Plato’s Republic (reading two)

"Plato," by Mitch Francis
Socrates And if we imagine the State in process of creation, we shall see the justice and injustice of the State in process of creation also.

Adeimantus I dare say.

369b Socrates ….A State, I said, arises, as I conceive, out of the needs of mankind; no one is self-sufficing, but all of us have many wants;… and many persons are needed to supply them…. And they exchange with one another, and one gives, and another receives, under the idea that the exchange will be for their good…. I said, let us begin and create in idea a State; and yet the true creator is necessity, who is the mother of our invention.

Adeimantus Of course, he replied.

Socrates Now the first and greatest of necessities is food,… The second is a dwelling, and the third clothing and the like…. [O]ne man is a husbandman, another a builder, someone else a weaver – shall we add to them a shoemaker, or perhaps some other purveyor to our bodily wants?

Adeimantus Quite right.

Socrates The barest notion of a State must include four or five men.

Adeimantus Clearly.

369e Socrates And how will they proceed? Will each bring the result of his labours into a common stock? – the individual husbandman, for example, producing for four, and labouring four times as long and as much as he need in the provision of food with which he supplies others as well as himself; or will he have nothing to do with others and not be at the trouble of producing for them, but provide for himself alone a fourth of the food in a fourth of the time, and in the remaining three-fourths of his time be employed in making a house or a coat or a pair of shoes, having no partnership with others, but supplying himself all his own wants?

Adeimantus thought that he should aim at producing food only and not at producing everything.

[W]e are not all alike; there are diversities of natures among us.

Socrates Probably, I replied, that would be the better way; and when I hear you say this, I am myself reminded that we are not all alike; there are diversities of natures among us which are adapted to different occupations.

Adeimantus Very true….

Socrates Further, there can be no doubt that a work is spoilt when not done at the right time? … For business is not disposed to wait until the doer of the business is at leisure; but the doer must follow up what he is doing, and make the business his first object…. [A]ll things are produced more plentifully and easily and of a better quality when one man does one thing which is natural to him and does it at the right time, and leaves other things.

Adeimantus Undoubtedly.

You should be able to follow the dialogue herein as speaker-labels (e.g., ‘Socrates‘) thin out.

Socrates Then more than four citizens will be required;…. [C]arpenters and smiths and many other artisans will be sharers in our little State, which is already beginning to grow?… Yet even if we add … herdsmen, in order that our husbandmen may have oxen to plough with … still our State will not be very large…. Then, again, there is the situation of the city – to find a place where nothing need be imported is well-nigh impossible…. [T]here must be another class of citizens who will bring the required supply from another city…. But if the trader goes empty-handed, … he will come back empty-handed…. And therefore what they produce at home must be … enough for themselves, but such both in quantity and quality as to accommodate those from whom their wants are supplied…. Then more husbandmen and more artisans will be required[,] not to mention the importers and exporters, who are called merchants…. And if merchandise is to be carried over the sea, skilful sailors will also be needed, and in considerable numbers… Then they will need a market-place, and a money-token for purposes of exchange…. This … then, creates a class of retail-traders in our State. Is not “retailer” the term which is applied to those who sit in the market-place engaged in buying and selling, while those who wander from one city to another are called merchants?

Yes, he said.

Socrates And there is another class of servants, who … have plenty of bodily strength for labour, which accordingly they sell, and are called, if I do not mistake, hirelings, “hire” being the which is given to the price of their labour.


Socrates And now, Adeimantus, is our State matured and perfected?

Adeimantus I think so….

372a …. Let us then consider, first of all, what will be their way of life, now that we have thus established them. Will they not produce corn and wine and clothes and shoes, and build houses for themselves? …. [R]eclining … upon beds strewn with yew or myrtle… they and their children will feast, drinking of the wine which they have made, wearing garlands on their heads, and hymning the praises of the gods, in happy converse with one another. And they will take care that their families do not exceed their means; having an eye to poverty or war.

