The Republic by Plato (427 - 347 B.C.)

The Republic
by Plato (427 - 347 B.C.)

Book Overveiw
(The Republic is an examination of the

"Good Life"; the harmony reached by applying pure reason and justice. The
ideas and arguments presented center on the social conditions of an ideal
republic - those that lead each individual to the most perfect possible
life for him. Socrates Plato's early mentor in real life - moderates the
discussion throughout, presumably as Plato's mouthpiece. Through Socrates'
powerful and brilliant questions and summations on a series of topics,
the reader comes to understand what Plato's model society would look like.)

Socrates was returning to Athens after
attending a festival, when he met Polemarchos on the road. Upon Polemarchos'
insistence, Socrates accompanied him to his home to meet his friends and
family. As they entered the courtyard, Polemarchos' elderly father, Cephalus,
greeted them and launched into a discussion of old age. Socrates seemed
pleased to converse with the older man: "It seems right to enquire of them,
as if they traversed a long journey which perhaps we will have to traverse."

The discussion then turned to the question
of "justice," or "doing the right thing." Polemarchos suggested that "to
give back what is owed to each is just." However, Socrates countered that
to return a weapon to a friend who had gone mad was not just, but the opposite
of justice. Still another man, Thrasymachos, offered his definition of
justice: "I declare justice is nothing but the advantage of the stronger."

But Socrates, again by logical argument, dismissed this definition: Since
rulers are fallible, they often make decisions that are not in their best
interest, thus requiring their subjects to do the wrong, unjust thing.

But, according to Socrates, "right living," dutiful service to others,
and doing that which is "appropriate" to the person and situation are the
prerequisites to individual happiness - and prerequisites for avoiding
chaos within a republic.

Still another in the group voiced his objections
to Socrates' statement that justice is a virtue and injustice a vice; Glaucon
was not entirely convinced that justice possessed any intrinsic value.

Socrates began his examination of this concept by turning his focus from
the individual to the city: people gathered together in cities in order
that each individual might perform the task best suited to his or her nature.

From this point, Socrates delineated the various classes of people in a
citystate, from the peasant and beggar to the highest kings and rulers.

He then posed a question: "Do you not think, that one who is to be guardian-like
(a leader) needs something more besides a spirited temper, and that is
to be in his nature a lover of wisdom?" Socrates also wondered aloud how
these traits could be instilled into potential leaders: "How shall our
guardians be trained and educated?"

Socrates proceeded to weigh the numerous
types of education and experience demanded of a good ruler, and divided
education into two main areas: music (in this case, all the arts) and gymnastics
(athletics). Fables, he observed, were the first "music" that children
hear, and children are "easily molded" by these stories. Socrates recommended
that "we must set up a censorship over the fable-makers, and approve any
good fable they make, and disapprove the bad." Many classical fables and
myths were to be censored as "false" because they portrayed the gods in
an unfavorable light. Children "must never hear at all that the gods war
against other gods and plot and fight," he said, for when they grow older,
they will accept this behavior as virtuous. Instead, children should hear
the "noblest things told in the best fables for encouraging virtue." He
concluded: "God is simple and true in word and deed," and this must be
held up as an example to children, especially to those who may grow up
to become rulers.

Socrates extended his censorship argument
to include craftsmen: artists and sculptors must be restrained from deformed,
ignoble, morbid or "imaginary" creations, "to stop their implanting this
spirit so evil and dissolute." Craftsmen "who by good natural powers can
track out the nature of the beautiful and the graceful," should share their
gifts so that young people would dwell in "wholesome country."

A delicate balance had to be maintained
between gymnastic and "musical" education; an over-emphasis on gymnastics
produced "savagery and hardness" in a person, while too much music spawned
excessive "softness and gentleness." The two arts "may be fitted together
in concord, by being strained and slackened to the proper point."

Now that the thrust of the future citizens'
education was established, Socrates asked: "Which among these are to rule,
and which to be ruled?" He