Thursday 9/12

Republic, Book III



Essay 2 Question

At the close of discussion today I followed up on our discussion by assigning the second essay. This will be due next Thursday, 9/19, to give me time to read and evaluate your first essays and get them back to you on Tuesday.

At 360e and following, Glaucon summarizes his challenge to Socrates by contrasting two lives as follows:

As for the choice between the lives we’re discussing, we’ll be able to make a correct judgment about that only if we separate the most just and [e] make a correct judgment about that only if we separate the most just and the most unjust. Otherwise we won’t be able to do it. Here’s the separation I have in mind. We’ll subtract nothing from the injustice of an unjust person and nothing from the justice of a just one, but we’ll take each to be complete in his own way of life. First, therefore, we must suppose that an unjust person will act as clever craftsmen do: A first-rate captain or doctor, for example, knows the difference between what his craft can and [361] can’t do. He attempts the first but lets the second go by, and if he happens to slip, he can put things right. In the same way, 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 [b] unjust activities should be discovered, he must be 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 himself.

Having hypothesized such a person, let’s now in our argument put beside him a just man, who is simple and noble and who, as Aeschylus says, doesn’t want to be believed to be good but to be so.1 We must take [c] away his reputation, for a reputation for justice would bring him honor and rewards, so that it wouldn’t be clear whether he is just for the sake of justice itself or for the sake of those honors and rewards. 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, so that he can be tested as regards justice unsoftened by his bad reputation and its effects. Let him stay like that unchanged until [d] he dies—just, but all his life believed to be unjust. In this way, both will reach the extremes, the one of justice and the other of injustice, and we’ll be able to judge which of them is happier.

So the challenge (and our question!) is this: Which is the happier life? The life of the perfectly unjust man whose injustice is so perfect as to deceive all those around him into believing he is perfectly just, or the life of the perfectly just man who, doing no injustice, nevertheless suffers the greatest reputation for injustice?

A few points of clarification on this question, if I may.

  • Bear in mind that the challenge to the nature of justice and the puzzle of whether or not it is a virtue is that we are just not simply for the sake of being just but because of the advantage we gain from being (thought) just. Thus Glaucon's challenge is scalpel sharp, well earning Socrates' exclamation, "Whew! Glaucon, I said, how vigorously you’ve scoured each of the men for our competition, just as you would a pair of statues for an art competition."
  • The word in Ancient Greek that by tradition gets translation into English as "happiness" is eudaimonia (εὐδαιμονία). Happiness in English is typically understood as a kind of psychological state. "How are you today?" "I'm happy! I got an 'A' on my midterm!" This translation makes some sense. After all, 'eu' (good) and 'daimon' (spirit) certainly encourages it. "I'm high-spirited" or "I'm of good-spirits, I got an 'A' on the midterm" seems consistent with this use of 'happiness' as a translation of 'eudaimonia'. As Aristotle will argue in the Nicomachean Ethics, however, eudaimonia is suitably understood in a much wider sense. For Aristotle, eudaimonia is the activity of the soul in accordance with perfect virtue, where 'virtue' in turn is understood in a much wider sense than what we ordinarily take it to mean. From our translator's 8th footnote in Book I, "Aretē is broader than our notion of virtue, which tends to be applied only to human beings, and restricted to good sexual behavior or helpfulness on their part to others. Aretē could equally be translated “excellence” or “goodness.” Thus if something is a knife (say) its aretē or “virtue” as a knife is that state or property of it that makes it a good knife—having a sharp blade, and so on. So with the virtue of a man: this might include being intelligent, well-born, or courageous, as well as being just and sexually well-behaved." Putting all this together, then, the question above of who has the happier life is better understood as the question, who has the greater life or who best flourishes qua human excellences?
  • Finally, let us not fall for the sophistical, impotent rejoinder, "well that's just unrealistic!" We don't care whether the Ring of Gyges Thought Experiment is 'realistic' or not--thought experiments need not be realistic to be entirely effective. Someone might equally well say of Jackson's Case of Mary or Putnam's Twin Earth Thought Experiment, "well, those are just unrealistic", and therewith merely demonstrate their failure to understand the force of the thought experiments involved--their very point, that is to say. In no sense need a thought experiment be 'realistic' for it to succeed, as the prevalence of thought experiments in physics and philosophy endlessly demonstrate. Worse, in the particular case of Glaucon's thought experiment, it seems fair to say that the two lives in question are surpassingly realistic, and that we can even point to examples of such lives having been led.

