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Essay: Socrates’ ideal city / Plato’s Republic

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  • Subject area(s): Philosophy essays
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  • Published: September 25, 2021*
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  • Socrates’ ideal city / Plato’s Republic
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The ideal city, or polis, in the eyes in Socrates in Plato’s Republic is one that is just and virtuous, where every single person contributes in one way or another, is enlightened, and is aristocratic. In this city, the people are divided into three different groups, but they all have a vital role. He constructs this ideal city knowing that it is unattainable but is somewhat hopeful that people will have something to work towards in their daily life. The decline of the polis is characterized by the fall of the aristocracy into different forms of government.
Socrates’ ideal city includes the idea of social division of labor, in which every person has a specific job and/or skill to provide to the city. Other philosophers like Karl Marx saw this division as problematic, with belief that it only brings inequality and class struggle into the society. It is not surprising that there are different schools of thought on ideas such as social division, and Socrates understood and acknowledged that there are good and bad versions of such divisions. The bad version would include his idea of a “feverish” city, in which our human desires go off the rails, resulting in heavy consumerism. People who make money with their higher status jobs might engage in addictive and excessive purchasing of unnecessary materials. These people may be acting unjust by doing their jobs only for themselves—working only for the money and not for the greater good of their society. They are driven by unnecessary appetites, and are overlooking basic necessities and instead, craving luxuries. However, the reason Socrates would disagree with Marx is because he believes that everyone is a part of a larger whole. Without division, how can we trust that a mechanic can handle brain surgeries, or that a brain surgeon can handle fixing a broken car? His argument is that every person has a natural set of productive differences and a purpose, and in having a purpose, they help make and preserve the city. Thus, by having people with different sets of skills and therefore different jobs, people are specialized and can help the others in the society. For example, if someone needs a doctor or a tailor, there will be someone you can find to help. If there was no division of labor, he believed that everyone would ultimately do the same jobs, with no specialization, and there is no actual contribution to society because no one can do one thing exceptionally well. This can be detrimental if, for example, someone needed a liver transplant. No one can be sure that they can do the surgery because they have not been taught to, and no one specializes in doing it. This connects to Socrates’ argument that there are a set group of people who should rule, and who should be ruled.

In Socrates’ ideal city, he created three classes in which everyone in the society would fall into. They all represented different traits through his or her correspondence with upholding the rules of the city. The three classes included the Guardians, Auxiliaries, and the Money-Makers; the Guardians showcased wisdom, the Auxiliaries showcased courage, and the Money-Makers showcased temperance. They all three connect to how Socrates wanted justice within the city because he believed justice was represented by each person and their individuality in their work. By everyone having their own, separate line of work, they are respecting the class system of the society and not interfering with it nor other people’s works. The Guardians are knowledgeable, wise, and reasonable, and help guide everyone else. Socrates believed that they should be “fierce to the enemies” but “kind and gentle” to their people. The example that helped further understand this was the dog who barks at strangers but is being loving and protective those he knows. Guardians in the polis do not live luxuriously or make a lot of money; they are naturally best suited to rule in the way that they do not want to rule and are not in it for money or status. They are rulers because their wisdom is shared with the society, which guide and aid other people. To become a ruler, one does not need to be wealthy or be chosen by privilege. According to Socrates, the ideal ruler is one chosen by an inner calling, it is natural and not forced. The Auxiliaries can be technically a guardian, in the way that they have spirit, courage, and bravery as they are the ones who are protecting the city. They fight for the moral principles that they learned themselves, as well as from the Guardians. Auxiliaries are willing to carry out orders without caring for their personal risk, they are willing to put themselves in the face of danger. Lastly, the third group is the Money-Makers, who are the average people of society. For the most part, these are the farmers, artisans and merchants, but not limited to just these jobs. They have appetite and get pleasure from doing their job of producing and selling. In Socrates’ ideal city, these average people have moderation in what they are feeling and wanting, in a non-destructive and non-obsessive way. They also have temperance, which is found within each person. However, temperance is not just found in the average people, it is also found in the guardians and auxiliaries. Temperance is what shows acceptance of who should be ruling and who should be ruled. The polis is able to function because of these virtues—the temperance, courage, wisdom, and justice.

