POLS 2900B, September 19 Lecture Summary
As I explained last time, I will post summaries of my lectures on my Web site when I know that
students will be absent on account of a religious observance. York is normally open for business
on religious holidays; however, university policy requires course directors to offer “reasonable
accommodation” to students who miss class because of a religious observance. It is up to
course directors to determine what constitutes a reasonable accommodation. My solution is to
post lecture summaries. Students who miss class for religious reasons, like students who are
absent on account of illness, are well advised to attend office hours and address any questions
they have to their TA and/or the course director.
I began today’s lecture by reminding the class of what we covered last time. Book II returns the
dialogue to the beginning by once again posing the question of whether the just (or righteous)
life is superior to the unjust life. It is necessary to start over because the first book merely
showed that the opinions concerning justice and injustice held by Cephaluis, Polemarchus, and
Thrasymachus are self-contradictory. From the point of view of Socrates and his companions, a
family of opinions pertaining to a concept like justice ought to be consistent with one another. If
they are not, we may conclude that the opinions are false to one degree or another.
Socrates begins to answer the challenge put forward by Glaucon and Adiemantus by proposing
that they look for justice in the polis (the city). Socrates and his companions proceed to
construct a city in speech by peopling it with an array of craftsmen as necessary to provide for
the wants of the city’s inhabitants. The result is a subsistence economy. Each man works at his
appointed task and their combined labours provide everyone with food, clothing, and shelter.
The justice of this city is its natural harmony. Glaucon objects to this city, calling it a city of
pigs on account of the inhabitants’ rude diet and subsistence lifestyle. He wants luxuries and
Socrates indulges his interlocutor’s appetite for the good life by introducing them.
The dialogue never returns to the healthy city of pigs. The search for justice is conducted
through an elaboration of Glaucon’s luxurious city, which Socrates describes as “feverish”
because it tends to excess. Why does Socrates abandon the first version of the city? Perhaps it is
because the city’s harmony is achieved without reflection or self-understanding on the part of its
inhabitants. In this sense, its citizens are like contented animals; they are satisfied to live and
reproduce. They do not examine their lives. They do not philosophize. For Socrates, theirs is
not a truly human existence.
The transformation of the city of pigs into a luxurious city leads to war, because luxury
requires conquest for the purpose of enlarging the city’s possessions. The principle of
specialization that underlies the division of labor within the city is still in effect, so war creates
the need for warriors. Socrates calls these professional soldiers “guardians.” The remainder of
Book II and all of Book III are devoted to the training of these guardians. The argument is
highly detailed and concerns their education in literature and the arts as well as their physical
training and preparation for combat. The scope of their training and education underscores the
importance placed not merely on their skills but also on their character, on the sort of persons
1 | Page they are. As Socrates explains, guardians must share the characteristics of guard dogs; they must
be brave and capable of ferocity to the enemy, yet gentle toward one another and the inhabitants
of the city. He jokes at 376b,c that guard dogs may be said to love wisdom, because they love
the persons they know. This small jest foreshadows the controversial assertion Socrates will
make later on to the effect that the best guardians are, in fact, philosophers.
Much of what Plato gives Socrates to say in Books II and III amounts to a stinging
critique of epic poetry, which is banned from the city on account of its portrayal of the gods as
committing iniquity, thus setting a bad example for guardians in training. Poems