Book 2, The Republic (Justice in the State and the Individual)

Part 5: The Problem Stated: Glaucon and Adeimantus’ challenge to Socrates (357a-367e)

By the end of Book 1, Socrates has not only logically defeated and “tamed” the sophist Thrasymachus. He has foreshadowed how he will come to define justice in the remainder of the Republic. Glaucon and Adeimantus, however, are far from satisfied with his defeat of Thrasymachus. Glaucon and Adeimantus are  unconvinced that being just is better than being unjust. They want to hear  justice praised by itself and  will ask Socrates to do so by breaking new ground and considering the effects of justice and injustice on the soul.

Glaucon’s challenge: Like a man after Socrates’ heart, Glaucon opens Book 2 by teasing Socrates: “Socrates, he said, do you want to seem to have persuaded us that it is better in every way to be just than unjust, or do you want to truly convince us of this?” (347a). Socrates, of course, concedes that he would like to genuinely convince the brothers that it “is better in every way to be just” (347a). Glaucon makes a distinction between three categories of goods:

  • Goods that are welcomed for their own sake  (e.g., happiness).
  • Goods that are liked for their own sake and for the sake of what comes from them  (e.g., knowledge).
  • Goods that are “onerous but beneficial” and welcomed for “the sake of the rewards […] that come from them”  (e.g., exercise) (357d).

Socrates positions justice under the second category, it “is something to be valued by anyone who is going to be blessed with happiness, both because of itself and because of what comes from it” (357e-358a). This categorization is inconsistent with common opinion. Most people “say that justice belongs to the onerous kind, and is to be practiced for the sake of the rewards and popularity that come from a reputation for justice, but is to be avoided because of itself as something burdensome” (358a). Glaucon, moreover, wants to “know what justice and injustice are and what power each itself has when it’s by itself in the soul” divorced from an “account of their rewards and what comes from each of them” (358b). He wants Socrates to prove that justice is better than injustice. To help Socrates, Glaucon renews Thrasymachus’ argument in three steps to illustrate the way in which common opinion praises injustice at the expense of justice. First, he describes the common opinion regarding justice and its origins. Second, he argues  those who practice justice do so unwillingly. Third, he argues that it is right to view justice as something that’s not good because just life appears to be inferior to the unjust life.

(Step 1: Justice & Its Origins): “They say that to do injustice is naturally good and to suffer injustice bad, but that the badness of suffering it so far exceeds the goodness of doing it that those who have done and suffered injustice and tasted both, but who lack the power to do it and avoid suffering it, decide that it is profitable to come to an agreement with each other neither to do injustice nor to suffer it. As a result they begin to make laws and covenants, and what the law commands they call lawful and just. This, they say, is the origin and essence of justice. It is intermediate between the best and the worst. The best is to do injustice without paying the penalty; the worst is to suffer it without being able to take revenge. Justice is a mean between these two extremes. People value it not as a good but because they are too weak to do injustice with impunity” (Glaucon, 359a).

(Step 2: People Practice Justice Because They Lack the Power to Do Injustice): Glaucon argues that if the just and unjust person were endowed with absolute freedom to act, “the desire to outdo others (pleonexian) and get more and more” would compel the just person to travel the same shadowy path as the unjust person (359c). Glaucon evokes the famous Myth of the Ring of Gyges’ Ancestor to illustrate his point. Gyges’ ancestor,  “a shepherd in the service of the ruler of Lydia” (359c),  found a gold  ring which made him invisible when he turned it “inward”. Gyges’ ancestor used the ring for evil: he seduced the Queen, murdered  King Lydia, and became ruler of the kingdom  (see: 359c-360cb). If both the just and unjust person possessed such a ring, Glaucon argus, they would invariably follow the path of Gyges:

Now, no one, it seems, would be so incorruptible that he would stay on the path of justice or stay away from other people’s property, when he could take whatever he wanted from the marketplace with impunity, go into people’s houses and have sex with anyone he wished, kill or release from prison anyone he wished, and do all the other things that wold make him like a god among humans. Rather his actions would be in no way different from those of an unjust person, and both would follow the same path. This, some would say, is a great proof that one is never just willingly but only when compelled to be. No one believes justice to be a good when it is kept private, since, wherever either person thinks he can do injustice with impunity, he does it. Indeed, every man believes that injustice is far more profitable to himself than justice. And any exponent of this argument will say he’s right, for someone who didn’t want to do injustice, given this sort of opportunity, and who didn’t touch other people’s property would be thought wretched and stupid by everyone aware of the situation, though of course, they’d praise him in public, deceiving each other for fear of suffering injustice (360c-d).

