Plato’s dialogue Phaedrus is primarily about rhetoric. It initially shows rhetoric through speeches about love, (230e-234d, 237a-241d)1 but in the second half, Socrates broadens the discussion, detailing the nature and….
The Republic, though an ancient text that has long been heavily criticized, is a complete philosophical work in itself where the crucial details can be closely associated with one another. It is of equal significance that to succeed at grasping the meaning of one crucial part one is necessitated as well to have an understanding of the other chunks of his philosophical work. We are then called forth to carry out a rough analysis of his remaining conjectures in order for us to arrive at a comprehension of Platonic ideal state.
In constructing his ideal city, Plato makes use of his two basic principles—one about the distribution of human capacities and the other about efficiency. The task is to explain how these function in Plato’s account of the ideal city. Another aspect of Plato’s philosophy is his theory of forms. The structure upon which his ideal state is to be founded is provided through an understanding of it.
The claim that all things in this world are imperfect and are mere “copies” of the forms is the core argument of the Platonic forms.
Existing in the world of ideas, the forms are in themselves perfect inasmuch as the pattern or structure for corporeal substances in the material world is what these forms grant. Anchoring his ideal state on the forms, Plato then proceeds to expose the particulars that encompass the ideal state by investigating the nature of man especially man’s capacities and their efficiency with regards to actualizing their capacities in the society. The metals which are naturally within the souls of men determine their intrinsic capacities inasmuch as every man has in him the presence of all the metals which come in varying prominence.
The most prominent metal found in the soul corresponds to one’s prominent virtue which eventually shapes the role of man in the society. This leads to Plato’s view on the role of education. Plato’s Republic appears to put central emphasis on education and that all the rest of his views in his concept of the ideal state merely serve the purpose of expanding the core significance of the soul’s education (Knoche). The trainings taught unto men develop their reason, courage, and temperance which lead to the education of man’s soul. The ideal city, then, is one where the souls of men are educated.
Plato’s Theory of Forms (Ideas) At this point, let us direct our attention into Plato’s theory of forms. Believing that the material world is not the real world, Plato argues that the world we know of as the material world is merely a shadow of the real world. Roughly speaking, the forms are the blueprints of the material or corporeal objects. These forms are perfect in themselves and that they are essential to the constitution of things—that they are the very essence of objects: without the form, a thing would not be the kind of thing as it “is”.
In other words, for the object chair a form of chair grants the possibility of the chair to be as it “is”. Similarly, the form of a table makes possible the existence of the table in the material world, or that the form of a dog is the blueprint upon which the tangible dog is structured. Or that what we draw on paper as a circle makes us realize it is a circle because of its form. The world of forms is where the forms are and is uniquely separate and distinct from the material or corporeal world.
The former is the ultimate basis of reality of the latter. The material world is the world where imperfect objects, or mere copies of the forms, are to be found. What we know of in the material world are mere copies of the forms, and that these objects in the material world do not give us the essence of themselves because the essence of things dwells on the world of ideas. Hence, the state during the ancient civilization for Plato is flawed because it is a mere copy of the perfect idea of a state.
What Plato proposes, then, is that there is an ideal state devoid of errors and one which is “just”. Even if this ideal state dwells not in the material world, nevertheless Plato suggests that the structure of the society should be patterned according to the forms. Structuring the ‘worldly’ state according to the ‘ideal’ state brings the former closer to being a flawless society for the most part. This leads us to consider the inner structure of the ideal state or that which comprises the basic foundation of the ideal state.
The nature of man and the concept of justice In order for us to arrive at how Plato sees the nature of man and its contextual weight to what is “just”, let us review a relevant passage from 442D 10 of Plato’s Republic. But surely now, a man is just by that which and in the way we have so often described. That is altogether necessary. Well then, said I, has our idea of justice in any way lost the edge of its contour so as to look anything else than precisely what it showed itself to be in the State? I think not, he said.
We might, I said, completely confirm your reply and our own conviction thus, if anything in our minds still disputes our definition — by applying commonplace and vulgar tests to it. What are these? For example, if an answer were demanded to the question concerning that city and the man whose birth and breeding was in harmony with it, whether we believe that such a man, entrusted with a deposit of gold or silver, would withhold it and embezzle it, who do you suppose would think that he would be more likely so to act than men of a different kind?
