GreatLiterature.org Home
ADD TO DEL.ICIO.US


Plato
The Republic

Introduction

THE REPUBLIC

by Plato
(360 B.C.)

translated by Benjamin Jowett


THE INTRODUCTION

THE Republic of Plato is the longest of his works with the exception
of the Laws, and is certainly the greatest of them. There are nearer
approaches to modern metaphysics in the Philebus and in the Sophist;
the Politicus or Statesman is more ideal; the form and institutions
of the State are more clearly drawn out in the Laws; as works of art,
the Symposium and the Protagoras are of higher excellence. But no
other Dialogue of Plato has the same largeness of view and the same
perfection of style; no other shows an equal knowledge of the world,
or contains more of those thoughts which are new as well as old,
and not of one age only but of all. Nowhere in Plato is there a deeper
irony or a greater wealth of humor or imagery, or more dramatic power.
Nor in any other of his writings is the attempt made to interweave
life and speculation, or to connect politics with philosophy.
The Republic is the centre around which the other Dialogues may
be grouped; here philosophy reaches the highest point to which ancient
thinkers ever attained. Plato among the Greeks, like Bacon among
the moderns, was the first who conceived a method of knowledge,
although neither of them always distinguished the bare outline
or form from the substance of truth; and both of them had to be
content with an abstraction of science which was not yet realized.
He was the greatest metaphysical genius whom the world has seen;
and in him, more than in any other ancient thinker, the germs of future
knowledge are contained. The sciences of logic and psychology,
which have supplied so many instruments of thought to after-ages, are based
upon the analyses of Socrates and Plato. The principles of definition,
the law of contradiction, the fallacy of arguing in a circle,
the distinction between the essence and accidents of a thing or notion,
between means and ends, between causes and conditions; also the division
of the mind into the rational, concupiscent, and irascible elements,
or of pleasures and desires into necessary and unnecessary--
these and other great forms of thought are all of them to be found
in the Republic, and were probably first invented by Plato.
The greatest of all logical truths, and the one of which writers
on philosophy are most apt to lose sight, the difference between
words and things, has been most strenuously insisted on by him,
although he has not always avoided the confusion of them in his
own writings. But he does not bind up truth in logical formulae,--
logic is still veiled in metaphysics; and the science which he
imagines to "contemplate all truth and all existence" is very unlike
the doctrine of the syllogism which Aristotle claims to have
discovered.

Neither must we forget that the Republic is but the third part
of a still larger design which was to have included an ideal
history of Athens, as well as a political and physical philosophy.
The fragment of the Critias has given birth to a world-famous fiction,
second only in importance to the tale of Troy and the legend of Arthur;
and is said as a fact to have inspired some of the early navigators
of the sixteenth century. This mythical tale, of which the subject
was a history of the wars of the Athenians against the Island
of Atlantis, is supposed to be founded upon an unfinished poem
of Solon, to which it would have stood in the same relation
as the writings of the logographers to the poems of Homer.
It would have told of a struggle for Liberty, intended to represent
the conflict of Persia and Hellas. We may judge from the noble
commencement of the Timaeus, from the fragment of the Critias itself,
and from the third book of the Laws, in what manner Plato would
have treated this high argument. We can only guess why the great
design was abandoned; perhaps because Plato became sensible of some
incongruity in a fictitious history, or because he had lost his
interest in it, or because advancing years forbade the completion
of it; and we may please ourselves with the fancy that had this
imaginary narrative ever been finished, we should have found Plato
himself sympathizing with the struggle for Hellenic independence,
singing a hymn of triumph over Marathon and Salamis, perhaps making
the reflection of Herodotus where he contemplates the growth
of the Athenian empire--"How brave a thing is freedom of speech,
which has made the Athenians so far exceed every other state
of Hellas in greatness!" or, more probably, attributing the victory
to the ancient good order of Athens and to the favor of Apollo
and Athene.