(Step 3: People are Correct Not to View Justice as Good Because the Life of an Unjust Person is Better): In order to evaluate the life of a just person relative to the life of an unjust person, Glaucon distinguishes between them by examining the life of the completely unjust person and the life of the completely just person (360e).

  • The Completely Unjust Person (360e-361b) possesses complete injustice, and is believed by everyone to be the most just even while acting unjustly. He receives all the benefits of being thought to be just, and suffers none of the negative consequences of being thought unjust:

 “An unjust person’s successful attempts at injustice must remain undetected, if he is to be fully unjust. Anyone who is caught should be thought inept, for the extreme of injustice is to be believed to be just without being just. And our completely unjust person must be given complete injustice; nothing may be subtracted from it. We must allow that, while doing the greatest injustice he has nonetheless provided himself with the greatest reputation for justice. If he happens to make a slip, he must be able to put it right. If any of his unjust activities should be discovered, he must eb able to speak persuasively, or to use force. And if force is needed, he must have the help of courage and strength and of the substantial wealth and friends with which he has provided for himself” (361a-b).

  • The Completely Just Person (361b-c) possesses complete justice and while being just, has the greatest reputation for injustice. Hence, receiving none of benefits associated with having a reputation for justice, and suffering all of the consequences of being thought unjust, s/he lives without wealth, shelter, honor, is least capable of persuading the people and the gods, tortured, reviled, and at last executed.

“We must strip him of everything except justice and make his situation the opposite of an unjust person’s. Though he does no injustice, he must have the greatest reputation for it […]. Let him stay like that unchanged until he dies — just, but all his life believed to be unjust” (361c-d).

After characterizing the life of complete injustice and complete injustice, Glaucon considers which of the two is happier (361d) and concludes that the unjust person is happier than the just person.

  • The Completely Just Person: Common opinion says that the completely just person, on account of their reputation for the greatest injustice:

“[W]ill be whipped, stretched on a rack, chained, blinded with fire, and, at the end, when he has suffered every kind of evil, he’ll be impaled, and will realize then that one shouldn’t want to be just but to be believed to be just” (361e)

  • The Completely Unjust Person: Living in accordance with the truth rather than opinion, the completely unjust person is not satisfied with simply appearing unjust but aspires to be unjust.

“He rules his city because of his reputation for justice; he marries into any family he wishes; he gives his children in marriage to anyone he wishes; he has contracts and partnerships with anyone he wants; and besides benefiting himself in all these ways, he profits because he has no scruples about doing injustice. In any contest, public or private, he’s the winner and outdoes his enemies. And by outdoing them, he becomes wealthy, benefiting his friends and harming his enemies. He makes adequate sacrifices to the gods and sets up magnificent offerings to them. He takes better care of the gods, therefore, (and, indeed, of the human beings he’s fond of) than a just person does. Hence it’s likely that the gods, in turn, will take better care of him than of a just person” (362b-c).

Hence, the life of the unjust person is happier than the life of the just person. The former reaps all the benefits from humans and gods alike because each of his unjust acts are concealed under the cloak of justice. The completely just person’s real justice, by contrast, is concealed under the cloak of injustice. The completely unjust person appears to be just, while the completely just person appears to be unjust.

Adeimantus’ Challenge (362d-376d): Adeimantus “ups the ante” by illustrating the way in which common opinion praises justice at the expense of justice. In just three easy steps he brings to the fore consequentialist ground of conventional wisdom that the appearance of justice is more important that being just.

(Step 1: People Praise Justice and Fault Injustice Because of the Benefits Associated with the Reputation for Justice): Although children are taught to be just, they learn to praise the consequences that go along with having a reputation for justice (e.g., public office). The young also learn from the poets that the gods give the greatest rewards, in this life and the next , to those with a reputation for justice. These rewards, moreover, extend to the next generation so that one’s family will continue to reap the benefits of a deceased family member’s reputation for justice generations into the future. The poets by contrast:

“[B]ury the impious and [those that appear] unjust in mud in Hades; force them to carry water in a sieve; bring them into bad repute while they’re still alive, and all those penalties that Glaucon gave to the just person they give to the unjust. But they have nothing else to say. This, then, is the way people praise justice and find fault with injustice” (363e)

