The Republic


By book

Book I

While visiting the Piraeus with Glaucon, Socrates is asked by Polemarchus to join him for a celebration. Cephalus, Polemarchus, and Thrasymachus are then each asked their definitions of justice by Socrates. Cephalus defines justice as giving what is owed. Polemarchus says justice is "the art which gives good to friends and evil to enemies". Thrasymachus proclaims "justice is nothing else than the interest of the stronger". Socrates overturns their definitions and says that it is your advantage to be just and disadvantage to be unjust. The first book ends in aporia concerning its essence.

Book II

Socrates believes he has appropriately answered to Thrasymachus and is done with the discussion of justice.

Socrates's young companions, Glaucon and Adeimantus, continue the argument of Thrasymachus for the sake of furthering the discussion. Glaucon gives a speech in which he argues first that the origin of justice was in social contracts aimed at preventing one from suffering injustice without having the ability to take revenge, second that all those who practice justice do so unwillingly and out of fear of punishment, and third that the life of the unjust man is far more blessed than that of the just man. Glaucon would like Socrates to prove that justice is not only desirable, but that it belongs to the highest class of desirable things: those desired both for their own sake and their consequences.

After Glaucon's speech, Adeimantus adds that, in this thought experiment, the unjust should not fear any sort of divine judgement in the afterlife, since the very poets who wrote about such judgement also wrote that the gods would grant forgiveness to those humans who made ample religious sacrifice. Adeimantus demonstrates his reason by drawing two detailed portraits, that the unjust man could grow wealthy by injustice, devoting a percentage of this gain to religious sacrifices, thus rendering him innocent in the eyes of the gods.

Socrates suggests that they look for justice in a city rather than in an individual man. They describe the origin and development of the city. Socrates first describes the "healthy state" but Glaucon calls it a "city of pigs." He then goes on to describe the luxurious city, which he calls "a fevered state."[8] This requires a guardian class to defend and attack on its account. This begins a discussion concerning the type of education that ought to be given to these guardians in their early years, including the topic of what kind of stories are appropriate. They conclude that stories that ascribe evil to the gods are untrue and should not be taught.

Book III

Socrates and his companions Adeimantus and Glaucon conclude their discussion concerning the education. Socrates breaks the educational system into two. Socrates, Adeimantus and Glaucon came to a conclusion that Poetry (libelous) and fiction should be taken out of the guardians' educational system. They rather suggested that guardians should be educated on these four virtues: wisdom, courage, justice and temperance. They also suggested that the second part of the guardians' education should be on gymnastics. With the physical training they will be able to live without getting medical attention often. In other words, the physical education or training will help prevent illness and weakness. In summary, Socrates asserts that both male and female guardians be given the same education, that all wives and children be shared, and that ownership of private property ought to be prohibited amongst them.

The following outlines stages that guardians should grow through before they are able to lead their people: Until age 18, would-be guardians are engaged in basic intellectual study and physical training, followed by two years of military training. Next, they receive ten years of mathematics until age 30, and then five years of dialectic training. Guardians then spend the next 15 years as leaders, trying to 'lead people from the cave' (note, this is figurative, not literal. It refers to 'the allegory of the cave'). Upon reaching 50, they are fully aware of the form of the good and totally mature—ready to lead.

Book IV

Socrates and his companions conclude their discussion concerning the lifestyle of the guardians, thus simultaneously concluding their initial assessment of the city as a whole. Socrates assumes each person will be happy engaging in the occupation that suits him best. If the city as a whole is happy, then individuals are happy. In the physical education and diet of the guardians, the emphasis is on moderation, neither too much nor too little. Without controlling their education, the city cannot control the future rulers. The absence of laws makes running the city simpler, but it places all the power with the guardians.

