On Plato’s Republic, 5

Index to this series

Our fifth scheduled reading in the Republic is Book IV (Stephanus pages 419–45). Socrates speaks

  • with Adeimantus, through the completion of the construction of the city in speech;
  • with Glaucon, after he insists (427d) that Socrates join in the search for justice in the city; they find it and map it back to the individual.

Three dogs sit in the shade of a beach umbrella
Intellect, spirit, and appetite
Profesörler Sitesi, Altınova, Balıkesir, Turkey
September 13, 2021

Before proposing a general summary, I shall note the following highlights of the reading. At the end I make some further remarks on one of these, the Law of Contradiction.


  1. Common [they are,] the things of friends, κοινὰ τὰ [τῶν] φίλων (424a). Aristotle refers to this in Book II, Chapter 1 of the Politics, 1260b1a:

    ἀνάγκη γὰρ

    • ἤτοι πάντας πάντων κοινωνεῖν τοὺς πολίτας,
    • ἢ μηδενός,
      • τινῶν μὲν
      • τινῶν δὲ μή …

    ἐνδέχεται γὰρ

    • καὶ τέκνων
    • καὶ γυναικῶν
    • καὶ κτημάτων

    κοινωνεῖν τοὺς πολίτας ἀλλήλοις, ὥσπερ ἐν τῇ Πολιτείᾳ τῇ Πλάτωνος: ἐκεῖ γὰρ ὁ Σωκράτης φησὶ δεῖν κοινὰ

    • τὰ τέκνα καὶ
    • τὰς γυναῖκας εἶναι καὶ
    • τὰς κτήσεις.

    For necessarily all citizens hold in common all things, none, or some …

    For example, possibly the citizens have children, wives and possessions in common with each other, as in Plato’s Republic, where Socrates says there must be community of children, women and possessions.

  2. Starting well (424a). The Republic is what Aristotle calls Πολιτεία, which has the English form Polity. Of the polity that is being constructed in speech, Socrates speaks as follows, in a way that makes sense to a young person such as Adeimantus.

    πολιτεία, ἐάνπερ ἅπαξ ὁρμήσῃ εὖ, ἔρχεται ὥσπερ κύκλος αὐξανομένη.

    The state, if it once starts well, proceeds as it were in a cycle of growth. (Shorey)

    The regime, once well started, will roll on like a circle in its growth. (Bloom)

    This sounds like part of something said by Thoreau (born 1817), in another plan for a new state, or for a revolution in an old one. This is from “Civil Disobedience,” called originally “Resistance to Civil Government” (1849; bold emphasis mine, as usual):

    I know this well, that if one thousand, if one hundred, if ten men whom I could name, – if ten honest men only, – aye, if one honest man, in this State of Massachusetts, ceasing to hold slaves, were actually to withdraw from this copartnership, and be locked up in the county jail therefor, it would be the abolition of slavery in America. For it matters not how small the beginning may seem to be: what is once well done is done for ever. But we love better to talk about it: that we say is our mission.

    See also Thoreau’s “Chastity & Sensuality” (which originated in a letter to a friend, Harrison G. O. Blake, in September, 1852):

    Let Love be purified and all the rest will follow. A pure love is thus indeed the panacea for all the ills of the world.

    I ask what will keep love pure and the regime on track. Pirsig has a more realistic remark in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance:

    It’s nice to start journeys pleasantly, even when you know they won’t end that way.

    He is alluding to the philosophical journey of his former self into the concept of Quality. Here is the whole paragraph, from Chapter 16, the first of Part III:

    Today now I want to take up the first phase of his journey into Quality, the nonmetaphysical phase, and this will be pleasant. It’s nice to start journeys pleasantly, even when you know they won’t end that way. Using his class notes as reference material I want to reconstruct the way in which Quality became a working concept for him in the teaching of rhetoric. His second phase, the metaphysical one, was tenuous and speculative, but this first phase, in which he simply taught rhetoric, was by all accounts solid and pragmatic and probably deserves to be judged on its own merits, independently of the second phase.

  3. Reform (425d, 426ab) The philosophical journey of Socrates as a person will end when the Athenian polity put him to death. Plato has alluded to this execution with a comment on people who are suffering, but will not change their habits. In Jowett’s translation (which is smoother than Bloom’s),

    the charming thing is that they deem him their worst enemy who tells them the truth, which is simply that, unless they give up eating and drinking and wenching and idling, neither drug nor cautery nor spell nor amulet nor any other remedy will avail.

