Supplement to Hauptli's Lectures on Plato's Republic  Part III


     Copyright © 2015 Bruce W. Hauptli

There are two more recent files replacing the three on Plato's Republic for this course: Plato's Republic Supplement A and Plato's Republic B


7. Justice in the Individual [434e-449]:


In this section Plato’s Socrates applies the picture which he has developed of justice within the state to the individual soul.  He proves that the soul has “parts,” and shows what the proper function of the various parts amounts to. 


434d Plato reminds us that one reason for “describing” the ideal state was to “see justice writ large, so that we might more easily recognize it in the soul: “we thought that, if we first tried to observe justice in some larger thing that possessed it, this would make it easier to observe in a single individual.  We agreed that this larger thing is a city, and so we established the best city we could, knowing well that justice would be in one that was good.  So let’s apply what has come to light in the city to the individual....” 


-Note the relevance of this passage to the discussion of the “democratic” and “aristocratic” readings of the Republic—one could contend that he appears to emphasize here the importance of “justice in the individual”—that it may be his “main target”—and that talk of “justice in the state” may be more a means for discovering the former. 


436b Plato does not simply assume that, like the state, the soul (or psyche) is composed of three parts, however.  Instead, he offers a proof that there are at least three parts to the soul.[1]  “Do we learn with one part, get angry with another, and with some third part desire the pleasures of food, drink, sex, and others that are closely akin to them?  Or, when we set out after something, do we act with the whole of our soul, in each case?” 


436b (1) “...the same thing will not be willing to do or undergo opposites in the same part of itself, in relation to the same thing, at the same time.  So, if we ever find this happening in the soul, we’ll know that we aren’t dealing with one thing but many.” 


437e-438d (2) There exist the appetites (e.g., hunger and thirst), and


(3) when we experience such demands, we have a particular object in view and aim to attain it to satisfy the appetite—the appetites have objects. 


438d (4) Similarly, when we know we know something specific—knowledge has an object. 


439b (5) “...if something pulls [the thirsty person] back when it is thirsting, wouldn’t that be something different in it from whatever thirsts and drives it like a beast to drink?  It can’t be, we say, that the same thing, with the same part of itself, in relation to the same, at the same time, does opposite things.” 


439c (6) Reason, of course, holds us back from drinking sometimes. 


439d (7) Thus there are at least two parts of the soul: “hence it isn’t unreasonable for us to claim that they are two, and different from one another.  We’ll call the part of the soul with which it calculates the rational part and the part with which it lusts, hungers, thirsts, and gets excited by other appetites the irrational appetitive part, companion of certain indulgences and pleasures.” 


--Note: the “rational” part he “proves” here is one which is concerned with calculation—for example, it examines our appetites in light of their expected consequences.  It is not clear that the use of ‘rational’ or ‘reason’ here is the same as the one which he will go on to discuss.  If it is not, then he has not necessarily succeeded in fully differentiating the rational part of the soul in the sense he wants from the appetitive part. 


-439e Is the “spirited part” a third part of the soul, or is it the same as one or the other of the two parts identified so far? 


--Sometimes we struggle against our appetites and get angry with ourselves for having them or for pursuing their objects.  “...anger sometimes wars against the appetites, as one thing against another.”  (440b) sometimes “...when appetite forces someone contrary to rational calculation, he reproaches himself and gets angry with that in him that’s doing the forcing, so that of the two factions that are fighting a civil war, so to speak, spirit allies itself with reason.”  Plato’s Socrates goes on to claim (440b) that one doesn’t find cases where spirit allies itself with the appetites against reason however. 


--440d Moreover, don’t we find that sometimes when someone “...believes that someone has been unjust to him....the spirit within him [gets] boiling and angry, fighting for what he believes to be just....[he will] endure hunger, cold, and the like and keep on till it is victorious, not ceasing from noble actions until it either wins, dies, or clams down, called to heal by the reason within him, like a dog by a shepherd?” 


-Thus, there is a third element in the soul—the spirited element. (440e)  “The position of the spirited part seems to be the opposite of what we thought before.  Then we thought of it as something appetitive, but now we way that is far from being that, for in the civil war in the soul it aligns itself far more with the rational part.” 


441d “...isn’t the individual courageous in the same way and in the same part of himself as the city?  And isn’t everything else that has to do with virtue the same in both....Moreover...I suppose we’ll say that a man is just in the same way as a city.” 


-441e –“...each one of us in whom each part is doing its own work will himself be just and do his own.” 


-441e-442b The proper order (and role) of the parts of the soul: reason (rules), spirit (allies itself with reason), and the appetites (are moderate). 


-443c-444 “And justice is, it seems, something of this sort.  However, it isn’t concerned with someone’s doing his own externally, but with what is inside him, with what is truly himself and his own.  One who is just does not allow any part of himself to do the work of another part....He puts himself in order, is his own friend, and harmonizes the three parts of himself like the three limiting notes in a musical scale—high, low, and middle.” 


--As noted above, we generally treat justice as having to do with our relationships with others—that is, it has to do with external (rather than internal) actions and phenomena. 


--444b Injustice, of course, is the imbalance of the parts—a civil war between the parts of the soul with the less fit seeking to rule! 


