PHIL 41150: Political Philosophy
Dr. Robert Lane
Lecture Notes: Friday January 17, 2003

[3.2.] Justice in the Polis.


Having described the other three qualities which constitute the virtue of a polis, Socrates is ready (finally!) to describe what the fourth virtue (justice) is:


"to do one's own business, in some shape or other, is justice." (433b, p.74)[1]


He argues this point by first describing what it is for a polis to be unjust:

·      a polis is unjust when individuals try to do things for which they're not suited: "any intermeddling in the three parts, or change from one to another, would inflict great damage on the city, and may with perfect propriety be described, in the strongest sense, as doing harm ... And will you not admit that the greatest harm towards one's own city is injustice?" (434b-c, p.75)

·      a just polis is just the opposite: the individuals in its various classes (rulers, warriors and merchants) stick to what they are suited for by their natural inclinations and education -- the rulers rule, the auxiliaries protect, and the merchants see to the commercial and material needs of society: "conversely, adherence to their own business on the part of the merchants, the military, and the guardians, each of these doing its own work in the city, is justice, and will render the city just." (434c, p.75)


So the just polis is therefore one in which:

·         the rulers make wise decisions...

·         executed with courage by the auxiliaries, and in which...

·         there is temperance ("self-control" -- the rulers control everyone else); as a consequence,

·         the state is strong and its members remain happy.

The state is just because each part is performing its function and labor is efficiently divided (according to a natural division of labor).


Plato calls this form of government a kingdom or monarchy (if only one ruler emerges) or an aristocracy (if more than one emerges). (445d, p.84)



[3.3.] Justice in the Individual. [shortened due to time considerations -- for full length version, see "extra stuff" section at end of document] To further confirm that this is the correct account of justice in the city, Socrates now considers what constitutes justice in the individual man.


[3.3.1.] Three Principles of the Human Psyche.


So for Plato, the human psyche consists of three distinct parts:


(1)    the part consisting of rational reflection, necessary for knowledge

(2)    the part consisting of the spirited element, the aggressive part of the soul which gives rise to anger

(3)    the part concerned with the satisfaction of irrational appetite


As with the polis, each of the first two principles of the soul has a corresponding virtue:


(1) wisdom

(2) courage / bravery


A third virtue consists in the harmonious relationship among all three principles:


(3) temperance: the higher, rational element being in control of the baser elements (physical desires and emotions)


And finally, Socrates defines justice in the individual…


...a man is just, in the same way in which we found the city to be just ... [and] what makes the city just, is the fact of each of the three parts therein doing its own work ... each of us also, if his inward parts do severally their proper work, will, in virtue of that, be a just man, and a doer of his proper work. (441d-e, p.81)


...the just man will not permit the several principles within him to do any work but their own, nor allow the distinct classes in his soul to interfere with each other, but will really set his house in order; and having gained the mastery over himself, will so regulate his own character as to be on good terms with himself, and to set those three principles in tune together, as if they were verily three chords of a harmony, a higher and a lower and a middle, and whatever may lay between these... (443d-e, p.82)


In the just soul, all three principles are functioning properly, doing their own specific work.



[4.] Familial Communism Among the Guardian Class (Republic V).


At the beginning of Book V, Socrates is about to discuss other, less just forms of government, and how his ideal republic might devolve into these other forms. But the others object that he hasn't yet adequately explained his ideal republic. In particular, they prompt him to go back to his communism, especially the bit about all property being held in common, even wives and children. So Soc. returns to that subject, and gives the following account of life among the guardian class.


A.     The male guardians must be like "guardians of a flock" (451c, p. 85) -- they must be loyal to the community as a whole without having special loyalties or devotion to any specific individual(s). This is the general justification of familial communism among the guardians.



B.     Female guardians, although weaker, will be treated exactly the same as male guardians.


The women of the guardian class will be expected to do the same work as the men (although in general they are physically weaker). Because of this, they will receive the same education as the men. (452a, p.86)

·         Soc. expects this to be controversial, at least in part because the physical education ("gymnastics") requires nudity -- so the women guardians will be training alongside the men in the nude.


C.     The government shall control breeding and child rearing among the guardians.


·         The rulers shall in secret manipulate the best of the auxiliaries to breed with each other and the worst of them not to breed at all. A phony lottery will be held, with the results fixed in advance -- the best of the auxiliaries will "win" the responsibility to reproduce; the worst won't. (460a-b, p.92)

·         The children resulting from these unions will be taken immediately to a general nursery to be raised apart from their biological parents. Children that result from unauthorized pairings of inferior people, or inferior children that result from authorized pairings, will be "concealed ... in some mysterious and unknown hiding-place." (460c, p.92)

·         Only men and women in their "prime" (men: 25-55; women: 20-40) will be selected to breed.

·         Younger people will be forbidden from having sex; and people in their prime won't be allowed to have sex unless it is specifically sanctioned in the phony lottery.

·         People who have passed their prime can have sex so long as they do their best do avoid pregnancy -- and if they accidentally create a child, it will be taken away and destroyed. (460d-461c, pp.92-93)


So Plato advocates the use of eugenics (improvement of genetic inheritance by control of which genes are transmitted to future generations) to keep the guardian class "pure."


Objection: this arrangement is not "advisable" -- not the best arrangement for the polis.


Socrates' responses:


A.     A policy is for the greater good of the polis if it helps "bind it together, and make it one", i.e. if it prevents it from fragmenting into multiple cities. (462a-b, p.93) [This claim is criticized by Aristotle in Politics Book II.]


B.     Citizens are bound more closely together when they share the same emotions (grieve at the same deaths, rejoice at the same births, etc.) and more fragmented when they do not. (462b, p.93)


C.     The best way (or at least, a good way) to promote this commonality of emotion is if people do not have their own spouses and children but share them in common.


D.     One upshot of this carefully arranged familial communism among the guardians is that each will regard his or her fellow-guardians as family members: "they must look upon every one whom they meet as either a brother, or a sister, or a father, or a mother, or a son, or a daughter, or one of the children or parents of these." (463c, p.94) So each guardian will feel towards every other as towards a family member.


E.      So this arrangement is advisable -- it is best for the polis as a whole: "the greatest good in the city is due to the community of women and children, which is to prevail among our auxiliaries." (464b, p.95)


D.     Familial communism is one instance of a more general communist principle: guardians are not allowed to own any private property.

·         This will eliminate lawsuits and other personal disputes involving private property.

·         It won't result in the guardians being less happy than the merchant class (the members of which can own private property) -- the life of the guardian is far nobler, comes with frequent honors, as well as with constant support by the state. (465d-466b; p.96)



[1] Desmond Lee translates this is: "…justice is, in a certain sense, … minding one's own business." He then gives the following explanation: "The Greek phrase, here given the conventional translation 'mind your own business', is almost exactly translated by the current (1974) catch-phrase 'doing your own thing'. It has a positive content -- 'getting on with and doing your own job' -- as well as the more negative meaning so often attached to the English phrase 'not interfering with other people'. A strictly literal translation would be 'doing the things that belong to (possessive genitive) oneself'. At 441e, the translation 'performing its proper function' is used." (The Republic, trans. D. Lee, 2nd ed., revised, Penguin Books, 1974, p.204 n.1)

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