- Philosophical or Socratic Dialogue
the death of Socrates,
a number of his associates tried to re-create in a literary medium
the philosophical conversations which he had engaged in with
his followers. Their purpose was to give a more accurate picture
of Socrates than that presented by his detractors and also, as
in the case of Plato,
to use these re-created conversations as a vehicle for philosophic
investigation. Xenophon wrote a work called Recollections [of
Socrates], which contains Socratic conversations interspersed
with narrative by the author. In addition, Xenophon wrote a Symposium
'Dinner Party', which shares the same title and theme (love)
with a Platonic dialogue, but the dramatic setting and the characters
(except for Socrates) are different. A follower of Socrates named
Aeschines also wrote Socratic dialogues, of which only fragments
remain. Of course, the best known works in this genre are the
twenty-three dialogues written by Plato, of which the Republic
is an important example.
Athens and Plato
tried to teach their students how to live the most effective
kind of life. They saw worldly success as the way to happiness.
Socrates, however, was disturbed by the Sophists' emphasis on
material values and by the amorality of their teachings. He believed
that man must make morality his ultimate concern in order to
achieve true happiness.
too was troubled by Sophistic doctrines and by the way the average
Athenian let himself be guided by values, whether Sophistic or
traditional, which he did not subject to critical analysis. Plato
believed that the Sophistic view of knowledge as subjective and
their stress on the relativity of truth undermined morality.
This skepticism about the possibility of knowing the truth led
Sophists to teach that there was no infallible guide for human
action beyond the principle of self-interest. It was clear to
Plato that the average man, who could not explain to himself
or to others why the rules of morality should be obeyed in a
given situation, would certainly follow the dictates of his self-interest
rather than any external moral standard. To Plato, this was a
dangerous state of affairs, which leads to moral chaos. Plato
believed that morality must be based on objective truth and must
be reconciled with self-interest: that is, morality must be shown
to be in the interest of the individual.
also disagreed with the Sophistic view of human nature and society.
According to some Sophists, the most basic law of nature was
that the strong the weak.1 In this view, this law
of nature quite properly overrode any law of human creation (nomos)
seeking to protect the weak against the strong. This doctrine
is based on the idea that human society is just an extension
of the animal world. In fact, irrational animal nature was used
by some Sophists as a model for human behavior.2 Irrationality
is seen as a dominant element in human nature. An example of
this view can be found in Thucydides's
account of the Corcyraean revolution (3.84):
with the ordinary conventions of civilized life thrown into confusion,
human nature,...showed itself proudly in its true colors, as
something incapable of controlling passion, insubordinate to
the idea of justice.3
however, saw man's true nature as rational and believed that
civilized society must be organized, and civilized life conducted
according to rational principles.
Thucydides's "Melian Dialogue".
2Cf. Pheidippides's use of the model of rooster society
in the Clouds.
3All quotations from Thucydides are from Warner's
Sophistic doctrines aimed at producing happiness for man, Plato
believed that they produced the exact opposite because of the
erroneous view of human nature implicit in them. Human happiness
can result only from the fulfillment of man's real nature. In
Plato's view, the average man mistakenly identified his self-interest
with the satisfaction of his irrational desires, whereas man's
real self-interest and fulfillment of his true nature lay in
the control of the irrational desires by reason. Therefore, Plato
was determined to show that it is a violation of man's true nature
to allow irrational desires to dominate reason. He believed that
the supremacy of the irrational results in immorality and unhappiness.
If this could be established, morality would be shown to have
its sanction in human nature. It would be clear that wrongdoers
automatically suffer because of their immorality and that morality
brings its own reward. This line of reasoning would provide the
most compelling argument for moral behavior.
concern with morality led him beyond the individual to a consideration
of political theory. Morality involves interaction with others
and therefore the organization of society and the nature of government
are also central issues. He had lived under a democratic form
of government at Athens and believed that it had failed Athens
at a critical moment in the last years of the Peloponnesian War.
