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The Republic | Book 4 | Summary



In the opening section of Book 4 Adeimantus raises the objection Socrates seems to have outlined a miserable, unenviable existence for the guardians of the ideal state. Why should such high-ranking citizens be required to eke out a threadbare existence, devoid of luxury and material comforts? Socrates replies by asserting the group should focus on the happiness of the entire state and not of one particular class. It is very likely, he says, the guardians will be the happiest of mortals.

On the issue of money Socrates makes a puzzling proposition: wealth and poverty are the two causes of deterioration in the arts. Wealth begets carelessness, while without any money an artist cannot afford to purchase his tools. Adeimantus asks how the ideal city will be able to wage war if it is deprived of material resources. In his answer Socrates stresses the unity of the ideal state and the utility of its allies. He adds the state should be as large only as is consistent with the goal of unity.

Socrates repeats his emphasis on the crucial importance of education and nurture. After some discussion of legal reform and religious matters in the ideal state, Socrates returns the focus to defining the true nature of justice. He persuades Glaucon to agree there are four principal virtues: wisdom, courage, temperance, and justice. After some discussion of wisdom and courage, which are found in separate classes, or parts, of the state, Socrates notes temperance is unlike the first two virtues in that it resides in the state as a whole, producing a harmony among the upper, middle, and lower classes.

Now Socrates hones in on justice, declaring the moment has come at last for his friends to identify the true nature of this virtue. Socrates reminds the group that, when they were laying down the foundation of the ideal state, they agreed each citizen should practice only one occupation, the work to which his nature was best adapted. Socrates then elicits agreement with the idea justice is the social harmony of classes within the state. If each class pursues its own business and declines to meddle in the affairs of the other classes, justice will flourish in the state. If, on the other hand, civic affairs are disrupted by the blurring or crossing of class lines, injustice will prevail. Justice, then, is perceived as a social condition, rather than as one or more specific actions.

Socrates then returns the group's attention to the analogy he made between the state and the individual in Book 2. He states that, just as there are three classes in the state (lower, middle, and high), there are three hierarchically ranked divisions of the human soul. Each individual soul possesses a part concerned with learning and wisdom, and a "spirited" part—which is in turn divided into two: the desire for honor and the operation of the more earthly appetites, such as for food, sexual intercourse, and so forth. Justice in the individual, says Socrates, is directly analogous to justice in the state, for it consists of harmony and the absence of conflict among the three parts of the soul. Each part of the soul performs its own task without conflict or dissension; hence the soul exists in a state of unity. Injustice may be defined as strife among the different parts of the soul. Once again, justice may be most correctly perceived as a condition, rather than as an action.


Book 4 marks an important point in the complex structure of the Republic as a whole. It is at the end of Book 4 a number of strands in the argument finally come together to produce a definition of justice, which was Socrates's quest from the very beginning of the dialogue. The idea of the quest is strongly expressed in Plato's figurative language when Socrates discusses the four principal virtues. After commenting on temperance, Socrates tells Glaucon: "The time then has arrived, Glaucon, when, like huntsmen, we should surround the cover, and look sharp that justice does not steal away, and pass out of sight and escape us; for beyond a doubt she is somewhere in this country." Plato's style here is noteworthy since his extended metaphor, a poetic technique, sharpens the suspense and compels readers to pay especially close attention to his argument.

Socrates's enumeration and discussion of the four major virtues in Book 4 is also noteworthy. In the order of discussion these virtues are wisdom, courage, temperance, and justice. These virtues, first identified by Socrates, are found later on in the works of Aristotle, St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, and St. Thomas Aquinas. They thus serve as a link between the classical and Christian philosophical traditions. From the time of Ambrose (fourth century CE) they are known as the cardinal virtues (from Latin cardo, meaning "hinge").

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