372c Glaucon But, said Glaucon, interposing, you have not given them a relish to their meal…. [Y]ou should give them the ordinary conveniences of life. People who are to be comfortable are accustomed to lie on sofas, and dine off tables, and they should have sauces and sweets in the modern style.

372e Socrates Yes, I said, now I understand: the question which you would have me consider is, not only how a State, but how a luxurious State is created…. For I suspect that many will not be satisfied with the simpler way of life. They will be for adding sofas and tables and other furniture; also dainties and perfumes and incense and courtesans and cakes…; the arts of the painter and the embroiderer will have to be set in motion, and gold and ivory and all sorts of materials must be procured.

True, he said.

Then we must enlarge our borders; for the original healthy State is no longer sufficient. Now will the city have to fill and swell with a multitude of callings[:] hunters and actors…, the votaries of music – poets and their attendant train of rhapsodists, players, dancers, contractors; also makers of divers kinds of articles, including women’s dresses[,] more servants[,] tutors …, and nurses wet and dry, tirewomen and barbers, as well as confectioners and cooks; and …. physicians…. And the country which was enough to support the original inhabitants will be too small now, and not enough…. [A] slice of our neighbours’ land will be wanted by us for pasture and tillage, and they will want a slice of ours, if, like ourselves, they exceed the limit of necessity, and give themselves up to the unlimited accumulation of wealth?

373e Glaucon That, Socrates, will be inevitable.

Socrates And so we shall go to war, Glaucon. Shall we not?

Glaucon Most certainly, he replied.

[W]e have discovered war to be derived from causes which are also the causes of almost all the evils in States.

Socrates Then, without determining as yet whether war does good or harm, thus much we may affirm, that now we have discovered war to be derived from causes which are also the causes of almost all the evils in States, private as well as public.

Glaucon Undoubtedly.

Socrates And our State must once more enlarge; and this time the enlargement will be nothing short of a whole army, which will have to go out and fight with the invaders for all that we have, as well as for the things and persons whom we were describing above.

Glaucon Why? he said; are they not capable of defending themselves?

Socrates No, I said; not if we were right in the principle which was acknowledged by all of us when we were framing the State. The principle, as you will remember, was that one man cannot practise many arts with success.

Glaucon Very true, he said.


Socrates But is not war an art?

Glaucon Certainly.

Socrates And an art requiring as much attention as shoemaking?

Glaucon Quite true.

Socrates And the shoemaker was not allowed by us to be a husbandman, or a weaver, or a builder – in order that we might have our shoes well made; but to him and to every other worker was assigned one work for which he was by nature fitted…. Now nothing can be more important than that the work of a soldier should be well done…. [F]rom his earliest years [she should] devote himself to this and nothing else….

Glaucon No doubt, he replied.

Socrates Will he not also require natural aptitude for his calling?…. Then it will be our duty to select, if we can, natures which are fitted for the task of guarding the city….

375b And is he likely to be brave who has no spirit, whether horse or dog or any other animal? Have you never observed how invincible and unconquerable is spirit and how the presence of it makes the soul of any creature to be absolutely fearless and indomitable?…. But are not these spirited natures apt to be savage with one another, and with everybody else?

Glaucon A difficulty by no means easy to overcome, he replied.

Whereas, I said, they ought to be dangerous to their enemies, and gentle to their friends [like] our friend the dog….

376c …. Socrates Then he who is to be a really good and noble guardian of the State will require to unite in himself philosophy and spirit and swiftness and strength?…. [W]hat shall be their education? Can we find a better than the traditional sort? – and this has two divisions, gymnastics for the body, and music for the soul.

….By all means….

What is Plato’s attitude toward stories for the young? And entertainment for adults?

You know, I said, that we begin by telling children stories which, though not wholly destitute of truth, are in the main fictitious…. [T]he beginning is the most important part of any work, especially in the case of a young and tender thing; for that is the time at which the character is being formed and the desired impression is more readily taken…. [S]hall we just carelessly allow children to hear any casual tales which may be devised by casual persons, and to receive into their minds ideas for the most part the very opposite of those which we should wish them to have when they are grown up?

