Republic (Plato)

Read this summary of Plato's Republic. Pay particular attention to the summary of Books 6,7, and 8; the Theory of Universals; to the definition of justice; and to the Ideal City. What are the four types of government which Plato rejects, and why does he reject them?

Having discussed the tyrannical constitution of a city, Socrates wishes to discuss the tyrannical constitution of a psyche. This is all intended to answer Thrasymachus' first argument in Book I, that the life of the unjust man (here understood as a true tyrant) is more blessed than that of the just man (the philosopher-king).

First, he describes how a tyrannical man develops from a democratic household. The democratic man is torn between tyrannical passions and oligarchic discipline, and ends up in the middle ground: valuing all desires, both good and bad. The tyrant will be tempted in the same way as the democrat, but without an upbringing in discipline or moderation to restrain him. Therefore, his most base desires and wildest passions overwhelm him, and he becomes driven by lust, using force and fraud to take whatever he wants. The tyrant is both a slave to his lusts, and a master to whomever he can enslave.

Because of this, tyranny is the regime with the least freedom and happiness, and the tyrant is most unhappy of all, since the regime and soul correspond. His desires are never fulfilled, and he always must live in fear of his victims. Because the tyrant can only think in terms of servant and master, he has no equals whom he can befriend, and with no friends the tyrant is robbed of freedom. This is the first proof that it is better to be just than unjust. The second proof is derived from the tripartite theory of soul. The wisdom-loving soul is best equipped to judge what is best through reason, and the wise individual judges wisdom to be best, then honor, then desire. This is the just proportion for the city or soul and stands opposite to tyranny, which is entirely satiated on base desires. The third proof follows from this. He describes how the soul can be misled into experiencing false pleasure: for example, a lack of pain can seem pleasurable by comparison to a worse state. True pleasure is had by being fulfilled by things that fit one's nature. Wisdom is the most fulfilling and is the best guide, so the only way for the three drives of the soul to function properly and experience the truest pleasure is by allowing wisdom to lead. To conclude the third proof, the wisdom element is best at providing pleasure, while tyranny is worst because it is furthest removed from wisdom.

Finally, Socrates considers the multiple of how much worse tyranny is than the kingly/disciplined/wise temperament, and even quantifies the tyrant as living 729 times more painfully/less joyfully than the king. He then gives the example of a chimera to further illustrate justice and the tripartite soul.

The discussion concludes by refuting Thrasymachus' argument and designating the most blessed life as that of the just man and the most miserable life as that of the unjust man.