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The Republic by Plato - Barron's Booknotes
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VIRTUES OF THE STATE (427c-434d)

The perfect city has been constructed. Because it is perfect- "good in the full sense"- it has all four of the Athenian virtues: wisdom, courage, moderation, and justice. Now Socrates' task is to discover wherein lies justice. First he outlines a method of investigation. He will look at each virtue separately, determine where it resides in the city, and then see if any of the four virtues remains without a visible designation.

NOTE: In Book II Socrates issued the warning that seeing justice in the soul takes keen vision. Now he hints that justice is not visible at all, that it is the virtue that has no physical representative. The vision he hopes to impart is intellectual insight, philosophical understanding of excellence in social organization and in the organization of the human psyche ("soul").

Looking for the virtues, Socrates investigates the city. First he finds wisdom. The city is well counseled, that is, it has good advisers who keep it running smoothly, efficiently, in perfect order. Who are these advisers? Not the carpenters who know about building, not the blacksmiths who know about metal, but the rulers who know about statesmanship. Wisdom has a home in the perfect state; it resides with the rulers. The rulers by their very nature and education are, while few in number, the holders of the special knowledge for leading the activities of the state.

Next Socrates finds courage. As he says, "there is no difficulty in seeing bravery itself and the part of the city in which it resides." Courage resides with the auxiliaries. From earliest childhood these soldiers have been trained in what to fear and what not to fear. Their training, Socrates says, has been like the process of dying wool purple, which takes careful preparation for making the dye hold fast. Unlike poorly dyed wool, the soldiers-the state's incarnation of courage-will never "present a ridiculous and washed-out appearance." Within the soldiers' unflagging adherence to the state's laws and protection lies the virtue of courage.



Then Socrates finds moderation (soberness and self-control). "Soberness," says Socrates, "is a kind of beautiful order and a continence of certain pleasures and appetites." In general, moderation is a kind of "self-mastery," a control of the worst part of the state by the better part. The better part is wisdom, the province of the rulers. Thus, moderation resides in the multitude of craftsmen and other members of the producing class. But moderation cannot be expected to reach these masses of its own accord. The masses must abide by the dictates of the ruling class, those who have wisdom. Further, Socrates says, moderation is not the sole province of a particular class of citizens. In the perfect state it must reside throughout every class.

Thus, wisdom, courage, and moderation reside in the members of the ruling, warrior, and producing classes, respectively, with moderation being a virtue that all classes must have. But where is justice? There seems to be no dwelling place for it.

Suddenly Socrates tells Glaucon that he has caught a glimpse of justice; that, in fact, "the thing apparently was tumbling about our feet from the start and yet we couldn't see it." Justice, he says, must be the principle of organization and harmony that guided the assignment of the other three virtues in the city. This principle requires that each person perform one primary social function in the city, a social service for which each person's character is best suited. Or, as Socrates says, justice is the "principle of doing one's own business."

On first view, this principle of justice does not seem to be very illuminating. Has all this time and effort attempting to understand the concept of justice been spent merely to conclude that the just city is no more than a city without busybodies and meddlers?

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