(Step 2: While Publicly Praising Justice Private Individuals and the Poets Argue that Injustice is Happier and More Profitable Overall): Although (complete) justice and moderation are praised, they are regarded as difficult to achieve and thus are valued only in relation to the consequences attached to them. Given what Glaucon and Adeimantus have said thus far about the just person’s inevitable reputation for injustice, it seems that injustice, which is sweet and easy, is the obvious choice over justice. Indeed, the poets and private individuals argue that:

“Unjust deeds are for the most part more profitable than just ones, and, whether in public or in private, they willingly honour vicious people who have wealth and other types of power and declare them to be happy. But they dishonour and disregard the weak and the poor, even though they agree that they are better than others”

(Step 3: People Believe that Life of Injustice is Better Because the Gods Appear to Punish Goodness and Reward Badness):  The poets, prophets, and priests, according to Adeimantus, bear witness to the fact that the gods are easily influenced by the rich and thus reward badness while punishing goodness:

“Begging priests and prophets frequent the doors of the rich and persuade them that they possess a god-given power founded on sacrifices and incanation. If the rich person or any of his ancestors has committed an injustice, they can fix it with pleasant rituals […]. And the poets are brought forward as witnesses to all these accounts […]. Others quite Homer to bear witness that the gods can be influenced by humans […]. And they persuade not only individuals but whole cities that the unjust deeds of the living or the dead can be absolved or purified through sacrifices and pleasant games” (364b-e).

These 3 steps convey Adeimantus’ genuine concern regarding the effect of the “praise” common opinion gives to justice on the souls of the youth (365a). After calculating the pros and cons of the path of justice and injustice, a young person can easily conclude that the life of complete injustice is preferable to the life of complete justice.  The rewards assigned to the former and the penalties assigned to the latter, renders the life of complete injustice happier than the life of complete justice.

“Why, then, should we still choose justice over the greatest injustice? Many eminent authorities agree that, if we practice such injustice with a false facade, we’ll do well at the hands of gods and humans, living and dying as we’ve a mind to. So, given all that has been said, Socrates, how is it possible for anyone of any power–whether of mind, wealth, body, or birth–to be willing to honor justice and not laugh aloud when he hears it praised? Indeed, if anyone can show that what we’ve said is false and has adequate knowledge that justice is best, he’ll surely be full not of anger but of forgiveness for the unjust. He knows that, apart from someone of godlike character who is disgusted by injustice or one who has gained knowledge and avoids injustice for that reason, no one is just willingly. Through cowardice or old age or some other weakness, people do indeed object to injustice. But it’s obvious that they do so only because they lack the power to do injustice” (366b-d).

For Adeimantus and Glaucon, the fact no one has described the effects of power of justice and injustice on the soul, but have merely blamed or praised them on based on the consequences associated with appearing to be just or unjust, is the cause of their desire to hear “what each itself does, because of its own powers, to someone who possesses it, that makes injustice bas and justice good” irrespective of the advantages or disadvantages that come along with their appearances (367b).

Part 6: Method of Inquiry: The City/Soul Analogy

Socrates first step towards answering Glaucon and Adeimantus’ challenge is to describe their method of inquiry, which, he states, is designed to help those without keen eyesight (367d). In order to locate justice and injustice within the individual they search  for justice and injustice in a city, which they construct in theory. After locating justice and injustice in the theoretical city, they will search for the analogous justice and injustice in the individual. The rationale here is two-fold. Since the city is bigger than the individual it should be easier to find justice and injustice in the city first and then the soul. The second rationale is a bit more subtle, and its based on an assumption that the city and the soul analogous in some important respect. To understand the meaning of this analogy, it might be useful as a point of departure to think of the city as an externalization of the soul’s constitution, and soul as an internalization of the city’s constitution.

Part 3: The Fundamentals of Social Organization (367e-372a)

It’s important to keep in mind the two axiomatic principles Socrates and his interlocutors posit as the foundation of the cities they construct in theory.

The Individual’s Lack as the Foundational Principle of the City: Similar to how a craft arises in response to its object’s lack (of self-sufficency), the city is also found in relation to a lack: the individual’s inability to satisfy its desire in isolation from a community.

“I think a city comes to be because none of us is self-sufficient, but we all need many things […]. And because people need many things, and because one person call on a second out of one need and on a third out of a different need, many people gather together as partners and helpers. And such a settlement is called a city […]. And if they share things with one another, giving and taking, they do so because each believes that this better for himself” (369b-c).

