The Republic

Summary and Analysis of Book III

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"The Arts in Education"

Summary: Book III

The dialogue on theological principles picks up where it left off in the previous book. With Adeimantus and Glaucon as auditors, Socrates recommences his attack on libelous poetry and fiction as unsuitable for the early education of the guardians of the State. He examines several poetic descriptions of courage (the overcoming of fear of death) and of the underworld, and the philosopher then demonstrates his willingness to bowdlerize even Homer's inimitable lines when they do not serve his purposes.

In the end, the only acceptable subjects for poetry and literature are strictly didactic‹they teach the guardians four cardinal virtues: wisdom, justice, courage, and temperance. Neither men nor gods may be depicted acting in an ambiguous, morally undesirable, manner. Having dispensed with subject, Socrates moves logically to its complement: style.

After a brief misunderstanding, Socrates and Adeimantus deduce three fundamental styles of narration: single voice (or narrative), mimetic, and a mix of the two. From these, Socrates chooses an unbalanced mix of narrative and very little imitation, which he admits is most closely seen in Homer's poetics.

What follows is a rather erudite discussion of music‹words, melody, and rhythm. The philosopher expresses his approval for the Dorian and Phrygian harmonies, for they embody, "the strain of courage, and the strain of temperance." He rejects complicated rhythms; and, much as expected, Socrates endorses a musical style that is simplistic and fortifying, and that would move the guardians toward virtuous behavior. Soon after Socrates extends these aesthetic criteria to all State arts, not only literature and music.

The second part of the guardian's education, gymnastics, is broached when the philosophers have finished their outline of music. Physical education, Socrates asserts, should be governed by the same rigorous temperance as music. No exceptions are made for the ill or the valetudinarian; citizens are to survive only with some small amount of attention from a physician or not at all.

Since a State must have rulers, and logically its rulers should represent the best of its citizens, according to Socrates, the rulers should be chosen from the guardians. Only the guardians who demonstrate love of the State and an unshakable sense of duty, qualify as rulers. These elite are considered true guardians, retaining the name and at the same time receiving much more magnanimity and responsibility.

Book III closes with a famous allegory: the Phoenician tale. It is to be a the basic myth of the State. The tale describes the citizens of a State as the sons of a mother, and thus brothers to one another. They are raised by the motherly State and love it dearly. Further, the sons of the State naturally possess varied characters, which their sons usually‹but are not obliged to‹share. These characters, the tale goes, are really a mixture of metals, from the most valuable, gold, to the most base, brass and iron. Citizens of gold are the most worthy, and the beloved of the State. The others align themselves into a kind of social cast accordingly. Socrates' then asks whether the allegory could not serve as one of the State's most important myths. The others agree that, though it would not work on the present generation of Greeks, it would certainly be adopted by their offspring and by posterity.

Analysis: Book III

In his critique of poetry and fiction, Socrates advances a new approach to art and literature, at least within the parameters of State building. For the better education of the guardians, Socrates condones the systematic revision of great imaginative works in order to rectify their moral content, presumably according to virtues (courage, truth, temperance), or behavioral manifestations of the justice that is yet to be defined. In the State, it will also be necessary to censor artists and poets composing in the present, so that what has been eliminated in the past does not reoccur in the future. Beauty and pleasure for their own sake are disallowed, as well as laughter.

Although the education of the guardians appears excessively rigid and ascetic, it must be remembered that the guardians are also the State's most important, that is, fully responsible, citizens; and, therefore, no possible corruption can be overlooked. Socrates' argument is vulnerable, however, in its short-sightedness. By isolating passages from great works such as the Odyssey and the Iliad, and criticizing them, Socrates fails to recognize that, taken whole, they are, in fact, moral and profitable to the guardians. The works are not only ultimately moral, they are also present and dramatize the inevitable interplay between good and evil (moral and immoral) in a living, imaginary model. Unlike the education Socrates is devising, works of art eschew a simple and one-sided selection of good moral behavior in favor of a fair mix of both the real and the didactic.

The difficulty Adeimantus at first has understanding Socrates' segue onto the topic of style ironically underscores the problem of style itself: clarity. Thus Socrates endorses a simple, but not simplistic, style. As the purgation continues, he relieves the State of its musical and artistic luxuries that, like the earlier excesses in food, clothing, shelter, and literature, damage its integrity.

Physical education not only consists of exercise and training; it is also a philosophy of the body. Socrates' is particularly adamant in his opinions on health and illness; he is an elite, "survival of the fittest," mentality. But what he is constructing is not a reformed State, it is an ideal State; and, for that, he must have elite citizens, and especially guardians. The effect of the complete, twofold education, Socrates illustrates metaphorically, is that the principles may be relaxed or tightened as befits optimal harmony.

The Phoenician tale allegorizes the necessity for social stability and hierarchy based on individual character. It is one of the excusable, useful fictions with which Socrates privileges the rulers of the State. Character is notoriously difficult to define, though not to describe in narrative or myth; therefore, Socrates' decision to "lie" to the citizens for their own benefit is merely an attempt to place in narrative form the founding principles of the State‹to make them accessible. That each man embodies a mixture of metals describing his social value is easily grasped by all citizens.