We cannot.

[T]he first thing will be to establish a censorship of the writers of fiction…

377c Socrates Then the first thing will be to establish a censorship of the writers of fiction, and let the censors receive any tale of fiction which is good, and reject the bad; and we will desire mothers and nurses to tell their children the authorized ones only. Let them fashion the mind with such tales, even more fondly than they mould the body with their hands; but most of those which are now in use must be discarded.

Of what tales are you speaking? he said….

Whenever an erroneous representation is made of the nature of gods and heroes – as when a painter paints a portrait not having the shadow of a likeness to the original.

Yes, he said, that sort of thing is certainly very blamable; but what are the stories which you mean?

[T]he battles of the gods… must not be admitted… whether they are supposed to have an allegorical meaning or not. For a young person cannot judge what is allegorical and what is literal… [I]t is most important that the tales which the young first hear should be models of virtuous thoughts…

First of all, I said, there was that greatest of all lies in high places, which the poet told about Uranus, and which was a bad lie too – I mean what Hesiod says that Uranus did, and how Cronus retaliated on him…. [T]he young man should not be told that … even if he chastises his father when he does wrong, in whatever manner, he will only be following the example of the first and greatest among the gods…. Neither, if we mean our future guardians to regard the habit of quarrelling among themselves as of all things the basest, should any word be said to them of the wars in heaven, and of the plots and fightings of the gods against one another, for they are not true. No, we shall never … let them be embroidered on garments…. If they would only believe us we would tell them that … never up to this time has there been any quarrel between citizens…; and when they grow up, the poets also should be told to compose them in a similar spirit. But … all the battles of the gods in Homer – these tales must not be admitted into our State, whether they are supposed to have an allegorical meaning or not. For a young person cannot judge what is allegorical and what is literal; anything that he receives into his mind at that age is likely to become indelible and unalterable; and therefore it is most important that the tales which the young first hear should be models of virtuous thoughts…. God is always to be represented as …. good…. Then God, if he be good, is not the author of all things, as the many assert, but he is the cause of a few things only, and not of most things that occur to men. For few are the goods of human life, and many are the evils, and the good is to be attributed to God alone; of the evils the causes are to be sought elsewhere, and not in him.

That appears to me to be most true, he said.

Socrates Then we must not listen to Homer or to any other poet who is guilty of … saying

“Zeus, who is the dispenser of good and evil to us.”

…. [I]t is impossible that God should ever be willing to change; being, as is supposed, the fairest and best that is conceivable, every God remains absolutely and forever in his own form…. [L]et none of the poets tell us that

The gods, taking the disguise of strangers from other lands, walk up and down cities in all sorts of forms;

…. Neither must we have mothers under the influence of the poets scaring their children with a bad version of these myths – telling how certain gods, as they say, “Go about by night in the likeness of so many strangers and in divers forms;”…. God [is] perfectly simple and true both in word and deed; he changes not; he deceives not, either by sign or word, by dream or waking vision.

Your thoughts, he said, are the reflection of my own.

Book III

386 Socrates ….Some tales are to be told, and others are not to be told to our disciples from their youth upward, if we mean them to honour the gods and their parents, and to value friendship with one another…. [I]f they are to be courageous, must they not learn other lessons beside these, and lessons of such a kind as will take away the fear of death? Can any man be courageous who has the fear of death in him?

Certainly not, he said.

…. Then we must assume a control over the narrators … and beg them … to commend the world below…. [W]e shall have to reject all the terrible and appalling s which describe the world below – Cocytus and Styx, ghosts under the earth, and sapless shades, and any similar words of which the very mention causes a shudder to pass through the inmost soul of him who hears them…. And shall we proceed to get rid of the weepings and wailings of famous men? … the good man will not consider death terrible to any other good man who is his comrade….

