Study Guide

The Republic Book V

By Plato

Book V

  • Socrates says that he believes this one form is a good kind of city, while there remain four kinds of bad cities.
  • Socrates is about to describe these forms and explain what he means when Polemarchus gets up, pulls his cloak over himself, and begins whispering to the other listeners.
  • It turns out that Polemarchus wants to hear more about something Socrates brought up earlier only in passing, which was the concept that friends have all things in common.
  • Moreover, before Socrates starts talking about the bad kinds of government, they want to know about other aspects of this good republic they've just created: they want to know how children are raised, and they want to know about the role of women.
  • Socrates says that they've brought up some big topics. He says he intentionally avoided them earlier because he knew how tricky and complicated they would be.
  • The others remind Socrates that they are there to discover the truth. On top of that, since they all believe that these kinds of questions really deserve a lifetime of investigation, taking more time right now is not a big deal for them.
  • Socrates responds that part of the challenge is that he already has some doubts about their whole project. How perfect is their city, really, and is it even possible for such a place to exist?
  • Socrates says he feels especially hesitant because he doesn't want what's merely an investigation of a possible truth to be taken for an absolute and certain truth by his friends—who might, as a result, be led astray if he turns out to be wrong.
  • Glaucon assures Socrates that no one will hold him responsible if the argument turns out to be unhelpful or wrong.

Women in the Republic

  • With this in mind, Socrates begins to speak about children and women. He suggests that women might be part of the guardian class and goes even further to say that if this is the case, they would need to get the same education and training the men get.
  • Everyone agrees, though they also admit that this is quite contrary to the way things are usually done.
  • Socrates says that even though it seems ridiculous, if their argument takes them there, then that's the just way it is. This will mean that women of all ages will also work out naked in the gyms along with the men. If that sounds absurd, they should all remember that it wasn't so long ago that people thought men exercising naked together was ridiculous, too. Once people realized the benefits of working out naked (Socrates doesn't explain what those might be), it became the sensible thing to do. Unless something can be shown to be actually negative or positive, Socrates says you shouldn't let ridiculousness influence you.
  • So, Socrates wants to really delve into the question of whether women can do the same things that men can.
  • Everyone agrees that women and men have different natures and so should be responsible for different things. But Socrates points out that this conclusion contradicts what they just decided a moment ago, that women should be trained and educated like men.
  • Socrates says they seem to have got themselves into a real mess of contradiction. But the real problem, he says, is not so much that there is contradiction, but that they aren't being precise with their terms. The main issue here is the concept of same and different natures. What exactly do they mean by this?
  • Socrates uses an example to clarify the problem. While it's obviously the case that someone bald and someone with long hair are different, no one would go so far as to say they have different natures, or that they couldn't both make equally excellent shoemakers.
  • Socrates suggests that a man who is an excellent doctor and a man who is an excellent carpenter are actually more different, as individuals, than a good male doctor and a good female doctor would be.
  • What Socrates concludes is that even though men and women are obviously different, they need to figure out whether this difference is superficial, or whether it actually applies to their abilities. If the only difference men and women have is one of genitalia and reproduction, then this is not a meaningful difference, says Socrates.
  • Socrates wonders if there are activities that either women or men are naturally better at, but they all conclude that while there are activities men and women are typically responsible for, this doesn't necessarily correlate with their natural inclinations. In fact, it seems that various talents and abilities are spread between men and women equally.
  • Having decided this, they agree that men shouldn't be in charge of everything and that women should be able to be guardians just like men. Even though they are physically weaker, women will be trained in both music and athletics.
  • Socrates comments that it seems that his earlier doubts are being calmed since after this analysis of gender, it's clear that the gender inequality in Greek society is wrong. Their city, however, has correctly perceived the nature of things.
  • Socrates says that because their city is structured so as to produce (in the form of the guardians) the best possible men and women, their city really has succeeded in being the best city.
  • Everyone agrees and goes on to say women will do all the things men do, including working out naked, although they still think women should take the "lighter" tasks due to their comparative weakness.

