Plato’s Republic: Books III and IV

Kyle Merrill

  • I am a Junior majoring in Political Science with a focus in national security.  I enjoy learning new perspectives as it gives more depth to my analytic ability for political situations.

Alexa Zaldivar

  • I am a Sophomore majoring in English with a concentration in Pre-Law and double majoring in Political Science. Political and philosophical discussions have always been an interest of mine and I am excited to be learning and deepening my knowledge of such topics in this class. 

Luis Lopez

  • I am a Junior majoring in Political Science (Legal Studies) and Philosophy. I have always been more inclined towards the ‘cut and dry’ of most things Law, but love engaging in political discourse, and having a better understanding of the machinations of its theory has always sounded interesting.

Books III and IV:

This week our group was tasked to read The Republic: Books III and IV by Plato. Book III continues the discussion seen in the previous books, in which Socrates carries on with the dialogue pertaining to the stories and education allowed to be given to the soldiers – the Auxiliaries – of the State. Book IV focuses on many complex theological themes that we will further get into in this discussion. Including Adeimantus questioning on the happiness of the Guardians and Socrates diving into where justice lies both in the State and Individual. These two dialogues continue on with points of discussion around “the just state” and “the good life.”

Unjust Poetic Role Models and Messages

Early into Book III Adeimantus and Plato have a conversation about poets and the risks involved with their potential messages. In the reading, they specifically highlight the portrayal of heroic figures by poets as often figures of happiness through the means of being unjust. Plato finds a significant issue in this when he says “poets and story-tellers are guilty of making the gravest misstatements when they tell us that wicked men are often happy, and the good miserable” (Plato, Book III). This however is but an example of the bigger problem Plato is trying to point out. The real issue highlighted by Plato here is the problems that can arise from freedom of speech in general. If you give those with the incorrect ways of thinking platforms among the masses, it could spread harmful trains of thought to many and harm society as a whole. Plato concludes that the solution to such a potential problem is “we shall forbid them to utter, and command them to sing and say the opposite,” showing his ideals of being anti-free speech and expression for the sake of justice and happiness (Plato, Book III). 

Plato understands that people with the wrong thoughts and behaviors should not freely express and influence the masses and in this section, he is pointing his finger at the poets. Poets speak to the masses for entertainment and informational purposes and Plato thinks they have a great deal of influence over how people should think and act. Individuals with this power have the ability to spread unjust behavior to people and this is exactly what Plato wants to prevent by limiting the ability for these people to spread it in the first place. What one needs to understand is that these are the effects of the culture industry that still apply to us today. The culture industry is the idea that (capitalist) entertainment industries subject the consumers to manipulation of thought and opinions. The issue here is if the industry leaders are sophists they would be spreading potentially harmful thoughts to the consumer groups. This raises the question of whether it is beneficial to censor these leading entertainment industries due to the harm they can cause.

Short video on what Horkheimer and Adorno thought the culture industry was.

Importance of a balanced education

Plato highlights the importance of early education within the Guardian class talking about a proper balance between physical training and music saying that “Gymnastic as well as music should begin in early years; the training in it should be careful and should continue through life. Now my belief is…not that the good body by and bodily excellence improves the soul, but, on the contrary, that the good soul, by her own excellence, improves the body as far as this may be possible,” indicating his belief that Guardians cannot rely on a single form of education to become great (Plato, Book III). The reason for this balanced form of education especially for the Guardian class is because not all issues can be solved with one form of problem-solving. The Guardians are the most important component to make Plato’s just state a reality and to do the best job possible given a tool belt of knowledge and thinking so they can lead and guide the state through diverse situations.

What Plato is concerned with the most in this section is over-focusing on the physical side of education of young Guardians as “such excessive care of the body, when carried beyond the rules of gymnastics, is most inimical to the practice of virtue, ” which basically means it can lead to the hindering of one’s development as a virtuous person (Plato, Book III). The importance of development is vastly stronger on Guardian individuals due to their role in society and Plato understands the risk that is involved with improperly developed members in that societal role. This would hinder Plato’s ideal just state due to improper fulfillment of one’s role in society which would greatly impact everyone else in a negative manner. If Producers concede to their desires, as Plato contends as he argues that they are Producers because they do not have a good soul, they would cause more work upon the Auxiliaries whose role is to keep them in order. For this reason, Plato contends that Producers are mostly incapable of becoming soldiers or even be the focus of becoming knowledgeable at all and instead focuses on the Auxiliary and Guardians. Furthermore, Socrates contends that if we allow these corrupted souls to take the role of an Auxiliary, it will make more weak soldiers who fear death and will abandon their role just to save themselves. If the Auxiliary is then faulty and incapable of their duty to fight and protect the State physically, the Guardians will have no foundation to assert their rule, enforce the principles that require a State to serve all of its people, the function of the State in general, and will then allow for the destruction of that State which would be seen as unjust. Therefore, Justice and the “just State” are dependent on people in these roles accepting the requirements that are based on how “good” their soul is and how in tune they are with that Knowledge.

