Plato’s Republic ~ part I

Written ca. 385 B.C.; one of Plato’s middle dialogues.

The title is a bad translation of the Greek politeia, "political or public business."

1. Plato’s theory of the "origin of a city" (Griffith trans. 369b)

What kind of theory is this?




Are two principles which are the basis for the social character of humans

1. No person is self-sufficient; all have basic needs (369b).

2. Each person is born with a specific aptitude for some type of work (370a-b).

For Plato, talents or aptitudes are natural.

Summary formula of Plato’s theory of the origin of society

needs + aptitudes + specialization + exchange of goods & services = fulfillment of needs of all & happiness

Transition to the next topic: the life of humans should go beyond a "city of pigs" (372d).

Humans desire luxuries

Leads to expansion

Leads to war

Need for an army

2. The class structure of the Republic

(1) The military - "guardians"

Their education (376c-412b) - brief glance

(2) The rulers

The best of the guardians, older, wiser, and concerned with the well-being of the whole society (412c).

(3) Workers ("farmers and [other] skilled workers" 415a)

How is the authority of the rulers to be established?

The teaching of a myth - the myth of gold, silver, iron & brass (415a)

A class, not a caste system (415b)

3. The virtues of the state

(1) Wisdom (428b-429a)

the virtue of the rulers

good judgment

general knowledge vs specialized (tacitly suggested in the discussion about carpentry & farming, 428b-c)

very few have it (429a)

ultimately, wisdom is knowledge of the Ideas

(2) Courage (429a)

the virtue of the military

knowledge of what is and what is not to be feared (429b, 430b)

(3) "Self-discipline" (Griffith trans. 430d).  Often called moderation or temperance (sõphrosuné)

the virtue of the workers

"mastery of pleasures and desires" (Griffith trans. 430e)

"a kind of order" (430e) - the proper order of the superior & inferior

on the level of the individual & of the state

Plato’s attitude toward the workers

Cf. George Orwell’s 1984.

(4) Justice (432b-d)

Each person ought to do that task for society which fits his or her natural aptitudes . . .

and not meddle in the affairs of others.

Connection with Plato’s theory of the origins of the state (433a, reference is to 369b)

Justice in the individual -- the proper & natural order within the soul of its parts (444b-d)

Cf. Plato’s notion of justice to the modern Western notion

Plato -->  emphasis is on duty of citizens to the community & state.

Focus is on the common good

modern -->  emphasis is on fairness in the distribution of rights & legal processes

Focus is on the individual

4. The three parts of the soul

The "rational element" (439d)

The "spirited element" (441a)

The "desiring element" (439d)

For Plato, just as it is important for the well-being of the state that each class does its job, so also it is important for the well-being of the individual that each part of the soul does it job.

What does this mean?

Overview of topics 2, 3, & 4

A series of parallelisms

classes                 virtues                 parts of the soul

rulers                  wisdom                  rational

military                courage                 spirited

workers               self-discipline         desiring 


5. The status of women in the Republic

Women in ancient Athenian Greece

Their place was in the household

Only roles outside of the household - priestesses, mourners at funerals, participants in religious festivals

Strict division of occupations by sex

Uneducated; most were illiterate



Occupations should not be based on sex (451d, e, 452a-b, 454d-e, 455d-e)

Hint that woman can be rulers (455d-e, 456a)

Woman guardians receive the same education as men (456b-c)

In the Laws - abolishment of dowries

But there are occasional misogynistic passages in the Republic (431b-c, 557c, 563b)

To the essay by Julia Annas on The Republic & feminism