Plato saw the Athenian democracy as an amateur government with
citizens at the same time pursuing their own livelihoods and
participating in political decision-making. The army was a citizen
militia, which also required the individual citizen to serve
a double role. In his mind, another danger in this system was
that the economic self-interest of those in power often influenced
their political decisions. There was a tendency, not only in
Athens, but throughout the Greek world, to view the exercise
of political power as benefiting the ruler(s) rather than the
ruled. Thucydides had already pointed out how self-interest adversely
affected the quality of leadership. After his praise of Pericles's
disinterested guidance of the democracy, Thucydides points out
how the leadership of his successors degenerated (2.65):
[Pericles's] death his foresight with regard to the war became
even more evident. For Pericles had said that Athens would be
victorious if she bided her time and took care of her navy....But
his successors did the exact opposite, and in other matters which
apparently had no connection with war private ambition and private
profit led to policies which were bad both for the Athenians
themselves and for their allies.
of leadership is brought about by the leader identifying the
interest of his own office with his own profit and not with the
welfare of the governed. For Plato, economic self-interest and
political power must be kept separate and not be allowed to work
in combination to the disadvantage of the state.
believed that not only the democracy, but also the oligarchy
of the Thirty
had gone astray because political leaders, blinded by their own
self-interests, neglected the interest of the state as a whole.
Political power seemed to attract persons who lacked the prerequisite
qualities of leadership: intelligence, integrity and selfless
concern for the welfare of the governed. Intelligence is central
to the Platonic view of leadership. Qualification for the wielding
of political power must be based on the possession of superior
intelligence, not superior physical force. From intelligence
springs a knowledge of moral truths and a correct vision of the
function of political power as serving the interests of the governed.
The interests of the state must have priority over the interests
of any individual. Pericles had already expounded the idea that
the interests of the individual citizen were best served by the
success of the whole state. Thucydides has Pericles say (2.60):
opinion is that when the whole state is on the right course it
is a better thing for each separate individual than when private
interests are satisfied but the state as a whole is going downhill.
However well off a man may be in his private life, he will still
be involved in the general ruin, if his country is destroyed;
whereas, so long as the state itself is secure, individuals have
a much greater chance of recovering from their private misfortunes.
view, harmony is the salvation of the state and the individual,
while division fostered by the conflict of private interests
with those of the state is the ruin of same. This is the central
issue which Plato addresses in the Republic when he deals
with the organization of the state.
your primary task in studying the Republic is to learn
and understand what Plato says in this work. But in order to
derive the most benefit from reading the Republic, you
must first put Plato's views in the context of what you have
learned about Athens the sections on tragedy, comedy, the Apology,
and Thucydides. Plato's ideas do not exist in an historical vacuum;
he was trying to deal with contemporary problems. Secondly, since
Plato's views involve universal human concerns, which span the
centuries between his time and ours, that is, morality and politics,
we should not hesitate to examine his ideas critically and measure
them against our own experience, feelings and common sense. Certainly
it would violate the spirit of Socratic inquiry to accept uncritically
everything that Plato says in the Republic. Although Plato
was a brilliant philosopher and writer and was able to identify
the most significant problems of human existence, he was also
a human being. His ideas are not always convincing nor even consistent;
his arguments are not always supported by impeccable logic.
the Republic become actively engaged in the philosophic
process. Imagine yourself as one of the interlocutors in the
conversation led by Socrates at Cephalus's house. Examine Plato's
ideas critically. Formulate questions about ideas which puzzle
you. Try to answer them yourself and bring them up in class for
discussion. Even if a satisfactory answer can't be found, at
least you've benefited from an active attempt to understand.
Intellectual exercise of this kind can be quite rewarding and
FOR READING, COMPREHENSION AND INTERPRETATION
dramatic setting of the Republic is the house of Cephalus,
a wealthy resident alien involved in manufacturing. His son Polemarchus
has a prominent part in the opening portion of the dialogue after
the departure of Cephalus. We know from a speech written by Polemarchus's
brother Lysias, a famous speech writer, that some seventeen years
after the dramatic date5 of this dialogue, during
the rule of the Thirty, that the wealth of Polemarchus and Lysias
inherited from their father attracted the attention of the Thirty,
which resulted in the death of the former and the exile of the
latter. Since the Republic was written well after these
events, what view do you think Plato intends his reader to have
of Cephalus's interest in the accumulation of wealth and his
praise of its advantages (330-331)? What definition of justice
does Socrates formulate based on the comments of Cephalus and
how does he refute it (331)? Are telling the truth and paying
what is owed just acts? If so, why is this definition of justice
numbers refer to sections of the Republic and usually
appear in the margins of the text (sometimes at the top of the
5The dramatic date of a literary composition is the
time when the event described is supposed to have taken place
as opposed to the actual date of composition.
