The City as the Soul of the Subject

Book III

Book III opens with dialogue between Socrates and Adeimantus. The discussion is still centered around poetry, as it left off in Book II, but now they are discussing the “fear of death.” Socrates is adamant that poetry ought to erase a man’s fear of death rather than encourage it. He argues that certain literature at the time did just that. For example, in Homer’s Odyssey, Achilles and Odysseus meet in the Underworld. Achilles explains to Odysseus that he would rather, “slave on earth for another man–some dirt poor tenant farmer who scrapes to keep alive–than rule down here over all the breathless dead,” (Homer, Book XI: 465-540). Socrates states that this type of attitude is extremely harmful to the youth and any who falls victim to its sort of “soft” logic. This poetry and literature is claimed to be unsuitable. Socrates previously told us the literature for young people theologically teaches false information and ideas about the gods and morally has shown to make people act cowardly. The idea was that the Guardians would need more suitable literature to be rulers. In the same way Socrates thinks poetry, art and music ought to serve the people, he believes medicine ought to as well. He speaks of how doctors shouldn’t treat patients that experience chronic sickness or exhibit laziness in taking care of their body. He argues that these individuals do nothing to better the state and are a drain on society. It is obvious that, in the beginning of Book III, Socrates is trying to establish a way of thought that always benefits the state.

Fear of Death

These teachings lead to Plato’s opinions of love, education in philosophy, and the connection between the two. Obviously, Plato believes that philosophical knowledge is essential for young boys to understand and become educated. In order for a boy to receive the best version of such education, the relationship he has with his teacher must be founded on true, authentic love. We are told that genuine love motivates the young boy to pursue the highest level of education. So what about sexual intercourse as the ultimate symbol of expressing love for another? Plato believes that intercourse should not be permitted in the relationship between the student and his teacher. The student is seeking the truth through philosophical thought, and the pursuit of physical pleasure through sex can only get in the way of obtaining truth. To Plato, intercourse was almost purposeless. Heterosexual intercourse? Necessary for procreation, but should not be engaged in solely for pleasure. Homosexual intercourse cannot produce an offspring, so it only served pleasure. To Plato, the bond between student and teacher ought to be formed of true love for knowledge, the truth, and each other.

At the end of Book III, Plato discusses the Myth of the Metals. It was said that there needed to be a whole new set of rulers and that these new rulers would come from the Guardians discussed in Book II. This new class of people to rule would be drawn from the guardians. Those who love the city and are strongest when it comes to their principles on running the city. Socrates did not want to have a ruler who would be easily strayed. The three new classes are guardians, auxiliaries, and commoners. Socrates says we will tell the citizens about the ideal city. Socrates will tell these citizens that they were all born out of the soil of the city. The idea is that they were all formed underground and then rose up out of the city. The citizens should think of the earth as their mother, to love and protect it, and to think of their neighbors as their brothers and sisters born from the same soil. In this ideal city, Plato establishes a mythological foundation that loyalty to a place is crucial to the identity of each citizen. Thinking of the earth as a mother will lead the citizens to treat it with love and be willing to sacrifice anything for it. In addition to telling citizens they came from the earth, Socrates would tell them that why they were being formed gods mixed one of four metals into their bodies, gold, silver, iron, or bronze. Each metal would correlate with their identities in the city. Having gold meant you were supposed to be a ruler, having silver meant you were a part of the auxiliaries, iron and bronze meant you were supposed to be a craftsman or a farmer. This sets up the idea that each individual is suited to be a member of each class and they have no relation to how you were born and only focused on the individual’s inner nature. Plato essentially established a basis for meritocracy focused on individual talent and inborn orientation. Socrates even explained that two rulers may not birth a ruler but instead an auxiliary or a commoner. This avoided people being born into social classes and giving them a chance to be in the class really meant for them. The metal inside cannot be changed either and according to Socrates, you must above all avoid having a person with a bronze soul become a ruler, as a member of the guardian class. Plato establishes a mythological basis that focuses on a person’s nature and talents rather than an accident at birth.

Book IV

Book IV begins with Socrates continuing his explanation of how the city will run. This conversation is sustained when Adeimantus questions Socrates on how the life of the rulers will be fulfilling since they are unable to attain wealth, have nice possessions, or venture out into the world. Socrates then replies that the main goal of this city is not for the individual happiness of one person or group, instead the city and its rules will allow for everyone to live in a way that gives all the citizens happiness. Even though this sounds in theory like a great place to live, without people worrying about money and possessions and all of the superficial elements of life that divide us, I do see where Adeimantus is coming from. A life like this would be dull, in my opinion, for the citizens because they would only be focused on their trade or role in the city. I myself do enjoy some of the pleasures of life and think we should strive for a place where we can have a happy balance between what Socrates describes and what we have now… (CORRUPTION).

