Divisions of the State
The principle of specialization thus leads to a stratified society. Plato believed that the ideal state comprises
members of three distinct classes: rulers, soldiers, and the people. Although he officially maintained that
membership in the guardian classes should be based solely upon the possession of appropriate skills, Plato
presumed that future guardians will typically be the offspring of those who presently hold similar positions
of honor. If citizens express any dissatisfaction with the roles to which they are assigned, he proposed that
they be told the "useful falsehood" that human beings (like the metals gold, silver, and bronze) possess
different natures that fit each of them to a particular function within the operation of the society as a whole.
Notice that this myth (Gk. μσθος [mythos]) cuts both ways. It can certainly be used as a method of social
control, by encouraging ordinary people to accept their position at the bottom of the heap, subject to
governance by the higher classes. But Plato also held that the myth justifies severe restrictions on the life of
the guardians: since they are already gifted with superior natures, they have no need for wealth or other
external rewards. In fact, Plato held that guardians should own no private property, should live and eat
together at government expense, and should earn no salary greater than necessary to supply their most basic
needs. Under this regime, no one will have any venal motive for seeking a position of leadership, and those
who are chosen to be guardians will govern solely from a concern to seek the welfare of the state in what is
best for all of its citizens.
Having developed a general description of the structure of an ideal society, Plato maintained that the proper
functions performed by its disparate classes, working together for the common good, provide a ready
account of the need to develop significant social qualities or virtues.
Since the rulers are responsible for making decisions according to which the entire city will be
governed, they must have the virtue of wisdom (Gk. ζοφια [sophía]), the capacity to comprehend
reality and to make impartial judgments about it.
Soldiers charged with the defense of the city against external and internal enemies, on the other
hand, need the virtue of courage (Gk. ανδρεια [andreia]), the willingness to carry out their orders
in the face of danger without regard for personal risk.
The rest of the people in the city must follow its leaders instead of pursuing their private interests,
so they must exhibit the virtue of moderation (Gk. ζφφρζσνη [sophrosúnê]), the subordination of
personal desires to a higher purpose.
When each of these classes performs its own role appropriately and does not try to take over the function of
any other class, Plato held, the entire city as a whole will operate smoothly, exhibiting the harmony that is
genuine justice. (Republic 433e)
We can therefore understand all of the cardinal virtues by considering how each is embodied in the
organization of an ideal city.
Farmers, Merchants, and other People
Justice itself is not the exclusive responsibility of any one class of citizens, but emerges from the
harmonious interrelationship of each component of t