The Republic

Summary and Analysis of Book IX

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"On Wrong Or Right Government, and the Pleasure of Each"

Summary: Book IX

In this book, Socrates begins by sharpening his view of the tyrant as an individual and not merely as a part of the tyrannical State (see Book VIII). The tyrant is the son of the democrat except worse. He loses all reason, is overwhelmed by his appetites, and succumbs to a kind of madness.

After exhausting his own funds and entering heavy debt, the tyrant plunders his parents' assets; and, when his mother and father have nothing left, he moves on to rob the homeless, others' homes, and finally temples. If he is a true tyrant and not merely a petty criminal, and he has access to power and arms, he will eventually enslave his fatherland as he enslaved his father. But for all his power, as Socrates has his auditors note, he is also the most miserable of the individual types.

The next part of the dialogue expands to address the happiness or misery of the tyrannical State. Socrates, to illustrate the life of public tyrant or tyrannical ruler, offers the example of a prodigious slave owner who, along with his family, is suddenly alone with his slaves, outside the protection of any State or law, and at the same time surrounded by neighbors that reject slavery and would kill the slave owner if only they could catch him in action.

Socrates then suggests they turn to the question of which of who, among the lovers of knowledge, honor, and gain, enjoys the most pleasure. His conclusion is that the lover of knowledge, the philosopher, has access to both the pleasures of his counterparts and a pleasure to which they do not: wisdom. And he possesses a tool, reason, that other do not.

To examine whether, besides the differences in quantity of pleasures, there is a difference in the quality or nature of pleasures, Socrates pursues a new avenue. His presumption is that the philosopher's pleasure is true, while the others' partake of apparent pleasures. Socrates supports himself by demonstrating that the pleasures enjoyed by the passionate man and the acquisitive man are by necessity bound to pain‹they are impermanent. Whereas the philosopher's pleasure, knowledge, aspires for the immutable and is beyond pleasure and pain both. Almost comically then, through a series of questionable calculations, Socrates deduces that the philosopher lives a life 729 times more pleasurable than the tyrant.

The final contention in the book, whether the unjust man who is perceived in public as just enjoys more pleasure than the just man perceived as unjust, demands a figure for the ideal soul. It is composed of three unequal parts, the largest of which is the Chimera (or of dual nature), then lion, and finally the man, joined together in one beast that on the outside, Socrates says, resembles a normal man. He who allows the beast to rule is the unjust man; and he how gives the man sovereignty, just. Now Socrates injects these men into a community. What we are given to see is that the man ruled by the beast, although he may enjoy a good reputation for some time, inexorably degenerates and makes a serious error, betraying the beast behind the man. On the other hand the just man looks to the city within and of which he is ruler and comport himself accordingly, regardless of whether his city matches the State in which he lives.

Analysis: Book IX

The tyrant is the injustice incarnate. Although the tyrant appears to have unlimited freedom, ultimately, he is ruled by his appetites and is a slave to them. He is the "beast" of human nature, as Plato terms it, and the very worst kind of man. Further he is miserable, because he will never have peace; he must live in constant fear. The morals he puts into practice in order to gain power will inevitably be used to depose him. He must be overthrown by his subjects or his offspring (if he does not destroy them first) just as he overthrew his own father.

Because of his insatiable lusting, the tyrant is condemned to the public life that in turn makes a slave of him. He needs money and resources far beyond his own means to indulge his appetites; thus he enters public life. But his subjects understandably come to hate him, and the tyrant must constantly exploit without letting on that he is exploiting, or kill.

A judgment as to the nature of the pleasures each type of man, born of the three components of the soul: reason, affect, appetite, is the logical next step in the philosopher's overarching argument. We remember that he has been after proof of the superiority of justice to injustice from the beginning. Adjudicating on the premise that depth and breadth of experience is pleasure, the philosopher is declared victor‹he has what the others have and more.

Plato argues that pleasure and pain, since they are correlative and disunified, are only the manifestations of an alternative, transcendent state, which he dubs rest. Although there are pleasures that are good in themselves, smell is Plato's example, most pleasure, especially violent ones, cause or escape from pain. Likewise many pains can be considered as the absence of pleasure, e.g. desire. The rest state, however, is immutable, the eternal present, and is achieved through the acquisition of wisdom only, not honor or wealth as per the others. Rest is similar to the Buddhist doctrine of not-desiring; when one desires nothing, there is no pain.

The figure of the ideal soul is simply another form of illustration employed by Plato, in the same vein as a parable. The unjust man, who indulges his beastly inner nature, cannot keep up appearances forever: his peers must eventually know his faults and condemn him. The man guided by wisdom lives pleasantly in a State of the mind‹in fact, a divine State, in harmony with the Ideal, and irrespective of any State found on earth. He enjoys an inner peace unattainable by another path.