--444c Justice and health of the soul. 


445 Which is preferable—justice or injustice?  Here he turns from the first (the definitional) question of the Republic, to the second (valuational) question.  This question is like the question “Which is preferable: health or disease?”—both questions are really ridiculous, he contends, but he takes the issue up with a comparison and contrast argument which occupies most of Books VIII and IX. 


-Criticism: Renford Bambrough notes that: “the physician can learn from other physicians how to preserve and restore health, and he can teach his art and craft to his successors, because within well-known limits there are agreed standards for determining whether a body is healthy or diseased....But the diagnosis and treatment of spiritual ills is not on such a firm theoretical or experimental basis.  There are no agreed standards for determining whether a soul or a city is healthy or diseased, just or unjust, and this is not because spiritual medicine is an under-developed science, but because it is not a science at all.  The lack of agreed standards of justice, which is Plato’s main reason for pressing the analogy between justice and health, is also the decisive reason against accepting the analogy.  Plato’s aim is to suggest that he himself knows what is ultimately and absolutely good.  If we accept this suggestion, then politics and ethics become, for us, sciences like medicine, learning by experiment and experience how to embody in law and policy the given standards of justice and virtue.  But we cannot accept the analogy unless we can accept the suggestion, and we cannot accept the suggestion because Plato can say nothing in its defense that could not equally be said by a rival claimant to ultimate and absolute knowledge of the good, in defense of a different set of ‘absolute’ standards.”[2] 


-Criticism: Plato shows that an aristocracy (in his sense) is preferable in regard to knowledge, virtue, power, and happiness.  But are there other goals which he ignores which might tip the balance toward some other sort of state/individual—freedom, liberty, or moral choice for example?  Consider the following discussion: “often, what is not noticed is the invalidity of the inference that therefore all power should be given to the wise benevolent.  Thus, if X is selling his house, even if an outside observer Y could get a better price for it, it does not follow that X must turn over the selling to Y.  For it is X’s house and he has the right to sell it, even if he does not get the best price available.  Similarly, if X were to place his life in Y’s hands and follow Y’s directives, X might have a happier life than would otherwise be the case.  However, X has the right to run his own life.”[3]  In this regard, note that Plato, in effect, deprives the individuals in his “ideal state” of the opportunity of moral choice: the ruled are not free because their desires are controlled by the philosopher kings and the philosopher kings are not free because they have knowledge and, thus, can do no wrong! 


8. Large segment of the text is omitted [445-503: Role of Women, Life of Guardians, Introduction to Forms]:


At this point, our editor leaves out an extended discussion in the Republic [445e-503--students may view the omitted material on-line ].  In this section of the text Plato’s Socrates first discusses the status of women in his ideal state.  He utilizes the guard dog metaphor to address the question “What role should women play?”  In addressing this, he also asks what sorts of differences are relevant in establishing whether individuals should have different social roles.  Thus, in addition to addressing the question of the status of women, he is clarifying what sense it is in which individuals differ so greatly that they are to be assigned differing social roles (and in what sense they are said to be deserving of different jobs).  In the omitted material, the following passages are important for us:


451d-e The guard dog metaphor and the role of women [451d-456c]:


-for both the males and females: same role, therefore, same upbringing and education. 


-453b-c Plato’s Socrates has an imaginary questioner ask: “But don’t men and women have different natures?  And, if they do, doesn’t that mean, give the principle of the division of labor, that they should have different roles?” 


-The key here is to note that we must ask: “Which differences are relevant when we consider what individuals’ roles should be?” 


--453e-454a Socrates points out that they have agreed that different natures should have different pursuits and that the natures of men and women are different, but that they now appear to be arguing that men and women should have the same pursuits.  He says: “What a grand the power of the art of contradiction [disputation]. 

  Because...many appear to me to fall into it against their wills, and to suppose that they are not wrangling but arguing owing to their inability to apply the proper divisions and distinctions to the subject under consideration.  They pursue verbal oppositions practicing eristic,[4] not dialectic on one another.” 


--454b-c Bald men and long-haired men?  Do such differences require different occupations? 


--454d But the [male] physician and [male] carpenter are different. 


     Plato’s Socrates continues [455-471c] by discussing the nature of the family relationships amongst the guardians.  Most of this passage is of little relevance to the central issues of the Republic, and the passage does not bear close scrutiny or reading. 


[471c-473c] In additional  omitted material Glaucon asks Plato’s Socrates to turn from concerns about the role of women and the family relationships of the guardians back to the more central issues and take up the question “Is this “ideal state” merely “ideal?”:


472c “Then it was in order to have a model that we were trying to discover what justice itself is like and what the completely just man would be like, if he came into being, and what kind of man he’d be if he did, and likewise with regard to injustice and the most unjust man.  We thought that, by looking at how their relationship to happiness and its opposite seemed to us, we’d also be compelled to agree about ourselves as well, that the one who was most like them would have a portion of happiness most like theirs.  But we weren’t trying to discover these things in order to prove that it’s possible for them to come into being.” 


-Note: this passage is relevant to the issue of the “aristocratic” vs. “democratic” readings of the text.  Is his concern with the state, the individual, both, or.... 


