Plato’s Republic (3): The Soul

Rufus F.

Rufus is an American curmudgeon in Canada. He has a PhD in History, sings in a garage rock band, and does many things. He is the author of the forthcoming book "The Paris Bureau" from Dio Press (early 2021).

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12 Responses

  1. Aaron says:

    Hmm… maybe I should read the Republic. I’ve always thought about it, and these posts may have inspired me to actually do it. Sounds like it would be quite the undertaking, though.

    Side note: I didn’t know anyone still wrote in cursiveReport

    • Rufus F. in reply to Aaron says:

      @Aaron, Glad to hear it. It’s actually more amusing than I’ve made it sound. Remember it’s really just about a group of men hanging around and jawboning about what sort of city they’d like to live in. My advice is to just read through and not worry too much about the nuances. The problem I have with some of the interpretations of the Republic is that they tend towards decoding secret messages that most of us can’t actually spot.

      It’s funny you mention the cursive. I actually tend to write these posts out in cursive before typing them up here. I’ve considered, as a joke, taking a picture of the writing and putting that up as a post.Report

  2. Paul B says:

    I think the correspondence between guardians/soldiers/workers and reason/will/appetite is a pretty good argument for the idea mentioned earlier that the Republic is a metaphor for the ideal soul, as opposed to the ideal state — especially since each class (I think) embodies its corresponding division of the soul more than it harmonizes all three.

    Plus it makes the censorship stuff a little easier to swallow (although it means the guardians miss out on their sexual free-for-all).Report

    • Rufus F. in reply to Paul B says:

      @Paul B, I think it does work that way. One thing I’ve wondered about is that the system seems designed to progressively elevate the character of all of the citizens. But wouldn’t that mean you’d eventually have workers who should really be guardians?Report

      • Paul B in reply to Rufus F. says:

        @Rufus F., Well the classes are non-hereditary, so children of workers who show sufficient promise would be educated to become guardians (and vice versa). But I think once you’re on the vocational or college-prep track, so to speak, you’re pretty much stuck with it.

        It’s probably worth noting that in the city of the Laws Plato keeps slaves around to do the dirty work. And I think he has good words in general for the Spartan system of citizens and Helots.Report

        • Rufus in reply to Paul B says:

          @Paul B, I suspect that Sparta figures into the life of the Guardians, which is very Spartan, so to speak.

          At some point, I’ve got to read the Laws again. Unfortunately, I seem to no longer have a copy here.Report

  3. John says:

    Rufus, I’ve greatly enjoyed these posts. Some thoughts on your latest.

    Regarding the city/soul analogy–which comes first? To understand the just man we must write the soul large in terms of the city. In the city we first see the city of pigs extending into the feverish city requiring a differentiation between workers and guardians. The emergence of guardians thereby requires an education differentiating guardians from auxiliaries–an education that has in view the kingship of the philosophers. During this description of the different elements as they emerge in the different cities, the argument backtracks to a discussion of the different parts of the soul. As you note, these parts are analogous to the parts of the city. However, which is prior to the other–does the city or soul come first?

    Later on in the dialogue, we see the city in speech as something that becomes the standard foundation for the well ordered soul. So the dialogue seems to be all about the soul. Consequently, we get the Myth of Er at the end which regards awards and punishments of the soul’s afterlife.

    In so doing, it seems as if the whole analogy of city and soul breaks down.Report

    • Rufus F. in reply to John says:

      @John, Thanks for the kind words.

      It seems to me that the dialogue really is about the soul and that the city is somewhat incidental. Like you say, the analogy sort of breaks down at the end. Interestingly enough, Socrates also uses the analogy of the community as a body in basically the same way as St. Paul does. I think another good argument for seeing the dialogue as being really about the soul is that it’s a lot clearer how to apply what he’s saying to your own spiritual/psychological life than to building a city. The actual city he details seems like it would have all sorts of problems and be somewhat miserable to live in.Report

    • Paul B in reply to John says:

      @John, I totally forgot about the Myth of Er!

      That might be worth a post of its own, Rufus, unless you’re itching to get on to the Bacchae…Report

      • Rufus F. in reply to Paul B says:

        @Paul B, Wow, I guess I forgot it too, because I was planning to discuss it and didn’t. I’ll have to go re-read it and see if I have anything interesting to say about it. It certainly is important, especially because it’s quite an advance on the ‘shades’ in Hades that we read about in Homer.Report

        • Paul B in reply to Rufus F. says:

          @Rufus F., All I really about it is that amid all the talk of Pythagorean reincarnation there were a few images which Dante recycled for his Paradise, which I thought was pretty cool.Report

          • Rufus in reply to Paul B says:

            @Paul B, I’ve heard it was a very influential passage, and I’d actually be very interested in what the Catholics made of it in the Middle Ages.

            Incidentally, where’s Bob Cheeks? I’d imagine all this talk of noesis and the afterlife would be up his alley.Report