Summary: Book V, 449a-472a
Having identified the just city and the just soul, Socrates now wants to identify four other constitutions of city and soul, all of which are vicious to varying degrees. But before he can get anywhere in this project, Polemarchus and Adeimantus interrupt him. They would like him to return to the statement he made in passing about sharing spouses and children in common. Socrates launches into a lengthy discussion about the lifestyle of the guardians.
In the first of several radical claims that he makes in this section Socrates declares that females will be reared and trained alongside males, receiving the same education and taking on the same political roles. Though he acknowledges that in many respects men and women have different natures, he believes that in the relevant respect—the division among appetitive, spirited, and rational people—women fall along the same natural lines as men. Some are naturally appetitive, some naturally spirited, and some naturally rational. The ideal city will treat and make use of them as such.
Socrates then discusses the requirement that all spouses and children be held in common. For guardians, sexual intercourse will only take place during certain fixed times of year, designated as festivals. Males and females will be made husband and wife at these festivals for roughly the duration of sexual intercourse. The pairings will be determined by lot. Some of these people, those who are most admirable and thus whom we most wish to reproduce, might have up to four or five spouses in a single one of these festivals. All the children produced by these mating festivals will be taken from their parents and reared together, so that no one knows which children descend from which adults. At no other time in the year is sex permitted. If guardians have sex at an undesignated time and a child results, the understanding is that this child must be killed.
To avoid rampant unintentional incest, guardians must consider every child born between seven and ten months after their copulation as their own. These children, in turn, must consider that same group of adults as their parents, and each other as brothers and sisters. Sexual relations between these groups is forbidden.
Socrates explains that these rules of procreation are the only way to ensure a unified city. In most cities the citizens’ loyalty is divided. They care about the good of the whole, but they care even more about their own family. In the just city, everyone is considered as family and treated as such. There are no divided loyalties. As Socrates puts it, everyone in the city says “mine” about the same things. The city is unified because it shares all its aims and concerns.
The final question to be asked is whether this is a plausible requirement—whether anyone can be asked to adhere to this lifestyle, with no family ties, no wealth, and no romantic interludes. But before answering this question, Socrates deals with a few other issues pertaining to the guardians’ lifestyle, all of them relating to war. He states that children training to become guardians should be taken to war so they can watch and learn the art as any young apprentice does. He recommends that they be put on horseback so that they can escape in the case of defeat. He also explains that anyone who behaves cowardly in war will be stripped of their role as a guardian. He ends by discussing the appropriate manner in which to deal with defeated enemies. When it comes to Greek enemies, he orders that the vanquished not be enslaved and that their lands not be destroyed in any permanent way. This is because all Greeks are really brothers, and eventually there will be peace between them again. When it comes to barbarian—i.e., non-Greek—enemies, anything goes.
"On Matrimony and Philosophy"
Summary: Book V
Book V opens with the reappearance of Polermarchus, whose whispering in Adeimantus's ear attracts the attention of Socrates. Polermarchus reluctantly speaks up at Socrates' behest; he accuses the philosopher of laziness and of not answering some of the more practical questions regarding their State, such as early education, family, and community; in other words, social concerns. Somewhat weary of discoursing, Socrates says he would rather not reduce his philosophy to this level, but his audience demands it.
Part One: Matrimony
Warily, Socrates begins with women. He argues for a fundamental equality between the sexes; therefore, women should be given the same education, music and gymnasium, as their male counterparts. However, he says that though the two sexes share identical pursuits, comparatively, males quantitatively surpass females in these pursuits nearly always.
From the sexes, Socrates wades into deeper waters, the waters of family and community. The great "wave" Socrates creates for himself comes on through his assertion that the wives and children of the State be held in common. The auditors immediately reject the possibility of such a system, but Socrates first wishes to explain its utility. What follows is the notorious discourse on marriage, population control, and the proper breeding of citizens.
