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The Republic | Summary

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Summary

Book 1

After Socrates challenges his friends to define justice, he demonstrates the inadequacy of a number of the definitions. For example, justice could be defined as paying what is owed or as doing good to friends and harming enemies. By the end of Book 1 the discussants seem to have reached an aporia, or dead end.

Books 2–4

The group pursues a satisfactory definition of justice. Socrates initiates the discussion of a framework for the ideal state. He censures the "lies" he finds in much traditional Greek poetry and myth. Ultimately justice is defined as a social condition of balance and harmony, both in the state and the individual.

Book 5

Socrates discusses the issue of communal property, wives, and children in the ideal state. He also comments on the place of women among the guardians whose talents and temperament qualify them for positions of civil and military authority. Surprisingly for his time, Socrates upholds the potential of women to become guardians. Even more unexpectedly, he favors a system of communal wives and children, declaring such an arrangement will promote social unity and universal loyalty to the ideal state. The philosopher, says Socrates, also holds an important part in the state. He is an individual single-mindedly devoted to the pursuit of truth and goodness.

Books 6–7

Socrates develops the idea a true philosopher-king should rule the ideal state. In three elaborate analogies—the Sun, the Divided Line, and the Cave—he expands on the theory of Form or Ideas, or perfect exemplars that exist only in the intelligible (as opposed to the sensory) world.

Books 8–9

Socrates discusses four flawed constitutions: timocracy, oligarchy, democracy, and tyranny. Each form of government is paired with a corresponding type of individual. All these political frameworks are flawed, in Socrates's view, because they emphasize false or detrimental priorities. Timocracy and oligarchy, for example, prioritize egoism, selfishness, and greed. Democracy runs the danger of anarchy and chaos. Tyranny, the worst governmental framework of all, allows a ruler to exercise despotic power.

Book 10

Socrates redirects the group's attention to poetry. He criticizes poetry as mere "imitation," at three removes from true reality. The phrase "three removes" depends on a system of counting inclusively: a description of a ship, for example, imitates a real ship, which in turn imitates the ideal form or idea of a ship. In the concluding Myth of Er, Socrates focuses on the immortality of the soul.

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