     To fully address the question of whether or not the ideal state is “merely ideal,” however, Plato’s Socrates must begin to discuss the role of philosophy in the ideal state.  This, in turn, leads him to discuss the sort of knowledge which the philosopher rulers must have [473d-475e].  In that discussion Plato’s Socrates clarifies the sort of knowledge that the rulers (or philosopher-kings) must have if they are to successfully rule (either the ideal states or their own souls).  To clarify the sort of knowledge, he must clarify the object of knowledge here, and it becomes clear that what must be known are the forms (or the essential and eternal characteristics of things). 


475e-476a “The fair and honorable is the opposite of the base and ugly, they are two....And since they are two, each is one....And in respect of the just, the good, and the bad, and all the ideas or forms, the same statement holds, that in itself each is one, but that by virtue of their communion with actions and bodies, and with one another, they present themselves everywhere as a multiplicity of aspects.”  He recognizes that it will be difficult to explain the forms: [475e] “it would be by no means easy to explain it to another...” and then maintains that


-476b “The lovers of sounds and sights...delight in beautiful tones and colors....but their thought is incapable of apprehending and taking delight in the nature of the beautiful itself. 


-476c Someone who thinks that beauty itself does not exist, but only beautiful things, is like someone who is in a dream.  Here the distinction between knowledge and opinion arises (the individual who can not make the distinction has mere opinion). 


-476d On the other hand, the individual who recognizes beauty itself (and who does not mistake the “participants”[5] for it, or it for the “participants”) leads a waking life.  And “could we not rightly, then, call the mental state of the one as knowing, knowledge, and that of the other as opining, opinion?” 


-476e “...does the man who has knowledge know something [that is, something real] or nothing?” 


-477a “...that which entirely is is entirely knowable, and that which in no way is is in every way unknowable....if a so conditioned as to be and not to be, would it not lie between that which absolutely and unqualifiedly is and that which in no way is?....since knowledge pertains to that which is and ignorance of necessity to that which is not, for that which lies between we must seek for something between nescience[6] and science.”  And, of course, that is opinion. 


-477c-478 A response to individuals who deny that knowledge and opinion are different:


--knowledge is an infallible power,


--opinion is a fallible power,


--“how could a person with any understanding think that a fallible power is the same as an infallible one?” 


-478a-479 The object of opinion is something between being and nonbeing [or “not being”]:


In summary, then, we have a distinction between triangularity (the unchanging and eternal form which can be known infallibly—closed three-sided figure which have exactly 180o), triangular objects in the world (particular things which change and about which we can have fallible opinions—by, for example, measuring the number of degrees with a protractor), and nonexistent “things” (like round squares—things which can not be and about which neither knowledge nor opinion can be had): 







What is real.

What is between.

What is unreal.

Mental State:

Infallible knowledge

Fallible belief



Effectively, then, the Forms are: objective, unchanging, real [in the greatest sense], true, and they are what is truly valuable. 

      Plato’s Socrates clarifies what the many think of the sort of knowledge the philosopher-kings would have, and how individuals with the relevant sort of potential are educated in current states.  He characterizes the philosophers as “lovers of knowledge” who (485c) “...must be without falsehood—they must refuse to accept what is false, hate it, and have a love for the truth.”  This, of course, raises a question as to whether they and perpetuate the lies and noble fiction which they are supposed to perpetuate (cf., 389b, 415, and 459d).  At this point our editor returns us to the text of the Republic. 


-499b The only ways either good cities or good individuals will come about, then, is if either “…some chance event compels those few philosophers who aren’t vicious…to take charge of a city…or [for]…a god…[to inspire] the present rulers and kings…with a true erotic love for true philosophy.” 


--Note that this passage should be contrasted with the description of the tyrant at 579b-c as an individual who is “filled with erotic loves.” 


9. Analogies and allegories regarding philosophic knowledge [502c-521b]:


In this section Plato’s Socrates uses a number of analogies and allegories to further clarify the sort of knowledge which the true philosophical rulers would have.  Note that given what Plato has said about the importance of rational knowledge, and of knowledge of the forms, it seems inappropriate for him to resort to analogies and metaphors at this point—surely, one could say, he should provide further dialectical clarity regarding the forms and regarding the form in general (and regarding the particular form of Justice) here.  Given the relative unsatisfactoriness of sight, vision, and nonrational means, he should not be trying to advance our understanding here by means of analogies and metaphors!  Why, then, does he do this? 


503 b “…let us now dare to say that those who are to be made our guardians in the most exact sense must be philosophers.” 


505-506 “’ve often heard it said that the form of the good is the most important thing to learn about and that it’s by their relation to it that just things and the others become useful and beneficial.  You know very well that...we have no adequate knowledge of it [and]....if we don’t know it, even the fullest possible knowledge of other things is of no benefit to us, any more than if we acquire any possession without the good of it. 


-506b Plato’s Socrates is asked whether pleasure or knowledge (or some other thing) is “good.”  He doesn’t take this up directly, but we are meant to see here and in what follows that knowledge is far more like the good than is pleasure!  This topic is too “big” for the discussion, and they turn to the smaller topic of “justice.” 


