Study Guide

The Republic Book IX

By Plato

Book IX

Tyranny Continued

  • Now that they've considered tyranny as a government, Socrates and the guys need to finish up and consider the tyrannical man.
  • However, before they do this, Socrates decides that he isn't completely satisfied with their conversation about necessary and unnecessary desires and wants to go back to that.
  • Socrates observes that some unnecessary desires are part of everyone; it's just that some people can get rid of them, and some can't.
  • Socrates is thinking specifically of sexual desire: it's part of nature, but it can be so intense that it can wake you up from sleep and make you do the most ridiculous and shameful things.
  • A way to counter this desire is to be healthy and moderate, to always be in touch with your rational mind before falling asleep, and to careful to act on those desires in such a way that you prevent them from becoming too strong.
  • Thinking back now to the democratic man, Socrates reminds everyone that he was the son of an oligarchic man who ignored his unnecessary desires to any unhealthy extreme. His son was then pushed to go in the opposite direction but ended up somewhere in the middle, variously following each extreme.
  • Now they imagine that such a man (the democratic) has a son, who is raised to be just like this father, to be obsessed only with freedom and to generally follow a middle course.
  • Others will try and sway the tyrannical man and persuade him to become more pleasure-loving. When that fails, they'll decide to make him fall in love.
  • Now, in love and filled with all his other desires, the tyrannical man goes kind of crazy, and he loses all ability to be moderate.
  • Socrates says that love is often called a kind of tyranny, so it's no coincidence that the tyrannical man is also a lover.
  • Tyrants are also like drunks, because they think they can do whatever they want.
  • In fact, tyranny itself is drunken, erotic, and sad.
  • Anyway, for the tyrannical man, things quickly take a turn for the worse... and worse.
  • The tyrannical man throws lots of parties and is tortured by the ongoing desires of love that he can never satiate. He runs out of money, has to borrow from everyone—including his parents. If they resist, he'll even be driven to kill them out of a desire for the one he loves.
  • The tyrannical man will start to steal and dishonor sacred places. He'll be uninterested in what's right and wrong, only caring about his love. However, because he's the leader of a city, he'll bring the city down into ruin with him, and anarchy will prevail.
  • A certain kind of bad person will then prevail in the city. He will either leave to help out other tyrants or stay and cause constant trouble: stealing, enslaving people, lying, etc.
  • It's from this kind of group that tyrants are born. They either gain power by joining forces with people like the tyrant, or they seize control on their own through the same violence the tyrannical man used against his parents.
  • Before becoming leaders, tyrannical men typically love flattery: they surround themselves with flatterers and use flattery to get what they need, whenever they want.
  • These kind of people don't have any friends; they aren't trustworthy; and they aren't just. The longer they live in tyrannical situations, the more tyrannical they become.
  • So now Socrates and friends have described a tyrannical man and the corresponding tyrannical city, but it still remains to be seen whether the tyrannical man is wretched—and whether the aristocratic king (the kind in charge of their city) is happy.
  • Even though the answer (yes!) seems obvious, Socrates wants to be certain. He recommends that they pretend as if they are in the company of some intelligent men who have lived under tyranny.
  • They agree. They first conclude that the tyrannical city is entirely enslaved, even if not literally every citizen is a slave. The soul of a tyrannical man is similarly enslaved.
  • This slavery prevents both the city and the soul from doing what it wants.
  • The city is, furthermore, extremely poor, and it's filled with people complaining (just like a tyrannical man himself goes around complaining all the time).
  • So, Glaucon concludes that the tyrannical city is the most miserable. Socrates agrees. Glaucon also concludes that the tyrannical man is the most miserable. Socrates does not agree.
  • Socrates suggests that the most miserable man is the tyrannical man who has the bad luck of actually becoming a tyrant.
  • Why? Well, unlike a regular citizen who can more or less do what he likes, a tyrant always lives in fear, because he knows that if he ever loses his power, all his servants and "friends" will immediately turn against him. He essentially lives as if he's in a prison.
  • It's pretty bleak to think that this person, who is tyrannical on the inside and incapable of controlling himself, is also in control of a bunch of other people.
  • The tyrannical man who is also a tyrant is really the most enslaved person of all. He's untrustworthy, unjust, impious, friendless, and full of bad habits.
  • All right, Shmoopers: it's the moment of truth. Socrates now asks Glaucon to rank, in order from happiest to least happy, the five kinds of governments and people they've been reviewing.
  • No problem, says Glaucon, since he'd put them in the exact they just went through them: that makes aristocracy and kingliness the best and most just and tyranny the worst and most unjust.
  • Socrates adds that this is true regardless of whether other people accept it. And—surprise, surprise—he wants to add one more thing.

