The Republic

The Republic Summary and Analysis of Book V

"On Matrimony and Philosophy"

Summary: Book V

Book V opens with the reappearance of Polermarchus, whose whispering in Adeimantus's ear attracts the attention of Socrates. Polermarchus reluctantly speaks up at Socrates' behest; he accuses the philosopher of laziness and of not answering some of the more practical questions regarding their State, such as early education, family, and community; in other words, social concerns. Somewhat weary of discoursing, Socrates says he would rather not reduce his philosophy to this level, but his audience demands it.

Part One: Matrimony

Warily, Socrates begins with women. He argues for a fundamental equality between the sexes; therefore, women should be given the same education, music and gymnasium, as their male counterparts. However, he says that though the two sexes share identical pursuits, comparatively, males quantitatively surpass females in these pursuits nearly always.

From the sexes, Socrates wades into deeper waters, the waters of family and community. The great "wave" Socrates creates for himself comes on through his assertion that the wives and children of the State be held in common. The auditors immediately reject the possibility of such a system, but Socrates first wishes to explain its utility. What follows is the notorious discourse on marriage, population control, and the proper breeding of citizens.

By means of deceptive lottery, marriage will most often be permitted to citizens of higher value (guardians). Intercourse to produce progeny will take place on the date of certain festivals, which seem akin to periodic mating seasons. And superior progeny are immediately placed in the care of wet nurses, while the inferior or deformed infants are "put away in some mysterious, unknown place." Abortion is legal and at the discretion of the guardians. Socrates' justification for his socialistic system is that, when everything is shared, there is unity: one citizen's individual pain or pleasure is at once collective.

Part Two: Philosophy

An elucidation of the reward of just behavior, of abjuring the capability to possess more than one's share for the sake of the community, begins Part Two of the fifth book. Socrates demonstrates how the brave men who comports himself nobly in war enjoys more pleasure than the coward. He describes the honoring of dead heroes, the rules of warfare, and the distinction between war and discord. At this time Socrates encounters the third "greatest and heaviest" wave‹that of possibility.

Socrates' response is initially rhetorical; he asks whether the ideal State, which they have delineated, can ever be translated into actuality. His question goes unanswered, except for his declaring that the highest possibility for the realization of such a state lies in philosophers becoming kings or kings becoming philosophers.

Both terms, philosopher and king, need clarification. Socrates approaches the philosopher first, who is defined as the lover of knowledge. Knowledge is then distinguished from ignorance and, lastly, from opinion; it emerges as the faculty enabling the philosopher to see his way to true, undifferentiated being, to absolute beauty and the immutable, to the ideal. Opinion, on the other hand, is the domain of the manifest and manifold, of correlatives and opposites, such as light and heavy, soft and hard, etc. And so the philosopher seeks, by definition, knowledge of true being above all else.

Analysis: Book V

Part One: Matrimony

If Plato's ideas about women are relatively modern, his system of community and matrimony is frighteningly futuristic, even now, over two millennia later. Socrates advances the system's position using analogies from hawk, horse, and dog breeding. Although he concedes before beginning that many will find it ludicrous, the fact is, it is less ludicrous than disturbing.

Would it be best for human beings to be bred? From Socrates' point of view, and accepting his presuppositions as they are, the answer is affirmative. Is it possible? we ask next, and join the apprehensive auditors. Definitively, no. But why not? Because, in short, it is too rigorously controlled; it must be instituted from a true beginning; and it must develop in abject isolation. The same obstacles apply to the economic plan, also communistic, that Socrates devises; in order to succeed, it would require a redistribution of property and wealth (or a fertile, unexplored, deserted island), which has never been done. Yet again‹we remind ourselves‹we are in the realm of speculation.

Part Two: Philosophy

The third and greatest wave Socrates is forced to meet introduces two famous and essential concepts: the theory of ideals, or forms, and the philosopher-king. The theory of forms manifests itself in Socrates' resistance to address possibility. It is dangerous for Socrates to comply with the entreaties of his auditors because his ideals, when made relative or manifest, shrink to mere versions of themselves and are no longer complete. Stalling to the last, however, Socrates eventually shares with them exactly how a state such as theirs can best be put in action. The unlikely method: replace rulers with philosophers, or convince politicians to study philosophy.

The theory of forms continues to develop under the auspices of the discussion of philosophy and the philosopher. Plato's epistemology is basically divided into three categories: non-being, manifest, and being. The sphere of non-being, or the nothing, belongs to the ignorant man; manifestation to the opinionated man; and being, of course, to the philosopher. The philosopher's mind, according to Plato, inhabits the highest and noblest sphere, the home of the forms, and ceaselessly aspires for truth and light.

At this point in The Republic, Plato begins the transition from the pure philosophy and state-building of the early books into the portrayals of the five types of people that comprise the middle books. Although Plato's argument favoring the superiority of justice over injustice would seem to have been resolved in Book IV, the dialogue has obviously not been concluded. Unconvinced in some way, Plato now directs the inquiries into more practical, political philosophy and even psychology. We move also from the individual as a general category to a set of very specific individuals.

The reason Socrates is so unenthusiastic about moving from philosophy to political and social philosophy proper is exemplified in the demands of auditors for possibility, or practical application, especially in his conception of communal living. Once Socrates descends from philosophical elevation, he must descend completely, and this means that, for better or worse, his ideas will now be limited, not to mention tried and tested pragmatically.