Plato\'s Republic


Critics of The Republic, Plato\'s contribution to the history of
political theory, have formed two distinct opinions on the reasoning behind the
work. The first group believes that The Republic is truly a model for a
political society, while the other strongly objects to that, stating it as
being far too fantastic for any society to operate successfully by these
suggested methods. In an exchange between Crito and Dionysius, this argument is
first introduced, with Crito siding with those who agree that The Republic is a
realistic political model, and Dionysius arguing on behalf of those who doubt it
as being realistic, claiming it to be a criticism of politics in general.
Both sides have legitimate arguments, and there is evidence within the
text to support each opinion. When Plato wrote Gorgias, he made it clear where
exactly he stood on his personal involvement in politics (Cornford 1941, xix). “
Unlimited power without the knowledge of good and evil is at the best unenviable,
and the tyrant who uses it to exterminate his enemies and rivals is the most
miserable of men--a theme to be further developed in The Republic (Cornford xx).”
But here, Plato was referring to the politics of his time, and critics who
sided with Crito believed that The Republic was Plato\'s way of introducing a
political system in which he would feel comfortable supporting (Plato 204).
Conversely though, The Republic itself is summed up this way:
Well, one would be enough to effect all this reform that now seems so
incredible, if he had subjects disposed to obey; for it is surely
not impossible that they should consent to carry out our laws and
customs when laid down by a ruler. It would be no miracle if others
should think as we do; and we have, I believe, sufficiently shown that our
plan, if practicable, is the best. So, to conclude: our institutions
would be the best, if they could be realized, and to realize them, though hard,
is not impossible (Plato 210-211).
These institutions of which Plato speaks are described in the body of
The Republic, and not only does Plato explain how they are carried out in
current society, but he offers his own alterations, which is the primary cause
of the arguments over the content of the book (Plato 222).
In his fifth chapter, entitled “The Problem Stated,” Plato introduces
what he believes to be wrong with the current system of politics (Plato 41).
He starts by describing the Social Contract theory (Plato 53), the method used
during his time, a method Plato rejected. It says:

all the customary rules of religion and moral conduct imposed on the
individual by social sanctions have their origin in human intelligence
and will and always rest on tacit consent. They are neither laws
of nature nor divine enactments, but conventions which man who made
them can alter, as laws are changed or repealed by legislative bodies.
It is assumed that, if all these artificial restraints were removed,
the natural man would be left only with purely egotistic instincts and
desires, which he would indulge in all that Thrasymachus commended as
injustice (Plato 41-42).

In response to this description, Plato wrote,

First, I will state what is commonly held about the nature of
justice and its origin; secondly, I shall maintain that it is always
practiced with reluctance, not as good in itself, but as a thing
one cannot do without; and thirdly, that this reluctance is
reasonable, because the life of injustice is much the better
life of the two--so people say. That is not what I think myself,
Socrates; only I am bewildered by all that Thrasymachus and ever
so many others have dinned into my ears; and I have never yet
heard the case for justice stated as I wish to hear it (Plato 43).

Throughout this chapter, Plato makes a point to say how difficult it is to
do what is right, since it seems so much easier to take the easy way out, to do
the wrong (Plato 49). And in summing up this chapter, Plato had one final
contribution, “You must not be content with proving that justice is superior to
injustice; you must make clear what good or what harm each of them does to its
possessor, taking it simply in itself and leaving out of account the reputation
it bears (Plato 52).” At this point, Plato has revealed his mental viewpoint on
the problems in current government, and the remainder of the book deals