    This has come up, because Adeimantus has concluded that there’s no point trying “to dictate to good and honourable men,” in Shorey’s literal translation of ἀνδράσι καλοῖς κἀγαθοῖς ἐπιτάττειν; in Bloom’s interpretation, “to dictate to gentlemen.” If these gentlemen have not preserved the laws of the regime just mentioned, then as Adeimantus says, “they’ll spend their lives continually setting down many such rules and correcting them.” They will be like the sick people whom Socrates speaks of.

  4. Religion (427b). To complete the city, Socrates leaves to Apollo at Delphi the laws about

    Foundings of temples, sacrifices, and whatever else belongs to the care of gods, demons, and heroes; further, burial of the dead and all the services needed to keep those in that other place gracious.

    In Books II and III, he restricted what could be said about the supernatural. Gods could not change form or cause evil, and the underworld could not be scary.

  5. Being dyed in the wool (427e, 429b–c, 429d) Working with Glaucon, Socrates proposes to find the justice of the city after its wisdom, courage, and moderation. The courage he means is the preservation of an opinion about the things that are properly fearsome or “terrible” (δεινός, as in “dinosaur”); and this opinion is to be induced by the training (παιδεία) enjoined by the lawgiver (νομοθέτης).

    Socrates likens the training to dying wool purple. For the dye to be fast, the right wool must be selected and treated.

    I infer from Shorey’s citation that the method of treatment of wool is known. What treatment of the human subject is contemplated – might it be called brainwashing? It could be as seemingly innocuous as what is described in the first of the 101 Zen Stories,A Cup of Tea”:

    Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868–1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.

    Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring.

    The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!”

    “Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”

    It could however be such treatment as David Kortava describes in “Lost in Thought: The psychological risks of meditation” (Harper’s, April, 2021):

    I put the same question to Matcheri Keshavan, a neuroscientist and psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School. He thought it was possible [“under the right conditions, for otherwise healthy individuals to be harmed by meditation”]. There are reliable ways to induce psychosis and other disturbances in a healthy subject – via drugs, sleep deprivation, and prolonged confinement or isolation. “If you deprive the brain of normal inputs – through sensory or social deprivation – that can produce psychosis,” he said. “And you can think of prolonged meditation as a form of deprivation.” The brain is accustomed to a certain amount of activity. When you’re sitting motionless with your eyes closed for ten or more hours a day, he said, neurons can start firing on their own, unprompted by external stimulation, “and this might lead to unusual phenomena, which we call psychosis.”

    The training of the guardians could even just be like a boarding school for children where

    we developed a gangster loyalty to self-contained cliques, scared to death of being cast out as we had been from home,

    according to Richard Beard in “Why public schoolboys like me and Boris Johnson aren’t fit to run our country” (The Observer, August 8, 2021; I looked at this in “On Being Human in the Age of Humanity”).

  6. Trained political courage (430b, 430c). Asked whether he would say anything else concerning Socrates’s definition of courage, Glaucon says that its coming specifically by training is important:

    in my opinion, you regard the right opinion about these same things that comes to be without education – that found in beasts and slaves – as not at all lawful and call it something other than courage.

    The reference could be to the same distinction that is made in the conversation between King Xerxes of Persia and the exiled King Demaratus of Sparta that I took up in “We the Pears of the Wild Coyote Tree.” Xerxes is invading Greece, and in the battles to come, he expects (according to Herodotus) that the better fighting will come from his own men, since they are effectively his slaves. Demaratus says free men such as the Spartans will fight better, since the law is their master.

    Socrates makes the refinement that what they have defined is political courage, the courage of a citizen; but there is a better kind:

    Later, if you want, we’ll give it a still finer treatment. At the moment we weren’t looking for it, but for justice. For that search, I suppose, this is sufficient.

    Stay tuned.

  7. Justice (433a–b). Socrates proposes a definition of justice, summarized in the formula,

    τὸ τὰ αὑτοῦ πράττειν,
    to do one’s own business (Jowett),
    the principle of doing one’s own business (Shorey),
    the practice of minding one’s own business (Bloom).

    Most literally, the Greek is just “the doing of the [things] of one’s own.” Socrates has a longer form including “not being a busybody” (μὴ πολυπραγμονεῖν). Badiou does not translate at this point, but has Socrates say (pages 128–9),

    justice is the following: everyone can improve the particular aptitudes he regards as uniquely his own while preparing, with the same eagerness, to become what Marx called a “polymorphous worker,” a human animal who, from bricklayer of either sex to mathematician of either sex, from cleaning woman or man to poet, from soldier of either sex to doctor, from mechanic of either sex to architect, leaves none of the possibilities afforded them by their own times outside their scope of action … Only the dialectical relationship between localization and openness can guarantee any subjective aptitude its social or collective vigor. It’s basically the actual process of this dialectical relationship that is called “justice.”

