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By Natacha Maurin - History and Modern Languages student @ St Catharine's College


Plato’s Republic inspects both moral and political themes, achieved through his use of the city and soul analogy, used to discover the true meaning of justice. Historians such as Schofield and Annas have inquired into the relationship which links these two themes. Some hold the view that the city and the soul are causal: the souls of the city’s citizens cause the city to become such as it is, others such as Ferrari separate it as an analogy. The most common use of this concept is analogical, the analogy is used to show how the city can be a model for the human soul. Plato, using Socrates as a mouthpiece, urges the listeners of his dialogue to look up to the heavens to found a city within himself.' This model and paradigm of the perfect city exist, not to create the city itself, but to inspire people to become just. The analogy of the city does this through its tripartite configuration, which explains much about the soul. When Plato applies this analogy to different concepts the relationship shifts, therefore in some instances it holds more of a causal relationship. This can be seen through two characters, the tyrant and the philosopher-kings, where the relationship is not purely seen as a model of action, but rather the soul is needed in some way for the city to be what it is. Therefore, it must be agreed that the relationship is a model, an analogy, to help guide man to a greater ‘moral health of the soul.’

An interesting dimension, which might reinforce the idea of the city and soul relationship as a model and analogy, is the Socratic problem and Platonic problem. As explained by Lane in her work, the Socratic problem is identifyinga real or ‘historical’ Socrates’ separate from Plato and his beliefs, whilst the Platonic problem is understanding what Plato uses Socrates for. Since in the Apology, Plato lets us know that Socrates was trying to figure out the best way to live for the sake of the soul, it could be implied that Plato is trying to do this also in the Republic. Although this approach is more speculative it is important to consider this whilst reading Plato’s works as it offers an insight into the motivations behind using Socrates as a mouthpiece, especially relevant when this work is focused on a way to live for the soul. In Book 5, when Socrates responds to Glaucon’s critique on the feasibility of Callipolis, Socrates responds Can’t we claim to have been constructing a theoretical model of a good city? … do you think or inability to show that it is possible to found a city in the way we have described makes what we have to say any less valid?Through this exchange, we are able to learn a crucial piece of information. Although Socrates defends the feasibility of this city throughout the dialogue, the importance of this dialogue is not that this city will ever exist, but rather that the image of it does. Here he highlights that the importance in the Republic is more heavily weighted on creating a class of greater souls, first and foremost, before the construction of this perfect city. Furthermore, the introduction of the city within the discussion is done purely to find out about the individual. Whilst discussing justice with Glaucon and Adeimantus, Socrates proposes that ‘justice will be on a larger scale in what is larger, and easier to find out about.’ Looking into the model of a city will allow for this discussion to in turn find the source of justice in individuals. Therefore, one can clearly see that the relationship between the city and soul is set out to be a model.

After acknowledging that the relationship between the city and the soul seems to be mainly one of analogy, one must establish what the model shows. Throughout The Republic, the city evolves and changes, however it seems to remain in a tripartite configuration, with the importance of specialization always reinforced. The city is divided into the productive class, auxiliaries, and guardian classes. Each class much perform its function; the productive class ranges from farmers to craftsmen, the auxiliaries must defend the city and the guardians must rule it. Plato assumes that in a wholly good city, there is self-discipline, wisdom, courage and justice. Therefore, through looking at the city Socrates is able to find justice concluding, through a process of elimination, that ‘it looks, my friend as if in some way or other justice is this business of everyone performing his own task.’ And that ‘It is the interference of our three classes with one another, then, and interchange between them, which does the greatest harm to the city, and can rightly be called the worst crime against it.’ There is great importance in specialization as it is the closest Socrates will get to defining justice. As one can find justice in a city, Socrates theorizes that to find justice in a man one only has to uncover that ‘the soul of each individual contains the same sort of thing, and the same number of them, as a city contains.’

Self-discipline is highlighted in the soul when the good part of the soul is stronger than its counterpart, he calls this the rational element, and the other side is the irrational and desiring element. Spirit is also found in the soul, it works alongside the rational element, but just like the auxiliary, can become corrupt. The analogy extends even further when it is identified that, just like in the city, for the soul to remain just the three elements must continue to do their own job. However, the element of the soul’s jobs, although resembling the tasks of the city, is not the same, reinforcing the analogous nature of the model rather than a causative nature. The model allows people to understand how justice comes about and how a just soul is established. The way the analogy works, from large to little, city to soul, also goes to reinforce the idea that what is to be focused on is the model of the city in relation to the soul.

However, the relationship between the city and the soul becomes somewhat more complicated when reading about the philosopher-kings and the tyrant. Here we see a more causal relationship developing between the city and the soul. What will provide radical transformation to society, and the establishment of a perfectly just city such as Callipolis would be the introduction of the philosopher-king. His soul is specific, the wisdom that is held by a philosopher, argues Socrates, cannot be found in every individual, they are ‘few and far between.' In turn, if Callipolis is to exist, it must be ruled by philosophers, as it is the only way to have a truly just city. Plato also highlights that if a philosopher is to be at his prime, he would need to live in a city such as Callipolis as he states that there is no present-day political regime which lives up to the philosopher’s nature. That’s why his nature is twisted and transformed’. Here we see that the relationship is not just analogical, for the philosopher to become his true self, he must be brought up in a city such as Callipolis. Without this he will continue to be corrupted and hated, the model of Callipolis now turns into a necessity.

This is also displayed in the treatment of tyrannies and tyrants. Although tyrannies do not need to be completely made up of the tyrannical man, Socrates states in his description that the people living in a tyranny will find a tyrant, the most wretched of them all, to lead them. Plato states that the tyrannical man is not unhappy or enslaved like the city is. However, when a man reaches the status of tyrant, he becomes enslaved, impoverished and full of fear like the city is. The tyrant would not have been able to become a tyrant were it not for the city, and as Ferrari states a tyranny is directly the expression of someone’s personal will, so the tyranny becomes of tyrannical character because it is ruled by someone of said character. Thus, again Plato’s established relationship between the city and the soul takes a slightly different turn, appearing more causal.

In conclusion, the relationship between city and soul in The Republic varies. Mainly, it stands as a model to which readers must look in order to better their souls. An analogy which provides a guide to understanding this part of the human experience and how a just person may come about. Furthermore, when applied to other regimes and amplified, one can understand the implications that come with acting in such a way. Finally, we experience a different aspect of the city and soul relationship when looking at the examples of the tyrant and the philosopher-kings where there is more of a causal relationship, from soul to city. Therefore, the relationship between the city and the soul is one mostly of analogy, a model for people to aspire to, but also one which shifts throughout the dialogue, and should be considered as different throughout the concepts it is used to describe.

Further Reading:

Annas, J. (1981) An Introduction to Plato’s ‘Republic’, Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Ferrari, G. R. F. (2005) City and soul in Plato’s Republic, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Lane, M (2000) “Socrates and Plato: An Introduction”, in The Cambridge History of Greek and Roman political thought, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Schofield, M (2000) “Approaching the Republic”, in The Cambridge History of Greek and Roman Political Thought, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


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