-506c “...opinions without knowledge are shameful and ugly things....The best of them are blind....” 


507b There is a single form behind the multiplicity of particulars. 


-The forms are intelligible and not visible. 


-508b-509d The analogy of the sun—there is one form (of course, the form of the good) behind the many forms. 


--508d “....when [the soul] focuses on something illuminated by truth and what is, it understands, knows, and apparently possesses understanding, but when it focuses on what is mixed with obscurity, on what comes to be and passes away, it opines and is dimmed, changes its opinions this way and that, and seems bereft of understanding.” 


--509b the sun [the form of the good] not only makes things visible [intelligible], but it is ultimately the source of their existence! 


509d-511d The divided line passage:


In this passage Plato clarifies the different “cognitive stages” on the road to understanding or wisdom.  Of some importance (especially when this passage is combined with the Analogy of the Sun and the Allegory of the Cave, which bracket it) is the fact that he suggests that the final stage in the process is one which involves “grasping” (or “insight”) [511b] rather than reasoning (or the use of “hypotheses’).  The visual metaphor of the sun suggests that the final stage (noesis) involves an “intellectual vision” which consists of a direct and immediate embracing the truth (though it may have to be preceded by a long process of dialectical study). 


509d “Understand, then, that, as we said, there are these two things, one sovereign of the intelligible kind and place, the other of the have two kinds of thing, visible and intelligible.” 


-The “divided line” distinguishes the two stages of the “visible” (pistis [or opinion] and eikasia [imagination]) from the two stages of the intelligible (dianoia [or reasoning] and noesis [or understanding]). 


-510b-511e This long passage needs to be read carefully—it distinguishes between the two stages of the intelligible and helps clarify the sort on knowledge the philosopher-kings are supposed to have. 



Cognitive State:

Object of the Cognitive State:

A semi-plausible comparison to early Platonic views regarding Socratic Knowledge



Noesis (understanding)


The state of accomplishment—integrated knowledge of the forms. 



Dianoia (reasoning/thought)

Mathematical and scientific objects/laws  

Similar to the dialectical search for knowledge. 



Pistis (opinion/belief)

Sensible objects

Similar to the state of those who could reach aporia (the recognition of ignorance). 



Eikasia (imagination)

Images, reflections, and works of art

Similar to the state of ignorance of Euthyphro and others. 




514-520 The allegory of the cave:


Plato’s Socrates has us imagine individuals living in a deep cave and chained so that they can only view shadows on the wall and hear echoes in the cave.  Their “knowledge” is only at the lowest level on the divided line (eikasia [imagination])—they see only images!  Were someone able to free him or herself, and look at the fire in the cave which makes the images possible, pain would immediately be experienced.  In time, however, the individual could see things (albeit rather darkly) rather than shadows, and would now be at the next higher level (pistis [opinion]).  If this person tried to tell the others about the illusory character of their “knowledge,” they would hate him or her. 


Were she or he now to move out of the cave and into the sunlight, again the first experience would be of pain, but in time things would be seen far better than before—the individual would have moved up one more level and would now be in the intelligible realm (dianoia [reasoning]).  Finally, if the individual looked directly at the sun.... 


518c “...the power to learn is present in everyone’s soul and...the instrument with which each learns is like an eye that cannot be turned around from darkens to light without turning the whole body.  This instrument cannot be turned around from that which is coming into being without turning the whole soul until it is able to study that which is and the brightest thing that is, namely the one we call the [form of the] good.” 


Note: as indicated above, this passage suggests what I call the “democratic” reading of the Republic.  It seems to indicate that all individuals are capable of becoming philosophers.  If this represents his view, of course, the passages about the “inferior many” will need to be “explained away.”  Cf., 431b, 479d, 494a, and 518c. 


520-521b Plato’s Socrates indicates that individuals who have the requisite knowledge must be compelled to rule.  They are to take ruling up as a duty, and he believes this is for the best for all.  They will accept this lot in life because, he contends, (520e) “...we’ll be giving just orders to just people.”  He also contends that (521a) “...if beggars hungry for private goods go into public life, thinking that the good is there for the seizing, then the well-governed city is impossible.” 


10. The Tyrannical Life and the Question “Which life is the better one? [571-592b]:


At this point, our editor leaves out a large portion of the Republic at this point (521c-571).  In these pages, Plato’s Socrates discusses in greater detail the higher education of the rulers or philosopher-kings.  He then turns to an extended discussion of various “less than ideal” states and individuals—offering the same sort of discussion as he offered regarding the ideal state and individual.  That is, he discusses what happens when the “other” parts of the soul rule a state or individual.  This discussion is intended to set up the following critical comparison and contrast of the just state or individual sketched above and the unjust state or individual.  Plato’s Socrates presents his comparison and contrast in terms of an imagined degeneration of the state (or individual) from the just one discussed thus far through a series of “intermediate” cases:


a “timocracy[7]” which is ruled by the emotion of civic courage;


an “oligarchy” which is ruled the desire for wealth (one of the necessary appetites);


a “democracy” which treats everything as equally valuable (in a democracy, unlike the other states discussed, there is equality, and this means that all the various parts of the soul are given equal valuation—that is, reason, the emotions, the necessary appetites, and the unnecessary appetites are all valued equally), and, finally,


a “tyranny.” 