definition of justice, derived from the poet Simonides, an improvement
over the preceding definition (332)? Explain your answer. How
does Polemarchus's view of justice show that he is his father's
son (333)? What problem does Socrates see in Polemarchus's definition
of justice as "helping one's friends and harming one's enemies"
(334)? Give one specific example of elenchus involving
a reductio ad absurdum argument6 which Socrates
uses to demolish Polemarchus's definition of justice (334). How
does Socrates define harm (334)? Why does he believe that it
is never just to harm anyone (335)?
ad absurdum is a technique of argument which disproves an
hypothesis by pointing out the absurdity of its logical conclusion.
Thrasymachus angry with Socrates (336-337)? What characteristic
Socratic attitude and technique does he object to? What is Thrasymachus's
definition of justice (338)? Explain the reductio ad absurdum
argument used by Socrates in his refutation of this definition
(339). What does Socrates's elenchus get Thrasymachus to say
is an essential qualification of the ruler (340-341)? What kind
of analogies does Thrasymachus use to illustrate this point (340-341)?
According to Socrates what is the primary interest of any art
and its practitioner? For example, what is the interest of the
doctor and his art (342)?
to Thrasymachus, what does his analogy of the herdsman prove
about the main interest of the ruler (343)? What is his view
of the comparative profitability of justice and injustice (343-344)?
What is Socrates's view of same (344)? According to Socrates,
what does the analogy of the shepherd prove about the proper
interest of the ruler (345)? Why is wage-earning not the true
and proper interest of any art (346)? Why would decent men in
an ideal state be unwilling to rule (347)? Under what conditions
would a man of integrity accept power (347)?
are the three classes of goods outlined by Glaucon (357)? In
which class does Socrates place justice and why does Glaucon
disagree with this classification (358)? Explain how Glaucon
will play the role of the devil's advocate in this section (358).
What does he want to learn from Socrates about justice and injustice
(358)? What view of justice does Glaucon as a devil's advocate
present in his discourse on the Social Contract (359)? What does
the story of Gyges seemingly illustrate about justice (359-360)?
Why does Glaucon want to remove all considerations of reward
from the analysis of justice and actually have the hypothetical
just man suffer because of his justice (361)? According to Adeimantus,
what arguments are usually put forward to children to convince
them to be just (363)? What views of justice and injustice are
presented by the poets (364)? What effect will these arguments
and views have on young men (365)? What task does Adeimantus
propose for Socrates (367)?
does Socrates propose to look for justice first? Why (368)? Why
does a state come into existence in the first place (369)? What
human needs are best satisfied by a state? Why is a state able
to satisfy these needs better than any other manner of life (369)?
Why ought a man keep to one occupation (370)? Where in the state
are justice and injustice to be found (372)?
does the introduction of luxuries cause for the hypothetical
state under consideration (373)? Why is war the ultimate consequence
of the luxurious state (373)? According to what principle is
the army created (374)? Why does Socrates reject the notion of
a citizen militia (374)?
the essential qualities which the Guardians7 must
possess (375-376)? Why is knowledge important (376)? Of what
will the elementary intellectual education of the Guardians consist
(377)? What objections does Socrates have to the stories told
(377)? Why does he have these objections (378)? How can these
stories be altered to become acceptable (379-380)? Identify what
Socrates finds wrong with the following: the dream sent to Agamemnon
by Zeus (382), myths about the underworld (387), the lamentations
(388), the laughter of the gods at Hephaestus
(389), Achilles's threat to Apollo
and dragging of Hector's
body (391). How can deception be justified in certain circumstances?
term "Guardians" is here used to refer to the army
only. Later in the Republic this term will include both
the rulers and the army. The latter will be specifically referred
to as "Auxiliaries".
3.414-416 & 4.419-421
is fond of using myths of his own creation in his dialogues.
In this section he presents two of these myths. The first use
recalls existing Greek stories of various peoples having literally
sprung from the earth of the area they inhabited. The second
myth tells of men having different kinds of metals in their bodies
and is apparently inspired by the metals in Hesiod's myth which
characterize the various ages of mankind: gold, silver, bronze
and iron. As in the case of Hesiod's myth, Plato's story is clearly
allegorical; that is, elements in the myth stand for something
else beyond themselves.
is the general consensus that after book 1, which presents Socrates
in his historical role of using elenchus to point out the contradictions
implicit in various definitions, he is being generally used as
a mouthpiece for Plato's doctrines.