No one would, he said. And would not he be far removed from sacrilege and theft and betrayal of comrades in private life or of the State in public? He would. (etc. ) And is not the cause of this to be found in the fact that each of the principles within him does its work in the matter of ruling and being ruled? Yes, that and nothing else. Do you still, then, look for justice in anything else than this potency which provides men and cities of this sort?
No, by heaven, he said, I do not In the opening line of the quoted passage, it is immediately observed that Plato asserts that a man is just if he acts, following the next lines that ensued, according to his very nature. That is, that which constitutes man in his entirety or that which is his essence ought to be the basis for his actions, serving not merely as a guide but the very frame of man’s deeds. If one acts in accordance to his nature, then one is just.
However, given the very nature of man as such and such, it seems less likely for one to act and deviate from one’s very nature for the very reason that man’s acts are so determined by his very nature; that man, constituted by such and such elements, would hardly perform actions which are beyond the dictates of his nature. To further clear the seemingly blurred connection between one’s actions and one’s nature, and as to why it will be difficult to imagine men acting not in accordance to their very nature and intrinsic capabilities in the ideal state, it is of necessity to discuss the role of education according to Plato.
For the meantime, we are yet to elaborate on the Platonic sense of man’s nature. In the passage cited, there is the mentioning of gold and silver. These metals have their corresponding virtues which in turn determine one’s nature and, eventually, one’s function in the society. In Book III of the Republic, Plato mentions these varying metals which can be found among the souls of all men. These metals, each corresponding to a specific virtue, are gold, silver, and brass and iron.
Gold is held to be the metal which bears for the soul the virtue of reason, silver for courage, and brass and iron for temperance. All men possess these metals in themselves only that they come in differing prominence. Consequently, the prominent metal determines the very nature of the individual, such that those who have prominent gold will have more of reason, those who acquire silver the most will grasp more of courage, and those with the most brass and iron are to have more of temperance. These revelations of virtues and of the nature of man do not merely end there.
Rather, it posits the beginning of the conception of the ideal society. Part of the reason to this is that the ideal society is comprised of individuals who are functioning according to their very nature. This is what Plato describes as a just society. The just society, which is conversely the ideal society, can be described as a society where men, each accorded with the prominent virtues within them, are functioning individuals who act correspondingly to their nature. Those imbued with brass and iron will comprise the working class, i. e. erchants, traders and laborers, while men who are seen to have silver as dominant within them will consist of the class of auxiliaries to the first class. The first class, then, are those who principally possess gold in the soul and are those who ought to rule the ideal state. At this point, it must be clear by now that every individual has in them the metals which will configure their respective roles in the society. Plato then proceeds by proposing that there ought to be a form of education which is to be given to men so as to refine these virtues.
This education, which is typically conceived as a form of training so as to further promote the virtues within men, is of necessity right at the onset of the childhood years of individuals for the obvious reason that it will take years of training in refining these virtues in preparation for the more challenging task of upholding the society’s existence and the attainment of a just state where every man serves in relation to his nature. The role of education The core task of education for Plato which is necessary for the conception of the ideal state is to train man and develop his virtues.
In refining the virtues through the sets of trainings, man will tend to act more according to what his nature prescribes and will be a just man. Conversely, it also leads to the argument that man will not deviate from these prescriptions. Man will not act differently or in opposition to the dictates of his nature. Education, then, will have to start at an early age. As Robin Barrow observes in the Republic, children of both sexes are given the education consisting of music and gymnastics informally under strict supervision. This is held to be the first step in building the citizenship of human beings.
The children will be further distinguished and separated according to their sexes once they reach the age of six. After separating the children, they will then be led to the school doors under the administration of tutors so as to guarantee that the child’s conduct was “modest and conservative”. The children will then be handed over to teachers assigned by the head of education. For the most part, the substance of the education which is to be taught to both sexes, though separated according to their sexual category, is nevertheless identical.
Gymnastics, music and field sports are to remain as integral parts of their education for these will advance the virtues of “disciplined courage and self-control. ” Apparently, this process is also that which will strain children who have the potential to be philosopher-kings who are to be sent to a school primarily teaching and training leadership qualities (Barrow). A study of the abstract relation among things would then be pursued in that school which teaches this advanced education which includes for the most part astronomy, harmonics, pure arithmetic, and geometry for the initial ten years.
At the same time, the education which will be given in these ten delicate years of transformation will exclude any study regarding the practical application of such abstract subjects for the intent of making the study of the Platonic forms less complicated and more comprehensible. Two years will then be dedicated to civil or military assistance by the age of twenty-five to twenty-eight followed by five years devoted to the study of dialectical reasoning by the age of thirty. At such an age, the individual is already assumed to have started a family of his own.
