Plato’s two characters, Socrates and Glaucon, have just finished describing the healthy city. They believe that in order for a city to function properly, each citizen must perform the task at which they excel. For instance, if a person is a good carpenter, then he must be a carpenter, If a person is a good orator, then he must be an orator. Each person has a job that they were made to do, and they must do that job and only that job so that they can perform it with excellence. They should not be distracted by other things that they were not made to do, because the city depends on them to be the best at one thing, not mediocre at a lot of things. Also, the city is subsistent, meaning that it provides exactly what it consumes. Glaucon then mentions that this city, though healthy, is not realistic, because when the city begins to prosper, there will be a surplus of goods. When there is a surplus of goods, and a prosperous city, the city begins to behave differently. When there is surplus and prosperity, people become greedy. Athens is a greedy city. So how does a city like Athens become healthy city?
Socrates: Alright, I understand. It isn’t merely the origin of a city that we are considering; it seems, but the origin of a luxurious city. And that may not be a bad idea, for by examining it we might very well see how justice and injustice grow up in cities. Yet the true city, in my opinion, is the one we’ve just described, the healthy one as it were. But let’s study a city with a fever, if that’s what you want. There’s nothing to stop us. The things I mentioned earlier and the way of life I described won’t satisfy some people, it seems, but couches and tables and other furniture will have to be added, and, of course, all sorts of delicacies, perfumed oils, incense, prostitutes, and pastries. We mustn’t provide them only with the necessities we mentioned at first, such as houses, clothes, and shoes, but painting and embroidery must be begun, and gold, ivory, and the like acquired. Isn’t it so?
Socrates: Then we must enlarge our city, for the healthy one is no longer adequate. We must increase it in size and fill it with a multitude of things that go beyond what is necessary for a city – hunters, for example, and artists or imitators, many of whom work with shapes and colors, many with music. And there’ll be poets and their assistants, actors, choral dancers, contractors, and makers of all kinds of devices, including, among other things, those needed for the adornment of women. And so we’ll need more servants, too. Or don’t you think that we’ll need tutors, wet nurses, nannies, beauticians, barbers, chefs, cooks, and swineherds? We didn’t need any of these in our earlier city, but we’ll need them in this one. And we’ll also need many more cattle, won’t we, if the people are going to eat meat?
Glaucon: Of course.
Socrates: And if we live like that, we’ll have a far greater need for doctors than we did before?
Glaucon: Much greater.
And the land, I suppose, that used to be adequate to feed the population we had then, will cease to be adequate and become too small. What do you think?
Glaucon: The same.
Socrates: Then we’ll have to seize some of our neighbor’s land if we’re to have enough pasture and ploughland. And won’t our neighbors want to seize part of ours as well, if they too have surrendered themselves to the endless acquisition of money and have overstepped the limit of their necessities?
Glaucon: That’s completely inevitable, Socrates.
Socrates: Then our next step will be war, Glaucon, won’t it?
Glaucon: It will.
Socrates: We won’t say yet whether the effects of war are good or bad but only that we’ve found now the origins of war. It comes from those same desires that are most of all responsible for the bad things that happen to cities and the individuals in them.
Glaucon: Thant’s right.
Socrates: Then the city must be further enlarged, and not just by a small number, either, but by a whole army, which will do battle with the invaders in defense of the city’s substantial wealth and all the other things we mentioned.
Glaucon: Why aren’t the citizens themselves adequate for that purpose?
Socrates: They won’t be, if the agreement you and the rest of us made when we were founding the city was a good one, for surely we agreed, if you remember, that it’s impossible for a single person to practice many crafts of professions well.
Glaucon: That’s true.
Socrates: Well, then, don’t you think that warfare is profession?
Glaucon: Not at all.
Socrates: But we prevent a cobbler from trying to be a farmer, weaver, or builder at the same time and said that he must remain a cobber in order to produce fine work. And each of the others, too, was to work all his life at a single trade for which he had a natural aptitude and keep away from all the others, so as not to miss the right moment to practice his own work well. Now, isn’t it of the greatest importance that warfare be practiced well? And is fighting war so easy that a farmer or a cobbler or any other craftsman can be a soldier at the same time? Though no one can become so much a good player of checkers or dice if he considers it only as a sideline and doesn’t practice it from childhood. Or can someone pick up a shield or any other weapon or tool of war and immediately perform adequately in an infantry battle or any other kind? Not other tool makes anyone who picks it up a craftsman or a champion unless he has acquired the requisite knowledge and has had sufficient practice.