Discussion Questions

First Question: The City Austere (Book II)

Having agreed that the city is the soul of the man writ large, and that by examining the city for justice we can finally find it in the man in responding to Glaucon and Adeimantus' challenge (the Ring of Gyges), Socrates turns immediately to the task at hand (369b):

I think a city comes to be because none of us is self-sufficient, but we all need many things. Do you think that a city is founded on any other principle?


And because people need many things, and because one person calls [c] on a second out of one need and on a third out of a different need, many people gather in a single place to live together as partners and helpers. And such a settlement is called a city. Isn’t that so?

It is.

And if they share things with one another, giving and taking, they do so because each believes that this is better for himself?

That’s right.

Come, then, let’s create a city in theory from its beginnings. And it’s our needs, it seems, that will create it.

It is, indeed.

[d] Surely our first and greatest need is to provide food to sustain life.


Our second is for shelter, and our third for clothes and such.

That’s right.

How, then, will a city be able to provide all this? Won’t one person have to be a farmer, another a builder, and another a weaver? And shouldn’t we add a cobbler and someone else to provide medical care?

All right.

So the essential minimum for a city is four or five men?

Echoing the translation, we might call this the 'minimally necessary city', which even Socrates finds pointlessly minuscule. He proceeds to flesh out what we may call the 'austere city' by reference to the practical necessity of the division of labor. What is his argument, and what are the social roles that must be filled out to obtain a model of a properly functioning austere society?

Second Question: The City Luxurious (Book II)

At 372c Glaucon challenges Socrates' Austere City, arguing that it would suffice to sustain life but little more. What about all the good things in life? Fine foods, fine entertainments and arts, athletic and recreational pursuits, and all the other things in life which make it meaningful and a delight to live? Socrates responds with what we may call the 'luxurious city',

It isn’t merely the origin of a city that we’re considering, it seems, but the origin of a luxurious city. And that may not be a bad idea, for by examining it, we might very well see how justice and injustice grow up in cities. Yet the true city, in my opinion, is the one we’ve described, the healthy one, as it were. But let’s study a city with a [373] fever, if that’s what you want. There’s nothing to stop us. The things I mentioned earlier and the way of life I described won’t satisfy some people, it seems, but couches, tables, and other furniture will have to be added, and, of course, all sorts of delicacies, perfumed oils, incense, prostitutes, and pastries. We mustn’t provide them only with the necessities we mentioned at first, such as houses, clothes, and shoes, but painting and embroidery must be begun, and gold, ivory, and the like acquired.

The Austere City, we're told, is the healthy one. (Why?) Yet Socrates concedes Glaucon's point, that it is better to model the Luxurious City if we are to find in it the sources of injustice and justice. What is the Luxurious City in contradistinction to the Austere City? What must we add to the Austere City?

Now the luxuries of the Luxurious City necessitate the guardians, or so Socrates shortly argues. Why? Why a special class of guardians, and not everyone else simply taking up arms as necessary? What are the essential characteristics of the guardians, and why does Socrates initially conclude that they cannot exist as the discussants describe them? How does he respond to his own argument? What are the traits of the guardian?

Third Question: Educating the Guardians (Book II and Book III)

The latter quarter (give or take) Book II and majority of Book III are given over to the minutiae (said without thereby belittling the depth of discussion) of the education of the guardians. How ought we characterize this education? What are its elements, and its purported outcomes? Why is such a careful specification of the education of the guardians important to the argument at hand--an inquiry into the nature of justice, recall?