Again, Plato may be regarded as the "captain" ('arhchegoz') or leader
of a goodly band of followers; for in the Republic is to be found
the original of Cicero's De Republica, of St. Augustine's City
of God, of the Utopia of Sir Thomas More, and of the numerous
other imaginary States which are framed upon the same model.
The extent to which Aristotle or the Aristotelian school were indebted
to him in the Politics has been little recognized, and the recognition
is the more necessary because it is not made by Aristotle himself.
The two philosophers had more in common than they were conscious of;
and probably some elements of Plato remain still undetected in Aristotle.
In English philosophy too, many affinities may be traced, not only
in the works of the Cambridge Platonists, but in great original
writers like Berkeley or Coleridge, to Plato and his ideas.
That there is a truth higher than experience, of which the mind bears
witness to herself, is a conviction which in our own generation has
been enthusiastically asserted, and is perhaps gaining ground.
Of the Greek authors who at the Renaissance brought a new
life into the world Plato has had the greatest influence.
The Republic of Plato is also the first treatise upon education,
of which the writings of Milton and Locke, Rousseau, Jean Paul,
and Goethe are the legitimate descendants. Like Dante or Bunyan,
he has a revelation of another life; like Bacon, he is profoundly
impressed with the unity of knowledge; in the early Church
he exercised a real influence on theology, and at the Revival
of Literature on politics. Even the fragments of his words when
" repeated at second-hand" have in all ages ravished the hearts
of men, who have seen reflected in them their own higher nature.
He is the father of idealism in philosophy, in politics,
in literature. And many of the latest conceptions of modern thinkers
and statesmen, such as the unity of knowledge, the reign of law,
and the equality of the sexes, have been anticipated in a dream
by him.

ARGUMENT

The argument of the Republic is the search after Justice, the nature
of which is first hinted at by Cephalus, the just and blameless old man--
then discussed on the basis of proverbial morality by Socrates
and Polemarchus--then caricatured by Thrasymachus and partially
explained by Socrates--reduced to an abstraction by Glaucon
and Adeimantus, and having become invisible in the individual reappears
at length in the ideal State which is constructed by Socrates.
The first care of the rulers is to be education, of which an outline
is drawn after the old Hellenic model, providing only for an improved
religion and morality, and more simplicity in music and gymnastic,
a manlier strain of poetry, and greater harmony of the individual
and the State. We are thus led on to the conception of a higher State,
in which "no man calls anything his own," and in which there is neither
" marrying nor giving in marriage," and "kings are philosophers"
and "philosophers are kings;" and there is another and higher education,
intellectual as well as moral and religious, of science as well as of art,
and not of youth only but of the whole of life. Such a State is
hardly to be realized in this world and would quickly degenerate.
To the perfect ideal succeeds the government of the soldier
and the lover of honor, this again declining into democracy,
and democracy into tyranny, in an imaginary but regular order having
not much resemblance to the actual facts. When "the wheel has come
full circle" we do not begin again with a new period of human life;
but we have passed from the best to the worst, and there we end.
The subject is then changed and the old quarrel of poetry and
philosophy which had been more lightly treated in the earlier books
of the Republic is now resumed and fought out to a conclusion.
Poetry is discovered to be an imitation thrice removed from the truth,
and Homer, as well as the dramatic poets, having been condemned
as an imitator, is sent into banishment along with them.
And the idea of the State is supplemented by the revelation of a
future life.

The division into books, like all similar divisions, is probably later
than the age of Plato. The natural divisions are five in number;--( 1)
Book I and the first half of Book II down to the paragraph beginning,
" I had always admired the genius of Glaucon and Adeimantus,"
which is introductory; the first book containing a refutation
of the popular and sophistical notions of justice, and concluding,
like some of the earlier Dialogues, without arriving at any
definite result. To this is appended a restatement of the nature
of justice according to common opinion, and an answer is demanded
to the question--What is justice, stripped of appearances?
The second division (2) includes the remainder of the second and
the whole of the third and fourth books, which are mainly occupied
with the construction of the first State and the first education.
The third division (3) consists of the fifth, sixth, and seventh books,
in which philosophy rather than justice is the subject of inquiry,
and the second State is constructed on principles of communism
and ruled by philosophers, and the contemplation of the idea
of good takes the place of the social and political virtues.
In the eighth and ninth books (4) the perversions of States and of
the individuals who correspond to them are reviewed in succession;
and the nature of pleasure and the principle of tyranny are
further analyzed in the individual man. The tenth book (5) is
the conclusion of the whole, in which the relations of philosophy
to poetry are finally determined, and the happiness of the citizens
in this life, which has now been assured, is crowned by the vision
of another.

