Plato’s Republic Book V


Book V begins with Polermarchus expressing to Socrates that he thinks he is “slacking off” (bk V, 449a-450b, p. 123) and cheating them since he isn’t exploring more practical questions regarding the state. Polermarchus wants Socrates to address social concerns such as education, the family, and community. Although Socrates does not want to addresses these issues, his audience demands it and he eventually gives in and describes an ideal society where the children should be raised by the state rather than by their birthparents. Socrates also introduces the idea of a “sophisticated lottery” (459d-461d, p.135) where citizens with higher values will be paired up with one another and more “inferior people” (459d-461d, p.135) will end up with one another. There will be festivals specifically for the mating and abortion will be legal if the child is deemed inferior. The idea behind this system is that because everything is shared and there is a strong unity, a citizen’s individual pain or pleasure can be shared with the greater community. 

In the second half of Book V, Socrates attempts to clarify the definition of “philosopher” and “king.” Socrates begins by defining a philosopher as someone who is a lover of knowledge, however then comes to the realization that the term knowledge actually needs to be distinguished from ignorance, and from an opinion. Eventually, Socrates is able to come to the conclusion that knowledge is the agent that enables a philosopher to see absolute truth and absolute beauty. I’m not quite sure if he ever comes up with a concrete definition of what a king is, but I am under the assumption that he simply views them as ruling bodies of a city/kingdom of some sort. According to Socrates, the connection between these two terms is that philosophers themselves should be the leading men and the ones ruling the cities, since they are the ones who truly understand the ultimate truth. 

One thing I thought I should note is the potential for a feminist reading or interpretation of this book. Towards the beginning, Socrates advocates that the two sexes (male and female) are fundamentally the same, and therefore should receive the same education and opportunities. What makes me hesitant to say that this could certainly be read from a feminist lens is the statement that Socrates then makes subsequently after his bold comment. While both men and women share identical pursuits, according to Socrates, men still do and potentially always will do better than women. I suppose this could be a legitimate observation simply because (I imagine) many of the pursuits Socrates was alluding to were physical or athletic ones, however I still remain slightly skeptical that someone of that time could have such a modernized view of women. 


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