Class #4: Plato’s Republic
I – Plato’s life in brief (Formative events): Regime of the 30 tyrants, Socrates’ death;
travel; war … Why not politics?
II – The significance of the dialogue form
III – Book I :
two conventional opinions about justice: Cephalus & Polemarchus
the radical challenge of Thrasymachus
IV Glaucon on justice & the story of the ring of Gyges
V – From soul to the city… building the kallipolis, why war?
o When Plato was born, he was regarded as someone with noble heritage , so he was predisposed for a
career in politics. He came from a rich family and was highly educated, he was thought to be the next
Dercycles (most influential guy in town).
o However he did not seek a career in politics, he did state that he might have considered a career in
politics when the dirty 30 tyrants got power (he got excited for new people who could bring virtue and
had two family members who were in the 30 tyrants.
o Nevertheless, he was quickly disappointed (he was particularly shocked and angry). The dirty were
quickly overthrown within a year by democracy
o Plato , in the opening portion of his Seventh Letter recounts the rule of the thirty tyrants during his youth,
when he was around 23 years old. He portrays them as taking over as a result of revolution, and him
having high hopes, then becoming disillusioned, as they failed to manage the affairs of the state,
making the previous era look like a golden age. He also mentions how Socrates refused to cooperate in
the execution of a citizen, thus putting himself in danger.
o “Although I was completely disgusted with the politics of Athens, I never stopped
thinking of ways to improve it (constitutions & laws).” PLATO
o He instead turned his interest to political philosophy, he considered himself with the question: What is
the just universal regime? He wanted to figure out what is just for a city and individual in every case.
Plato is looking for a universal answer. = A universal just and good regime (no matter you gender, age,
economic status). What is the way if living best for everyone!
o Philosophy also taught him that the human race will never see the end of human evil until philosophy is
practiced. Also, philosophy taught him that those who are philosophers and king and kings become
philosophers (until then nothing is good).
o After Socrates’ trail and death, Plato decides to leave Athens for a bit and travels to Greece and Italy
because he is scared for his safety (thought he might the next target as Socrates and because he was
disgusted by the rule of democracy).
o While in Italy he learns from the Pythagoreans and becomes inspired by them (Pythagoreans admitted
few women into their sect J) This act gave Plato the idea that women COULD do philosophy. This is
VERY important because it lays foundation to the belief that women could be rulers. o When he was Sicily, he became friends with the brother in law of the King of Syracuse. His friend
wanted Plato to teach the next King and heir so that he might become a philosophical King. However, it
never happened, because there was a disagreement between the next King and Plato due to the
reason that the young king, did not want to lean philosophy and math.
o The first 20 years of his life, Plato grew up in the aftermath of the Peloponnesian war, which left Athens:
broken, shaken, wrecked, ruined, poor and instable (factions). Plato grew up in those times.
o Plato’s writes in the dialogue form, he chose it instead of normal essay format with his opinion stated.
o Instead of providing descriptions, he only put forwards the narrative. He wants to show the discussions
and the arguments, inspire critical thinking and analysis.
o He chose it maybe due to the reason that in dialogue form you can inject a lot of meaning to the drama.
You can inject a lot of meaning in the words of a man, who appears to be a Sophist.
o Plato wants to create a sense of discomfort with numerous puzzles. So after reading the whole thing,
we still DON’T know ANYTHING about JUSTICE. (Time wasted leads to frustration).
o Plato tries to save his skin, by putting his words onto other people’s mouths (Thrasymachus).
o Difficult to assume what Plato is thinking, because he doesn’t offer himself as a character in his books.
Book ONE: 2 Conventional Views Of Justice (Cephalus and Polemarchus)
Glaucon and Adelmantus: Plato’s brothers, they are excited about politics, rich, interested in
learning, seemingly sympathetic to philosophy. They’re two young men, who haven’t decided what they
believe in, not sure of themselves.
Old Man Kephalus: Real man, who existed in Plato’s days. He is very rich man and has a son named
Polemarchus. They are not Athenian citizens, but foreigners. Kephalus chose money over citizenship.
He chose to move to Athens to make money, instead of staying home in Syracuse and gaining citizenship.
Thrasymachus: Believed to be a Sophist. Very well spoken strong man. Believed that speaking well
could overpower anything and resolve whatever. Opening Scene:
o Glaucon and Socrates are walking back from a religious event (proof that Socrates was a religious man)
and run into Polymarchus and company. They want Socrates to come over at Polymarhus’s house and
talk about philosophy.
o They try to get Socrates to come with them, but Socrates ask if he can persuade them into letting him
go in peace with any violence. Their exchange sounds friendly, but there is some tension. Polymarchus
refuses and Socrates agrees to go to Kephalus’7s house.
o When they get there, they find Thrasymachus. Socrates must compete philosophically with
Thrasymachus, who represend youth and beauty, while Socrates represents old age and ugliness.
o Socrates ask Kephalus, how old age must be hard ( no sex, kids abusing him etc…)
o Kephalus says old age has freed him from his younger self desires, he feels better (does not drink, sex
with little boys etc…)
o Socrates says that maybe its easier to bear old age, because he’s rich and more confortable.
o Kephalus represents money and the conventional views. Kephalus was not Athenian, he came from
Syracuse. He made tons of money by selling arms of war. He willingly chose a life in Athens (where he
could make a lot of money), but where he could not obtain citizenship (privileges and rights of being a
citizen). Chose money over citizenship, which doesn’t sit well with Plato.
o Money brings him a peace of mind and the opportunity to improve things (sacrifices)
o He’s old and now is rushing to do all his religious duties before he passes (so he doesn’t rot in hell).
o According to Kephalus money represents justice. Justice is speaking the truth, paying debts, giving
back what owe or borrowed.
o However, Socrates disagrees stating this example: your friend ask for his gun back (you
borrowed it), his state of mind is not well (his girlfriend just broke up with him and he
is now crazy), you can’t give your gun to a crazy person (dangerous).
o What Plato finds problematic regarding Kephalus and people like him is that morality consist of
something external (not because you care or believe it is right, but because you don’t want to have the
consequences: religious duties and following the rules in order not to go to hell). Plato wants justice to
be internal (in your heart, you do it because it is morally right)
o Kephalus’s views of justice is merely about the benefits (no hell), because of consequences not
o The old man leaves, [Plato removes him from the scene, because he was the oldest man in the room
and therefor people look up him and take his views, so when he leaves, the young ones can truly speak
among themselves without fear], Polymarchus now takes over…
o Justice according to Polymarchus is “treat you