Finally Socrates defines justice. Cephalus defined justice as being honest and paying what is owed, Polemarchus as legal obligations and helping friends and harming foes. Both emphasize giving what is owed as appropriate. For Plato and Socrates, justice is fulfilling one's appropriate role, and consequently giving to the city what is owed. Socrates creates an analogy between the just city and the just man—both are defined by their different parts each performing its specific function. They thus proceed to search for the four cardinal excellences (virtues) of wisdom, courage, temperance and justice. They find wisdom among the guardian rulers, courage among the guardian warriors (or auxiliaries), temperance among all classes of the city in arguing who should rule and who ought to be ruled, and finally justice as the state in which each part of the whole performs only its work, not meddling in the performance of work belonging to other parts. Some of what has been discussed about the state is then applied to the soul, which was the aim of the state digression in the first place.

Book V

Socrates, having to his satisfaction defined the just constitution of both city and psyche, moves to elaborate upon the four unjust constitutions of the same. Adeimantus and Polemarchus interrupt, asking Socrates instead to first explain how the sharing of wives and children in the guardian class is to be defined and legislated, a theme first touched on in Book III. Socrates is overwhelmed at their request, categorizing it as three 'waves' of attack which his reasoning must stand firm against. These three waves challenge Socrates' claims that (1) both male and female guardians ought to receive the same education, that (2) human reproduction ought to be regulated by the state and that all offspring should be ignorant of their actual biological parents and that (3) such a city and its corresponding philosopher-king could actually come to be in the real world.

Book VI

Socrates argument is that in the ideal city, a true Philosopher with understanding of forms will facilitate the harmonious co-operation of all the citizens of the city. This philosopher-king must be intelligent, reliable, and willing to lead a simple life. However, these qualities are rarely manifested on their own, and so they must be encouraged through education and the study of the Good. Just as visible objects must be illuminated in order to be seen, so must also be true of objects of knowledge if light is cast on them. Just as light comes from the sun, so does truth come from goodness. Goodness as the source of truth makes it possible for the mind to know, just as light from the sun makes the eyes able to see.

Book VII

Socrates elaborates upon the immediately preceding Analogies of the Sun and Divided Line in the Allegory of the Cave, in which he insists that the psyche must be freed from bondage to the visible/sensible world by making the painful journey into the intelligible world. He continues in the rest of this book by further elaborating upon the curriculum which a would-be philosopher-king must study.


Socrates discusses four unjust cities or governments. Those governments are timocracy, oligarchy, democracy, and tyranny. He uses these four governments to prove the point that soon the city will go through every single stage and then reach the final destructive phase which would be tyranny. The starting point is Aristocracy, a just government dominated by the wisdom-loving element. When its social structure breaks down and enters civil war, it is replaced by Timocracy. The Timocratic government is dominated by the spirited element, with a ruling class of warriors or generals (Ancient Sparta is an example). As the emphasis on honor is compromised by wealth accumulation, it is replaced by Oligarchy. The Oligarchic government is dominated by the desiring element, in which the rich are the ruling class. The gap between rich and poor widens, culminating in a revolt by the underclass majority, establishing a Democracy. Democracy emphasizes maximum freedom, so power is distributed evenly. It is also dominated by the desiring element, but in an undisciplined, unrestrained way. The populism of the Democratic government leads to mob rule, fueled by fear of oligarchy, which a clever demagogue can exploit to take power and establish Tyranny. In a Tyrannical government, the city is enslaved to the tyrant, who uses his guards to remove the best social elements and individuals from the city to retain power (since they pose a threat), while leaving the worst. He will also provoke warfare to consolidate his position as leader. In this way, tyranny is the most unjust regime of all.

In parallel to this, Socrates considers the individual or soul that corresponds to each of these regimes. He describes how an aristocrat may become weak or detached from political and material affluence, and how his son will respond to this by becoming overly ambitious. The timocrat in turn may be defeated by the courts or vested interests; his son responds by accumulating wealth in order to gain power in society and defend himself against the same predicament, thereby becoming an oligarch. The oligarch's son will grow up with wealth without having to practice thrift or stinginess, and will be tempted and overwhelmed by his desires, so that he becomes democratic, valuing freedom above all.