    All of this may be implicit in the original Greek, as the tree is implicit in the seed, or as David Hilbert’s Foundations of Geometry is implicit in Euclid’s Elements (but I think that would be a stretch). Meanwhile, Thoreau channels Socrates by writing in “Life Without Principle” (originating as the lecture “Getting a Living,” 1854):

    The community has no bribe that will tempt a wise man. You may raise money enough to tunnel a mountain, but you cannot raise money enough to hire a man who is minding his own business. An efficient and valuable man does what he can, whether the community pay him or not.

    Socrates is concerned about the community – as is Thoreau, since otherwise he would not be lecturing them. Socrates has told Adeimantus that the regime being constructed will be able to defend itself just fine against a rich city, since the latter will be riven by faction (422e–3a). The good regime will not be too large to be united (423c). It’s not clear how unity would be possible if people’s own business were not somehow everybody else’s, as in an orchestra.

  8. The beautiful are hard (435c). Glaucon invokes a proverb that I have taught to students of mathematics in Istanbul:

    Χαλεπὰ τὰ καλά.
    Zordur güzeller.
    Difficult they are, the fine things.

    Glaucon is confronting the question of whether there is really an analogy between the city, which has three classes of citizens, and the individual soul, which would then have three parts.

  9. Contradiction (436b). To establish the analogy, Socrates formulates the Law of Contradiction:

    It’s plain that the same thing won’t be willing at the same time to do or suffer opposites with respect to the same part and in relation to the same thing.

    According to Bloom,

    This is the earliest-known statement of the principle of contradiction – the premise of philosophy and the foundation of rational discourse.

    In counterpoint to this, here is Collingwood from his first book, Religion and Philosophy (1916), on

    the fundamental axiom of all thinking, namely that whatever exists stands in some definite relation to the other things that exist.

    As I recalled in “Interconnectedness,” I wrote my senior essay in college about the Law of Contradiction; however, my text then was Aristotle’s Metaphysics, not Plato’s Republic.

  10. Health (444c, 445a–b). At the end of Book IV, Glaucon is satisfied with the answer to his challenge from the beginning of Book II (357ab), namely:

    Socrates, do you want to seem to have persuaded us, or truly to persuade us, that it is in every way better to be just than unjust? … you’re not doing what you want.

    The analogy between city and soul is not enough of an answer; Glaucon needs an analogy between body and soul. As Socrates ends up explaining, what health is to the body, justice is to the soul. Glaucon concludes:

    If life doesn’t seem livable with the body’s nature corrupted, not even with every sort of food and drink and every sort of wealth and every sort of rule, will it then be livable when the nature of that very thing by which we live is confused and corrupted, even if a man does whatever else he might want except that which will rid him of vice and injustice and will enable him to acquire justice and virtue?

    We may recall that Glaucon originally preferred what Socrates called the fevered or feverish city (φλεγμαίνουσαν πόλιν, 372e).


Book IV as a whole proceeds as follows, in two parts, corresponding to whether Adeimantus or Glaucon is Socrates’s interlocutor.

Finishing Touches

At the end of Book III, we learned that the guardians would live together in a military camp with no possessions. Adeimantus complains that the guardians will not be happy. Socrates responds that the happiness of the city as a whole is our goal. When you paint a statue, though the eyes be the fairest part, you paint them black, not the royal color purple.

The workers in the city, the “craftsmen,” will also not be allowed to become rich – or poor for that matter.

Adeimantus also wants to know how a poor city can make war against a rich one. It will do even better, says Socrates, against two rich cities, just as a trained boxer can “easily fight with two rich, fat nonboxers” (422b). The poor city can successfully ally with one rich city against another, since it will not expect a share of the booty. One rich city will be like two or more anyway, since it will have factions.

Our city must be not too small or big. Everything about the city will follow, though, once the regime is well started (423e–4a). This includes

that the possession of women, marriage, and procreation of children must as far as possible be arranged according to the proverb that friends have all things in common.

The boys will want to come back to this in Book V, and in Book VI (502d), Socrates will regret having skipped it. Meanwhile, he says, to keep things going right (424b),

there must be no innovation in gymnastic and music contrary to the established order.

This is about παίδευσις or παιδεία, translated as “education,” but “training” may be the better word.

