Thursday September 26 , 2013 – Lecture #4
Plato’s Republic (Books One to Five)
• Arguably the most important written book on the topic of justice. Socrates wants to discuss what Justice
is, also show that it is good.
• Is Socrates really Plato’s mouthpiece? Not entirely
• First you would have to question who Socrates is in order to fully understand if he is Plato’s mouthpiece.
Is there anything noble about Socrates taking to task an ignorant person when he is clearly more
intelligent? Just as there is virtue of strength, like a UFC fighter would not pick on an old man, there is a
virtue of wisdom for Socrates, he does not want to flaunt his wisdom for the sake of doing so. He
doesn’t defend a view, he raises questions. There is no boasting in asking questions. He usually leaves
the answering to others.
• If we know Plato’s thoughts because he speaks through Socrates, do we really know what Plato thinks
because Socrates always speaks through irony, king of looping us in a circle.
• Plato struggles with the fact that his writing is available to everyone, however his ideas are not, and can
sometimes be taken different ways by different people. Writing can address particular readership, and is
open to anybody.
• Plato’s writings would only make sense if they were free from this danger, because they say different
things to different people.
• In The Republic, Plato wants his opinions to be heard. He also wants to capture observation though,
things that can be seen.
• How can writing flee itself from the defects of writing? Logographic Necessity. The necessity that
every part of a dialogue is set to fulfill a specific function. Different characters are introduced for
specific reasons, and to make us think and understand. Every part of the dialogue exists for a specific
function. The function of the dialogues is to make us think/understand. When we read these
dialogues we should pay important to even the most trivial things because of this.
• In Plato’s dialogues Socrates never enters a discussion with equals. He also rarely enters dialogues
with political individuals. Most often he confronts people who are his inferiors. He takes their
answers and responds with more questions.
• The title of the republic in Greek is Politaeia. This is most often translated as the constitution, however
the professor prefers the translation as meaning Regime. What is the aim of the government, what is
• Who does Socrates actually talk to in the republic if they aren’t equals? One of the leading men that he
addresses is Cephalus, which means Head in Greek.
o Cephalus is wealthy, old, seems to be well-respected, the host of the group, more traditional,
interested in only material pleasures (money and sex). o Socrates asks what it is like being old, and he responds by saying that as he was growing up he
only cared about money and sex, and now thank god he doesn’t have those sexual desires. In
terms of money and wealth he has reached his point in his age that he only cares about paying his
debts as what ultimately is important is ones character. He doesn’t care simply about missing
money, he just wants to focus on the consequences of his actions and the debts that he has. Since
he cares about the consequences of his actions he has devoted himself to the gods in old age.
In Book 1 the main characters are Socrates, Cephalus, Polemarchus and Thrasymachus
In Book 2 there is Glaucon andAdeimantus (Who are Plato’s brothers)
If you wanted to date something approximately around the events of the dialogue, it would be somewhere near
411 BC during the Peloponnesian war during the Peace of Nicia.
• Socrates is not looking for a discussion on Justice, but he gets one.
• Socrates is arguing with Cephalus, who drops out after a couple questions and is replaced with his son
Polemarchus. However ultimately, Thrasymachus provides the strongest argument by the end of the first
• By the end of book one there is still no answer as to what justice is He refutes both Cephalus,
Polemarchus, but not Thrasymachus fully.
• There is a parallel between the individual and the city (Polis)
• He starts by saying that he wants to look at the city, however, he ends up not doing this (Maybe because
he believes that no one true city exemplifies Justice)
• Instead, he Founds a City = “The City in Speech”, hoping to arrive to a just city or Kallipolis
(Meaning a just city or a beautiful city)
• One of the most ancient Greek political questions is what is the best regime? They are trying to create a
• What is this city in speech? There are three radical approaches that Plato sees to this
o Rule of the Philosophers
o The Equality of the Sexes (Which was crazy back then)
o Atype of communism (The abolition of private property
• About 300 years later Cicero talks that the function of Plato’s republic is not to really present us with the
best social order, but to make us see the character of political society, the essential limitations of political
• Do you actually think that Plato wanted to put this idea of the Kallipolis in to actual society or to
instead have it as a model for society? We can understand the expectations and reasonable limits
of society through the model of Kallipolis. Why are we reading only books 1-8 – this is because these are the books talking about Kallipolis and Plato’s
ideas of the best regime.
• Plato’s primary argument is therefore that there is symmetry between the parts of the soul and parts of
the city. He says that the parts of the soul are reason, spirit (thumos) and appetites (tripartite or three part
soul). There is an order of ranking to the soul, with reason sitting at the top and then working your way
down. While the other two are not as high ranked as reasoning, they all must exist and are central to the
idea of the soul as a whole.
• The Polis consists of three groups
o Auxiliaries (AKAsoldiers in the textbook)
o Craft persons and all professionals
• Plato spends most of his times talking about theAuxiliaries because they received the most education
• This harmonious city is going to require some definition/conception of Justice, however we know that at
the end of book 1 they have not reached this point. That’s why in book 2 they take the procedure of
founding their own city to understand what parts are key.
• The best regime for Plato is the one that produces the best individual. Plato’s answer to the idea of a
“best regime” - a city will not be free of conflict unless Kings become Philosophers or Philosophers
• What w