Book IX

Having discussed the tyrannical constitution of a city, Socrates wishes to discuss the tyrannical constitution of a psyche. This is all intended to answer Thrasymachus' earliest argument in Book I, that the life of the unjust man (here understood as a true tyrant) is more blessed than that of the just man. The discussion concludes by refuting Thrasymachus' argument and designating the most blessed life as that of the just man and the most miserable life as that of the unjust man.

Book X

Concluding a theme brought up most explicitly in the Analogies of the Sun and Divided Line in Book VI, Socrates finally rejects any form of imitative art and concludes that such artists have no place in the just city. He continues on to argue for the immortality of the psyche and even espouses a theory of reincarnation. He finishes by detailing the rewards of being just, both in this life and the next. Artists create things but they are only different copies of the idea of the original. "And whenever any one informs us that he has found a man knows all the arts, and all things else that anybody knows, and every single thing with a higher degree of accuracy than any other man — whoever tells us this, I think that we can only imagine to be a simple creature who is likely to have been deceived by some wizard or actor whom he met, and whom he thought all-knowing, because he himself was unable to analyze the nature of knowledge and ignorance and imitation."[9]

″Three interpretations of the Republic are presented in the following contents of the present section; they are not exhaustive in their treatments of the work, but are examples of contemporary interpretation.″[9]

"And the same object appears straight when looked at out of the water, and crooked when in the water; and the concave becomes convex, owing to the illusion about colours to which the sight is liable. Thus every sort of confusion is revealed within us; and this is that weakness of the human mind on which the art of conjuring and deceiving by light and shadow and other ingenous devices imposes, having an effect upon us like magic."[9]

He speaks about illusions and confusion. Things can look very similar, but realistically be different. Because we are human, we at times cannot tell the difference between the two.

"And does not the same hold also of the ridiculous? There are jests which you would be ashamed to make yourself, and yet on the comic stage, or indeed in private, when you hear them, you are greatly amused by them, and are not at all disgusted at their unseemliness; — the case of pity is repeated; — there is a principle in human nature which is disposed to raise a laugh, and this which you once restrained by reason, because you were afraid of being thought a buffoon, is now let out again; and having stimulated the risible faculty at the theatre, you are betrayed unconsciously to yourself into playing the comic poet at home."

With all of us, we may approve of something, as long we are not directly involved with it. If we joke about it, we are supporting it.

"Quite true, he said. And the same may be said of lust and anger and all the other affections, of desire and pain and pleasure, which are held to be inseparable from every action — in all of them poetry feeds and waters the passions instead of drying them up; she lets them rule, although they ought to be controlled, if mankind are ever to increase in happiness and virtue."[9]

We at times let our passions rule our actions or way of thinking, although they should be controlled, so we can increase our happiness.

Bertrand Russell

In his A History of Western Philosophy (1945), Bertrand Russell identifies three parts to the Republic:[10]

  1. Books I–V: the eutopia portraying the ideal community and the education of the Guardians, parting from attempting to define justice;
  2. Books VI–VII: define “philosopher”, since philosophers are the ideal rulers of such a community;
  3. Books VIII–X: discuss the pros and cons of various practical forms of government.

The core of the second part is discussed in the Allegory of the Cave, and articles related to the Theory of (ideal) forms. The third part concerns the Five regimes and is strongly related to The Laws dialogue; and the Myth of Er.

Cornford, Hildebrandt, and Voegelin

Francis Cornford, Kurt Hildebrandt, and Eric Voegelin contributed to an establishment of sub-divisions marked with special formulae in Greek:

I.1. 327a–328b. Descent to the Piraeus
I.2–I.5. 328b–331d. Cephalus. Justice of the Older Generation
I.6–1.9. 331e–336a. Polemarchus. Justice of the Middle Generation
I.10–1.24. 336b–354c. Thrasymachus. Justice of the Sophist
II.1–II.10. 357a–369b. The Question: Is Justice better than Injustice?
Part I: Genesis and Order of the Polis 
II.11–II.16. 369b–376e. Genesis of the Polis
II.16–III.18. 376e–412b. Education of the Guardians
III.19–IV.5. 412b–427c. Constitution of the Polis
IV.6–IV.19. 427c–445e. Justice in the Polis
Part II: Embodiment of the Idea
V.1–V.16. 449a–471c. Somatic Unit of Polis and Hellenes
V.17–VI.14. 471c–502c. Rule of the Philosophers
VI.19–VII.5. 502c–521c. The Idea of the Agathon
VII.6–VII.18. 521c–541b. Education of the Philosophers
Part III: Decline of the Polis
VIII.1–VIII.5. 543a–550c. Timocracy
VIII.6–VIII.9. 550c–555b. Oligarchy
VIII.10–VIII.13. 555b–562a. Democracy
VIII.14–IX.3. 562a–576b. Tyranny
IX.4–IX.13. 576b–592b Answer: Justice is Better than Injustice.
X.1–X.8. 595a–608b. Rejection of Mimetic Art
X.9–X.11. 608c–612a. Immortality of the Soul
X.12. 612a–613e. Rewards of Justice in Life
X.13–X.16. 613e–621d. Judgment of the Dead

The paradigm of the city — the idea of the Good, the Agathon — has manifold historical embodiments, undertaken by those who have seen the Agathon, and are ordered via the vision. The centre piece of the Republic, Part II, nos. 2–3, discusses the rule of the philosopher, and the vision of the Agathon with the allegory of the cave, which is clarified in the theory of forms. The centre piece is preceded and followed by the discussion of the means that will secure a well-ordered polis (City). Part II, no. 1, concerns marriage, the community of people and goods for the Guardians, and the restraints on warfare among the Hellenes. It describes a partially communistic polis. Part II, no. 4, deals with the philosophical education of the rulers who will preserve the order and character of the city-state.

In Part II, the Embodiment of the Idea, is preceded by the establishment of the economic and social orders of a polis (Part I), followed by an analysis (Part III) of the decline the order must traverse. The three parts compose the main body of the dialogues, with their discussions of the “paradigm”, its embodiment, its genesis, and its decline.

The Introduction and the Conclusion are the frame for the body of the Republic. The discussion of right order is occasioned by the questions: “Is Justice better than Injustice?” and “Will an Unjust man fare better than a Just man?” The introductory question is balanced by the concluding answer: “Justice is preferable to Injustice”. In turn, the foregoing are framed with the Prologue (Book I) and the Epilogue (Book X). The prologue is a short dialogue about the common public doxai (opinions) about “Justice”. Based upon faith, and not reason, the Epilogue describes the new arts and the immortality of the soul.

Leo Strauss

Leo Strauss identified a four-part structure to the Republic, perceiving the dialogues as a drama enacted by particular characters, each with a particular perspective and level of intellect:

  1. Book I: Socrates is forcefully compelled to the house of Cephalus. Three definitions of justice are presented, all are found lacking.
  2. Books II–V: Glaucon and Adeimantus challenge Socrates to prove: Why a perfectly just man, perceived by the world as an unjust man, would be happier than the perfectly unjust man who hides his injustice and is perceived by the world as a just man? Their challenge begins and propels the dialogues; in answering the challenge, of the “charge,” Socrates reveals his behavior with the young men of Athens, whom he later was convicted of corrupting. Because Glaucon and Adeimantus presume a definition of “Justice,” Socrates digresses; he compels the group’s attempt to discover justice, and then answers the question posed to him about the intrinsic value of the just life.
  3. Books V–VI: The “Just City in Speech” is built from the earlier books, and concerns three critiques of the city. Leo Strauss reported that his student Allan Bloom identified them as: communism, communism of wives and children, and the rule of philosophers. The “Just City in Speech” stands or falls by these complications.
  4. Books VII–X: Socrates has “escaped” his captors, having momentarily convinced them that the just man is the happy man, by reinforcing their prejudices. He presents a rationale for political decay, and concludes by recounting The Myth of Er (“everyman”), consolation for non-philosophers who fear death.

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