The Republic

The Republic Summary and Analysis of Book IV

"Wealth, Poverty, and Virtue"

Summary: Book IV

Book IV begins with a question posed by Adeimantus: what happiness is there for the guardians? Socrates' quick rebuff directs Adeimantus to the original premise; their State is utilitarian, and does not serve the good of one class to the detriment of another. Moreover, the guardians would count duty to the State among their highest virtues.

Continuing to build and broaden, Socrates' must solve the problem of how the State, devaluing wealth, would defend itself. First he reminds his listeners that their citizens are neither rich and lazy nor poor and destitute; indeed, through their education, they would all be worthy and robust warriors. Second, since they do not love money, they would be able to form advantageous alliances, offering the undesired spoils of victory to these allies. And finally the State's cohesion and unity would protect it from inner strife, a major weakness in other states and during conflict in particular.

Believing they have accomplished the first part of their goal, Socrates revivifies the debate on justice. He suggests they once again go in search of the elusive virtue, this time by discriminating among its complements. At this point, to Socrates and his auditors, the State is perfect, and thus it must contain justice‹they need only separate one virtue from the next.

Socrates defines wisdom as good counsel, and he finds it embodied in the guardians, whose job it is to lead. Courage resides in those who fight; it is shown to be knowledge of the nature of fear. And temperance, "the ordering and controlling of certain pleasures and desires," is uniquely present in all citizens, by their own choice or otherwise. With three of the four cardinal virtues now uncovered, the philosophers begin to hunt for justice.

Justice, Socrates tentatively concludes, must live in the stipulation that each man practice only the one thing most suitable to his nature; there is no other place left. But at the moment it looks as though justice will be grappled with once and for all, Socrates digresses. However, the digression, which determines the soul to have three commensurate principles (reason, appetite, and spirit) to those of the State, eventually and characteristically leads back to justice. In the meantime the philosophers have gained a bit of related knowledge.

Socrates has set the stage for the final solution. Rapidly, he and his auditors culminate everything they have learned so far. Socrates then connects the hierarchical organization of the State to the harmony of the individual. There are three principles at work in both, and one is the microcosm of the other. Since the nature of the State and the nature of the individual are analogous, Socrates argues, the nature of justice must also be analogous. Thus he applies his earlier ideas about State justice to the individual. For Socrates, justice in the individual is harmony among the three principles of the soul, achieved by rationality, or reason‹the wisest faculty (in terms of the State, the guardians). Having reached their goal, the philosophers decide to examine in the next book the different ways that the ideal State may be governed or misgoverned.

Analysis: Book IV

Adeimantus' early objection falls into the category of luxury, where an object no longer only serves its purpose, but has become an end in itself. His complaint for the perceived lack of enjoyment in the lives of the guardians, while human, has no place in the debate at this point. Guardians are objectified, in the sense that they have an essential role , or purpose within the State, and are educated and trained to serve its greater causes.

Throughout the discourse on guardians, defense, and legislature, Plato, through his mouthpiece Socrates, continually reiterates the importance of education, of the harmonious balance between music and gymnastics that will guide the citizens through life. This emphasis should not be ignored. Plato places great, if not primary, value on education. The prudent, early nurturing citizens of the State receive readies them for smaller tasks that Socrates admits in the dialogue he has no time to address. It is the carefully prepared wool ground, Socrates illustrates in an extended metaphor, on which the dyer sets his vivid colors. Plato's famous Academy, ancient prototype for the university, was constructed with the same principles in mind.

Socrates reveals justice at work in the State through a process of elimination. But, in fact, as Socrates himself notes, it was built into the State from the beginning. That each man practice what he is best adapted to was one of the State's very basic provisions. It is the archaic formulation of Immanuel Kant's marriage of the object with its purpose. But if this justice, then it seems grossly oversimplified, since a man is capable of performing a multiplicity of tasks well, and is not described by his occupation only. Socrates, however, is not finished yet.

The parallel between State and individual that had been slowly and surreptitiously developing through the last three dialogues comes into full view at the end of Book IV. It was Socrates' plan to construct the perfect State first‹which they profess to have done‹, and then to examine an individual citizen of the State, in order to "define" justice. Finally Socrates divulges his parallel. The State is the macrocosm of the individual; they share one another's principles. Socrates has "proven" the existence of justice in the State; therefore, since the faculties of the individual correspond on a smaller scale to those of the State, justice must also exist in the individual. Not surprisingly, Socrates pushes on, showing how justice for the individual is the realization of an internal harmony among his own disparate parts‹his reason, appetite, and spirit.