Or a more general division into two parts may be adopted; the first
(Books I - IV) containing the description of a State framed generally
in accordance with Hellenic notions of religion and morality,
while in the second (Books V - X) the Hellenic State is transformed
into an ideal kingdom of philosophy, of which all other governments
are the perversions. These two points of view are really opposed,
and the opposition is only veiled by the genius of Plato.
The Republic, like the Phaedrus, is an imperfect whole; the higher light
of philosophy breaks through the regularity of the Hellenic temple,
which at last fades away into the heavens. Whether this imperfection
of structure arises from an enlargement of the plan; or from the
imperfect reconcilement in the writer's own mind of the struggling
elements of thought which are now first brought together by him;
or, perhaps, from the composition of the work at different times--
are questions, like the similar question about the Iliad and the Odyssey,
which are worth asking, but which cannot have a distinct answer.
In the age of Plato there was no regular mode of publication,
and an author would have the less scruple in altering or adding
to a work which was known only to a few of his friends.
There is no absurdity in supposing that he may have laid his
labors aside for a time, or turned from one work to another;
and such interruptions would be more likely to occur in the case
of a long than of a short writing. In all attempts to determine
the chronological he order of the Platonic writings on internal evidence,
this uncertainty about any single Dialogue being composed at one time
is a disturbing element, which must be admitted to affect longer works,
such as the Republic and the Laws, more than shorter ones.
But, on the other hand, the seeming discrepancies of the Republic
may only arise out of the discordant elements which the philosopher
has attempted to unite in a single whole, perhaps without being
himself able to recognize the inconsistency which is obvious to us.
For there is a judgment of after ages which few great writers have
ever been able to anticipate for themselves. They do not perceive
the want of connection in their own writings, or the gaps in their
systems which are visible enough to those who come after them.
In the beginnings of literature and philosophy, amid the first
efforts of thought and language, more inconsistencies occur than now,
when the paths of speculation are well worn and the meaning of words
precisely defined. For consistency, too, is the growth of time;
and some of the greatest creations of the human mind have been wanting
in unity. Tried by this test, several of the Platonic Dialogues,
according to our modern ideas, appear to be defective, but the
deficiency is no proof that they were composed at different times
or by different hands. And the supposition that the Republic was
written uninterruptedly and by a continuous effort is in some degree
confirmed by the numerous references from one part of the work
to another.

The second title, "Concerning Justice," is not the one by
which the Republic is quoted, either by Aristotle or generally
in antiquity, and, like the other second titles of the Platonic
Dialogues, may therefore be assumed to be of later date.
Morgenstern and others have asked whether the definition of justice,
which is the professed aim, or the construction of the State
is the principal argument of the work. The answer is,
that the two blend in one, and are two faces of the same truth;
for justice is the order of the State, and the State is the visible
embodiment of justice under the conditions of human society.
The one is the soul and the other is the body, and the Greek ideal
of the State, as of the individual, is a fair mind in a fair body.
In Hegelian phraseology the State is the reality of which justice
is the ideal. Or, described in Christian language, the kingdom
of God is within, and yet develops into a Church or external kingdom;
" the house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens,"
is reduced to the proportions of an earthly building. Or, to use
a Platonic image, justice and the State are the warp and the woof
which run through the whole texture. And when the constitution
of the State is completed, the conception of justice is not dismissed,
but reappears under the same or different names throughout the work,
both as the inner law of the individual soul, and finally
as the principle of rewards and punishments in another life.
The virtues are based on justice, of which common honesty in buying
and selling is the shadow, and justice is based on the idea of good,
which is the harmony of the world, and is reflected both in
the institutions of States and in motions of the heavenly bodies.
The Timaeus, which takes up the political rather than the ethical
side of the Republic, and is chiefly occupied with hypotheses
concerning the outward world, yet contains many indications that
the same law is supposed to reign over the State, over nature,
and over man.