Fourth Question: The Noble Lie

At 389b-d, Socrates argues that, while it is never permitted for a citizen to lie, circumstances can arise that justify lies by the rulers (and the rulers/guardians alone!):

Moreover, we have to be concerned about truth as well, for if what we said just now is correct, and falsehood, though of no use to the gods, is useful to people as a form of drug, clearly we must allow only doctors to use it, not private citizens.


Then if it is appropriate for anyone to use falsehoods for the good of the city, because of the actions of either enemies or citizens, it is the rulers. But everyone else must keep away from them, because for a private citizen [c] to lie to a ruler is just as bad a mistake as for a sick person or athlete not to tell the truth to his doctor or trainer about his physical condition or for a sailor not to tell the captain the facts about his own condition or that of the ship and the rest of its crew—indeed it is a worse mistake than either of these.

That’s completely true.

What is the argument here? Do you find it persuasive?

Then later at 414b Socrates provides an example of just such a noble lie:

[b] Then, isn’t it truly most correct to call these people complete guardians, since they will guard against external enemies and internal friends, so that the one will lack the power and the other the desire to harm the city? The young people we’ve hitherto called guardians we’ll now call auxiliaries and supporters of the guardians’ convictions.

I agree.

How, then, could we devise one of those useful falsehoods we were talking about a while ago, one noble falsehood that would, in the best [c] case, persuade even the rulers, but if that’s not possible, then the others in the city?

What sort of falsehood?

Nothing new, but a Phoenician story which describes something that has happened in many places. At least, that’s what the poets say, and they’ve persuaded many people to believe it too. It hasn’t happened among us, and I don’t even know if it could. It would certainly take a lot of persuasion to get people to believe it.

You seem hesitant to tell the story.

When you hear it, you’ll realize that I have every reason to hesitate.

Speak, and don’t be afraid.

[d] I’ll tell it, then, though I don’t know where I’ll get the audacity or even what words I’ll use. I’ll first try to persuade the rulers and the soldiers and then the rest of the city that the upbringing and the education we gave them, and the experiences that went with them, were a sort of dream, that in fact they themselves, their weapons, and the other craftsmen’s tools [e] were at that time really being fashioned and nurtured inside the earth, and that when the work was completed, the earth, who is their mother, delivered all of them up into the world. Therefore, if anyone attacks the land in which they live, they must plan on its behalf and defend it as their mother and nurse and think of the other citizens as their earthborn brothers.

It isn’t for nothing that you were so shy about telling your falsehood.

[415] Appropriately so. Nevertheless, listen to the rest of the story. “All of you in the city are brothers,” we’ll say to them in telling our story, “but the god who made you mixed some gold into those who are adequately equipped to rule, because they are most valuable. He put silver in those who are auxiliaries and iron and bronze in the farmers and other craftsmen. For the most part you will produce children like yourselves, but, because [b] you are all related, a silver child will occasionally be born from a golden parent, and vice versa, and all the others from each other. So the first and most important command from the god to the rulers is that there is nothing that they must guard better or watch more carefully than the mixture of metals in the souls of the next generation. If an offspring of theirs should be found to have a mixture of iron or bronze, they must not pity him in any way, but give him the rank appropriate to his nature and drive him [c] out to join the craftsmen and farmers. But if an offspring of these people is found to have a mixture of gold or silver, they will honor him and take him up to join the guardians or the auxiliaries, for there is an oracle which says that the city will be ruined if it ever has an iron or a bronze guardian.” So, do you have any device that will make our citizens believe this story?

I can’t see any way to make them believe it themselves, but perhaps [d] there is one in the case of their sons and later generations and all the other people who come after them.

What is the justification for the noble lie? Why must it, in Socrates' view, be told?