After Socrates explains the reason why exuberant money for the rulers and guardians would make an unequal society and that the focus of the city should revolve around the happiness of all people, he then goes on to give examples of how wealth could harm the city. Socrates speaks on a potter who becomes rich and to this he says, “would [he] any longer be willing to give his mind to his craft.” Instead, “he will become more idle and negligent than he was.” In saying this Socrates shows that when wealth becomes involved at an extent, people begin to care less for the job that they are supposed to be doing. Throughout history we have seen many examples of corrupt rulers who have gained money and power and then ignored their actual job/ constituents, something that Socrates warned us about so long ago. At the end of this section on wealth and poverty Socrates says wealth and poverty will both deteriorate the products of the arts. He continues his conclusion on wealth and poverty by saying “the one is the parent of luxury and indolence, and the other of meanness and viciousness, and both of discontent.” In my mind this meme that is below is how I imagine Socrates also feels about money. A city without wealth can’t lose what they don’t have.

“A Good Reason for Grad School”

Adeimantus questioning Socrates again begins the next section by inquiring how a city without wealth can handle the challenges of war. Socrates answers this question by posing another scenario where the guardians of this city would be better off fighting against not one, but two armies of rich and powerful cities. This, even though seemingly illogical, Socrates explains that because the guardians do not know wealth and are experts at their guardianship, the two rich armies will lose. This is because as he explained in the earlier section wealth leads to the deterioration of one’s trade/ art, so the rich men will not be as expert fighters as the guardians who know nothing of wealth. Closing this section Adeimantus poses another question to Socrates about how big the city should be permitted to grow. Socrates replies that the city does not need a limit on citizens per se but as long as the city is “self-sufficing.” This city that Socrates is laying out for his listeners is something that has undertones of a perfect world. With this perfect world where money isn’t an issue, everyone is happy to an extent, and the city is self-sufficient because it is neither overpopulated nor underpopulated (I can’t help but start to think of authors who have written about perfect societies that have gone badly wrong). Socrates’s point of creating this city is not for pure entertainment like some of the dystopian novels that we have all read, but just as Socrates is showing and from what those books have taught me, I believe it is normal for humans to strive for something that is perfect. However, perfection is a hard thing to attain, and when not attained in scenarios like The Hunger Games, Maze Runner, and so many other dystopian societies the consequences of trying to create a “perfect” city can be disastrous.

In the next section Socrates explains one of the values that will help make the city run. Education, Socrates believes, is a vital part of the city and to the training of the guardians as it will allow them to, “grow into sensible men.” This also trickles down onto the children where Socrates has a long discussion about how children should be raised and educated. He comes to the conclusion after some pondering that children need to be brought up in a “stricter system” to prevent lawlessness and lawless citizens. If Socrates’s perfect city was ever tested and the children were raised in this “stricter system” I am sure that this video can show you how they probably felt.

Socrates begins his topic on the last important matters in this half of Book IV with a conversation with Glaucon. Socrates explains that with all of these things in place the city is perfect because if carried out correctly the city will have the qualities of being “wise and valiant and temperate and just.” Wisdom is the first virtue that Socrates explains. The city will be wise because of the diversity in the skills that are present throughout the city. This will do the city justice because when knowledge in many subjects is present, the city will then be wise. Socrates also explains that the guardians have the most important responsibility for making the city wise. From this explanation of the virtue of wisdom Socrates transitions to the second virtue of courage. Courage also is at the core of the guardians. The guardians, as Socrates says, have been trained in a way that shows them to be wise and educated instead of fearful. This ability of the guardians to sort out the differences between false and real dangers will protect the city even if another person in the city is cowardly. This cowardice in other citizens will not overtake the city with cowardly people. Instead, the guardians will be courageous and therefore, the city will be courageous. These two virtues as Socrates lays out go hand in hand. The education and knowledge that the guardians and the rest of the citizens have (in their own trades) will make the city wise. By being wise the city will be courageous because the guardians will be able to assess fear. This set up of the city that Socrates has laid out is starting to prove itself at this point.

Socrates and his companions then turn to the virtue of moderation, which Socrates begins to define as the virtue most aligned with harmony and one whose chief function is the mastery over certain pleasures and desires. This mastery is further explored through a construction of the soul, which Socrates claims has a smaller “better” principle which contains virtue, and a larger “weaker” principle which contains baser pleasures and desires; mastery is described as the former governing the latter.

