Plato’s Republic: Book V

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In reading Book V and in lecture yesterday, I  was fascinated by the ideas around family structure. The better part of this Book is spent describing exactly how the relations between men, women, and children would be governed in kallipolis.

The ruler would be given the power to determine who the best people to breed would be, and, what I found most interesting, would lie to the people in saying that the matches were determined by lottery. Also, the children that are born from less desirable unions would be exposed, without the parent’s knowledge. These deceitful actions, because they are in the best interest of the community, are allowed. I found it interesting that a just person and a philosopher would be able to so easily justify a ‘white lie’ of that magnitude.

That being said, the theme of making as much of the city as possible communal I found, at first, quite compelling. This is mostly explored and justified on pp. 138-139. I found it to be reminiscent of some indigenous communities that see children as the responsibility of the entire community (although not to the extent that the kallipolis does). As I revisited the idea, I’m unclear on who exactly does the child raising though – it seems there are officials outside of the three classes who raise the children together. I find that this system, both in the procreation and in the raising of the child, requires a stoic detachment (mildly related note: stoicism was developed in Athens around this time, although I’m not sure how quickly it gained popularity)  on the part of the parents. It is unclear whether the marriages have any purpose or impact on lives after they produce children, and it is also unclear whether a citizen can choose not to participate. In any case, the relationships would be purely sexual and would not be chosen by the parents, and the children would be taken away immediately. If it is possible to experience post-partum depression when your baby is still with you, I can only imagine the emotional distress that could arise from the situations postulated by Socrates.

There is also an interesting juxtaposition of gender equality  and traditional views of women. This is best seen in Book V, p. 129 (455d-e):

“Then there is no way of life concerned with the management of the city that belongs to a woman because she’s a woman or to a man because he’s a man, but the various natures are distributed in the same way in both creatures. Women share by nature in every way of life just as men do, but in all of them women are weaker than men.”

Although women are still seen as less than men, if we understand the guardians to be “the best of the citizens” (Book V 131), the female guardians could be seen as superior to men in other social classes (although all women are still possessed by men). Also in his justification for allowing women these positions, he provides a compelling analogy for gender equality (but that also speaks to equality among humans in general) with the bald and long-haired cobblers (Book V 128).