The Principle of Specialization as the Organizing Principle of Social Relation within the City: The city best provides for the desires of its citizens, and produces more plentiful and better-quality goods if:

  1. “Each person does one thing for which he is naturally suited, does it at the right time, and is released from having to do any of the others” (370c).
  2. “Each of them contributes his own work for the common use of all” (369e).

Note: These principles are held to be ideal. As one progresses through the Republic one should take note of any violations of these principles in the city or the soul.

Part 7: The Healthy and Feverish Cities

In Book 2, Socrates and his interlocutors construct two cities. The first city (the Healthy City or True City), which completely satisfies the necessary desires of its inhabitants is abandoned and a second city (the Feverish City or Luxurious City) is constructed to account for the unnecessary desires introduced by Glaucon and will need to be purified before Socrates is established that the Kallipolis (Beautiful City) has come into being.

Construction of The Healthy City: It’s not surprising that the Healthy City, which is founded on a strict division of labour, arises to satisfy the basic needs of the individual.  Each citizen does exactly one job  (e.g., farming, building, weaving, medicine), which, in turn, satisfies exactly one of the necessary desires each citizen possesses (e.g., food, shelter, clothing, shoes, and health). Furthermore, in order for each of these craftsmen to do their job, a further division of labour is required. As Socrates explains, “the farmer won’t make his own plough, not if its to be a good one, nor his how, nor any of his other farming tools. Neither will a builder–and he too, needs lots of things. And the same is true of a weaver and a cobbler, isn’t it” (370c-d). Moreover, so that the farmer can do his work adequately, cowherds, shepherds and other herdsmen will be needed “in order that the farmers have cows to do their ploughing, the builders have oxen to share with the famers in hauling their materials, and the weavers and cobblers have hides and fleeces to use2” (370d-370e)

Adeimantus and Socrates agree that the Healthy City has grown to completeness. They begin their search for justice and injustice within in it by examining the life of its its citizens. Socrates describes the pastoral, idyllic life of the Healthy citizens thusly:

“They’ll produce bread, wine, clothes, and shoes, won’t they? They’ll build houses, work naked and barefoot in the summer, and wear adequate clothing and shoes in the winter. For food, they’ll knead and cook the flour and meal they’ve made from wheat and barely. They’ll put their honest cakes and loaves on reeds or clean leaves, and, reclining on beds strewn with yew and myrtle, they’ll feast with their children, drink their wine, and, crowned with wreaths, hymn the gods. They’s enjoy sex with one another but bear no more children than their resources allow, lest they fall into either poverty or war” (372a-b).

The Origins of the Luxurious City (372a-375a): Glaucon admits dissatisfaction with Socrates’ Healthy City. His concerns initially arise over the Healthy-citzen’s lack of delicacies (372c). Appealing to forgetfulness, Socrates admits they’ll also need:

“Salt, olives, cheese, boiled roots, and vegetables of the sort they cook in the country. We’ll give them desserts, too, of course, consisting of figs, chickpeas, and beans, and they’ll roast myrtle and acorns before the fire, drinking moderately. And so they’ll live in peace and good health, and when they die at a ripe old age, they’ll bequeath a similar life to their children” (372c-d).

Glaucon interjects (again). A City of Pigs, Glaucon observes, would be fattened on the same diet (372c). Healthy-citizens, he argues, ought to be fed in “the conventional way” (372d). “They should recline on proper couches, dine at a table, and have the delicacies and desserts that people have nowadays” (372d). Although Socrates admits Glaucon’s unnecessary desires, the cost of their admission is huge. Their Healthy City has, on account of the desires on which any city depends for its existence, has degenerated. It has become a Feverish City, which needs to further expand its population (and its territorial borders) in order to satisfy the desire for unnecessary things such as varieties of furniture, delicacies, pastries, oils, art, precious metals and woods, etc., (see 554a):

We must increase it in size and fill it with a multitude of things that go beyond what is necessary for a city–hunters, for example, and artists and imitators, many of whom work with shapes and colors, many with music. And there’ll be poets and their assistants, actors, choral dancers, contractors, and makers of all kinds of devices, including, among other things, those needed for the adornment of women. And also we’ll need more servants, too […] We didn’t need any of these things in our earlier city, but we’ll need them in this one (372a-372e).