In his discussion, Plato’s Socrates is not trying to sketch an actual “devolution” (of either the individual or the state); instead, he discusses the various “logical” types of states and individuals.  His goal is to set up the critical comparison and contrast argument which follows.  I have provided a long handout of Book 8 of The Republic covers the omitted material and will be important to our discussion of Plato’s overall argument.[8] 


Plato’s Socrates begins by discussing what he calls a timocracy—a state ruled by the auxiliaries without the leadership and guidance of the philosopher kings.  Since “…everything which has a beginning has also an end” the ideal aristocracy “will not last forever, but will in time be dissolved” [1st page of handout—the website doesn’t incorporate the standard reference indicators].  As the philosopher kings disappear, and as the auxiliaries begin to disagree amongst themselves and lose the “civic courage” which is at the core of their nature in the ideal state, we will see this state (and the corresponding individuals “devolve.”  Thus we will find “…the spirit of contention and ambition; and these are due to the prevalence of the passionate or spirited element.”  Moreover, the individuals in this state will become “lovers of power and honor” [3rd page].  The children of these individuals will become increasingly divorced from civic courage and the nature and life-style of the true guardians, and as this occurs we will find the next stage of the “devolution” arising. 


Here arises what Plato’s Socrates refers to as an oligarchy—the state will come to be ruled by those primarily motivated by the appetite for wealth.  It is important to note that this sort of state and the corresponding individual will lead a tightly controlled life seeking wealth alone (and this is to be considered one of the necessary appetites from Plato’s point of view).  As we will see, it is not anywhere near the ideal, but it is far preferable to the two remaining types of state or individual!  As Plato’s Socrates says: as “…men become lovers of trade and money, they honor and look up to the rich man, and dishonor the poor man” [5th page].  Here, he contends, we will find the state fixing the qualification for citizenship in terms of an individual’s wealth.  He thinks there are three basic problems with such a state:


“…just think what would happen if pilots [of ships] were to be chosen according to their property, and a poor man were refused permission to steer, even though he were a better pilot” [6th page].  


“the inevitable division: such a State is not one, but two states, the one of poor, and the other of rich men; and they are living on the same spot and always conspiring against one another’ [6th page].  


“a man may sell all that he has, and another may acquire his property; yet after the sale he may dwell in the city of which he is no longer a part, being neither trader, nor artisan, nor horseman, nor hoplite, but only a poor, helpless creature’ [6th page]. 


The citizens of the state are like the “drones of a hive” who have taken over the rule of the state though they lack the necessary character and capacities for ruling [7th page].  While order is maintained by the tight control of a necessary appetite, as this sort of state “devolves,” the unnecessary appetites make an inevitable appearance.  They arise, first, because by allowing them in the rulers can gain more wealth; and, secondly, because the children of the oligarch will seek to fulfill them and will have access to the funds to do so freely [pages 7-13].  Thus over time the children devolve:


“when a young man who has been brought up as..[an oligarch under the control of the necessary appetite of wealth]…has tasted drone’s honey and has come to associate with fierce and crafty natures who are able to provide for him all sorts of refinements and varieties of pleasure—then, as you may imagine, the change will begin of the oligarchical principle within him into the democratical” [13th page]. 


This will, then, lead to the next stage of devolution: the emergence of a democracy—which he characterizes as:


“after this he lives on, spending his money and labour and time on unnecessary pleasures quite as much as on necessary ones; but if he be fortunate, and is not too much disordered in his wits, when years have elapsed, and the heyday of passion is over…he balances his pleasures and lives in a sort of equilibrium…” [14th-15th pages]. 


“…he lives from day to day indulging the appetite of the hour; and tries to get thin; lapped in drink and strains of the flute; then he becomes a water-drinker, and  neglecting everything, then one more living the life of a philosopher; often he is busy with politics, and starts to his feet and says and does whatever comes into his head; and, if he is emulous of any one who  is a warrior, off he is in that direction, or of men of business, once more in that.  His life is neither law nor order, and this distracted existence he terms joy and bliss and freedom; and so he goes on” [15th page]. 


Plato contends that democracies are full of freedom, and just as oligarchies devolve because of their emphasis on wealth, democracies devolve because of their embrace of freedom.  This leads to the final step, the emergence of tyranny and the correlative individual—the tyrant [16th page through end of supplement].  


[Returning to our text] Here we return to our editor’s selection, and we see that according to Plato’s progression a democracy devolves into a tyrannical state.  The sub-classes in the democracy (rulers, wealthy, and general citizens) war with one-another—usually the rulers and general citizens try to prey on the wealthy.  The classes here are not in harmony and, thus, the state (and the individual’s correspondingly ill soul) is unstable and ill.  This leads to the need for a strong leader: [565d] “and is it not always the way of a demos to put forward one man as its special champion and protector and cherish and magnify him?”  According to Plato’s Socrates, this leader initially appears to be everyone’s friend, but works to divide and conquer becoming, in time, a tyrant. 


