Summary and Analysis
Book II: Section II
Socrates begins his reply to the brothers of Plato by attempting to elucidate the argument, and he again employs an analogy. Thus far in the argument, he explains, we seem to have been rather philosophically nearsighted, attempting to find justice in the individual man, rather than seeking it at large in the ideal state. Let us try to read the larger lettering: Let us attempt the construction of the ideal just state.
People unite to form a community because of mutual needs: food, dwelling, the growing of food, and so on. And since it is a given that people are born with various talents, or abilities, it follows that they should be assigned various levels of employment in order to ensure the common good and to perfect the stability of the state: Some should be farmers, some carpenters, tailors, shoemakers, toolmakers, weavers, blacksmiths, manual laborers, and so on. Thus Socrates proposes a division of labor. And we shall require merchants and traders, wholesalers, retailers, salesmen, etc. Thus Socrates proposes a rude balance of trade. Thus the state should be productive and should proceed busily and happily. But where is the justice or virtue of such a state?
Glaucon objects and says that this is merely a well-fed state, fit only for pigs. Reality shows us, he argues, that people seem to require more than necessities; they require certain luxuries, forms of recreation, refinements to life. These refinements are obviously characteristics of a "civilized" state as we know it.
Socrates agrees and provides for these amenities in his discussion. But he notes that by now the small state will have grown and, in the course of its growth, it will begin to encroach upon its neighbors. Such an encroachment historically leads to hostilities: war.
Given this eventuality, we shall require Guardians of the state. History shows us that, no matter how patriotic a given citizenry might be, in arms they are no match for trained soldiers. (Our agreement on a division of labor shows that the various levels of occupation are mutually exclusive). We need real soldiers, professionals, a standing army. We require Guardians of the state.
These soldiers of the state will require careful training. Of course they will have to be more than competent at their tasks, good at what they do, warlike. But in their aggressive and bellicose behaviors, they must know whom to attack; they must never turn against the state. They must be taught to discriminate between enemy and friend, and this involves thinking; thinking leads to knowledge and the appreciation of knowledge, perhaps the love of knowledge. These soldiers must be educated so as to display a certain degree of philosophical attainment. The soldiery must be trained to make intellectual distinctions, must learn to think their way through things.
In arguing the merits of the state at large and attempting to adduce from that the merits of the individual, the speaker Socrates is again attempting to employ a manner of systematic thinking, the argument from generalities to particulars (deductive thinking). Thus if we can perceive justice in the state, we may be able to perceive justice in the individual. And Socrates in the dialogue continues to employ arguments from analogies.
We must remember at this stage in the conversation that Plato is a child of his times; he is a child of war and various sorts of enmities and strife. Having inherited the genius of his original thought, we must remember to place it in its historical context. Plato did not value much what we might praise as "freedom" or "personal liberty." We have seen that the speaker Socrates has already fixed each citizen in his allotted task in his ideal state in order to accomplish a division of labor and a balance of trade in a smoothly functioning state. Plato thought, apparently, that men could be happy at their appointed jobs; in fact, he seems to have distrusted "free spirits," who did not seem to him to accomplish much for the state. Plato, who had lived through the anarchy wrought, in his estimation, from democratic revolutions and counterrevolutions, saw his people as lacking in discipline and purpose in the service of the state. He seems to have thought, in fact, that unlimited liberty too frequently results in mob rule.
Plato now seeks to develop the Guardians as the leaders of the state in his ideal state. Since they are to be leaders, they must be educated in order to develop their philosophical frame of mind.
Elegaic of or relating to a specific verse form, or type of poetry, written in praise of the dead (or, as here, something resembling that type of poetry).
Megara chief town of ancient Megaris, a district located between the Saronic Gulf and the Gulf of Corinth, site of a battle of the Peloponnesian War.
"'Sons of Ariston'" i.e., Glaucon and Adeimantus; Ariston was also the father of Plato.
"plough or mattock" the plough (or, usually in American English, plow) and mattock are basic farm implements for tilling and digging in soil.
rhapsodist in ancient Greece, a person who recited rhapsodies, esp. one who recited epic poems as a profession.
tirewomen ladies' maids (from tire, an obsolete form of attire [clothing]).
confectioners persons whose work or business is making or selling confectionery (sweet edibles, such as candies and cakes).