Children and Families in the Republic

  • Next, Socrates makes an even more shocking suggestion. He says that women will not belong to any particular man but to everyone. Similarly, children will belong to the whole community and won't have a specific family; they also won't know their particular parents.
  • Socrates says he'd like to skip over whether or not such a thing would be possible and just operate under the assumption that it could be. That way, he can just get on to describing how it would work.
  • Socrates describes how the guardians will be in charge of this whole system. They will choose which groups of women and which groups of men best fit together.
  • Everyone will live together in a kind of dorm-style communal living situation. They'll sleep, eat, and train together. Since they'll be doing all this stuff together, all the time, sometimes naked, you might imagine that sex will just naturally occur.
  • However, Socrates isn't really okay with that idea, since he doesn't believe that sex should be so random, both for practical reasons and moral ones. He compares the practical reasons to breeding animals, and he points out how important it is for the best animals to breed with the best and the ordinary with the ordinary. He thinks this is how people ought to reproduce, too.
  • However, since it seems unlikely that people would agree to do this on their own, he thinks the guardians will need to establish a ritual of marriage so that they can orchestrate human breeding this way. Of course, he says, they'll have to invent some rituals for courting, too, so that people will think it's all random.
  • Socrates recommends that good men and good soldiers should be rewarded with having the most sex so that they father the most number of children.
  • The gang agrees that children should all be raised together by certain citizens who have the job of raising children. Deformed children will be hidden away. Uhh.
  • Women who have just given birth will be put on a kind of breastfeeding rotation, and those in charge will make sure that the women don't know which children are their own children and don't breastfeed any single child for too long.
  • They also agree that children should only be born to men and women in their prime: men between the age "when he passes his swiftest prime at running" (around age 25) to 55 and women between 20 and 40 (460e).
  • If anyone violates this rule, they will end up producing children born without protection, care, or happiness, and these children will be doomed to a horrible life.
  • Men and women past their prime can have sex with whomever they want, as long it's not someone they are closely related to. (Socrates doesn't explain how this idea really fits with his whole marriage idea from earlier.) A child born from incest will be executed.
  • Glaucon asks—and we were wondering, too—how people will know their family members in order to avoid sleeping with them if there aren't really any families.
  • Socrates says they will base this information on the timing of their birth, so that every single child born at a certain time will know their "brothers and sisters" and their "fathers and mothers," but only as a big group, not as particular individuals. We're still not totally sure how that would play out, but Socrates seems okay with it.

Community in the Republic

  • Now that it seems like they've nicely established the community of the city, Socrates again wants to ask about the best kind of community they should strive for. He suggests that the worst kind would produce disunity and lack of cooperation.
  • Socrates says that in order to produce harmony, they need everyone to be on the same page and to experience the same kinds of happiness and sadness. The only way to ensure this agreement is by eliminating private property, because private things cause people to worry about their own little worlds and not the great communal world.
  • A good city, Socrates says, should be like a single person, so that when one person hurts, the whole city hurts.
  • Now that they've established the qualities a good city should have, Socrates wants to look back at their city and see if it's the best... or if there might be other cities that are better.
  • Socrates examines the terminology used in other cities to distinguish between various groups: citizens call each other "citizen"; they call their rulers either "master" (usually) or just "ruler" (in a democracy).
  • In their republic, the citizens call their rulers not only ruler but also "savior" and "auxiliaries" (that just means "helpers"), while the rulers call the people "wage givers" and "supporters."
  • In other cities, the rulers call the people "slaves" and call fellow rulers "fellow rulers," while the guardians call each other "fellow guardians" (463b).
  • Socrates then suggests that rulers typically view other rulers as outsiders, while their guardians view fellow guardians as friends and even family.
  • Socrates further thinks that because the citizens of their city view themselves as family, they will treat each other with the honor and respect due to them and will share almost everything in common. Socrates seems really into the idea that calling things different names changes them.
  • Since everyone will live together and share things in common (they'll be given housing and food as a wage for their help to the city), people will not be inclined to hoard things for their own use; as a result, they'll avoid having their own, personal problems.
  • There also won't be any lawsuits, since there won't be a sense of private or personal things or gains. There will be very little assault or violence, since everyone will have been so properly educated.
  • People will live in peace since they don't divide themselves into cliques. Poor and rich won't exist as categories.
  • Socrates and company imagine that the guardians of their city will be even more blessed than a famous, victorious Olympic athlete, since they will feel a sense of complete support from an entire city, and their victory will be one of great lasting preservation.
  • Socrates says that this now addresses a problem raised much earlier about whether the guardians could be happy without any possessions. Socrates says that at this point in their argument, it's obvious that the guardians would be happy. Furthermore, if a guardian comes up with some other childish and self-serving idea of happiness, he'll cease to be a guardian.
  • Socrates double checks to see if his listeners really do agree that women and men should engage equally in the responsibilities of the city. They do. He now wants to consider whether such a community would even be possible.