To understand this individual (and the tyranny), we must pay attention to Plato’s characterization of the unnecessary appetites: [571] “...some of our unnecessary pleasures and desires seem to me lawless.  They are probably present in everyone, but they are held in check by the laws and by the better desires with the help of reason....Those that are aroused during sleep....” 


[572d] The character of the dictatorial man:


-573b “...purged him[self] of moderation and filled him[self] with imported madness.” 


-573c-d “Then a man becomes tyrannical in the precise sense of the term when either his nature or his way of life or both of them together make him drunk, filled with erotic desires, and mad.... 

  ...many terrible desires grow up day and night besides the tyrannical one, needing many things to satisfy them.... 


--574a-575a The tyrant will try to “outdo” his parents, and will sacrifice and harm them, and “...erotic love lives like a tyrant within him, in complete anarchy and lawlessness as his sole ruler, and drives him, as if he were a city, to dare anything that will provide sustenance for himself and the unruly mob around it (some of whose members have come in from the outside as a result of his keeping bad company, while others have come from within, freed and let loose by his own bad habits).”[9]  Here Plato describes the tyrant as someone fully characterized by pleonexia.” 


The discussion of the different individuals and states (the aristocracy, timocracy, oligarchy, democracy, and tyranny) leads to Plato’s proofs:


First proof: comparison/contrast of aristocracy and tyranny [576d-580d]:


-576d tyranny and aristocracy are direct opposites,


-there is no more miserable state than the tyranny,


-there is no happier state than the aristocracy,


-577c the state under a dictator is enslaved,


-the best elements in the tyranny are without civic rights. 


577d As with the state, so with the individual:


-the souls of tyrants are full of servitude,


-best elements are enslaved,


-soul is not free. 


--Critical comment: now, really, is Plato a “fan” of freedom?  Is there freedom in an aristocracy? 


-577e-578b The tyrannical city (and soul) is poor, full of fear, and wretched. 


-578d-579a Consider the individual who owns many slaves.  Does this person fear the slaves?  No!  Why not?  Because the whole state would come to the rescue if the slaves revolted.  Now consider what would happen if the individual and the slaves were all moved away from the protection afforded by the city.  The slave owner would be (rightly) frightened and would turn into a flatterer of servants/slaves!


-579b-c “...he’d be surrounded by nothing but vigilant enemies. 

  And isn’t this the kind of prison in which the tyrant is held—the one...filled with fears and erotic loves of all kinds....he’s the only one in the whole city who can’t travel abroad or see the sights that other free people want to see.  Instead, he lives like a woman, mostly confined to his own house, and envying any other citizen who happens to travel abroad and see something worthwhile. 

  ....He’s just like an exhausted body without any self-control, which, instead of living privately, is compelled to compete and fight with other bodies all its life.” 


--Note that this passage should be contrasted with the one at 499b (not included in our selection) “the Philosopher is filled with a true erotic love for true philosophy.”  There he contends that the only way either good cities or good individuals will come about, then, is if either “…some chance event compels those few philosophers who aren’t vicious…to take charge of a city…or [for]…a god…[to inspire] the present rulers and kings…with a true erotic love for true philosophy.” 


In the context of a “comparison and contrast” between the sort of “erotic love” of the tyrant and that of the philosopher, I should perhaps revisit my earlier remarks upon Plato’s view of love.  In discussing the family relationships of the rulers and auxiliaries, I noted that he would take the children away from the parents and would not allow the ruling males and females to form “husband and wife” relationships.  The claim there was that “erotic love” would not foster the requisite character for ruling (they would care more for specific individuals than for the whole state if they were allowed to cultivate this trait, or have such parent-child, husband-wife relationships).  In short, I said, Plato seems to be no fan of love. 


This is only partially true however.  In his Symposium (many consider this to be Plato’s “second-greatest” dialogue after the Republic), Plato offers a number of speeches given at a supper party regarding the nature of love.  Of course, Socrates’ speech (199c-212c) is the highlight of the dialogue.  Within this speech Plato’s Socrates imagines Diotima [a wise woman of Mantinea who “instructs him” regarding true love much as the “laws” instruct him in the Crito].  The speech from 210a-212c sketches an “assent” from love of transient individuals to love of the form of the Beautiful itself and clearly indicates that Plato feels there is a “good” form of erotic attachment (though it is to what is eternal rather than what is changing, and it is the sort of love which many can share in).  The famous passage is too long to replicate here, but one portion of it goes as follows:


And so, when his prescribed devotion to boyish beauties has carried our candidate so far that the universal beauty dawns upon his inward sight, he is almost within reach of the final revelation.  And this is the way, the only way, he must approaching, or be led toward the sanctuary of Love.  Starting from individual beauties, the quest for the universal beauty must find him ever mounting the heavenly ladder, stepping from rung to rung—that is, from one to two, and from two to every lovely body, from bodily beauty to the beauty of institutions, from institutions to learning, and from learning in general to the special love that pertains to nothing but the beautiful itself—until at last he comes to know what beauty is. 

