter the debate. But surely, Socrates says, the education, military and otherwise, that the citizens have garnered, coupled with their love for the State and their solidarity, will repel or outwit all challenges. Believing that what they have created thus far is a perfect State, the philosopher once again seek out justice. Socrates suggests they proceed by a process of elimination among the four virtues. He defines courage, temperance, and wisdom, but must digress before attaining justice. The digression yields the three principles of the soul: reason, passion, and appetite. When these exist in harmony, Socrates



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