The “Noble Lie”

[I]f anyone at all is to have the privilege of lying, the rulers of the State should be the persons.

389 Socrates Then if anyone at all is to have the privilege of lying, the rulers of the State should be the persons; and they, in their dealings either with enemies or with their own citizens, may be allowed to lie for the public good. But nobody else should meddle with anything of the kind….

How would Plato evaluate the effects of Hollywood?

[P]oets and story-tellers are guilty of making the gravest misstatements when they tell us that wicked men are often happy, and the good miserable; and that injustice is profitable when undetected, but that justice is a man’s own loss and another’s gain

Socrates [O]ur youth must be temperate, [showing] obedience to commanders and self-control in sensual pleasures…. In the next place, we must not let them be receivers of gifts or lovers of money…. [P]oets and story-tellers are guilty of making the gravest misstatements when they tell us that wicked men are often happy, and the good miserable; and that injustice is profitable when undetected, but that justice is a man’s own loss and another’s gain – these things we shall forbid them to utter, and command them to sing and say the opposite.

To be sure we shall, he replied….

And therefore when any one of these pantomimic gentlemen, who are so clever that they can imitate anything, comes to us, and makes a proposal to exhibit himself and his poetry, we will fall down and worship him as a sweet and holy and wonderful being; but we must also inform him that in our State such as he are not permitted to exist; the law will not allow them. And so when we have anointed him with myrrh, and set a garland of wool upon his head, we shall send him away to another city. For we mean to employ for our souls’ health the rougher and severer poet or story-teller, who will imitate the style of the virtuous only, and will follow those models which we prescribed at first when we began the education of our soldiers.

We certainly will, he said, if we have the power.

Then now, my friend, I said, that part of music or literary education which relates to the story or myth may be considered to be finished…. Next in order will follow melody and song…. We were saying, when we spoke of the subject-matter, that we had no need of lamentation and strains of sorrow?


And which are the harmonies expressive of sorrow? You are musical, and can tell me.

The harmonies which you mean are the mixed or tenor Lydian, and the full-toned or bass Lydian, and such like.

These then, I said, must be banished…. In the next place, drunkenness and softness and indolence are utterly unbecoming the character of our guardians.

Utterly unbecoming.

And which are the soft or drinking harmonies?

The Ionian, he replied, and the Lydian; they are termed “relaxed.”

Well, and are these of any military use?

Quite the reverse, he replied; and if so, the Dorian and the Phrygian are the only ones which you have left.

399 Socrates I answered: Of the harmonies I know nothing, but I want to have one warlike, to sound the note or accent which a brave man utters in the hour of danger … and another to be used by him in times of peace and freedom of action, when there is no pressure of necessity…. These two harmonies I ask you to leave….

And these, he replied, are the Dorian and Phrygian harmonies of which I was just now speaking.

Socrates ….by the dog of Egypt, we have been unconsciously purging the State, which not long ago we termed luxurious.

And we have done wisely, he replied.

What “friend”?
The Good.
Check the text. You’ll see!

[W]hen reason comes he will recognize and salute the friend with whom his education has made him long familiar.

The discussants work out the rhythm and instrumentation most conducive to virtue, and then argue in favor of extending “the same control to … other artists,” lest “the taste of our citizens be corrupted” – especially the rulers: “We would not have our guardians grow up amid images of moral deformity…?” Instead, “[l]et our artists … discern the true nature of the beautiful and graceful; then will our youth dwell in a land of health.” Socrates elaborates on this essential role of the arts in education:

…therefore, I said, Glaucon, musical training is a more potent instrument than any other, because rhythm and harmony find their way into the inward places of the soul, on which they mightily fasten, imparting grace, and making the soul of him who is rightly educated graceful, or of him who is ill-educated ungraceful; and also because he who has received this true education of the inner being will most shrewdly perceive omissions or faults in art and nature, and with a true taste, while he praises and rejoices over and receives into his soul the good, and becomes noble and good, he will justly blame and hate the bad, now in the days of his youth, even before he is able to know the reason why; and when reason comes he will recognize and salute the friend with whom his education has made him long familiar.