  And if, my dear Socrates, Diotima went on, man’s life is ever worth living, it is when he has attained this vision of the very soul of beauty.  And once you have seen it, you will never be seduced again by the charm of gold, of dress, of comely boys, or lads just ripening to manhood; you will care nothing for the beauties that used to take your breath away and kindle such a longing in you, and many others like you, Socrates, to be always at the side of the beloved and feasting your eyes upon him, so that you would be content, if it were possible to deny yourself the grosser necessities of meat and drink, so long as you were with him.

  But if it were given to man to gaze on beauty’s very self—unsullied, unalloyed, and freed from the mortal taint that haunts the frailer loveliness of flesh and blood—if, I say, it were given to man to see the heavenly beauty face to face, would you call his, she asked me, an unenviable life, whose eyes had been opened to the vision, and who had gazed upon it in true contemplation until it had become his own forever?[10] 


Of course, many may feel that the sort of love Plato commends here is not what they fee to be intrinsically valuable—it may seem “Platonic” rather than “real” love.[11] 


580b Which individual, then, (the aristocrat, timocrat, oligarch, democrat, or tyrant) is first in happiness?  That is an easy question once one has set the comparison and contrast. 


Additional Critical Comments:


Plato’s “first argument” contends that the good for human beings is to have a tightly-ordered soul governed by philosophical reason and live in a civil society which is similarly controlled by reason.  Pleasures, loves, freedoms, choices, and any other goods are to be rigidly controlled by the “higher” parts.  In his Reasons and Persons, Derek Parfit suggests that:


we might…claim that what is best for people is a composite.  It is not just their being in the conscious states [e.g., pleasure and pain] that they want to be in.  Nor is it just their having knowledge, engaging in rational activity, being aware of true beauty, and the like.  What is good for someone is neither what Hedonists claim, nor just what is claimed by Objective List Theorists.  We might believe that if we had either of these, without the other, what we had would have little or no value.  We might claim, for example, that what is good or bad for someone is to have knowledge, to be engaged in rational activity, to experience mutual love, and to be aware of beauty, while strongly wanting just these things.  On this view, each side in this disagreement [hedonists and list theorists] saw only half of the truth.  Each put forward as sufficient something that was only necessary.[12] 


We could build on Parfit’s suggestion developing a view (or, even, perhaps, an alternative reading of Plato’s view) which stresses that the good for human beings is multi-faceted; and insists on a balance between love of knowledge, love of others, civic concern, pleasurable fulfillment, love of beauty, and a host of other intrinsically valuable ends.  While a life which includes the sort of philosophical knowledge Plato recommends may be “good;” such a view insists that if it is devoid of the other aspects, it is not a “good life.”  This view would accept the Socratic claim that “the unexamined life is unworthy living,” without adhering to the Platonic exclusivity which turns this into the only important aspect of the good life. 

The suggestion of an alternative reading of Plato, rather than a wholly alternative view, is suggested by the fact that the common move in interpreting Plato’s “proof” here emphasizes, as he does, the element of “rigid control” and the absolute emphasis upon philosophical wisdom.  If we look back at Plato’s beginning points in the Republic, however, and pick up on his emphasis upon justice as a harmony of the parts, and note, as I have emphasized, that the development of his overall argument emphasizes both philosophical knowledge and civic concern, then we might come up with a view of Plato which would emphasize a harmony of various goods.  Of course promoting control and promoting harmony can be very different; and the interpretation of Plato I have emphasized has been one which talks more of the former than of the latter.  This, however, can’t be resolved here by me. 


In his “The Case For Far-Out Possibilities,” Freeman Dyson maintains that:


the right question to ask was not “Who are the best rulers?” but “How do we make sure that rulers can be peacefully replaced when they rule badly?”  Democratic systems of government are designed to answer this latter question.  Elections are held not to choose the best rulers, but to give us a chance to get rid of the worst without bloodshed.  Constitutional monarchy is another solution to the same problem….The perennial problem of government is not to choose the best rulers, but to hold bad rulers responsible for their failures.[13] 


580d A second proof [580d-583b]:


580d Each part of the soul has its particular form of pleasure and its peculiar desire: knowledge, honor, and appetites. 


-581c-e The three types of people would, of course, each say that their sort of pleasure is the best!  How shall we judge this issue? 


--582a “How are we to judge things if we want to judge them well?  Isn’t it by experience, reason, and argument?” 


--582b-d Which of the three types has the most experience of the three kinds of pleasure?  Which is most adept at reasoning and argument?  The philosopher! 


--583a “Then of the three pleasures, the most pleasant is that of the part of the soul with which we learn....” 


A third proof [583b-592b]:


583c We say pain and pleasure are opposites, but actually, there is a middle ground between them (that is, the absence of pain)! 


-584 Some confuse true pleasure with the mere absence of pain! 


--584e-585a “Is it any surprise, then, if those who are inexperienced in the truth have unsound opinions about lots of other things as well, or that they are so disposed to pleasure, pain, and the intermediate state that, when they descend to the painful, they believe truly and are really in pain, but that, when they ascend from the painful to the intermediate state, they firmly believe that they have reached fulfillment and pleasure?” 


-585b-c Ignorance and pain are “empty” states of the soul, and it is true belief, knowledge, etc., which are the “fulfilled states” which contrast with these empty states (rather than the intermediate states). 