We are met with three different class/roles: Guardians/Philosopher Kings (Those in charge of the state, the “higher-ups”), Auxiliaries (Soldiers, Policing Figures), and Producers (the rest of society/the majority, the people who are constantly under the rule of the other two classes.) Education is the fulfillment and adherence to requirements/principles of the class you are in, be it Guardians/Philosopher Kings, Auxiliaries, and Producers on the basis that, if you do not do what you are supposed to do, you will make the other classes unhappy. For example the Guardians, according to Plato, are those who have mastered philosophy and rhetoric and thus, have taken charge of the State as they have mastered this knowledge that allows them to trick people into believing enforcement/creation of classes, say who is in them, and establish all the roles and machinations of the State’s composing class. The Auxiliary’s function, according to the reading, is to fight and protect the State at all costs be it militant or policing and enforcement of what the Guardians impose, and then finally there are the Producers, which is just about anyone that is not a Guardian or an Auxiliary. This relation/structure has been seen through most, if not all, 20th Century, post-Industrialism society: a ruling class, Bourgeois, etc. that rules over a vast majority, Producers, proletariat, etc. that lack a certain means of capital which puts them in this position of servitude and submission, and along with the ruling class having a tangible weapon to enforce their whim upon those Producers, the Auxiliary.  However, Plato also emphasizes that one ought to acquire formidable knowledge in other subjects like the arts (though not too much, for that leads to weak soldiers) to better you in your designated class as it enlightens the soul but does not change it completely. Education, Plato argues, is simply further specialization on those soul-found reasonings. He highlights the importance of the training of the soldiers to how they can contribute to the just state. Plato suggests that the Auxiliary class should not just be trained in warfare but in proper balance with music and poetry to avoid developing too much aggressiveness which can turn into the polar opposite and birth weak men who will give up their State and autonomy just so they are not killed (Book III). Here we see a nuance in “knowledge” and “education”: Knowledge is within the Soul, where Truth is derived from, and where you truly see if you are capable of attaining characteristics required to understand other classes, while Education is further specialization after you have those realizations of the Soul. What you have become educated on is not actually any ‘new’ concept, as that education only comes from realizing from something that was in your soul all along. This concept of it being in your soul all along, Plato establishes, is why Producers cannot truly become Auxiliaries, nor can Auxiliaires truly become Guardians. Plato mentions that one cannot change class easily, if at all, but the means exist to become more educated, and that the Producers never have that realization or potential in their souls and therefore, ought to ‘stay in their place’ and do what the “more” knowledgeable auxiliaries and guardians want for their souls are good and need to be in charge to bring about a “just State.” (Book IV). The State’s function should never be one that is “piecemeal” but rather, one that tries to keep all classes happy. However, happiness is not based on what they desire but what their role is (Book IV).

Acquiring knowledge helps one better understand what the good life is, it is based on doing what your class has been assigned to do in order to make the other classes happy and establish a high standard of well-being for all under the state in its totality, not just certain individuals. (Book IV). This is why Plato harshly critiques the Arts and the glorification of heroes, for this inspires thinking and desires not warranted by the ruling classes. This supports Plato’s principle that having a pure soul will eventually lead to you bettering yourself in the material world (Plato, Book III).This relief from the chains of societal pressures and starting to escape the cave and submitting to casted shadows, as Plato describes it in his Allegory of the Cave. However, we see that demagoguery can function, and has functioned, off of this exploitation of those who do not have this knowledge and Plato contends in The Republic that your soul cannot be changed, but one can become more educated on their soul as a whole.

Socrates explains to Adeimantus that when Producers focus and act based in raw emotion and personal desires, he will not truly value nor even understand nobility and honesty and will be slaves to fear and would rather give himself as a slave and sacrifice his own people’s freedom for his life and his love for material things. A rational part (Reason), an appetitive part (Desire), and the spirit (Will) are what compose our souls, independent of the mind. For something as strong and compelling as desire is not dictated by the mind and Plato points that Auxiliaries will most likely cave in to desires before they fully submit to reason so their will, their actions, will not be those that are reasonable and solely based upon justice, but dictated more by personal temptations. Personal, individual wills cannot sustain the collective, class-dependent “just State” as conceived by Plato. This, in turn, will then crush the foundation which grants the Auxiliary their police/military power as then they will be disposed of at will to protect the State and ultimately, bring the Philosopher King’s down with them as they never truly had the capacities that a grand majority such as the Producers had. The seeking of Truth inspires a yearning and passionate desire to acquire as much knowledge as possible to ascend from the material world and social constructs. Knowledge grants freedom from institutionalizations imposed upon the majority of those that are being ruled (Producers, Auxiliaries) and allows for the realization of the soul, that Eros or divine-tier love: the love for things truly good, which is anything that strengthens the State’s power and helps form an effective, though elitist, government system.

