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Further comments concerning Republic 396B - 372E (In Two Parts)

William J.
user 43274802
Los Angeles, CA
Post #: 11
(Part 1 of 2)

Last Sunday evening I argued that we ought to discuss the critical argument of Republic 369B - 372E, noting that it was in this passage that Socrates justified the founding of the polis (city state), presented its foundation principles, and applied those to the construction of the first polis. I stated that these brief four pages are nothing less than the basis of much of Plato's subsequent argument, e.g., the organizing principle that each person should perform one naturally suitable function which, of course, determines the definition of dikaosune (justice) in Republic IV.

My email generated three responses and an encouragement from Rabbi Finley to discuss the matter further. Hence this rather long post.

To facilitate the discussion, I will briefly summarize the argument (except where noted, all translations are from Bloom):

1. Republic 354B-C
The three unanswered questions: (i) What the just is? (ii) Whether the just is a virtue or vice? (iii) Whether justice is more profitable than injustice?

2. Republic 357A – 358A
The three fold division of goods. Is justice chosen (i) both for its own sake and for what comes from it or (ii) only for what comes from it?

3. Republic 358B – 367E
Glaucon and Adeimantus’ challenge.
Show what justice and injustice are. Show what power justice has by itself. Show that justice is better than injustice.
Playing devil’s advocate, they argue that injustice is preferable to justice. Justice is the middle state between inflicting injustice without fear of punishment and suffering injustice without the opportunity for recompense. The story of Gyges’ ring. Given the opportunity to act unjustly without fear of punishment, we would all choose to be unjust. Adeimantus reinforces the argument by adding that when we teach children to be just we do so by means of the preferable consequences and not even religious considerations favor justice.
To respond adequately, Socrates must show "what each [i.e., justice and injustice] is and what power it has all alone by itself when it is in the soul …” (Republic 358B)

4. Republic 367E – 368E
The analogy of the letters. We will try to discover what justice is in the polis and then see if that applies to the individual.

5. Republic 369A – B
By watching the polis come into being in speech, we will see its justice and injustice come into being.

6. Republic 369B – C
A polis arises from humans not being self-sufficient. Each individual takes from others to satisfy one’s needs and gives to others to satisfy their needs. We gather together to satisfy those needs, each believing that such sharing is better for oneself.

7. Republic 369A – 372E
The first polis.
This polis is based on our needs. Certain material needs – food, clothing, and housing – are identified. Later (Republic 373B) the needs in this city are called necessary. To satisfy these needs best, a division of labor is introduced in which individuals specialize in producing one type of thing for which they are naturally suited.

8. Republic 372E - 376C
The luxurious or fevered polis.
Introduction of numerous additional craftsmen to provide luxuries. Growth of the polis. Origin of war. Need for an army. The division of labor implies a separate group dedicated to this craft. Introduction of the guardians.
Republic 375A - 376C: Analogy of the guardian nature to that of watch dogs.

9. Republic 376 – 427B
The purge of the luxurious city. Education. Permissible stories. Speaking truth about the gods. Censorship of poetry. Poetry and proper character development. Gymnastics. Medicine.
Republic 412B – 414B: The division of the guardians into guardians and auxiliaries.
Republic 414B – 417B: The myth of metals.

10. Republic 427C – 434C
With the polis founded, where is justice? The four virtues (wisdom, courage, temperance (aka moderation), and justice) are mapped to the polis.
The discovery of justice in the polis:

“Listen whether after all I make any sense,” I said. “That rule we set down at the beginning as to what must be done in everything when we were founding the city – this, or a certain form of it, is, in my opinion, justice. Surely we set down and often said, if you remember, that each one must practice one of the functions in the city, that one for which his nature made him naturally most fit.” (Republic 433A)


“Now see if you have the same opinion as I do. A carpenter’s trying to do the job of a shoemaker or a shoemaker that of a carpenter, or their exchanging tools or honors with one another, or even the same man’s trying to do both, with everything being changed along with it, in your opinion, will that do any great harm to the city?”
“Not much,” he said.
“But, I suppose, when one who is a craftsman or some other kind of money-maker by nature, inflated by wealth, multitude, strength, or something else of the kind, tries to get into the class of the warrior, or one of the warriors who’s unworthy into that of the adviser and guardian, and these men exchange tools and honors with one another, or when the same man tries to do all things at once – then I suppose it’s also your opinion that this change in them and this meddling are the destruction of the city.”
“That’s entirely certain.” (Republic 434A – 434B)


11. Republic 434D – 444E
Cashing the analogy.
Republic 435C – 440E: The tripartite division of the soul: calculating, spirited, and appetitve.
Republic 440E – 440C: The polis / soul analogy is cashed.
Republic 441D: “[T]his city was just because each of the three classes in it minds its own business.”