Plato knows that these myths are not literally true, he refers
to them as "noble fictions", for in his mind they are
justified by their serving a morally valid purpose in his ideal
state (414). What do the different metals in Plato's myth represent?
What purpose does each myth serve (414-415)?
the two primary duties of the Auxiliaries (415)? Why is the education
of the Auxiliaries so important (416)? What kind of life is required
of the Guardians (416-417)? Why does Plato require this life
for the Guardians (416-417)? What objection does Adeimantus make
to this life (419)? How does Socrates answer Adeimantus's objection
reference to the state, what is wisdom and who must possess this
virtue (428)? Answer the same question with regard to courage
and temperance (429-431). What then is justice with reference
to the state (432-434)? Plato then moves to the question of justice
in the individual. He assumes that there is no difference between
a just man and a just society (435). Do you agree with this?
Explain your answer. What parallelism does Plato believe exists
between the state and the individual (435)? What are the three
elements of the individual soul and what is the nature of each
element (439)? With which class in the state is each of these
three elements linked (441)?
the true functions of each element of the soul (441)? Define
the virtues of wisdom, courage and temperance with reference
to the soul (441-442). Define justice in the individual soul
(443). What meaning does the metaphor of musical harmony have
for justice (443)? How has justice been shown to be an obvious
good for the individual like health (444)?
6.509-511 & 7.514-521
the "Divided Line" and "Allegory of the Cave"
Plato presents an illustration of his theory of knowledge. What
does the unequal division of the Line and of each part (A-B,
C-D) again in the same proportion symbolize (509-510)? Through
what means does one apprehend the world of appearances? the intelligible
world? What is the crucial difference between the field of intelligible
reality studied by dialectic and the subject matter of the sciences
of the Cave" is referred to by Plato as a eikon 'likeness',
which is in the form of an allegory describing and commenting
upon the human condition, its defects and potentialities. Explain
what each of the following elements in the story of the prisoners
in the cave represent in Platonic philosophy: prison, prisoners,
shadows on wall, the escaped prisoner, the outside world and
the Sun, ascent from cave to upper world (517). Why is it worthwhile
to achieve a knowledge of the Good (517)? Why are those who have
gained this knowledge reluctant to become involved in the affairs
of men? (517)? What is the basic difference between justice in
the real world and Justice itself (the essential form of Justice)
(517)? In Plato's view, what is education (518)? Why do some
men of intelligence not achieve wisdom (519)? What special responsibility
do men of wisdom have (520)? What is the only condition in which
ideal government can exist (520)?
determines the nature and quality of any government (544)? What
begins the degeneration of the ideal government (546)? What is
the character of the ruling class in a timocracy (547)? What
kind of character does the timocrat have and on what does he
base his claim to office (548-549)?
a man for office in an oligarchy (550)? What is wrong with such
a qualification in Plato's view (551)? What are the most serious
defects of an oligarchy as a form of government (551-552)? What
kind of character does the oligarchical man have (553-554)?
an oligarchy degenerate into a democracy (555-557)? What are
the most significant characteristics of a democracy (557-558)?
What kind of character does the democratic man have (559-561)?
What is wrong with the democratic man playing multiple roles
in the state (561)?
interpreting the "Myth of Er" there are two possibilities.
Either Plato means this myth of his own invention to be taken
literally, in which case he is asserting the fact of reincarnation,
or he intends it to be understood figuratively. It seems more
likely that he meant this story to be taken figuratively, since,
as Julia Annas (An Introduction to Plato's Republic ,
Oxford 1982, 353) has pointed out, belief in reincarnation was
by no means universal among Plato's contemporaries and his vision
of the afterlife was not a commonly accepted one.
Er? In what ways are the just and the unjust rewarded and punished
(614-615)? For whom is an afterlife of punishment permanent (615)?
Why? After a period of reward or punishment, what must the souls
then do (617-618)? What life does the man who had drawn the first
lot choose and what consequences does this choice have (619)?
Why does he make such a wrong choice (619)? What beneficial effect
did the suffering in the earth experienced by some souls have
for their choice of their next life (619)? What must the souls
do before entering a new life (621)? What is the main lesson
which the "Myth of Er" teaches (620)?