Training in gymnastics “should begin in early years” and “continue through life.” The “warrior athlete,” in particular, should not “get drunk and not know where in the world he is,” and in fact, requires more rigorous diet and training than that of regular athletes. While these matters might seem trivial from a political point of view, Plato is serious about their role in the Good Community: “Neither are the two arts of music and gymnastics really designed, as is often supposed, the one for the training of the soul, the other for the training of the body…. [But] the teachers of both have in view chiefly the improvement of the soul.”

412 Socrates Such, then, are our principles of nurture and education….

Plato's Socrates on public health.
Well, I said, and to require the help of medicine, not when a wound has to be cured, or on occasion of an epidemic, but just because, by indolence and a habit of life such as we have been describing, men fill themselves with waters and winds, as if their bodies were a marsh, compelling the ingenious sons of Asclepius to find more s for diseases…; is not this, too, a disgrace?…. in all well-ordered States every individual has an occupation to which he must attend, and has therefore no leisure to spend in continually being ill.

And therefore our politic Asclepius may be supposed to have exhibited the power of his art only to persons who, being generally of healthy constitution and habits of life, had a definite ailment; such as these he cured by purges and operations, and bade them live as usual, herein consulting the interests of the State; but bodies which disease had penetrated through and through he would not have attempted to cure by gradual processes of evacuation and infusion: he did not want to lengthen out good-for-nothing lives, or to have weak fathers begetting weaker sons; – if a man was not able to live in the ordinary way he had no business to cure him; for such a cure would have been of no use either to himself, or to the State.

Then, he said, you regard Asclepius as a statesman.

The Guardians are divided into Rulers and Auxiliaries

Socrates Very good, I said; then what is the next question? Must we not ask who are to be rulers and who subjects?

412c Certainly.

Socrates There can be no doubt that the elder must rule the younger…. [a]nd that the best of these must rule.

That is also clear.

Socrates Now, are not the best husbandmen those who are most devoted to husbandry?…. And as we are to have the best of guardians for our city, must they not be those who have most the character of guardians?…. And to this end they ought to be wise and efficient, and to have a special care of the State?…. And a man will be most likely to care about that which he loves… that which he regards as having the same interests with himself, and that of which the good or evil fortune is supposed by him at any time most to affect his own?

Very true, he replied.

Socrates Then there must be a selection. Let us note among the guardians those who in their whole life show the greatest eagerness to do what is for the good of their country, and the greatest repugnance to do what is against her interests. [T]hey will have to be watched at every age, in order that we may see whether they preserve their resolution, and never, under the influence either of force or enchantment, forget or cast off their sense of duty to the State…..

[T]he word “guardian” in the fullest sense ought to be applied to this higher class.

414b Socrates [P]erhaps the word “guardian” in the fullest sense ought to be applied to this higher class only who preserve us against foreign enemies and maintain peace among our citizens at home, that the one may not have the will, or the others the power, to harm us. The young men whom we before called guardians may be more properly designated auxiliaries and supporters of the principles of the rulers.

I agree with you, he said.

How then may we devise one of those needful falsehoods of which we lately spoke – just one royal lie which may deceive the rulers, if that be possible, and at any rate the rest of the city?

What sort of lie? he said.

….I propose to communicate gradually, first to the rulers, then to the soldiers, and lastly to the people. They are to be told that their youth was a dream, and the education and training which they received from us, an appearance only; in reality during all that time they were being formed and fed in the womb of the earth, where they themselves and their arms and appurtenances were manufactured; when they were completed, the earth, their mother, sent them up; and so, their country being their mother and also their nurse, they are bound to advise for her good, and to defend her against attacks, and her citizens they are to regard as children of the earth and their own brothers.

You had good reason, he said, to be ashamed of the lie which you were going to tell.