“Are you still looking for justice to be something different from this power which produces such men and cities?”
“No, by Zeus,” he said, “I’m not.”
“Then that dream of ours has reached its perfect fulfillment. I mean our saying that we suspected that straight from the beginning of the city’s founding, through some god, we probably hit upon the origin and model for justice.”
“That’s entirely certain.”
“Thus, Glaucon, it was after all a kind of phantom of justice – that’s also why it is helpful – its being right for the man who is by nature a shoemaker to practice shoemaking and do nothing else, and for the carpenter to practice carpentry, and so on for the rest.”
“It looks like it.”
“And in truth justice was, as it seems, something of this sort; however, not with respect to a man’s minding his external business, but with respect to what is within, with respect to what truly concerns him and his own. He doesn’t let each part in him mind other people’s business or the three classes in the soul meddle with each other, but really sets his own house in good order and rules himself; he arranges himself, becomes his own friend, and harmonizes the three parts …” (Republic 443A – 443D).

12. Republic 444D – 445E
Hint at some implications which are developed later.


William J.
user 43274802
Los Angeles, CA
Post #: 12
(Part 2 of 2)


Turning now to some of the points raised in the mail thread.

1. I believe that the above summary of the argument of Republic 354 – 445 clearly shows that Socrates himself believes that the foundation of the polis is critical to his own treatment of justice. Note how Republic 369B – 370C is referenced both in the discovery of justice in the polis (Republic 433A) and in the individual (Republic 443B – C).

2. To speak of knowing what justice is when discussing Republic II seems to be inappropriate. As the above summary showed, Socrates does not determine what justice is until Republic 433 – 444. Again, the critical importance of Republic 369 – 372 is in its role in answering that question.

3. As I have noted on several occasions, I am concerned about importing into Plato later distinctions and concepts. Does he differentiate between moral or the nonmoral senses of a word (e.g., “good” or “justice”)? Plato does not have a fact / value distinction. He does not distinguish what we now would call a moral sense of “ought.” He lacks an obvious way of speaking about what we would call “moral rights.” He believes that justice is part of the structure of the cosmos.

I believe that we may well learn something very valuable about how to live well by understanding that Plato approaches this question from a perspective very different than our own. While in the end we might decide that our contemporary way of judging these matters is superior to his, we can properly make such an evaluation only after we really understand his views. Absent such efforts, we will miss a significant portion of the benefit of confronting one of the greatest thinkers in the Western tradition.

4. Related to the previous point is the treatment of “justice as fairness.” Given the contemporary identification of the phrase “justice as fairness’ with the work of John Rawls, we must be careful importing it into a discussion of the Republic. Etymologically the word “fairness” only enters the language around 1600. There is no single word in ancient Greek capturing what we English speakers now mean by “fairness.” As noted last week, the occurrence of “fairness” at Republic 359C6 (“… treating fairness with respect” (Grube / Reeve)) is really an overtranslation. Literally the Greek reads “honoring the equal.”

(Regarding this topic, the interested reader may wish to consult Gerasimos Santas’ Goodness and Justice (Blackwell, 2001).)

5. Adeimantus’ demand at Republic 366E requires a sense of justice as being applicable to individuals apart from their relations to one another. As Steve Strasen already nicely noted, per the analogy of the letters justice in the polis is explored in order to determine what justice is in the individual. The argument from Republic 367 -444 aims to show that an individual just soul is well ordered, each part doing its own and having its own. While clearly what justice is in a polis is interpersonal, what justice is in a single individual soul cannot be.

6. I find Rabbi Finley’s analogy of the rock band to be very interesting. Here are a number of questions to consider when relating it to the argument of Republic 369 – 372.

i) Is there a collective group purpose (comparable to that of the individual musicians wanting to have a rock band) to which Socrates appeals in the founding of the polis at Republic 369 – 370?

ii) The individual members of the rock band have multiple desires in founding the group: launching a professional career, fame, money, get girls (how sexist!), etc. Clearly there can be conflicts in satisfying these desires. What happens then? Does the first polis have such conflicts? If not, in what way does it avoid them? What light does this difference shed upon Socrates’ first polis?

iii) By hypothesis the rock band has some organizational structure. Does the first polis have a comparable structure? Again, if not, what light does this shed upon Socrates’ first polis?

iv) What happens to the rock group when their reasons for coming together are not met? Does something comparable apply to the first polis? Do all of the members of the group have the same desires? Do all of the members of the first polis have the same needs?

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