The Ideal City | Republic Book 2 Summary (2 of 2)

The Ideal City | Republic Book 2 Summary (2 of 2)


Hello, I’m Dr. Anadale. I teach philosophy at Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Maryland. This video summarizes the last two thirds of Republic Book Two. In Book One we were introduced to the quest for the true definition of justice, and we had Thrasymachus give his very bold assertion that justice is merely the advantage of the stronger. The first third of Book Two is Glaucon’s Challenge, in which the brothers Glaucon and Adeimantus take over Thrasymachus’ position, giving it a clearer and more disciplined expression. They then challenge Socrates to defeat this view by showing how justice is beneficial to a person, independently of its reputation. Socrates begins his reply at 368d by introducing the Political Metaphor. He proposes to examine the nature of justice in a city, which is larger and easier to observe than a soul. We can then see what this will tell us about justice in the soul. The idea is that will we will be better able to see what justice is when it is writ large in the city. Note that this method assumes that political justice and justice in the soul are the same thing, just on different scales. This is an assumption that will be challenged by Machiavelli in the Renaissance. Socrates begins by examining the origin of a city, supposing that this will also allow us to see the origin of Justice. At 369b, he observes that cities are founded because no individual is self-sufficient, so we need other people if we’re going to flourish and survive. My first reading question for you is: Make a list of the features of the Healthy City. (Look around 369-372 for the answer.) Glaucon objects, though, to Socrates’ account, saying that people in the city “should recline on proper couches… dine at tables, and have the relishes and desserts that people have nowadays.” It seems that Glaucon wants Socrates to describe the Luxurious City. Socrates agrees, and says in examining the Luxurious City we might discover, not just the origin of justice, but also the origin of injustice. Note that the Healthy City Socrates initially describes is the true city, and the one described in the rest of Republic is feverish: it’s excessive, it goes beyond the requirements of human nature somehow. The Luxurious City will require new goods and occupations, including jewelry and hunters, musicians, and additional servants. Because it contains so much more than the Healthy City, the Luxurious City will require an army to protect it from its enemies and to secure resources for it. The ideal city, then, will need a specialized class of people to serve in the army, and these are called the Guardians. This sets up the final part of Book Two: the discussion of the character and education of the Guardians. The conversation turns to who will serve in the army, the Guardians, and what they must be like in order to guard the city well. My second reading question for you is: What traits must a Guardian have? (Look around 375 for the answer.) The city therefore must train the Guardians to have these specific traits, so that they can do their job well. Socrates, Glaucon, and Adeimantus then discuss what the education of the guardians must be like. Education in music and poetry will come first, to train their minds, and then physical training. As children, the future guardians will be told stories of gods and heroes. At 377b, Socrates observes that these stories about the gods are especially important, because children’s minds are malleable, and wrong ideas that they learn while young may distort their character and make them unable to function as proper guardians for the city. Socrates argues that the young guardians must be told only fine and beautiful stories and the city must not permit the telling of false stories about the gods. Thus the ideal city will have to practice some kind of official censorship. Poets cannot tell just any stories they want about the gods; they must tell true stories and stories that improve the virtue and patriotism of the Guardians, because the health of the entire city depends upon this. In short, the art of the poets and the dramatists must be obedient to the philosophers’ insights into the truth of things, says Socrates. Pay special attention to the specific stories that Socrates says would be prohibited in the ideal city, and his criteria for describing the gods properly. This brings us to the end of Book Two. There’s much more still to say about the ideal city, about its guardians and their education and training. This is material for the next books. Thanks for watching today; goodbye.

10 thoughts on “The Ideal City | Republic Book 2 Summary (2 of 2)

  1. Thank you! You present a clear and critical analysis. I will listen to the rest of the books, as well. Kudos to you!

  2. I have a only read a bit of Plato. But when I hear your summary of Plato's/Socrates' argument for the ideal city here, it brings me to identity with Karl Popper's criticism in The Open Society and Its Enemies. Do you feel there is a counter to Popper's argument, or that he misunderstands Plaot in some way?

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