Socrates characterizes the decline of the ideal city by acknowledging that people are definitely not perfect and make mistakes often. Mistakes could be acting unjustly, giving into temptation, and not having moderation. This is what he described as the “feverish city”. Instead of people trying to work in unison for the greater good, they focus on only themselves and are overly indulgent in desire. The idea of consumerism is brought up in relation to this. He believes that his ideal form of aristocracy is almost impossible to attain, and that the decline comes from failure to keep an aristocracy functional. Socrates views an aristocracy as being the best form of government and believes that it will eventually fall into different forms when it declines. From aristocracy being the best, there is a gradual fall to the worst by going to timocracy, to an oligarchy, to democracy, and finally, to a tyranny. These four are seen as unjust constitutions in his eyes. A timocracy, the first government that the original aristocracy will pass through, is one that values athleticism and military skills. In other words, this type of government values the auxiliaries more than others. The rulers in this government are not chosen by their intellectual/philosophical means like in an aristocracy, but instead they gain power through their conquests and achievement of honors. Under their rule, people will follow rules by force. The people will desire material wealth, tending to be hedonistic. Due to these circumstances, Socrates sees this type of government as being inferior to an aristocracy, where people ideally have temperance and practice moderation. After going through a timocracy, they will go through an oligarchy; this system will include more accumulation and wasting of money in the upper class, while the lower class is undoubtedly poor and make up the majority of the population. The oligarchs live to indulge and enrich themselves and fulfill their personal desires. These few men have access to political and military power, while the poor classmen are almost completely powerless. The upper class wants it this way. As a result, their military is weak overall because the rich are afraid to give weapons to the poor, thinking that they will revolt against them. Next, there is a democracy: a form of government where there is freedom to act however you wish to. The democratic man’s top priority is the material items that he can buy with money. Lastly, there is the worst form of government in Socrates’ eyes. There is no discipline, justice, moderation, and almost no laws. Society basically lives in chaos; the people do as they please and it includes evil activities like murder. Socrates believes that there is no joy in a tyrant, because with this government, one can get whatever he/she wishes, which makes it not satisfactory to achieve anything. This will be the end, in which people are afraid of everything and everyone, including themselves. Wisdom and reason are nonexistent.

Personally, I think that Socrates created this ideal city while knowing that it was unattainable because he wants for there to be a goal that people can work towards every day. It gives people a purpose, to try to be better people and be aware of how they have a role in their society. He shows that for each individual, it is in their best interest to attempt living a just life. Through justice, he believed that people can achieve freedom, happiness and the good truth. The ideal city exemplifies what could be and is set as a goal for others. Each of the other cities with different types of governments exemplify why being unjust is wrong. The way I look at this, it reminds me of the Constitution, in which it states that “all men are created equal”. At that time in the late 1700s, men were not at all equal, and this was especially true when regarding social class, and race. One of the reasons why the Constitution was written is probably because they want to set fundamental laws and give basic rights to its people in America, with hopes that people work towards common goals and achieve them at some point. Therefore, I think Socrates created the ideal city so that people can at least try to live a just life, and city. Unfortunately, though, if Socrates were to see today’s world and see our current government, I think he would categorize us with a mix of democracy and tyranny. Our current form of government is a democracy; we have freedom, and there are large numbers of people who value their material possessions and are obsessed with consuming more. However, our world today can be very dark. Murders, robberies, and crimes alike happen daily, as well as the “crime” of not caring for each other, as well as the earth. Socrates never really mentioned the world as a whole being something of importance, but I feel that if he were to see today’s world and the condition that the earth is in, including animals, I think he would think of all of us as evil creatures. We would not be seen as just, because not only do we not care for one another, even in our own communities, but we do not care about the world itself. I think our world today is filled with selfishness and an excessive desire to consume. We, Americans, may be the worst of them all just because every American consume so much. This goes for food and drink, but also for material items. We kill so many animals, trees, and destroy wildlife to further provide for ourselves; we mine for diamonds, have factories that emit toxic gases, and more. I feel that Socrates would create a brand-new city just to categorize our world today. We are what he feared of being the worst, and somehow, we are worse than his imagination. In addition, our ruler at the moment, being our president, is someone who would not be described as philosophical or wise. He is someone who got his power by campaigning and such; it was not an obdurate innate trait that he had—he actually wanted to rule. Socrates believes that those who rule do not want to rule and are rulers because they are best suited naturally. He would not be satisfied with our world today.


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