Agenda-setting work in political theory: He offers the first systematic answers to our three
questions (on pol. Comm., pol. Leadership, and justice)
Original Greek title: Politeia- meaning ‗well-ordered‘ or ‗well-governed‘ city/constitution.
(an ideal city)
Roman philosopher, Cicero, translates title into Latin, as De Re Publica (‗On the public
thing‘)—hence the modern English title
Other suggested titles? ‗On the Heavenly City‘
Politeia and Respublica historically have positive connotations meaning ‗constitutional
government‘ or lawful government‘—to contrast with an ‗lawless government‘
Wide-ranging work: not just about politics
But also a critical work: Why? It did not describe any state in existence- it implied that
existing political forms were somehow defective, degenerate, and unjust—especially
Plato‘s native city, democratic Athens.
Plato‘s goal is to design an ideal city which embodies the idea of justice (one that does not
exist completely—even though there are similarities b/w his ideal state and other city-states
in Greece such as Sparta)
II. Book I: The Republic
Some notable features of Book I
Dialogue Form: example of the ‗elenchus‘ or the Socratic/ elenctic method.
Socrates is not trying to educate the other characters/ participants of this
dialogue, but to the reader.
A deceptive tool which forces us to accept his premises which lead to an absurd
conclusion or a conclusion contrary to the initial argument.
Socrates is portrayed as Plato‘s spokesperson
Thrasymachus → well-known sophist
Glaucon →Plato‘s brother
Aidemantus →Plato‘s brother
Polemarchus → Plato‘s friend
Cephalus → Polemarchus‘ father
Book I subject matter: Plato‘s attempt to show what Socrates would have said
Function of book I is to provide a preview of what is to come.
What is Justice?
o Cephalus: The father of Plato‘s friend, Polemarchus.
I. 329c-d: Old age is like a release from a savage and tyrannical master. It
brings freedom from bodily desires
What is important to one in their youth isn‘t necessarily important to
them as they age
I.330b: We know that Cephalus is wealthy, a money-maker
I.330c: He questions why material wealth is valuable
I.330d-e: Fear of death and possibility of an afterlife compels him to
evaluate his own life. ‗whether he has been unjust to anyone‘
Fear of death forces you to ask questions you ordinarily wouldn‘t ask Cephalus‘ worry about justice/injustice leads Socrates to ask, ―What is
Some Possible definitions
I.331c: Speaking the truth and paying whatever debts one has
I.331e: Simonides‘ definition: to give to each what is owed to
I.332d: Justice as a craft (Gr. Techne)—treating friends well
and treating enemies badly
Note: Socrates doesn‘t tell us what justice is, only what justice is not.
b. The Challenge of Thrasymachus
o Thrasymachus, a sophist, accuses Socrates of trickery, deceit—something is wrong
with Socrates‘ method of elenctic questioning
Because Socrates simply relies uncritically on our own intuitive beliefs
o People‘s beliefs may be programmed into us by those more powerful than us. Beliefs
may be manufactured, misleading.
o Socratic method is incomplete—it doesn‘t help us arrive at truth. It simply helps us
The Socratic Method is all about ideology—where do we get our beliefs
from? Why do we hold certain beliefs?
o Thrasymachus‘ definition of justice
I.338c: I say justice is nothing other than the advantage of the stronger
I.338e-39a: justice is the same in all cities, the advantage of the
o Some observations about this definition
i. For Thrasymachus, there is no such thing as an unjust law
1. All laws are enacted by people in positions of power, making laws, by
ii. No independent standard to evaluate or measure justice
iii. Critical assumption: Rulers always favour this own private interest, rather than the
interest of those who are ruled
1. Plato strikes back at claim (3): the very idea of ruling involves the
opposite relation: Rulers must favour the advantage of those who are
ruled, not those of the rulers.
c. Plato‘s Craft-Analogy
o Ruling is a kind of ‗craft‘
o Craftsmen are not motivated by self-interest; they seek the advantage of their crafts,
not of themselves (doctors and medicine)
o If ruling is a kind of craft, same principle holds. They must seek the good of those
over whom they rule, not of their own self interest
I.342e: No one in any position of rule, insofar as he is a ruler, seeks or
orders what is advantageous to himself, but what is advantageous to his
i.e. doctors always look out for interest of their patients therefore, ruler looks not after his private interests, but of public
interest of subjects
o Thrasymachus is still unconvinced. Raises two objections to Plato
i. Is injustice more profitable than justice? (I.343b ff)
Why not lead a life of injustice? Isn’t justice simply ‘high-
Justice is a kind of virtue (I.350a)
ii. Is Justice a virtue? (I.349a)
Certain virtues are necessary for a thing to perform its
‗function‘. A soul must have certain virtues in order to perform
the functions of a soul. Since justice is one of these virtues,
justice is necessary for the soul to live well and be happy.
I.353e-354a: A just person is a happy person
Note: Book I is ultimately a failure: I.354c: the result of this discussion is that I know
nothing. For what I don’t know what justice is, I’ll hardly know whether it is a kind of
virtue or not, or whether a person who has it is happy or unhappy
Book III: The Republic
In Book I, we heart Socrates speaking and using the ‗elenctic method‘.
It was a failure because it does not tell us what justice is, but only what justice is not. It is
designed to show us our ignorance, and our supposed wisdom.
In Book II, Plato‘s voice now begins to come through (although Scrates is still the
spokesperson). The new method is called the ‗Dialectic‘ method, which is much more
A. He Begins
Justice is good. But what kind of a good is it?
3 possibilities (II. 357-358)
1. Intrinsic good- something valued in itself, for its own sake—regardless of the
2. An instrumental good- something valued not for itself, but only for its outcome that
result from it—i.e. physical training
3. Combination of (1) and (2)
Plato‘s claim: Justice is a good of type (3), because it is valuable both in itself, and for its
But to prove this, we need to know what justice is- back to original question