A Discussion of Pleasure and Desire

  • Socrates reminds everyone of the three-part division of the soul and says that there are corresponding desires for each part and corresponding types of people for each part.
  • The lowest part, 3) the desiring one, is associated with the pleasure of loving gain and money, the 2) spirited one is associated with the pleasure of victory and honor, while the final 1) rational part is associated with the pleasure of wisdom.
  • So, ta-da, we also get three people: a lover of gain, a lover of honor, and a lover of wisdom.
  • Socrates observes how, if you asked each of these people what was the best pleasure ever, each would say something different, liking what he likes best and finding what the others like to be ridiculous.
  • Since each type of person would defend their own pleasure the most, how could someone tell which is actually better?
  • Socrates recommends using experience, prudence, and argumentation to make this call.
  • Socrates compares the experiences of all three people and concludes that the lover of wisdom is unique because in his youth he will have necessarily have experienced all the pleasures—money and honor included—while the lovers of gain and honor will not have access to the pleasure of wisdom.
  • Because the lover of wisdom has experience, he also has prudence. Because he's a philosopher (remember, literally a "lover of wisdom"), he's also a lover of arguments, so he'll clearly have the advantage there, too. Because, let's face it, this isn't a test for money or honor.
  • So, therefore, we get the most pleasure from the rational part of the soul, and the man who loves this pleasure most is the happiest.
  • The lover of honor is second happiest, and the lover of gain third happiest.
  • Clearly, what most people consider to be pleasure (honor and money) is not pleasure at all; it's just like those shadow paintings they saw back in that cave.
  • Speaking of pleasure, Socrates goes on to point out that pain and pleasure are opposites, and that there's a state in between those two opposites called repose.
  • Socrates observes that often when people are ill, they imagine the greatest pleasure is being healthy, but once they're healthy, that health rarely gives them a lot of pleasure. We might say that these states of being are relative.
  • The real problem is that people, as usual, mix up how things seem from how they are. When you're sick, feeling healthy seems pleasant, but it isn't, literally, a kind of pleasure.
  • Moreover, not all pleasures have opposites. A nice small pleasure can be pleasurable, but you don't experience it as a relief from any other kind of pain.
  • But since most pleasures are perceived as a relief from pain, Socrates wants to again emphasize how relative they are. He compares this to how, without absolute knowledge of the uppermost thing and lowermost things, someone just going up from where they are would think they were traveling way up, even if they weren't really so high. A person climbing a hill in the Rockies in Colorado is higher up, absolutely speaking, than a person climbing a hill on the coast in California, even if the hill in California is bigger. The way we perceive things is relative.
  • Socrates says that pleasure and pain work the same way, and most people don't have a true understanding of real pleasure and real pain.
  • Socrates now takes another angle and says that just as hunger and thirst are types of bodily emptiness, so too are ignorance and imprudence types of mental emptiness.
  • Socrates says that true opinion and true knowledge are closer to "pure being" (he doesn't really define this concept, but it is something like what we'd think of as "authentic being") than food and drink, because opinion and knowledge are immortal and unchanging, while food and drink, which are related to the body, do change and don't last.
  • In fact, all things of the body tend to lead people away from truth, whereas knowledge leads you closer to it.
  • In the end, people who don't know anything about prudence or virtue—and who just like feasting all the time—will never truly understand what real pleasure means.
  • Socrates compares these people to cattle who always look at the ground and never bother to look up and see what's really going on.
  • Just as the shadows in the cave are made up of both light and dark, the lesser pleasures of these people will also have some pain, since this kind of pleasure isn't pure.
  • So now that Socrates has described the desiring part of the soul (the lowest one, which thinks that pleasure is food) and the rational part (the highest one, which loves truth), he goes on to mention the third, spirited part, just to say that someone who follows the pleasures associated with this part of the soul will end up envious and angry because they're always seeking more victories and more honors.
  • The great thing about being completely guided by the rational part of the soul is that once it orders everything, the other two parts of the soul can do their own thing; they can pursue whatever pleasure they're into, because the rational part will make sure everything is under control.
  • In fact, that's the real problem with letting either of the other two parts of the soul take over: they don't actually understand what pleasure really is, so they end up leading you off in totally unpleasurable directions.
  • Socrates and company have already concluded that tyrannical and erotic desires have the least in common with philosophy, while the kingly and aristocratic desires have the most in common with philosophy. Because it's clear that being closer to philosophy gives you the most real pleasure, a tyrant will have the least real pleasure.
  • Furthermore, since in their assessment of the types of government, they placed the tyrant furthest from the kingly (the best), Socrates deduces that a king will live 729 times more pleasantly than the tyrant. We're not totally sure how he got that, but far be it from us to question the big S.
  • Since the good and just man (the kingly type) is so obviously better off in terms of pleasure, he'll also be better off in terms of virtue, grace, and beauty.
  • Now that they've figured all this out, Socrates and friends return to their original question, which was whether an unjust man who appears to be just profits from his way of life.
  • To tackle this question, Socrates begins by imagining a mythical scenario in which a many-headed monster and a lion are somehow joined together with a human being in such a way that the human being is what everyone sees (the monster and the lion are hiding inside... somehow).
  • If you were to say that this man profits by being unjust, it would be like allowing him to continue to feed these two vicious animals inside of him while starving the actual human part of himself.
  • Indeed, the man would much more profit from being just, since the human being in him would be strong and well nourished and therefore able to tame and control the two beasts.
  • Obviously, then, being unjust can't be more profitable than being just, since it amounts to an enslavement of the human by an animal.
  • In fact, as long as he remains unjust, it wouldn't even be profitable for this man to steal gold, because he would still be enslaving himself.
  • Socrates thinks all kinds of bad behaviors have this enslaving effect: licentiousness, stubbornness, flattery, illiberality, even mechanical arts can make you a slave.
  • So, just as the best kind of person is ruled by his reason, so too should the best citizens rule over other ones.
  • It seems that Socrates has shown for sure that being unjust is not more profitable than being just. He has also shown that even if someone is unjust and never gets caught, it's actually way worse, because think how big and strong those mean monsters inside of him have become in the meantime.
  • So the best man will seek out moderation and justice, honoring most of all the kinds of studies that will lead him to this.
  • The best man won't let food or drink, or even health and strength, become unhealthy obsessions but will keep everything ordered and harmonious. He will not get too invested in money or wealth.
  • Since he has to stay far away from anything that will compromise his order and virtue, Glaucon imagines that the best man will have to stay away from politics, but Socrates says that wouldn't be true at all in their city, and he wonders if there's a way for such a man to intervene in the politics of his own city.
  • Regardless, it doesn't matter that their city doesn't exist; this ideal of order and harmony is still crucial.