Too much, however, has been made of this question both in ancient
and in modern times. There is a stage of criticism in which
all works, whether of nature or of art, are referred to design.
Now in ancient writings, and indeed in literature generally,
there remains often a large element which was not comprehended
in the original design. For the plan grows under the author's hand;
new thoughts occur to him in the act of writing; he has not worked
out the argument to the end before he begins. The reader who seeks
to find some one idea under which the whole may be conceived,
must necessarily seize on the vaguest and most general.
Thus Stallbaum, who is dissatisfied with the ordinary explanations
of the argument of the Republic, imagines himself to have found
the true argument "in the representation of human life in a State
perfected by justice and governed according to the idea of good."
There may be some use in such general descriptions, but they can
hardly be said to express the design of the writer. The truth is,
that we may as well speak of many designs as of one; nor need
anything be excluded from the plan of a great work to which the mind
is naturally led by the association of ideas, and which does not
interfere with the general purpose. What kind or degree of unity
is to be sought after in a building, in the plastic arts, in poetry,
in prose, is a problem which has to be determined relatively to the
subject-matter. To Plato himself, the inquiry "what was the intention
of the writer," or "what was the principal argument of the Republic"
would have been hardly intelligible, and therefore had better be at
once dismissed.

Is not the Republic the vehicle of three or four great truths which,
to Plato's own mind, are most naturally represented in the form
of the State? Just as in the Jewish prophets the reign of Messiah,
or "the day of the Lord," or the suffering Servant or people
of God, or the "Sun of righteousness with healing in his wings"
only convey, to us at least, their great spiritual ideals,
so through the Greek State Plato reveals to us his own thoughts
about divine perfection, which is the idea of good--like the sun
in the visible world;--about human perfection, which is justice--
about education beginning in youth and continuing in later years--
about poets and sophists and tyrants who are the false teachers
and evil rulers of mankind--about "the world" which is the embodiment
of them--about a kingdom which exists nowhere upon earth but is
laid up in heaven to be the pattern and rule of human life.
No such inspired creation is at unity with itself, any more
than the clouds of heaven when the sun pierces through them.
Every shade of light and dark, of truth, and of fiction which is
the veil of truth, is allowable in a work of philosophical imagination.
It is not all on the same plane; it easily passes from ideas
to myths and fancies, from facts to figures of speech. It is not
prose but poetry, at least a great part of it, and ought not to be
judged by the rules of logic or the probabilities of history.
The writer is not fashioning his ideas into an artistic whole;
they take possession of him and are too much for him.
We have no need therefore to discuss whether a State such as Plato
has conceived is practicable or not, or whether the outward form
or the inward life came first into the mind of the writer.
For the practicability of his ideas has nothing to do with their truth;
and the highest thoughts to which he attains may be truly said to bear
the greatest "marks of design"--justice more than the external frame-work
of the State, the idea of good more than justice. The great science
of dialectic or the organization of ideas has no real content;
but is only a type of the method or spirit in which the higher knowledge
is to be pursued by the spectator of all time and all existence.
It is in the fifth, sixth, and seventh books that Plato reaches
the "summit of speculation," and these, although they fail to satisfy
the requirements of a modern thinker, may therefore be regarded
as the most important, as they are also the most original, portions of
the work.

It is not necessary to discuss at length a minor question which has
been raised by Boeckh, respecting the imaginary date at which
the conversation was held (the year 411 B. C. which is proposed
by him will do as well as any other); for a writer of fiction,
and especially a writer who, like Plato, is notoriously careless
of chronology, only aims at general probability. Whether all the persons
mentioned in the Republic could ever have met at any one time is
not a difficulty which would have occurred to an Athenian reading
the work forty years later, or to Plato himself at the time of writing
(any more than to Shakespeare respecting one of his own dramas);
and need not greatly trouble us now. Yet this may be a question having
no answer "which is still worth asking," because the investigation
shows that we can not argue historically from the dates in Plato;
it would be useless therefore to waste time in inventing far-fetched
reconcilements of them in order avoid chronological difficulties,
such, for example, as the conjecture of C. F. Hermann, that Glaucon
and Adeimantus are not the brothers but the uncles of Plato,
or the fancy of Stallbaum that Plato intentionally left anachronisms
indicating the dates at which some of his Dialogues were written.

CHARACTERS

The principal characters in the Republic are Cephalus,
Polemarchus, Thrasymachus, Socrates, Glaucon, and Adeimantus.
Cephalus appears in the introduction only, Polemarchus drops at
the end of the first argument, and Thrasymachus is reduced to silence
at the close of the first book. The main discussion is carried on
by Socrates, Glaucon, and Adeimantus. Among the company are Lysias
(the orator) and Euthydemus, the sons of Cephalus and brothers
of Polemarchus, an unknown Charmantides--these are mute auditors;
also there is Cleitophon, who once interrupts, where, as in the Dialogue
which bears his name, he appears as the friend and ally of Thrasymachus.