War in the Republic

  • Socrates starts with the issue of war. He says that everyone will fight against a common cause. Children raised to be soldiers will come and watch the battle so as to begin to learn their profession. Socrates also believes that people always fight harder when their children are watching.
  • Glaucon is worried about this idea, however, because if the army loses, they will lose not only their soldiers but also their children.
  • Socrates thinks this is a risk worth taking since it's so important for children to learn the art of war. He also says that leaders will only send children to wars that are likely to be won. Furthermore, children will be taught how to ride horses from a young age so that they can make a quick escape. (We're trying to picture this. We're having a hard time.)
  • The men all agree that cowards and deserters will be demoted from the position of soldier to the position of a craftsman. They won't try and rescue captured men. Classy.
  • The best soldiers will be greatly honored by the city with rewards and good food. They'll be allowed to kiss whomever they love, male or female. It'll work out well if they end up producing good children in the process.
  • They also agree that those who die bravely in battle will be honored greatly. They'll be buried with respect, and their tombs will be constantly cared for. Citizens who are especially good will also be honored this way when they die.
  • They think that only barbarian (non-Greek) enemies should be enslaved when they are defeated, while fellow Greeks should not.
  • They also don't like the practice of stripping all the possessions of a corpse, since it's greedy and small-minded.
  • They won't bring the weapons of a defeated enemy into a temple—especially the weapons of a Greek enemy—because that would be insulting and disrespectful.
  • Socrates also doesn't want anyone to ravage and burn the countryside of defeated Greek cities. Instead, he recommends that they destroy the harvest for just one year because he wants Greek enemies to think of each other as temporary enemies who hope to be reconciled. In fact, he thinks conflicts between Greeks should be called simply a disagreement among similar people.
  • Barbarian enemies, on the other hand, are true enemies, because they are of an entirely different nature from the Greeks. If you say so, Socrates.
  • They all agree, therefore, that since the city they have founded is Greek, it will consider other Greeks its friends and will deal with them fairly and moderately even in conflict: no ravaging and burning, no indiscriminate killing of people. Instead, the city will try to punish only those who are to blame. In general, the city will seek friendship and peace.
  • Glaucon is convinced that this city is the best. He also thinks it will be the best at fighting because the soldiers will consider one another close as family—and because there will be women to help out too. What he wants to be convinced of now is whether such a city could ever possibly exist.
  • Although they don't quite understand how this relates, Socrates looks back and reminds everyone that they invented this whole city out of a desire to understand justice and injustice. He says, too, that the city worked for them as a model of justice and injustice and that the city was not constructed to prove that it could exist. Indeed, whether it could exist or not has no bearing on the rightness of their discussion of justice.
  • So, with this in mind, Socrates will still discuss the issue of whether the republic could actually exist. But he also points out that speech and action can never perfectly correspond. The city, therefore, can't exactly come to exist as they've described it. However, Socrates would like to consider other, real cities and understand why they aren't like the city they created.