Happiness for the city as a whole 

In these two books, the overarching idea regarding happiness is that Socrates assumed that each individual will be happy if they engage with the occupation that best suits them; meaning that if the state as a whole is happy, then the individuals within that state are happy as well. We are first introduced to the topic of happiness at the end of Book III after establishing that individuals who play their part are happy because they are playing the part they are best framed to do, “Citizens, we shall say to them in our tale, you are brothers, yet God has framed you differently”(Plato, Book III). However, happiness is further discussed in Book IV as Adeimantus questions Socrates on the happiness of the guardians. Socrates responds with the reminder that the goal in building a just state is not to make one particular group happy at the expense of making another unhappy but to make the state as a whole as happy as it can be: “We are fashioning the happy State, not piecemeal, or with a view of making a few happy citizens” (Plato, Book IV). Socrates brings up the idea that we cannot provide guardians with any sort of happiness that would make them something more, or want to be something more, than just a governor of the city. This is why the statement that Guardians, philosophers who govern the city, should have no right to private wealth is made. 

Capital: Wealth and Poverty

While discussing the conditions of happiness for the guardians, Socrates raises the topic of capital. He makes a connection to wealth and poverty to “the just state” and “the good life.” He does so by first giving an example of how wealth and poverty can corrupt the workmen and their work. He begins by stating that if a potter becomes rich, he will grow indolent and carless in his work because he will “no longer take the same pains with his art,” and the end result would be that he’d become a worse potter and “he greatly deteriorates” (Plato, Book IV). On the other hand, if the potter was poor, he would not be able to provide himself the necessary tools and instruments he needs to do his job well. Therefore, he too would deteriorate. After this analogy, Socrates declares that it is these “new evils,” wealth and poverty, that the “guardians will have to watch, or they will creep into the city unobserved” (Plato, Book IV). While we have determined that people will be the happiest if they have a job or role within society that suits them, they must be cautious about making too much or too little because the quality of their work and thus the quality of their lives will suffer. Such occurrences could become a threat to the functioning state. For example, if the guardians become greedy individuals due to wealth, then they will deviate from living “the good life” and if they care more for anything other than the care of their state and its people, then it is a deviation from accomplishing “the just state.”  There is a connection made between wealth, happiness, and justice in these books. Specifically, how too much or too little capital can affect the happiness of an individual and state, which are two important factors needed to achieve a “just state.”

Adeimantus adds to the discussion by stating his curiosity and worries on how their city, with no wealth, will be able to go to war against other cities that have wealth. But Socrates asserts that this brings no issues whatsoever. While they will lack monetary wealth, they will be rich in other aspects. Socrates reminds Adeimantus that if a fight were to occur, their side will have “trained warriors fighting against an army of rich men” (Plato, Book III). He proceeds to state other advantages to their situation with wealth, or lack thereof. Since they do not have or permit wealth, they will be able to form alliances, where they would offer them the victory “spoils of the other city” (Plato, Book III). Finally, Socrates states that their lack of richness is no issue by bringing up the division within other states and the cohesion of their state, particularly in terms of economic classes. Their unification will protect their state from inner conflict, this being a major weakness in other states as they are “divided into two, one the city of the poor, the other of the rich; these are at war with one another” (Plato, Book III). This forms the argument that a just society should not be internally divided into economic classes. 

The Offspring- “Americana”: This song paints a drab picture of the world in the eyes of the typical Producer in a modern, capitalism-enforcing, mundane, sophist-ran society. In which you do what you’re told and if you don’t well then good luck, because the storyteller himself does not even know what he wants but is “happy”. Rather, his wants have been decided by “Thieves, thugs, and vermin.” and he has all he needs (according to these thieves, thugs, and sophists… sorry vermin) in his sphere of society. This class structure, subordination, and its causation being lack of knowledge and just having a bad soul so you have been subjected to this role as a mindless wage slave, Producer, etc. and that they see no problem with it, they are satisfied staying in “their cave” as Plato mentions in his Allegory of the Cave, providing a powerful foundation for the demagoguery that has burdened this bland, unwilfully-chosen life of these people or a soldier being confined to just battling and policing.

All in all, Plato infers that justice in a state and “the good life” can only be achieved through happiness and well-being. With the proper education and introduction to arts, there can be achieved happiness in fulfilling one’s appropriate role, which in turn leads to justice, “we affirmed that justice was doing one’s own business” (Plato, Book IV).