Lecture 2: Republic Book I
Outline of the Lecture
The Title: What does politeia mean?
The Form:Aconversation or dialogue (in this case a Dialogue)
The Setting: the Piraeus, port of Athens
The Characters: Socrate, Glaucon, Polemarchus,Adeimantus, Cephalus, Thrasymachus
The Text: Book 1, three opinions on justice (Cephalus, Polemarchus, Thrasymachus)
Socrates and Plato: Important Dates
428 BC: Plato’s Birth
404 BC: Spartan victory in the Peloponnesian War; political decline ofAthens
399 BC: Execution of Socrates on the charges of corrupting the youth ofAthens and
impiety (failing to believe in the Gods)
387 BC: Founding of theAcademy
347 BC: Plato’s Death
Socrates believed that no opinion could be taken at face value. Demands rigorous
examination of all convictions—what he demands in the overthrow of all authorities.
Socrates execution hangs over everything that Plato ever wrote. Its safe to say the central
theme of the republic is between the city and philosophy. Philosophy is a permanent
threat to the city, where the city cannot tolerate philosophy. In order for the city to be
truly just the philosophers must run it. The lesson of the republic may be a tragic one.
The Title: “The Republic”
• “Republic” is the English translation of the Greek politeia, which is derived from
polis, or “city state”.
• What is the polis? The polis is the city—the community of citizens sharing a way
of life governing themselves, waging war and preserving the peace. Each polis
had its own unique character and its own unique way of life.
• The politeia describes the actual political organization of the polis, i.e. it describes
the class of citizens who rule, who impress their way of life upon the city and are
the source of its laws. The politeia is the soul of the city; it is the single most
important political fact and the cause of citizens’characters and ways of life.
The form of the Republic
• Adiscussion or conversation, which is all that dialogos means in Greek. What
defines a dialogue is an exchange of differing views.
• Crucial truths emerge from the interchange of the views, that the truth is what we
might call “dialectical.” We ought not expect to find the truth monologically;
rather, the truth emerges through conversation and through exposing our deepest
convictions to questions and perhaps even abandonment.
The setting: The Piraeus, main commercial port ofAthens
• Why here? Because the Piraeus was the center ofAthenian commerce – it was the
place to find all the diversity and disorder that had come from foreign lands. It is, in other words, the perfect place to discuss radically new, novel, and outlandish
ways of life.
• Why now? Plato does not indicate exactly when this dialogue is taking place, but
most interpreters assume that it is happening at a time of social and political
decay, a time that corresponds to Plato’s own life.And so, Socrates and the
interlocutors are all concerned with the instability and decay ofAthens, and so
they try to think through what the restoration of political health will require.
Socrates—Plato’s teacher and mentor, main characters as he is in most of Plato’s
dialogues, he is not the only character of importance in the Republic
Plato shows us in each dialogue the interaction between characters that cope with great
questions. None of the details in the Republic are arbitrary. Every detail was chosen for
specific reasons where each character will grow to stand for something.
Opinion I: Cephalus on Justice
• Old age, money, fear of (punishment in) the afterlife (328b-331b)
• Justice is identical with telling the truth and paying back what one has received
(331e).Avoiding suffering in the afterlife, so Cephalus’thinking goes, requires
that we settle our accounts with our fellow men and with the gods.
• Cephalus believes its character and strength of his soul that allows him to be
content with his old age. He asks him whether money helps—old man. Cephalus
admits that there is some truth to this questioning saying it would be different and
he would be less happy if it wasn’t for his money. But he doesn’t pursue money as
an end in itself. What makes it necessary is that it frees him from his family and
religious duties. It allows him to avoid injustice and impiety. He is afraid of
punishment after death meaning that he doesn’t want to depart owing debts. He
doesn’t want to die having cheated or deceived anyone. Cephalus uses his money
to even his accounts with men and with god. We need money to free ourselves of
fear of death and fear of what will happen after. If you don’t have money you
don’t have to cheat others. If you have it you can pay people off, even gods for