Summary and Analysis
Book IV: Section I
Because Socrates has now divided the Guardians into two classes (rulers and auxiliaries), Adeimantus says that it occurs to him that the Guardians will not be very happy, in that they will by definition be precluded from material possessions, or the method whereby to procure those material possessions (money). The Guardians, Adeimantus remarks, seem to be more like mercenaries than honored citizens of the state.
Socrates reminds us at this point that the original intent of this aspect of the creation of the ideal state was (and remains) a state where justice might flourish and the whole of the citizenry might be happy. Socrates insists that happiness does not consist in the trappings of material wealth; the happy life does not consist, as some might suppose, in a life of revelry and festivity. The happiness of the state, Socrates reiterates, consists in the happiness instilled in each individual member of the classes from his having functioned well at his appointed task, performing his job well.
Socrates turns at this juncture to address a specific problem having to do with the craftsmen: They should not be permitted to suffer either from extreme wealth or from extreme poverty. Socrates explains that extreme wealth will cause the craftsmen to become lazy and lax in their duties. They may refuse to work. Extreme poverty will deny them the money whereby to procure the tools of their trade. They may be unable to work. In either case, Socrates argues, such a condition will foment trouble for the state.
Socrates now turns his attention to some other particulars about how the state should be run (the rulers' obligation). Socrates refers specifically to the legislation and the passage of laws. We will not, Socrates says, require many laws in the ideal state; too many communities suffer from an overabundance of too many laws dealing with specific instances (particularities), thereby causing us to lose sight of the generality we seek: justice for all. The true way to achieve that general truth lies in the program we have already established for the Guardians: education and nurture. This training will ensure a wholeness of vision, that is, the creation of the just citizen in the just state. We ought not to be required to go at the thing piecemeal, floundering in our creation of specific laws and courting a kind of self-defeat. Our Guardians must be trusted to behave in a reasonable fashion. We require only a minimum of laws.
Socrates is here recapitulating the argument he employed against Thrasymachus when the Sophist argued that a ruler benefits by seizing all the power and wealth that he can, thereby benefiting himself. No, says Socrates, we have already agreed that the business of the ruler is to benefit the citizenry, and we have agreed that he is a wage-earner at one and the same time.
Socrates, in his limiting the laws in the ideal state, seems here to be anticipating a bad state of affairs in which the citizenry spends all of its time neglecting its duties to litigate disputes in courts of law, disputations conducted in many instances by students of sophistry during Plato's own life. And, Socrates argues, we have all witnessed those states in which flatterers and hangers-on besiege legislative bodies in an attempt to cajole lawmakers, either through sugared compliments or outright bribery, into making new laws or abrogating ancient laws for the flatterers' gain.
One further point here: Had Plato lived to see the fall of empires other than those of ancient Greece, he would not have been surprised to note that in almost every case, the fall of a given state is signaled by its reliance on hired foreign soldiery (the mercenaries analogy Adeimantus refers to) who abdicate their responsibility to the state in its direst need. For Plato's ideal state, such is not the case with the auxiliaries, native-born and educated citizens who function well and happily in their class, whose material needs are few and provided for by the state.
As we progress in the dialogue, we are ready to seek and fix a definition of the just state.
"Suppose that we were painting a statue . . . ." although most of those that survive no longer appear to be painted, the statues of this period, of gods, heroes, etc., were actually painted in various natural colors by the artists.
"The newest song which the singers have . . . ." Odyssey I, 352.
agora the marketplace (literally and, as here, figuratively—meaning commerce in general).
nostrum a medicine prepared by the person selling it; a patent medicine, often sold with exaggerated claims.
"neither drug nor cautery nor spell nor amulet . . . ." Socrates refers here to various contemporary means of treatment employed by physicians as well as pseudo-physicians: Drugs and cauterization were accepted medical treatment; magical spells and amulets (protective objects, charms) were also commonly used.
cubit an ancient unit of linear measure, about 18-22 inches; originally, the length of the forearm from middle fingertip to elbow. (A man who believed he was four cubits high, in other words, would believe he was about six-foot-six, unusually tall for an ancient Greek.)
hydra the nine-headed serpent slain by Hercules as one of his twelve labors: When any one of its heads is cut off, it is replaced by two others.