Cephalus, the patriarch of house, has been appropriately engaged in
offering a sacrifice. He is the pattern of an old man who has almost
done with life, and is at peace with himself and with all mankind.
He feels that he is drawing nearer to the world below, and seems
to linger around the memory of the past. He is eager that Socrates
should come to visit him, fond of the poetry of the last generation,
happy in the consciousness of a well-spent life, glad at having
escaped from the tyranny of youthful lusts. His love of conversation,
his affection, his indifference to riches, even his garrulity,
are interesting traits of character. He is not one of those who have
nothing to say, because their whole mind has been absorbed in making money.
Yet he acknowledges that riches have the advantage of placing men
above the temptation to dishonesty or falsehood. The respectful
attention shown to him by Socrates, whose love of conversation,
no less than the mission imposed upon him by the Oracle, leads him
to ask questions of all men, young and old alike, should also be noted.
Who better suited to raise the question of justice than Cephalus,
whose life might seem to be the expression of it? The moderation
with which old age is pictured by Cephalus as a very tolerable
portion of existence is characteristic, not only of him, but of Greek
feeling generally, and contrasts with the exaggeration of Cicero
in the De Senectute. The evening of life is described by Plato
in the most expressive manner, yet with the fewest possible touches.
As Cicero remarks (Ep. ad Attic. iv. 16), the aged Cephalus would
have been out of place in the discussion which follows, and which he
could neither have understood nor taken part in without a violation of
dramatic propriety.

His "son and heir" Polemarchus has the frankness and impetuousness
of youth; he is for detaining Socrates by force in the opening scene,
and will not "let him off" on the subject of women and children.
Like Cephalus, he is limited in his point of view, and represents
the proverbial stage of morality which has rules of life rather
than principles; and he quotes Simonides as his father had quoted Pindar.
But after this he has no more to say; the answers which he
makes are only elicited from him by the dialectic of Socrates.
He has not yet experienced the influence of the Sophists like Glaucon
and Adeimantus, nor is he sensible of the necessity of refuting them;
he belongs to the pre-Socratic or pre-dialectical age.
He is incapable of arguing, and is bewildered by Socrates
to such a degree that he does not know what he is saying.
He is made to admit that justice is a thief, and that the virtues
follow the analogy of the arts. From his brother Lysias we learn
that he fell a victim to the Thirty Tyrants, but no allusion
is here made to his fate, nor to the circumstance that Cephalus
and his family were of Syracusan origin, and had migrated from Thurii
to Athens.

The "Chalcedonian giant," Thrasymachus, of whom we have already heard
in the Phaedrus, is the personification of the Sophists, according to
Plato's conception of them, in some of their worst characteristics.
He is vain and blustering, refusing to discourse unless he
is paid, fond of making an oration, and hoping thereby to escape
the inevitable Socrates; but a mere child in argument, and unable
to foresee that the next "move" (to use a Platonic expression)
will "shut him up." He has reached the stage of framing general notions,
and in this respect is in advance of Cephalus and Polemarchus.
But he is incapable of defending them in a discussion,
and vainly tries to cover his confusion in banter and insolence.
Whether such doctrines as are attributed to him by Plato were really
held either by him or by any other Sophist is uncertain; in the infancy
of philosophy serious errors about morality might easily grow up--
they are certainly put into the mouths of speakers in Thucydides;
but we are concerned at present with Plato's description of him,
and not with the historical reality. The inequality of the contest
adds greatly to the humor of the scene. The pompous and empty Sophist
is utterly helpless in the hands of the great master of dialectic,
who knows how to touch all the springs of vanity and weakness in him.
He is greatly irritated by the irony of Socrates, but his noisy
and imbecile rage only lays him more and more open to the thrusts
of his assailant. His determination to cram down their throats,
or put "bodily into their souls" his own words, elicits a cry
of horror from Socrates. The state of his temper is quite as worthy
of remark as the process of the argument. Nothing is more amusing
than his complete submission when he has been once thoroughly beaten.
At first he seems to continue the discussion with reluctance,
but soon with apparent good-will, and he even testifies his
interest at a later stage by one or two occasional remarks.
When attacked by Glaucon he is humorously protected by Socrates
" as one who has never been his enemy and is now his friend."
From Cicero and Quintilian and from Aristotle's Rhetoric we learn
that the Sophist whom Plato has made so ridiculous was a man of note
whose writings were preserved in later ages. The play on his name
which was made by his contemporary Herodicus, "thou wast ever bold
in battle," seems to show that the description of him is not devoid of
verisimilitude.