Glaucon: If tools could make anyone who picked them up an expert, they’d be valuable indeed.
Socrates: Then to the degree that the work of the guardians is most important, it requires most freedom from other things and the greatest skill and devotion.
Glaucon: I should think so.
Socrates: And doesn’t it also require a person whose nature is suited to that way of life?
Socrates: Then our job, it seems, is to select, if we can, the kind of nature suited to guard the city.
Glaucon: It is.
Socrates: By god, it’s no trivial task that we’ve taken on. But insofar as we are able, we mustn’t shrink from it.
Glaucon: No, we mustn’t.
Socrates: Do you think that, when it comes to guarding, there is any difference between the nature of a pedigree young dog and that of a well-born youth?
Glaucon: What do you mean?
Socrates: Well, each needs keen senses, speed to catch what it sees, and strength in case it has to fight it out with what it captures.
Glaucon: They both need all these things.
Socrates: And each must be courageous if indeed he’s to fight well.
Glaucon: Of course.
Socrates: And will a horse, a dog, or any other animal be courageous, if he isn’t spirited? Of haven’t you noticed just how invincible and unbeatable spirit is, so that its presence makes the whole soul fearless and unconquerable?
Glaucon: I have notices that.
Socrates: The physical qualities of the guardians are clear then.
Socrates: And as far as their souls are concerned, they must be spirited.
Glaucon: That too.
Socrates: But if they have natures like that, Glaucon, won’t they be savage to each other and to the rest of the citizens?
Glaucon: By god, it will be hard for them to be anything else.
Socrates: Yet surely they must be gentle to their own people and harsh to the enemy. If they aren’t, they won’t wait around for others to destroy the city but will do it themselves.
Glaucon: That’s true.
Socrates: What are we to do, then? Where are we to find a character that is both gentle and high-spirited at the same time? After all, a gentle nature is the opposite of a spirited one.
Socrates: If someone lacks wither gentleness or spirit, he can’t be a good guardian. Yet it seems impossible to combine them. It follows that a good guardian cannot exist.
Glaucon: It looks like it.
Socrates: I can’t see a way out, but on reexamining what had gone before, I said: We deserve to be stuck, for we’ve lost sight of the analogy we put forward.
Glaucon: How do you mean?
Socrates: We overlooked the fact that there are natures of the sort we thought impossible, natures in which these opposites are indeed combined.
Socrates: You can see them in other animals, too, but especially in the one to which we compared the guardian, for you know, of course, that a pedigree dog naturally has a character of this sort – he is gentle as can be to those he’s used to and knows, but the opposite to those he doesn’t know.
Glaucon: I do know that.
Socrates: So the combination we want is possible after all, and our search for the good guardian is not contrary to nature.
Glaucon: Apparently not.
Socrates: Then do you think that our future guardian, besides being spirited, must also be by nature philosophical?
Glaucon: How do you mean? I don’t understand.
Socrates: It’s something else you see in dogs, and it makes you wonder at the animal.
Socrates: When a dog sees someone it doesn’t know, it gets angry before anything bad happens to it. But when it knows someone, it welcomes him, even if it has ever received anything good from him. Haven’t you ever wondered at that?
Glaucon: I’ve never paid any attention to it, but obviously that is the way a dog behaves.
Socrates: Surely this is a refined quality in its nature and one that is truly philosophical.
Glaucon: In what way philosophical?
Socrates: Because it judges anything it seems to be either a friend or an enemy, on no other basis that that it knows one and doesn’t know the other. And how could it be anything besides a lover of learning, if it defines what is its own and what is alien to it in terms of knowledge and ignorance?
Glaucon: It couldn’t.
Socrates: But surely the love of learning is the same thing as philosophy or the love of wisdom?
Glaucon: It is.
Socrates: Then, may we confidently assume in the case of a human being, too, that if he is to be gentle toward his own and those he knows, he must be a lover of learning and wisdom?
Glaucon: We may.