The challenge then would be that those who are still engrossed over the training may still opt to pursue the education and continue the course at such age. Service towards the military, educational, and civil aspects will be the main focus of the training for the succeeding fifteen years without intervention. The remaining individuals through the stretch of the years along the course of this detailed and tough schooling are those who manifest unparalleled virtues of temperance, courage, and reason.
The probation phase will then culminate once the individual still demonstrates the best actions for all of the aspects of the training given, and that they will then be designated to the highest positions in the state roughly at the age of fifty. The entire process eventually serves as a filtering device whereby those who fail to meet the standards of each stage of the probation phase are assumed to remove themselves from schooling and function, then, with respect to their now-refined virtues.
Specifically, these include those who bear silver and brass and iron as their dominant metals in their soul. They become the auxiliaries and merchants or the common people of the state respectively. Those who are left in the training are bound to occupy the principal positions in the state, such as being a philosopher-king who possesses gold (therefore, reason as his dominant virtue) right at birth and is refined along the course of the training.
In essence, this type of education given to men from childhood to the stage of being an adult determines the role of every person in the ideal state. After being educated, though not in the sense of being able to complete all the stages in the probation phase, one’s inner virtues are refined and will lead to the coherence of one’s actions according to what is prescribed by the prominent metal in the soul. The just man is the one who functions with respect to his nature.
Considering the levels of education one can be able to attain, it is therefore most likely that one will not bend his actions towards that which is not intrinsically prescribed by one’s nature, such that one who has dominant silver (and consequently the virtue of courage) in the soul will not depart from the prescribed actions of his now-refined virtue. Or that one who has the polished virtue of temperance which essentially comprise the common man will not act like that of an auxiliary or a philosopher-king. It can be observed, hence, that one’s nature limits one’s capabilities to excel on other fields.
This leads us to the next important aspect of Plato’s philosophy in the context of the Republic. The structure of the ideal state For Plato, the ideal state is that which is ruled by philosopher-kings. The main reason to this claim is that philosopher-kings are endowed with the highest virtue of reason among the rest of the citizens in the state. Plato asserts that reason is the primary virtue which ought to be the guiding element of the ruler of the state because the success as well as the sustenance of the existence of the state rest on wise decisions which are far more crucial than from the other aspects of the society.
In essence, Plato appears to suggest that the best way to achieve the ideal state is to put the right persons in the right positions, thus his concept of a just man and that of a just society. By saying that a man is just, what is being meant is that one functions according to one’s nature such as a man endowed with the metal gold in his soul, after years of education and training, acts in line with his refined and developed virtue of reason which paves the way for one to be a philosopher-king. When all men function according to their nature, the state becomes a just state for the reason that the state as a whole is comprised of individuals.
Once they act in accordance to their nature, the state—the very collection of men—is formed accordingly. The auxiliaries, on the other hand, serve as the warriors of the state since they have courage as their prominent virtue and that their interests dwell on their seeking for honor. They are the class of people who are next in line to the hierarchy of citizens of the state, of which they are followed by those imbued with brass and iron. The latter are the citizens of the state who are endowed with the virtue of temperance and have interests pegged on their appetite for material pleasure.
It must further be noted that Plato suggests that the best manner in which the state is to be framed is through aristocracy which literally means “rule of the best” in Greek (aristos, “best,” and kratein, “to rule”). Directing our attention towards the process of training taken by the citizens of the state right at childhood, it should point us to the fact that those imbued with reason as their dominant virtue are those who eventually surpass the probation phase and are, in the end, given the higher ranks in the offices of the state.
The reason to this is that, since the decisions which are to be taken are essentially of crucial significance to the development of the state and of the entire populace, all decisions ought to be based on wisdom or intellectual thinking from no less than the individual possessing the most reason. Another reason is the assumption that those who surpassed the probation phase are those who are intellectually and morally superior as opposed to the lower class of citizens who have little to do with the quest for knowledge since they are more inclined to pursue that which interests them.
Since this is the “best” ruler which befits the ideal state, and since philosophers have much desire for knowledge and of wisdom, the best ruler would have to be philosopher-kings. Thus, the “rule of the best” amounts to “rule of philosopher-kings” or those who most were closest to achieving the ideal of human perfection. Essentially, aristocracy very well totals to the “rule of the few” since the bulk of the society is comprised of the common man followed by the warrior-class.