-586a-b “Therefore, those who have no experience of reason or virtue, but are always occupied with feasts and the like, are brought down and then back up to the middle, as it seems, and wander in this way throughout their lives, never reaching beyond this to what is truly higher up, never looking up at it or being brought up to it, and so they aren’t filled with that which really is and never taste any stable and pure pleasure.  Instead, they always look down at the ground like cattle, and with their heads bent over the dinner table, they feed, fatten, and fornicate.  To outdo others in these things, they kick and butt them with iron horns and hoofs, killing each other, because their desires are insatiable.  For the part they are trying to fill is like a vessel full of holes, and neither it nor the things they are trying to fill it with are among the things that are.” 


--His discussion here should remind us of what he said in the “divided line passage” [509-511 d] and his “allegory of the cave” [514-520]—if one isn’t “exposed” to the “better pleasures,” one can’t even know what one is missing according to Plato’s Socrates here.  Those who are unaware of the “true pleasures” (those of philosophic discussion, reflection, and knowledge), then are like those in the cave who are content to live a life of looking at shadows (that is things which are largely unreal—those items which fit into the lowest category of cognition and reality in the divided line passage). 


-586e “...when the entire soul follows the philosophic part, and there is no civil war in it, each part of it does its own work exclusively and is just, and in particular it enjoys its own pleasures, the best and truest pleasures possible for it.” 


-587a-589b Plato’s Socrates offers both a tortured mathematical evaluation of how distant the tyrant is from the aristocrat, and a comparison of the tyrant with various mythological beasts.  Instead of feeding the beasts within us, of course, he maintains we should domesticate them! 


-589d “...can it profit anyone to acquire gold unjustly if, by doing so, he enslaves the best part of himself to the most vicious?” 


-590c-d “...when the best part is naturally weak in someone, it can’t rule the beasts within him but can only serve them and learn to flatter ensure that someone like that is ruled by something similar to what rules the best person, we say that he ought to be the slave of that best person who has a divine ruler within himself.  It isn’t to harm the slave that we say he must be ruled, which is what Thrasymachus thought to be true of all subjects, but because it is better for everyone to be ruled by divine reason, preferably within himself and his own, otherwise imposed from without, so that as far as possible all will be alike and friends, governed by the same thing.” 


592a-b Plato’s Socrates suggests that this picture of an ideal state may be a model “...for anyone who wishes to look at it and make himself its citizen on the strength of what he sees.  It makes no difference whether it is or ever will be somewhere, for he would take part in the practical affairs of that city and of no other.” 



Notes: (click on note number to return to text for the note)

[1] It should go without saying, that one can not assume that Plato’s concept of the soul (or psyche) is largely similar to the modern conception.  The religious conception of the soul in the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic faiths is influenced by Plato’s conception (rather than the other way around).  Similarly, of course, one can not try and analyze his conception along Freudian lines—though, of course, Freud’s conception of the psyche is influenced by Plato’s. 

[2] Renford Bambrough, “Plato’s Political Analogies,” in Philosophy, Politics, and Society, ed. Peter Laslett (Oxford: Blackwell, 1956), p. 108.  The essay is also in Plato, Popper, and Politics edited by Renford Bambrough (Cambridge: Heffer, 1967). 

[3] Norman E. Bowie and Robert Simon, The Individual and the Political Order (2nd edition) (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1986), p. 130. 

[4] The art of disputation and polemics. 

[5] By ‘participants’ Plato means to speak of the individual beautiful things.  Thus Beauty Itself (the form Beautiful) is one thing and individual things, like the Mona Lisa, are different things which are what they are because they “fall under” (or “participate in”) the relevant form. 

[6] Lack of science, or ignorance. 

[7] Timocracy: ‘timerous’ = ‘fearful’—of course, here, in a “Platonic” sense!  Remember his discussion of the “auxiliaries,” and their sort of civic courage. 

[8] This translation of Plato's Symposiumis from Benjamin Jowett’s translation of The Republic as it appears on The Internet Classics Archive, (accessed on September 9, 2014. 

[9] See the note to the passage at 343d-344c regarding the translation of pleonexia. 

[10] Plato, Symposium (211d-212c), trans. Michael Joyce [1935], in The Collected Dialogues of Plato, eds. Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns (Princeton: Princeton U.P., 1961), pp. 562-563.  The passage, translated by Alexander Nehamas and Paul Woodruff, may be found in our text on pp. 119-120. 

[11] Platonic love is given the following definition by The Random House Dictionary of the English Language (N.Y.: Random House, 1969), p. 1103: “…love of the idea of beauty, seen as terminating an evolution from physical desire for an individual through love of physical beauty and later of spiritual beauty.  2…an intimate companionship or relationship between a man and a woman which is characterized by the apparent absence of sexual desire; a spiritual affection.” 

[12] Derek Parfit, Reasons and Persons (Oxford: Oxford U.P., 1984), pp. 501-502. 

[13] Freeman Dyson, “The Case For Far-Out Possibilities,” The New York Review of Books v. 58 (November 10, 2011, pp. 27-27, p. 27. 

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