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Table of Contents
WOMEN, WIVES, WARFARE, AND PHILOSOPHERS
With the analogy between the just city and the just soul drawn, Socrates is eager to move on to other topics. He introduces a new topic, four forms of injustice. However, before he can begin, his audience stops him. They feel that Socrates' discussion on justice is incomplete.
Polemarchus and Thrasymachus join the brothers Adeimantus and Glaucon in accusing Socrates of cheating them of an important part of his vision of the just state. In particular, they are intrigued by an earlier comment, which Socrates rushed by, that women and children will be the common possessions of friends. Socrates prefers to avoid this controversial issue. Most people, he claims, will find his ideas absurd.
Glaucon assures him that this audience will be polite. Yet the fear of appearing ridiculous or of generating hostility is not, Socrates says, why he is hesitant to speak. He explains that if he could speak with knowledge, he would be bold, but
to speak when one doubts himself and is seeking while he talks, as I am doing, is a fearful and slippery venture. The fear is not of being laughed at, for that is childish, but, lest, missing the truth, I fall down and drag my friends with me in matters where it most imports not to stumble. (451a)
In this book Plato provides more details about the social institutions of the good state. You may find several of his ideas shocking, unacceptable, impossible to implement. Plato, no doubt, expected a hostile reaction, hence Socrates' demure attitude in the passage above. The Athenians were probably more appalled by these ideas than you will be. Nevertheless, the social reforms Plato suggests remain highly controversial today. In fact, you will see that except for the demand for philosopher kings, even Plato is uncertain of the feasibility of his suggested reforms. In several places he invites you to be critically alert. The social issues presented-sexual equality, marriage, and parenting-should stimulate you to question not only Plato's ideas but also your own beliefs on contemporary social institutions.
Book V seems to digress from the strand of arguments building toward Plato's vision of the place of wisdom and of the wise in the good society. Some scholars describe the first three sections of this book as an interlude, a time to digest what has gone before and to prepare for the abstract, metaphorical arguments that follow. However, a more accurate interpretation may be that here Plato is attempting to resolve problems that have the potential to cause conflict in the just state. Whatever Plato's intent, this book offers you the opportunity to think about the following five issues: 1. the equality of women; 2. the communal family; 3. the etiquette of war; 4. philosophers as kings; and 5. the Theory of Forms.