Plato’s Republic: Book III

In Book III of The Republic, Socrates, Glaucon, and Adeimantus extend the concept of the kallipolis introduced in the preceding conversation, establishing several key ideas about the ways in which it is necessary to educate and train the souls and bodies of the city’s “guardians”, how the three classes of peoples within the city are decided and maintained, and finally, the particular life-styles of the “auxiliary” class.

The Book begins with a continuation of the discussion at the end of Book II regarding the content of the stories to which the guardians are to be exposed in the early stages of their training in music and poetry. Socrates points out that, in order to be courageous, the guardians cannot fear death, and therefore, the stories which they hear should not include lamentations, mourning, or anything that denounces the afterlife as terrible or scary, especially if the account comes from a hero figure. The guardians must learn that it is shameful and cowardly to “groan and lament” at their misfortunes (Grube/Reeve 64). He also makes it clear that stories should be told to increase an individual’s capacity for moderation – that is, the ability to control themselves and their desires.

Next, after bringing up and then quickly dropping the topic of what kind of content should be included in stories about human beings (as opposed to gods and heroes), Socrates begins to investigate into the style of stories and music/poetry that should be allowed in the city. In telling a story, he holds, the narrator may either speak in his own voice, or as someone else, namely a character in the story. The latter would be extremely controversial in the society of the kallipolis as it requires one person to imitate another, which would contradict the idea that each person should be only what they are best suited to be by nature: themselves. Such poets would not be allowed in the city – the poet must only be allowed to narrate a story in the third-person. Likewise, in music, only certain “modes” and rhythms are permitted. It is concluded that a proper education in music and poetry is important – “since [the person] has the right distastes, he’ll praise fine things, be pleased by them, receive them into his soul” (78).

The focus of the discussion is then turned to the physical training of the guardians. Socrates brings up the distinction between the type of physical training done by athletes and the type that would be pursued by the soldiers and warriors of the kallipolis. Athletes (those of Ancient Greek times, supposedly) rely too much on an abundance of food and a strict and orderly “regimen” to keep the condition of their body stable. If they were to be inconsistent with this lifestyle for even a short period of time, their bodies would quickly go into shock. The philosophers agree that, in order to make the bodies of the guardians truly strong and able, they must train them to be able to survive significant changes in condition (i.e. no food, suddenly much colder or warmer) “without faltering in health” (80). Both types of training, it seems, contribute to the well-being of the soul, as they provide a sort of harmony that makes a person neither too rough and savage nor too soft.

A brief debate is also brought up in Book III regarding the role of medicinal doctors and judges in the city. First, we learn that it would be “shameful” if the people of the kallipolis were so incapable of dealing with their own lives themselves that they relied on the constant care and supervision of doctors and judges to keep them healthy and to sort out their problems. But of course, doctors and judges are necessary installations in a city, and so, Socrates seeks to define what a good doctor and a good judge is. However, since the young people of kallipolis will be practiced in moderation, they won’t be needing doctors and judges that much anyways.

The philosophers then jump into how the ruler of a city is chosen, describing the traits which that ruler must have and the methods by which such a person must prove these traits. They also rename those guardians which are not rulers as auxiliaries and come up with a “useful falsehood” (the Myth of the Metals, in which people are ranked by which metal they are born to have in their souls) to try to prevent people from falling out of moderation due to power-hungriness and to keep them from feeling disappointed.

Finally, the Book concludes with a detailed description of how the auxiliaries in the city would live. None of them could have private property or their own living space, they would all have to sleep and eat together, their pay would come only from taxing other citizens, and they would not be allowed to handle gold or silver. The reasoning behind this is that, otherwise, they would be “hostile masters of the other citizens instead of their allies” (93).

Personally, I find that a lot of the clauses made by this supposed “constitution” are extremely radical and even kind of scary. I mean, seriously? A law against quoting people??? A law against rhythms??? I’d really like to know what type of political system this would be defined as. Is it communism? Philosophical kingship? Where is the individualism? the expression? the ability to control ones own life?

If true justice in a whole requires all of its parts to become robots, then I’d rather not waste my time with it.



1 Thought.

  1. Very nice summary! You have covered all the main points in the book well here.

    I can’t argue with your questions at the end. Nobody reads this book these days as a blueprint for a good society. But there are interesting things in it about the nature of the human psyche or soul, whether it’s better to be a morally good person or not; and what Jill will talk about next week in terms of Plato’s ideas of metaphysics (the nature of reality) and epistemology (the study of knowledge) is also pretty interesting. But yeah, as political philosophy, it’s highly problematic. Still, once you delve into the whole of his argument, which we’ll do over the next two weeks, you can at least see why he’s saying what he is about the state, where he’s coming from and how it might make some sense, even if one ultimately disagrees (as most do!).

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