Academic journal article Akroterion

The Dialectic of Community in Plato's Republic

Academic journal article Akroterion

The Dialectic of Community in Plato's Republic

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

In Plato's Republic, Socrates and his comrades attempt to determine what sort of thing justice is by looking for it in cities (368e9-a1); they resolve to watch a community coming into being in order to see how justice and injustice arise (369a5-7). (1) But their watching soon turns into a kind of making (369c9-10), and what they (initially) succeed in making are three defective communities: a city for pigs, a city with a fever, and a city with an armed camp. (2)

The relationships between the first three cities of Republic are not well understood in the scholarship. For example, I M Crombie describes the city for sows as a 'false start', (3) and Julia Annas agrees, concluding 'reluctantly' that 'Plato has not given the first city a clear place in the Republic's moral argument ...'. (4) And while C D C Reeve notices that the design of succeeding cities is intended to accommodate different sorts of human motivations, he gives neither a satisfactory account of these motivations nor of how their development relates to justice. (5)

In the view I defend in this paper, the dialectic of Plato's civic architecture is centred on an account of justice as geometrical equality. The first city expresses this account in its founding principle by which social roles are assigned according to[phrase omitted]. The second and 'inflamed' city disrupts the geometrical schema of the pig city in order to accommodate human desires for virtue and self-recognition, with the third city re-establishing the geometrical pattern by means of poetic catharsis, a noble lie, and the placement of an armed camp (415d8-9). It seems that Plato would have his reader infer that truth and justice both can be realised only in the philosophical community for the sake of which the beautiful city is founded.

2. The first community: A city for pigs

The structure of the first community exhibits the logic of insufficiency. The first application of this logic is to the solitary human being who is vulnerable and lacking many things (369b5-7). (6) Human insufficiency implies that individuals must cooperate with one another in working to satisfy their needs (369c3). Cooperation occurs by dividing labour (369e ff), which permits specialisation by natural aptitude (370a7-b2), and, in so doing, facilitates the growth of the [phrase omitted]. (7)

The first application of the logic of insufficiency produces what Socrates terms 'therapeutic' arts, or 'arts of bodily care' (369d10; [phrase omitted])-- forms of knowledge such as farming, building and weaving, which are designed to satisfy human needs for food, shelter and clothing (369d1- d5). (8) However, while the therapists of the body are introduced to counteract human insufficiency, the therapist himself turns out to be lacking in many things (370c). Thus Socrates repeats the logic of insufficiency by introducing a second kind of knower, the demiourgos. The wheat-farmer is for food; but he needs a plough and thus a blacksmith; and each subordinate artisan requires other goods from other workers. For this reason, says Socrates, 'carpenters, [blacksmiths] and many other craftsmen of that sort will share our little city and make it bigger' (370d5-7).

The city of pigs is brought to completion with a third iteration of the logic of insufficiency, this time applying to the whole hierarchy of the arts. While the therapists of the body and their assistant artisans will receive some of what they need from subordinate craftsmen within the community, they will not get it all. (9) The farmer will sometimes require seed, the blacksmith metal, and the potter clay and bitumen; ' [it is] almost impossible to establish a city in a place where nothing has to be imported' (370e5-7). Thus Socrates introduces a third category of knower, the diakonos, the service provider, exemplified by the retailer and the merchant, and, if the trade is by sea, the sailor. (10)

The role of the diakonos is to facilitate trade by providing knowledge of supply and demand. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.