Philosophers as Kings

  • What Socrates decides is that cities need a philosopher, or at least a philosophically minded person, to be in charge. This is the most important aspect of a good city, in his view.
  • The others, however, are not satisfied: they want a more complete and detailed defense of why it's so important to have philosophers rule.
  • In order to explain this, Socrates needs to lay out some basics about philosophy. First, he wants to define what it means to truly love something.
  • (The word "philosophy" in Greek means a "love of wisdom," so love and philosophy are totally connected in Plato. Keep your eye out for other love/philosophy connections.)
  • Socrates explains that when you are truly passionate about something, you're not going to be passionate about only parts of it, but about all of it. He uses the example of someone who is in love with boys and explains how, because this person is so in love, he'll find good things about every single boy, turning even their faults (like a funny nose) into something cute and endearing. The same thing goes for wine. People who love wine always find things to like in any wine.
  • Socrates says this principle holds true for philosophy, as well. A lover of wisdom doesn't just love some parts of wisdom and not others; he loves all wisdom.
  • Glaucon interrupts here and says that if they are going to include people who are enthusiastic about all learning ever, they're going to have to include those people who love seeing beautiful things and listening to philosophical speeches and who run all over the place listening to every kind of speech ever.
  • But Socrates cautions Glaucon that these men have some things in common with philosophers but aren't philosophers themselves. A philosopher doesn't love hearing speeches and seeing beautiful things. Most fundamentally, he loves seeing and hearing the nature of truth itself. These other men might say they like beautiful things, but they aren't able to say what beauty itself as a concept even means.
  • Socrates goes on to suggest that the difference between the lover of beautiful things and the philosopher is kind of like the difference between being awake and asleep. The lover of beautiful things is asleep: since he doesn't actually understand the true form of beauty but only sees imperfect versions of beauty, he's kind of just seeing an illusion of beauty, not real beauty.
  • The philosopher, on the other hand, can see the true form of beauty. He's awake because he understands that anything other than the true form of beauty is an illusion.
  • Socrates suggests that the lover of beautiful things (who is asleep) is someone with opinions, while the philosopher is someone with knowledge.
  • Next, Socrates wants to consider how they might convince the man with opinions that he lacks knowledge, and this begins a fascinating (but difficult) discussion of the nature of knowledge. Let's keep on trucking, Shmoopers.
  • Socrates establishes that knowledge can only be the knowledge of something that exists. Ignorance, on the other hand, depends entirely on what doesn't exist. Socrates imagines there must be something in between knowledge and ignorance, so they should try to discover what that would be.
  • Socrates goes back to the idea of opinion and establishes that, like knowledge, it is based on something that exists. However, this something is still a different sort of something from the something knowledge is based on. (Say that five times fast.) Socrates distinguishes what each is capable of telling us by using the concept of power: knowledge and opinion rely on different powers.
  • Power is what makes something capable of doing something, so hearing and seeing are both kinds of powers. Powers are, furthermore, not objects—you can't touch them or see them—but you know they exist based on what they depend on and what effect they have.
  • They next establish that both knowledge and opinion are kinds of powers, but different kinds. Knowledge is obviously about things that are, but opinion is more difficult to pin down. Opinions obviously do relate to things that are (people can't have an opinion about nothing), but opinions also lack the certainty of knowledge.
  • What they all conclude is that opinion is that sneaky thing they were looking for earlier that is between knowledge and ignorance, between things that are and things that aren't.
  • Now, let's go back to our lover of beautiful things. If he denies that beauty is a single, philosophical principle but insists that beauty is just a collection of various objects he likes to look at, he'll be missing this basic point. Beautiful objects may be beautiful, but they can never embody 100% pure beauty; there is always something a little ugly or off about them. The same is true of anything. Even a light object has some heaviness; it's just more light than it is heavy.
  • So, what it all boils down to is that the lover of beautiful objects has lots of opinions, but he doesn't know anything, while the philosopher knows a lot and stays away from mere opinion.
  • Philosophers, they conclude, love things when they are fully and perfectly themselves in their ideal form.