True, I replied, but there is more coming; I have only told you half. Citizens, we shall say to them in our tale, you are brothers, yet God has framed you differently. Some of you have the power of command, and in the composition of these he has mingled gold, wherefore also they have the greatest honour; others he has made of silver, to be auxiliaries; others again who are to be husbandmen and craftsmen he has composed of brass and iron; and the species will generally be preserved in the children. But as all are of the same original stock, a golden parent will sometimes have a silver son, or a silver parent a golden son. And God proclaims as a first principle to the rulers, and above all else, that there is nothing which they should so anxiously guard, or of which they are to be such good guardians, as of the purity of the race. They should observe what elements mingle in their offspring; for if the son of a golden or silver parent has an admixture of brass and iron, then nature orders a transposition of ranks, and the eye of the ruler must not be pitiful toward the child because he has to descend in the scale and become a husbandman or artisan, just as there may be sons of artisans who having an admixture of gold or silver in them are raised to honour, and become guardians or auxiliaries. For an oracle says that when a man of brass or iron guards the State, it will be destroyed. Such is the tale; is there any possibility of making our citizens believe in it?

Not in the present generation, he replied; there is no way of accomplishing this; but their sons may be made to believe in the tale, and their sons’ sons, and posterity after them.

I see the difficulty, I replied; yet the fostering of such a belief will make them care more for the city and for one another. Enough, however, of the fiction….

Socrates ….[E]very care must be taken that our auxiliaries, being stronger than our citizens, may not grow to be too much for them and become savage tyrants instead of friends and allies…. I am … certain that … true education, whatever that may be, will have the greatest tendency to civilize and humanize them…. but their habitations, and all that belongs to them, should be such as will neither impair their virtue as guardians, nor tempt them to prey upon the other citizens….

Economic and political power must remain separated.

Socrates In the first place, none of them should have any property of his own beyond what is absolutely necessary; neither should they have a private house or store closed against anyone who has a mind to enter; their provisions should be only such as are required by trained warriors, who are men of temperance and courage; they should agree to receive from the citizens a fixed rate of pay, enough to meet the expenses of the year and no more; and they will go to mess and live together like soldiers in a camp. Gold and silver we will tell them that they have from God; the diviner metal is within them, and they have therefore no need of the dross which is current among men, and ought not to pollute the divine by any such earthly admixture; for that commoner metal has been the source of many unholy deeds, but their own is undefiled. And they alone of all the citizens may not touch or handle silver or gold, or be under the same roof with them, or wear them, or drink from them. And this will be their salvation, and they will be the saviours of the State. But should they ever acquire homes or lands or moneys of their own, they will become good housekeepers and husbandmen instead of guardians, enemies and tyrants instead of allies of the other citizens….

Yes, said Glaucon.

Book IV

419 Here Adeimantus interposed a question: How would you answer, Socrates, said he, if a person were to say that you are making these people miserable….?

Socrates ….And our answer will be that, even as they are, our guardians may very likely be the happiest of men; but that our aim in founding the State was not the disproportionate happiness of any one class, but the greatest happiness of the whole….

423 Socrates ….For indeed any city, however small, is in fact divided into two, one the city of the poor, the other of the rich; these are at war with one another…. But if you … give the wealth or power or persons of the one to the others, you will always have a great many friends and not many enemies. [W]hile the wise order which has now been prescribed continues to prevail … [a] single State which is her equal you will hardly find, either among Hellenes or barbarians….

Adeimantus That is most true, he said….

425 Socrates And when they have made a good beginning in play, and by the help of music have gained the habit of good order, then this habit of order… will accompany them in all their actions and be a principle of growth to them…. Thus educated, they will invent for themselves any lesser rules which their predecessors have altogether neglected…. such things as these: when the young are to be silent before their elders; how they are to show respect to them by standing and making them sit; what honour is due to parents; what garments or shoes are to be worn; the mode of dressing the hair; deportment and manners in general. You would agree with me?

Adeimantus Yes….