When Thrasymachus has been silenced, the two principal respondents,
Glaucon and Adeimantus, appear on the scene: here, as in Greek tragedy,
three actors are introduced. At first sight the two sons of Ariston
may seem to wear a family likeness, like the two friends Simmias
and Cebes in the Phaedo. But on a nearer examination of them
the similarity vanishes, and they are seen to be distinct characters.
Glaucon is the impetuous youth who can "just never have enough of fechting"
(cf. the character of him in Xen. Mem. iii. 6); the man of pleasure
who is acquainted with the mysteries of love; the "juvenis qui
gaudet canibus," and who improves the breed of animals; the lover
of art and music who has all the experiences of youthful life.
He is full of quickness and penetration, piercing easily below
the clumsy platitudes of Thrasymachus to the real difficulty;
he turns out to the light the seamy side of human life, and yet
does not lose faith in the just and true. It is Glaucon who seizes
what may be termed the ludicrous relation of the philosopher
to the world, to whom a state of simplicity is "a city of pigs,"
who is always prepared with a jest when the argument offers him
an opportunity, and who is ever ready to second the humor of Socrates
and to appreciate the ridiculous, whether in the connoisseurs of music,
or in the lovers of theatricals, or in the fantastic behavior of
the citizens of democracy. His weaknesses are several times alluded
to by Socrates, who, however, will not allow him to be attacked
by his brother Adeimantus. He is a soldier, and, like Adeimantus,
has been distinguished at the battle of Megara.

The character of Adeimantus is deeper and graver, and the profounder
objections are commonly put into his mouth. Glaucon is more demonstrative,
and generally opens the game. Adeimantus pursues the argument further.
Glaucon has more of the liveliness and quick sympathy of youth;
Adeimantus has the maturer judgment of a grown-up man of the world.
In the second book, when Glaucon insists that justice and injustice
shall be considered without regard to their consequences,
Adeimantus remarks that they are regarded by mankind in general only
for the sake of their consequences; and in a similar vein of reflection
he urges at the beginning of the fourth book that Socrates falls
in making his citizens happy, and is answered that happiness is not
the first but the second thing, not the direct aim but the indirect
consequence of the good government of a State. In the discussion
about religion and mythology, Adeimantus is the respondent, but Glaucon
breaks in with a slight jest, and carries on the conversation
in a lighter tone about music and gymnastic to the end of the book.
It is Adeimantus again who volunteers the criticism of common
sense on the Socratic method of argument, and who refuses to let
Socrates pass lightly over the question of women and children.
It is Adeimantus who is the respondent in the more argumentative,
as Glaucon in the lighter and more imaginative portions of the Dialogue.
For example, throughout the greater part of the sixth book, the causes
of the corruption of philosophy and the conception of the idea of
good are discussed with Adeimantus. Then Glaucon resumes his place
of principal respondent; but he has a difficulty in apprehending
the higher education of Socrates, and makes some false hits in the course
of the discussion. Once more Adeimantus returns with the allusion
to his brother Glaucon whom he compares to the contentious State;
in the next book he is again superseded, and Glaucon continues to
the end.

Thus in a succession of characters Plato represents the successive stages
of morality, beginning with the Athenian gentleman of the olden time,
who is followed by the practical man of that day regulating his life
by proverbs and saws; to him succeeds the wild generalization of
the Sophists, and lastly come the young disciples of the great teacher,
who know the sophistical arguments but will not be convinced by them,
and desire to go deeper into the nature of things. These too,
like Cephalus, Polemarchus, Thrasymachus, are clearly distinguished
from one another. Neither in the Republic, nor in any other Dialogue
of Plato, is a single character repeated.

