Plato’s View On Equality

I am writing this post as a way to present some of my thoughts on the essay question (#12) that didn’t make it into the essay.

Book 5 of Plato’s Republic is highly fascinating because it makes propositions unlike anything that we have seen so far. First of all, Plato argues that women should be afforded the same opportunities as men, which, during his era, must have been seen as borderline ridiculous, but less so nowadays. But what is even more surprising is are his propositions that marriages must be controlled by the state (Plato, 149, 459e), people should live and dine together (Plato, 155, 464b) , women should be shared amongst the men (Plato, 147, 457c), and children should be raised by special nurses. This results in a society where the idea of a family unit disappears. Instead, the city, the polis, is your family. Your brothers and sisters are those who are of similar age, your fathers and mothers of older age, and children of younger age (Plato, 154, 463c). You feel pleasure and pain together as a whole (Plato, 155, 464a) .

Amidst all this strangeness however, is the idea of equality staring back at you from the other end of the tunnel, opposite that from which you came. It is not equality of opportunity or equal rights for everybody, but another form altogether. Everybody is equally happy (Plato, 103, 420c); the city smiles as a whole. You are not responsible for any people, nor is anybody responsible for you. You love each other, but you love no one.

Turning back from this puzzling sight, you return to a society that you are familiar with. There, you are faced with a conundrum. Two trains are about to crash, and you can only stop one of them. A handful of family and friends has boarded the one on the left, and a crowd of strangers occupy the one on the right. Which one do you choose. Your family and friends will be forever grateful, some strangers may forget your face altogether.

In Kallipolis, no such problem exists. The distinctions are erased. You try to save the most people as possible. Is that really a bad thing? Or are we bound by the unquestioned belief that family, and those who you value more than others, are a natural part of human existence. Should we take for granted our freedom to choose who we want to be with, love who we love, avoid those who we hate, and does that count as equality and a representation of a just society? Perhaps Plato is more of a supporter of equality than we are, with our multitude of separate communities, distinctions, conformists and misfits, all vying for control of our minds. Or maybe he’s just an eccentric.

One thought on “Plato’s View On Equality”

  1. Really interesting points here, Mabon! I especially like your question at the end about whether or not Plato’s view could be considered even more egalitarian than some of our own practices. I’d really like to hear what others think about that! Plato did certainly seem to think that arrangements like lack of stable families would help the guardians focus on caring for each other and the state equally, rather than focusing their attention on their own families (or worse, doing things to benefit their own families rather than the state).

    Just to clarify, though: Plato only said that families would be dissolved amongst the guardians–the soldiers and rulers. The strange “marriages” and raising of children in common was just something he talked about for that group, not for all people in the state. So the producers could well have their own families such that they know who their parents and children are, and they live with and care for them.

    On another note, can you please activate the plugin that allows those who leave comments to check a box to be notified by email if anyone replies to their comments? When you’re logged into the dashboard of your site, go to “plugins,” then “subscribe to comments” (or something like that) and click “activate.” Otherwise, the people who comment would have to think to come back to the site to see if you or anyone else has replied!

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