This concept of self-mastery can be found in many other philosophical systems, such as Taoism, Buddhism, and Stoicism (pictured Top-Bottom: Laozi, Buddha, and Epictetus).

He then juxtaposes this dual structure of the soul upon the city which he and his colleagues have been determining the nature of. In the city, the “weaker” principle is found within the general populace – children, women, servants, and freemen. The “better” principle, on the other hand, is found within a small number of the best-educated men – those who are involved with affairs dealing with intelligence and reasoning. With this analogy, Socrates argues that moderation in the city, therefore, is where the best-educated class govern over the general populace. Harmony arises through the unanimous agreement with this structure of governance – from this, moderation is not simply localized in one class like the two previous virtues, but can be found through all groups of citizens.

Plato’s conception of the “philosopher-king” is borne out of this belief that the best-educated should rule (pictured: Raphael’s School of Athens; Plato and Socrates both appear in the fresco).

Having now determined how wisdom, courage, and moderation are made manifest in the city, Socrates and his colleagues then turn to what he considers the most complicated virtue to define – justice. Socrates brings attention to the fact that, through discussion of the previous virtues, the definition of justice had been cited multiple times, unknowingly. To clarify, Socrates finally asserts that justice is adherence to a class structure formed from the division of labor – “to do one’s own business” in his words. He then determines that justice is also the most important virtue for the city, proving this through illustrating “injustice” in examples of deviations from the class structure – a shoemaker should not be a carpenter; auxiliaries should not become guardians.

A rat should not be a chef

In a similar fashion to the discussion on moderation, Socrates then endeavors to apply the city’s definition of justice to the individual, stating that a just man would not differ from a just city. He posits that forms similar to the city’s just division of labor and the virtues of wisdom, courage, and moderation are present within the individual. To start, he and his companion affirm the rational and appetitive principles, but then begin to determine a third soul-principle of spirit, aligned with anger and strong feeling. Socrates illustrates the spirit principle through three situations – the story of a Leontius giving in to the intrusive desire to look at corpses, an individual being disturbed at the struggle to suppress an irrational desire, and the anger and determination associated with opposing injustice.

Civil unrest in response to the death of George Floyd in May 2020 illustrates Plato’s concept of the soul’s spirit-principle.

Having determined three soul-principles, Socrates then correlates these with the classes of the city – rationality for the deliberative class, appetite for the money-makers, and spirit for the auxiliary. He subsequently aligns this tripartite soul with the city’s virtues, and finally determines that the soul of a just individual, like the just city, contains three distinct parts which remain solely focused on affairs appropriate to each one.

Book IV of the Republic establishes the foundations for Plato’s Theory of Soul, which appears again through the Chariot Allegory in Phaedrus.

Plato’s line of reasoning throughout Book IV imply a symbiotic relationship between the individual and the city. In both practical concerns (such as material need, the logistics of governance, and methods of educating the youth) as well as through structural allegory (the city’s three-class structure as evidence of the three-part nature of the soul, the city and the individual sharing the same four chief virtues), Plato shows that the city and the individual shape each other through their interactions – the political becomes the personal and vice versa. It is from here in which it is also possible to observe his theory of ethics, as his analysis attempts to distill all of what may be considered good into just four key virtues which serve to construct the nature of the human soul.

A secondary but central assertion in Book IV is Plato’s assertion that adherence to rigid class structure is to be considered virtuous. Earlier in the Republic, he defines the three classes through inborn “natures” which determine an individual’s station in life, and up to this point in the work, he has made multiple references to the paramount importance of “justice” in his pursuit of a clear definition for the concept. The culmination of these two lines of rhetoric in Book IV presents significant implications for Plato’s political thought – a criticism of democracy, a rejection of class mobility, and an endorsement of a rule by an intellectual elite (his concept of the “philosopher-king” echoes this). It is in this book of the Republic that Plato transitions from practical organization and logistics to the nature of class and pronouncements on political structure.

Whitney Darby

Whitney Darby is a senior at Virginia Tech studying Political Science with a minor in Geospatial Information Systems. She is in the National Security Studies concentration and plans to attend law school after graduating.

Olivia Davis

Olivia Davis is a senior at Virginia Tech majoring in Political Science. After graduations she plans on working.

Robert Domingue

Robert Domingue is a senior at Virginia Tech studying Political Science with a concentration in National Security studies. He will commission in the Marine Corps upon graduation.

Marcus Duquiatan

Marcus Duquiatan is a senior at Virginia Tech studying Philosophy with a minor in Political Science. He plans to work for a labor union affiliated with the AFL-CIO in Washington, D.C. after graduation.