The delineation of Socrates in the Republic is not wholly consistent.
In the first book we have more of the real Socrates,
such as he is depicted in the Memorabilia of Xenophon,
in the earliest Dialogues of Plato, and in the Apology.
He is ironical, provoking, questioning, the old enemy of the Sophists,
ready to put on the mask of Silenus as well as to argue seriously.
But in the sixth book his enmity towards the Sophists abates;
he acknowledges that they are the representatives rather than
the corrupters of the world. He also becomes more dogmatic
and constructive, passing beyond the range either of the political
or the speculative ideas of the real Socrates. In one passage Plato
himself seems to intimate that the time had now come for Socrates,
who had passed his whole life in philosophy, to give his own
opinion and not to be always repeating the notions of other men.
There is no evidence that either the idea of good or the conception
of a perfect State were comprehended in the Socratic teaching,
though he certainly dwelt on the nature of the universal and
of final causes (cp. Xen. Mem. i. 4; Phaedo 97); and a deep
thinker like him in his thirty or forty years of public teaching,
could hardly have falled to touch on the nature of family relations,
for which there is also some positive evidence in the Memorabilia
(Mem. i. 2, 51 foll.) The Socratic method is nominally retained;
and every inference is either put into the mouth of the respondent
or represented as the common discovery of him and Socrates.
But any one can see that this is a mere form, of which the affectation
grows wearisome as the work advances. The method of inquiry
has passed into a method of teaching in which by the help of
interlocutors the same thesis is looked at from various points
of view.

The nature of the process is truly characterized by Glaucon,
when he describes himself as a companion who is not good for much
in an investigation, but can see what he is shown, and may,
perhaps, give the answer to a question more fluently than another.

Neither can we be absolutely certain that, Socrates himself taught
the immortality of the soul, which is unknown to his disciple
Glaucon in the Republic; nor is there any reason to suppose
that he used myths or revelations of another world as a vehicle
of instruction, or that he would have banished poetry or have
denounced the Greek mythology. His favorite oath is retained,
and a slight mention is made of the daemonium, or internal sign,
which is alluded to by Socrates as a phenomenon peculiar to himself.
A real element of Socratic teaching, which is more prominent
in the Republic than in any of the other Dialogues of Plato,
is the use of example and illustration ('taphorhtika auto
prhospherhontez'): "Let us apply the test of common instances."
" You," says Adeimantus, ironically, in the sixth book, "are so
unaccustomed to speak in images." And this use of examples or images,
though truly Socratic in origin, is enlarged by the genius of Plato
into the form of an allegory or parable, which embodies in the concrete
what has been already described, or is about to be described,
in the abstract. Thus the figure of the cave in Book VII
is a recapitulation of the divisions of knowledge in Book VI.
The composite animal in Book IX is an allegory of the parts of the soul.
The noble captain and the ship and the true pilot in Book VI are a
figure of the relation of the people to the philosophers in the State
which has been described. Other figures, such as the dog in
the second, third, and fourth books, or the marriage of the portionless
maiden in the sixth book, or the drones and wasps in the eighth
and ninth books, also form links of connection in long passages,
or are used to recall previous discussions.

Plato is most true to the character of his master when he describes
him as "not of this world." And with this representation of him
the ideal State and the other paradoxes of the Republic are quite
in accordance, though they can not be shown to have been speculations
of Socrates. To him, as to other great teachers both philosophical
and religious, when they looked upward, the world seemed to be
the embodiment of error and evil. The common sense of mankind has
revolted against this view, or has only partially admitted it.
And even in Socrates himself the sterner judgment of the multitude
at times passes into a sort of ironical pity or love. Men in general
are incapable of philosophy, and are therefore at enmity with
the philosopher; but their misunderstanding of him is unavoidable:
for they have never seen him as he truly is in his own image;
they are only acquainted with artificial systems possessing no
native force of truth--words which admit of many applications.
Their leaders have nothing to measure with, and are therefore ignorant
of their own stature. But they are to be pitied or laughed at,
not to be quarrelled with; they mean well with their nostrums,
if they could only learn that they are cutting off a Hydra's head.
This moderation towards those who are in error is one of
the most characteristic features of Socrates in the Republic.
In all the different representations of Socrates, whether of Xenophon
or Plato, and the differences of the earlier or later Dialogues,
he always retains the character of the unwearied and disinterested
seeker after truth, without which he would have ceased to
be Socrates.

Leaving the characters we may now analyze the contents of the Republic,
and then proceed to consider (1) The general aspects of this Hellenic
ideal of the State, (2) The modern lights in which the thoughts
of Plato may be read.

 

 
Google
Search greatliterature.org for specific text passages