Part 8: The Need for Guardians (374a-376d)

The people’s desire to eat meat, which represents the introduction of unnecessary desires, sets off a chain reaction in the Feverish City which requires more doctors, and more land to meet the massive demand for meat. To obtain this land, the city-state must expand its territory through war. In order to wage war (and defend the city-state from counter-attack), a guardian class is needed.

Consistent with the principle of specialization, each guardians will devote its whole life to the craft of guardianship and will possess a natural aptitude for guarding the city. But what is the essence of a good guardian? Turning to the animal world, Socrates makes a comparison between the  guardian and a pedigree dog to illuminate the physical and psychic qualities of the good guardian and to prove that they aren’t contrary to nature. Like a pedigree dog, the good guardian requires sharp senses, speed to catch what it sees, strength to battle with its prey, courage, spiritedness, and a philosophical nature. This combination of courage, spirit, and philosophy as the necessary condition of a good guardian. Without it, the guardians would destroy the city, they would be savage to citizens, and gentle to the city’s enemies.

Part 9.1 : Purifying the Feverish City The Education of the Guardians: Censorship & Literature for School Use (376d-392c)

Having described the nature of the good guardian, Socrates and his interlocutors consider the education the guardians must receive. Their education, we learn, is to consist of music and poetry for the soul, and physical training for the body. But why does Socrates focus on the education of the guardian class? Isn’t his objective to praise justice itself? For reasons that will become clear as one progresses through the Republic, the early education of the guardian class enables Socrates to respond to Glaucon and Adeimantus’ challenges. For now it’s important to keep two points in mind. The emphasis Socrates places on education reflects his explicit assumption that the the soul is imitative by nature (see: Book X). Because the soul is the most malleable during when a person is young, the early education of the guardian class is extremely important: the patterns, teaching, opinions, and beliefs they acquire childhood are more-or-less permanent (377a-379d). If young guardians are taught that the appearance of justice is more than being just it will be difficult, if not impossible, to break them of this false belief.

On the basis of these premises, Socrates and his interlocutors agree that children should not hear stories that would allow their soul’s to absorb beliefs that are antagonistic to those they ought to hold as adult. To facilitate this, the “storytellers” must be supervised, and caregivers should be given strict instructions about what stories their children should hear. This, Socrates predicts, will help to ensure that the first stories the young guardians will be hear will be “the best ones for them to hear” about virtue and vice (379d).

Outside the home, the education of the young guardians begins with music and poetry. Socrates and his interlocutors agree that the young guardians should hear false stories first. Such stories, although “false, on the whole [will] have some truth in them” (377a) and furthermore will be carefully selected so as to ensure that they won’t depict bad images of the gods and heroes (377d-e). Socrates offers Hesoid’s story about a feud amongst a family of gods as an example of a story that young should not hear (377e-378a). Stories that would cause the youth to believe that “in committing the worst crimes” or inflicting the worst “kind of punishment on an unjust father, he’s only doing the same as the first and the greatest gods” are also prohibited (378a-b).

The patterns upon which poets must structure their stories about theology and the gods are investigated next. Socrates and his interlocutors agree to establish two laws to this end. First, the gods must be represented as they are. Since they are really good, Socrates claims, they must be described as such (379a-b). Furthermore, because the gods can neither cause  harm nor bad things, a power attributed to human beings, the gods must only be presented as causing good things (380c). They further agree that poets must: “say that the actions of the gods are good and just, and that those they punish [whom are bad and wretched] are benefited thereby” (380a-c).

Because “the best things are least liable to alteration or change” (381a), their second law establishes that the gods are not to be falsely depicted as “sorcerers who change themselves, nor do […] mislead us by falsehoods in words or deeds” (383a). The gods, Socrates asserts, don’t want to alter themselves because they already are the best and most beautiful possible and retain this shape unconditionally (381c). Stories that depict the gods changing shapes, pretending to be elements of nature, and/or deceiving others are prohibited because they are blasphemous, and make children more cowardly. Furthermore, to present the gods as using words or actions to deceive others tacitly sanctions true falsehood: an “ignorance in the soul of someone who has been told a falsehood”, which is hated by gods and humans alike (382c).  A falsehood in words which imitates the true falsehood in a soul which causes one to become ignorant about the way things are, is an imitation of true falsehood. One, however, should not interpret Socrates’ rejection of true falsehood (or the imitation of it) to imply that he rejects any use of deception. Throughout the Republic, Socrates advocates the use of useful falsehoods: those noble lies which “are as much like the truth as possible” (382d).


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