PHIL 41150: Political Philosophy
Dr. Robert Lane
Lecture Notes: Monday January 13, 2003

[2.] The Structure of a Political Society (Republic II & III).


[2.1.] Justice in the City-State and in the Individual.


The central question of the Republic is:


A. What is justice (dikaiosyne), i.e. what is it for an individual human being to be just?


But for our purposes, this is not the most important question of the Republic. The question we'll be most concerned with is:


B. How should a city-state (polis) be structured? I.e., what is the structure of a society with a legitimate ruling authority? [Basically the same as Question Three!]



Plato thinks that answering (B) will help in answering (A). He thinks this because he assumes:

(i)                  justice is the same thing in a city-state (polis) as it is in an individual  -- this is not a trivial assumption; at least one 20th century philosopher, John Rawls, assumes that justice is a characteristic of social institutions, not of individuals or their specific actions!

(ii)                since a polis is larger than an individual, we will be able to "see" justice more readily in the city-state -- just as reading large handwriting is easier than reading small handwriting. (Rep Book II, 368d-369a; Cahn p.60)



[2.2.] The Origin and Development of the Polis.


Socrates begins answering (B) by to tracing the origins of a polis to see how it develops and grows, and thus see how justice (or injustice) grows within it. What he's after here is not an historical account of any actual polis; rather, it's an account of how a perfect polis (a utopia!) might develop.


[This may be a good place for discussion--- have them describe Socrates' account of the growth of a city.]


I. The Reason City-States Develop


·         Cities develop because individuals are not self-sufficient.  [Notice that this is Plato's answer to our questions 1a & 1b!]


...the formation of a city is due ... to this fact, that we are not individually independent, but have many wants. ... owing to our many wants, and because each seeks the aid of others to supply his various requirements, we gather many associates and helpers into one dwelling-place, and give to this joint dwelling the name of city. (369b-c; Cahn pp.60-1)


II. Division of Labor


·         Individuals have essential needs: food, shelter, clothing, etc. The best way for a group to act so as to provide all individuals with these things is according to a division of labor according to natural talents. Some will be farmers, others shoemakers, others blacksmiths, etc. Labor must be divided because it's impossible for one person to do well each of these jobs for himself.


...all things will be produced in superior quantity and quality, and with greater ease, when each man works at a single occupation, in accordance with his nature, and at the right moment, without meddling with anything else. (369c, p.61)


·         Many types of professions will arise, in addition to manufacturers: importers and exporters, navigators, tradesmen, hired laborers...


At this point Socrates asks what justice in such a society consists in. Adeimantus answers: "perhaps it be discoverable somewhere in the mutual relations of these same persons." (372a, Cahn  p.63) This foreshadows the answer Socrates will eventually give: the justice of a society will depend on the relationships that obtain among the classes within it.








III. Growth of the Polis Leads to Conflict.


·         Further professions will arise to provide, not necessities, but luxuries: hunters, poets, dancers, craftsmen, teachers, barbers, cattle farmers...  the society becomes very large and needs more land for growing food... inevitably, there will be conflict with neighboring cities to acquire more resources, including land.


Then must we not cut ourselves a slice of our neighbor's territory, if we are to have land enough both for pasture and tillage, while they will do the same to ours, if they, like us, permit themselves to overstep the limit of necessities, and plunge into the unbounded acquisition of wealth? (373d, p.64)


IV. The Appearance of Guardians.


·         Now we need a whole new profession: that of the soldier ("guardian" -- phylakes). They require significant training, but must begin with a "natural endowment": they must be

(1)    brave

(2)    strong

(3)    spirited

(4)    "philosophical" (lover of learning)


V. The Appearance of Rulers. 


[Now we're in Book III. In the chunk of Bks. 2 & 3 omitted by Cahn, Socrates et al have been discussing how the guardians are to be educated.]


·         Who shall rule all these people? (It's with this question that Socrates' polis takes on a political character.)


...what will be the next point for us to settle? is it not this, which of the persons so educated are to be the rulers, and which the ruled? (412c, p.66)


·         The rulers must be those who "always do that which they think best for the city" -- the guardians will be watched from their youth to determine which individuals are best suited to rule; candidates will be tested in various ways to ensure their ability to rule. In effect, this splits the class of guardians in two, creating a total of three classes:


1.      rulers

2.      auxiliaries/warriors

3. merchants



VI. The Myth of the Metals.


To maintain this class structure, all three classes should be inculcated with a "noble lie" -- the Myth of the Metals...

·         Each individual has in him either gold, or silver, or iron or bronze -- and this determines which of the classes he belongs to.

·         Adults are to observe children to see which metal each has in him -- each child is to be raised as a ruler, auxiliary, or merchant.

·         It is possible (though rare) for a parent of one class to have a child of another class


...when we were training and instructing them, they only thought, as in dreams, that all this was happening to them and about them, while in reality they were in course of formation and training in the bowels of the earth, where they themselves, their armor, and the rest of their equipments were manufactured, and whence, as soon as they were finished, the earth, their real mother, sent them up to its surface ... the god who created you mixed gold in the composition of such of you as are qualified to rule, which gives them the highest value; while in the auxiliaries he made silver an ingredient, assigning iron and bronze to the cultivators of the soil and the other workmen... 414e-415a, p.68)


VII. Communism


At 416d-417b (pp.69-70), Socrates advocates communism for the guardians (both rulers and warriors):

·         no unnecessary private property

·         no private dwellings; they must live together

·         they shall receive their necessities from other citizens as payment

·         they can't possess money, or even handle gold or silver objects


Purpose: to separate economic power from political power, in order to avoid conflict between classes. (Although Plato doesn't say this explicitly, his position seems to be that the merchant class will have no political power, so it's OK for them to own money and private property.)


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