What’s the difference? A friend has tried to show that there is a difference by asking whether parents want their children to receive sex education or sex training. I assumed the answer was obvious, that parents wanted sex education for their children. However, they might prefer training, if the training was not in sexual congress, but in avoiding it through the kind of self-restraint that Socrates is trying to lead Glaucon and Adeimantus towards.

Education is open to innovation. It gives students problems not faced before, by themselves at least, and ultimately by anybody; and it gives students the freedom to fail in solving those problems.

The problem of one’s own growing up has never been faced by anybody else. Other persons have probably faced similar problems, at least, and this is why I appreciate the answer of an English teacher, Paul Piazza, to my question of why we had English class: “So that you can find a writer that you like.”

Here again is that writer I like, Thoreau, in “The Last Days of John Brown” (1860), on the impossibility of properly liberal education in a state that tolerates slavery or other tyranny:

We seem to have forgotten that the expression, a liberal education, originally meant among the Romans one worthy of free men; while the learning of trades and professions by which to get your livelihood merely, was considered worthy of slaves only. By taking a hint from the word, I would go a step further and say, that it is not the man of wealth and leisure simply, though devoted to art, or science, or literature, who, in a true sense, is liberally educated, but only the earnest and free man. In a slaveholding country like this, there can be no such thing as a liberal education tolerated by the State; and those scholars of Austria and France who, however learned they may be, are contented under their tyrannies, have received only a servile education.

It is not clear to me whether the city being constructed in the Republic will have slaves; however, their presence may go without saying to Socrates’s listeners, as does the presence of domestic animals.

At 427cd, the city being complete, Socrates tells Adeimantus, along with the others, to figure out where justice and injustice are and which of them the happy man must have.

The Search for Justice

Glaucon now comes in to remind Socrates that he said he would help. Socrates makes a peculiar argument.

  • The city, if correctly founded, is perfectly good.
  • In this case, it is wise, courageous, moderate, and just.
  • If we figure out what makes it the first three, then what remains will make it just.
  • Wisdom is in the rulers.
  • Courage is in the soldiers (it is put there like dye in wool, as above).
  • Moderation is in the city’s mastery of itself, through unity of opinion over who should rule.
  • “Justice is the minding of one’s own business and not being a busybody” (433a, as above).

At 434d, we turn to figuring out justice in the individual. Within each of us, we can distinguish

  • desire,
  • anger or spirit,
  • speech, calculation, or reason.

Justice is the rule over desire by reason with the help of spirit.

In the end, we turn to identifying forms of injustice; there will be four, to be taken up later.

The Law of Contradiction

As a senior at St John’s College reading the Metaphysics in a preceptorial, I must have been intrigued that Aristotle would try to prove the Law of Contradiction. I recall noting the conflict within Hector, seen in Book VI of the Iliad: there was a hope that his son would be known as the better man, along with the contradictory expectation that the same son would soon be thrown to his death from the walls of Troy. Perhaps that throwing is not made explicit; however, Hector does expect Troy to fall to the Greeks. Here is Butler’s translation:

Hector had named him Scamandrius, but the people called him Astyanax [“lord of the city”], for his father stood alone as chief guardian of Ilius … “Well do I know that the day will surely come when mighty Ilius shall be destroyed with Priam and Priam’s people, but I grieve for none of these … as for yourself when the day shall come on which some one of the Achaeans shall rob you for ever of your freedom, and bear you weeping away.” … He stretched his arms towards his child, but the boy cried and nestled in his nurse’s bosom, scared at the sight of his father’s armour, and at the horse-hair plume that nodded fiercely from his helmet … “Jove,” he cried, “grant that this my child may be even as myself, chief among the Trojans; let him be not less excellent in strength, and let him rule Ilius with his might. Then may one say of him as he comes from battle, ‘The son is far better than the father.’ May he bring back the blood-stained spoils of him whom he has laid low, and let his mother’s heart be glad.’”

Taking up the Law of Contradiction, Socrates rejects the hypothetical counterexamples of

  • a man standing still while moving his arms and head,
  • a top spinning in one place.

But then he just says,

All the same, so we won’t be compelled to go through all such objections and spend a long time assuring ourselves they’re not true, let’s assume that this is so and go ahead, agreed that if it should ever appear otherwise, all our conclusions based on it will be undone.

Above I noted Collingwood’s principle that everything is related to everything else. If somebody says P, and elsewhere says not-P, there may be good reason.

Revised October 22, 2021, when I added Κοινὰ τὰ τῶν φίλων and the community of women and children. Edited further October 2, 2022

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