By means of deceptive lottery, marriage will most often be permitted to citizens of higher value (guardians). Intercourse to produce progeny will take place on the date of certain festivals, which seem akin to periodic mating seasons. And superior progeny are immediately placed in the care of wet nurses, while the inferior or deformed infants are "put away in some mysterious, unknown place." Abortion is legal and at the discretion of the guardians. Socrates' justification for his socialistic system is that, when everything is shared, there is unity: one citizen's individual pain or pleasure is at once collective.
Part Two: Philosophy
An elucidation of the reward of just behavior, of abjuring the capability to possess more than one's share for the sake of the community, begins Part Two of the fifth book. Socrates demonstrates how the brave men who comports himself nobly in war enjoys more pleasure than the coward. He describes the honoring of dead heroes, the rules of warfare, and the distinction between war and discord. At this time Socrates encounters the third "greatest and heaviest" wavethat of possibility.
Socrates' response is initially rhetorical; he asks whether the ideal State, which they have delineated, can ever be translated into actuality. His question goes unanswered, except for his declaring that the highest possibility for the realization of such a state lies in philosophers becoming kings or kings becoming philosophers.
Both terms, philosopher and king, need clarification. Socrates approaches the philosopher first, who is defined as the lover of knowledge. Knowledge is then distinguished from ignorance and, lastly, from opinion; it emerges as the faculty enabling the philosopher to see his way to true, undifferentiated being, to absolute beauty and the immutable, to the ideal. Opinion, on the other hand, is the domain of the manifest and manifold, of correlatives and opposites, such as light and heavy, soft and hard, etc. And so the philosopher seeks, by definition, knowledge of true being above all else.
Analysis: Book V
Part One: Matrimony
If Plato's ideas about women are relatively modern, his system of community and matrimony is frighteningly futuristic, even now, over two millennia later. Socrates advances the system's position using analogies from hawk, horse, and dog breeding. Although he concedes before beginning that many will find it ludicrous, the fact is, it is less ludicrous than disturbing.
Would it be best for human beings to be bred? From Socrates' point of view, and accepting his presuppositions as they are, the answer is affirmative. Is it possible? we ask next, and join the apprehensive auditors. Definitively, no. But why not? Because, in short, it is too rigorously controlled; it must be instituted from a true beginning; and it must develop in abject isolation. The same obstacles apply to the economic plan, also communistic, that Socrates devises; in order to succeed, it would require a redistribution of property and wealth (or a fertile, unexplored, deserted island), which has never been done. Yet againwe remind ourselveswe are in the realm of speculation.
Part Two: Philosophy
The third and greatest wave Socrates is forced to meet introduces two famous and essential concepts: the theory of ideals, or forms, and the philosopher-king. The theory of forms manifests itself in Socrates' resistance to address possibility. It is dangerous for Socrates to comply with the entreaties of his auditors because his ideals, when made relative or manifest, shrink to mere versions of themselves and are no longer complete. Stalling to the last, however, Socrates eventually shares with them exactly how a state such as theirs can best be put in action. The unlikely method: replace rulers with philosophers, or convince politicians to study philosophy.
The theory of forms continues to develop under the auspices of the discussion of philosophy and the philosopher. Plato's epistemology is basically divided into three categories: non-being, manifest, and being. The sphere of non-being, or the nothing, belongs to the ignorant man; manifestation to the opinionated man; and being, of course, to the philosopher. The philosopher's mind, according to Plato, inhabits the highest and noblest sphere, the home of the forms, and ceaselessly aspires for truth and light.
At this point in The Republic, Plato begins the transition from the pure philosophy and state-building of the early books into the portrayals of the five types of people that comprise the middle books. Although Plato's argument favoring the superiority of justice over injustice would seem to have been resolved in Book IV, the dialogue has obviously not been concluded. Unconvinced in some way, Plato now directs the inquiries into more practical, political philosophy and even psychology. We move also from the individual as a general category to a set of very specific individuals.
The reason Socrates is so unenthusiastic about moving from philosophy to political and social philosophy proper is exemplified in the demands of auditors for possibility, or practical application, especially in his conception of communal living. Once Socrates descends from philosophical elevation, he must descend completely, and this means that, for better or worse, his ideas will now be limited, not to mention tried and tested pragmatically.