Socrates: Philosophy, spirit, speed, and strength must all, then, be combined in the nature of anyone who is to be a fine and good guardian of our city.
Hey! What’s the Big Idea?
Who are the guardians?
1. What is their purpose?
2. Why are the guardians needed?
What are the guardians like?
3. In order to be selected as a guardian, what physical traits must a person have?
4. In order to be selected as a guardian, what personality traits must a person have?
Education of the Guardians
"Then we must first of all, it seems, supervise the storytellers. We’ll select their stories whenever they are fine or beautiful and reject them when they aren't And we’ll persuade nurses and mothers to tell their children the ones we have selected, since they will shape their children’s souls with stories much more than they shape their bodies by handling them. Many of the stories they tell now however, must be thrown out ."
(376e2-377c6 Republic by Plato)
"Indeed, if we want the guardians of our city to think that it’s shameful to be easily provoked into hating one another, we mustn't allow any stories about gods warring, fighting, or plotting against one another, for they aren't true. The battles of gods and giants, and all the various stories of the gods hating their families or friends, should neither be told nor even woven in embroideries. If we’re to persuade our people that no citizen has even hated another and that it’s impious to do so, then that’s what should be told to children from the beginning by old men and women; and as these children grow older, poets should be compelled to tell them the same sort of thing. We won’t admit stories into our city –whether allegorical or not—about Hera being chained by her son, nor about Hephaestus being hurled from heaven by his father when he tried to help his mother, who was being beaten, nor about the battle of the gods in Homer. Then young can’t distinguish what is allegorical from what isn't and the opinions they absorb at that age are hard to erase and apt to become unalterable. For these reasons, then, we should probably take the utmost care to insure that the first stories they hear about virtue are the best ones for them to hear."
(378b8-378e2 Republic by Plato)
"Therefore, since a god is good, he is not –as most people claim—the cause of everything that happens to human beings but of only a few things, for good things are fewer than bad ones in our lives. He alone is responsible for the good things, but we must find some other cause for the bad ones, not a god. "
(379c2-379c7 Republic by Plato)
And we must subject them to labors, pains, and contests in which we can watch for these traits.
Then we must also set up competition for the third way in which people are deprived of their convictions, namely, magic. Like those who lead colts into noise and tumult to see if they’re afraid, we must expose our young people to fears and pleasures, testing them more thoroughly than gold is tested by fire. Of someone is hard to put under a spell, is apparently gracious in everything, is a good guardian of himself and the music and poetry he has learned, and if he always shows himself to be rhythmical and harmonious, then he is the best person both for himself and for the city. Anyone who is tested in this way as a child, youth and adult, and always comes out of it untainted, is to be made a ruler as well as a guardian; he is to be honored in life and to receive after his death the most prized tombs and memorials. But anyone who fails to prove himself in this way is to be rejected. It seems to me… that rulers and guardians must be selected and appointed in some such way as this, though we've provided only a general pattern and not the exact details.
It also seems to me that they must be selected in this sort of way.
Then, isn't I truly most correct to call these people complete guardians, since they will guard against external enemies and internal friends, so that the one will lack the power and the other the desire to harm the city? The young people hitherto called guardians we’ll now call auxiliaries and the supporters of the guardians."
(413d5-414b6 Republic by Plato)
Myth of the Metals
"'Nevertheless, listen to the rest of the story. ―All of you in the city are brothers,' we’ll say to them in telling our story, '―but the gods who made you mixed some gold into those who are adequately equipped to rule, because they are most valuable. He put silver in those who are auxiliaries and iron and bronze into the farmers and other craftsmen. For the most part you will produce children like yourselves, but, because you are all related, a silver child will occasionally be born from a golden parent, and vice versa, and all the others from each other. So the first and most important command from the god to the rulers is that there is nothing that they must guard better or watch more carefully than the mixture of metals in the souls of the next generation. If an offspring of theirs should be found to have a mixture of iron or bronze, they must not pity him in any way, but give him the rank appropriate to his nature and drive him out to join the craftsmen and farmers. But if an offspring of these people is found to have a mixture of gold or silver, they will honor him and take him up to join the guardians or the auxiliaries, for there is an oracle which says that the city will be ruined if it ever has an iron or bronze guardian.'"
(414e9-415c6 Republic by Plato)