Republic Summary – Plato

Republic Summary - Plato
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Plato‘s work “The Republic” is an essay that depicts the model of the state envisioned by Socrates for a healthy and happy communal life. This text is considered a foundational source in contemporary political philosophy and philosophy of happiness. In this work, Plato extensively discusses Socrates’ thoughts and views, presenting detailed insights into how an ideal society should be. Through the dialogues of Socrates, fundamental concepts such as justice, the structure of the state, education, wisdom, and virtue are examined, and a societal model is constructed based on these principles. The work is recognized as a significant contribution to the author’s political philosophy, serving as a testament to the philosopher’s intellectual legacy.

Summary of Republic Book

Plato’s strategy in his work is to first explain the concept of social or political justice and then derive the concept of individual justice based on this foundation. In Books II, III, and IV, Plato defines political justice as harmony within a political body. He states that an ideal society consists of three main classes: producers (craftsmen, farmers, artisans, etc.), guardians (rulers), and auxiliaries (warriors). A society is considered just when the relationships between these three classes are correct. Each class must perform its designated function, and power positions should be proportionate. Rulers should rule, auxiliaries should support the rulers, and producers should engage in their respective areas of expertise without interfering in other tasks.

At the end of Book IV, Plato attempts to argue that individual justice reflects political justice. He asserts that each individual’s soul has a tripartite structure similar to the three classes of a society. Rational part of the soul wants to see truth and is responsible for philosophical inclinations; the spirited part desires honor and is responsible for emotions like anger; the appetitive part desires everything, especially wealth (as money can fulfill other basic desires).

An just individual can be defined by comparing them to a just society; the three parts of the soul establish a certain order of power and influence among themselves. In a just individual, the rational part is dominant, the spirited part supports this order, and the appetitive part follows and adheres to the path determined by reason. In other words, just as in a just society where all classes aim to fulfill the will of the rulers, in a just individual, the entire soul aims to fulfill the hungry of the rational part.

The similarities between a just society and a just individual are profound. In fact, each of the three classes of society is dominated by one part of the soul. The desires of producers, namely wealth, luxury, and pleasure, are dominant. The spirits of warriors are dominated by the part that makes them brave. Rulers are ruled by their rational parts and strive for wisdom. Books V to VII focus on the philosopher-king.

While developing the Theory of Forms, Plato explains who these individuals are. Plato states that the world is divided into two realms: the visible (perceived through our senses) and the intelligible (comprehensible only through reason). The visible world is the universe we see around us. The intelligible world consists of Forms, abstract, unchanging absolutes that exist in a permanent relationship. Only Forms are objects of knowledge because they possess eternal, unchanging truth that the mind must grasp.

Only those trained to comprehend Forms, namely philosophers, can know everything. Philosophers constitute the only class of individuals with the potential to become philosopher-kings, and they are also the most just individuals. After comparing philosopher-kings with the most unjust individuals represented by tyrants ruled by entirely irrational appetites, Plato claims that justice is valuable for its own sake. In Book IX, he presents three arguments to conclude that being just is desirable.

By portraying the psychological portrait of a tyrant, he attempts to prove that injustice tortures an individual’s soul, whereas a just soul is healthy, happy, free of trouble, and calm. Then, despite having their own concepts of pleasure and corresponding notions of a good life – each choosing their own life as the most pleasant – he argues that only a philosopher can pass judgment on this.

This is because only a philosopher has experienced and evaluated all three types of pleasures. Other characters must accept the judgment of the philosopher and conclude that the pleasures associated with philosophy are the most pleasant and therefore that a just life is the most pleasant. Plato endeavors to show that only philosophical pleasure is true pleasure; all other pleasures are nothing more than temporary relief from pain.

Plato concludes “The Republic” with a surprising note. After defining justice and positioning it as the greatest good, he banishes poets from his ideal city. He claims that poets appeal to the lowest part of the soul by imitating unjust tendencies. He asserts that poetry directs us towards satisfying these emotions in life, leading us to nurture base feelings through sympathy for characters we hear about. In summary, poetry makes us unjust. In the closing, Plato recounts the Myth of Er, describing the post-mortem journey of the soul. Just souls are rewarded for a thousand years, while not just ones are punished for the same duration. Then, each soul must choose its next life.

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