Republic is Plato attempting to demonstrate through the character and discourse of Socrates that justice is better than justice is the good which men must strive for, regardless of whether they could be unjust and still be rewarded. Heuses dialectic, the asking and answering of questions which led the hearer from one point to another, with logic by obtaining agreement to each point before going on to the next, and so building an argument.
The Republic is an expansive work that touches on many areas of Plato's philosophy. And if we can understand it, we have moved a long way toward an understanding of Plato, who stands as one of the cornerstones of the Western philosophical tradition. The question at the center of the Republic is whether it is better to live justly or unjustly. To answer this question, Plato first constructs a perfectly Just City.
The two young listeners pose the question of whether justice is stronger than injustice, what each does to a man, and what makes the first good and the second bad. In answering this question, the subject deals directly with the philosophy of the individual's goodness and virtue, but also ties it to the concept of the perfect state, which is a republic of three classes of people with a rigid social structure and little in the way of amusement.
This city has guardians, auxiliaries, and tradesman/craftsmen (the latter group comprising the majority of the populace). The guardians lead the city, and are all fully educated philosophers -- they represent wisdom in the city. The auxiliaries are less educated than the guardians, but still well-educated; they fight and represent courage. The rest of the population receives a general education. The balance of the city is guaranteed by a harsh and complicated system of eugenics that guarantees that the best people will be selected to become guardians, and everyone else assigned to roles as their worth makes appropriate. The city is moderate because the guardians, the wise part of the population, rule over the spirited auxiliaries and the baser population at large. The city is Just because everyone is doing the job that best suits their nature. The guardians lead, the auxiliaries fight, the rest of the people work.
Although the subject returns often to the concept of justice in his discourse on the perfect city-state, much of it seems off the original subject. One of his main points, however, is that goodness is doing what is best for the common, greater good rather than for individual happiness. There is a real sense in which his the philosophy turns on the concepts of virtue, and his belief that ultimately virtue is its own reward.
His first major point is that justice is an excellence of character. He then seeks agreement that no excellence is achieved through destructive means. The function of justice is to improve human nature, which is inherently constructive. Therefore, at a minimum, justice is a form of goodness that cannot be involved in injuring someone's character. Justice, in short, is a virtue, a human excellence.
Plato then projects this three part division onto the human soul. We all have a rational, wise part, a spirited, honor- loving part, and an appetitive, base part (desiring money, food, sex, etc.) the soul is just when, just like the city, the rational part rules over the other two and each part of the soul does its own job.
Despite his emphasis of justice as a function of the perfect state, the dialogues also deal with justice as a personal virtue. Plato finds that there is a parallel between the organization of the state and the organization of the individual. The just person, then must have balance between these aspects. Each must function in moderation to contribute to the health of the whole. Appetite and sensation are matters of desire. Desire must be subordinate to reason, or else they will throw the individual out of balance and lead him into injustice and unhappiness. Emotion (spirit and will) also can master desire.
The alliance of emotion and reason is similar, Socrates says, to the rulers and the guardians in the state. Thus, the individual is a miniature state, and justice in the soul is like justice in the state.
Plato then argues that the just person is happier than the unjust person for this reason, that the just person's soul is in order, whereas the unjust person's soul is in decay and disorder. Secondly, the just person's desires are satisfied, since their rational parts limits their desires, whereas the unjust person's desires are rampant and out of control.
His next point is that acting in accordance with excellence brings happiness. Then he ties excellence to one's function. His examples are those of the senses -- each sensory organ is excellent if it performs its function, as the eye sees, the ear hears. Therefore, the just person is a happy person is a person who performs his function. Since these are tied together, injustice can never exceed these virtues and so justice is stronger and is the good.
However, things do not stop there. He goes on to examine the question of the nature of justice and the just life. He identifies the four of the Athenian virtues: wisdom, courage, moderation, and justice. For the bulk of the book, he looks at each virtue separately in terms of the perfect city state, but our focus is on justice. But he makes the point that justice, of the virtues, resides in man's relations to other men, not just in man as an individual. Thus, it is an excellence in social organization and in the organization of the human soul. So justice is a virtue which must be connected to the function of efficient and healthful cooperation.
Justice is in one sense the greatest virtue for it is key to making the other virtues work together for the common good. If all the parts are to work together as a whole, each must have on function to excel at. Like the organs of the body, all contribute to the whole, but the eyes only see, the ears only hear. They do not share functions. Using this analogy, justice would be something like the moral mind which guides the body in its activities. Justice, then is the head, at the top of the hierarchy in social terms. When the other three virtues work together in orderly fashion within the state, justice is produced. But for justice to be produced, it must come from everyone doing his assigned function under the excellent guidance of the ruling class.
In the opposite case, the situation of the unjust, whether state or individual, desires hold a tyranny. Because there is a lack of internal control, outside things move the unjust around at will. Thus the unjust lives a life of fear and anxiety, the fruit of being out of control. Socrates asserts that only the man of reason has pure pleasures. All others have varying degrees of unhappiness. By equating the philosopher with the man of pure reason, he sets up a situation where proof is not so much necessary for any of his points as it is to say that the philosopher, the only one who sees clearly, says so. Interestingly, Socrates couches a form of despotism in terms which are intended to seem benevolent. Since happiness is the sign of justice, and pleasure is one sign of happiness, then the just person is the happy person. Interestingly, he equates true pleasure with knowledge, the province of reason and the philosopher.
Plato's next two arguments depend on the just person not only being just but being a philosopher as well, and in touch with the theory of the Forms. The first of these arguments is that, because the philosopher is ruled by his rational part and understands truth, he understands the pleasure of a hedonist (a person ruled by appetite) and an honor-lover (a person ruled by spirit), whereas they both only know their own pleasures. Then, the philosopher has credibility in judging what way of life is best, whereas no one else does. The last argument is rooted wholly in the theory of the Forms: the idea is that, speaking purely in terms of pleasure, the philosopher enjoys his pleasures, the pleasures of the Forms, more than unjust people enjoy their pleasures, pleasures of appetite or honor, because the pleasures of philosophy are greater than those of the sensible world.
The Republic contains arguments on a great variety of subjects, at various levels of complexity. Plato's prescriptions for the Just City, and even his division of the tripartite soul, is fairly straightforward to follow, and can be taken at very literally. With the arrival of the philosopher-kings, things start to get a little more complicated. Finally, we settle on the analogy of the Line and the Sun, and the Allegory of the Cave, and we are in very difficult philosophical territory, surrounded…