Week 2: Plato’s Republic

Dialectic, Justice & The Soul

  1. Resources
  2. Terms to Learn
  3. Concepts
  4. Guide Questions

Here are some web sites that will enhance your understanding of this week’s reading:

Plato’s Republic:


Concepts & Terms to Know:

The following questions are designed to fine tune your understanding of the reading. The subject matter and answers to these questions form the basis of what you will be required to know for exams.

Objectives for this week: These are the learning objectives you should have mastered after attending the lectures and completing the questions below

  1. explain Plato’s emphasis on goal-oriented behavior (a teleological worldview)
  2. Describe, from Plato’s Republic, the conditions under which a society might function harmoniously.
  3. explain Plato’s theory of the psyche/ soul. The chariot analogy gives us a great way to remember how the various parts of the soul ought to work together in ideal circumstances.
  4. Explain Plato’s position on censorship and its purpose in promoting the government’s essential positions
  5. outline the theory often entitled, “the noble lie”
  6. List the four virtues Plato believes are essential for proper moral development
  7. Describe the significance of The Allegory of the Cave.
  8. Compare the imagery of the cave to modern realities
  9. Understand the view of education Socrates is promoting

Terms you should know:

  1. teleology: “everything in the universe has a proper function to perform within a harmonious hierarchy of purposes”
  2. reason: the intellectual component of the soul: “calculates, measures and decides”
  3. spirit: “structural element of the soul”; this is our passionate side that desires honor, glory, and respect
  4. appetite: the part of the soul that desires things that help us to satisfy our biological and material desires
  5. moral balance: situation in which reason governs the soul guarding against the excesses of spirit and appetite.
  6. class system: In Plato’s Republic, a way of dividing individuals into different social groups based on their talents. There are three classes: philosopher-kings (rulers [reason] ), auxiliaries (guardians [spirit]) who serve as warriors, and a combination of craftsmen, artisans, and traders who are driven mostly by appetite.
  7. just society: a society that functions harmoniously by allowing each individual to do the work suited to his/her talents.
  8. philosopher kings: rulers in Plato’s just society from the Republic
  9. guardian class: warriors in Plato’s just society from the Republic


Following is an outline of some key concepts from this week’s readings and lectures.

  • Plato writes dialogues rather than philosophical treatises. Hence, most of his philosophical positions are voiced through the character of Socrates. Even though Socrates was Plato’s actual teacher, the positions and doctrines traditionally attributed to Socrates are actually Plato’s account of his teacher. Socrates never wrote anything.
  • Plato advances a teleological conception of morality, “we live the good life insofar as we perform our distinctively human function well.”
  • The soul is divided into three parts: appetitive, spirit, and reason. Each part helps us to fulfill critical needs, but in Plato’s view, only the rational part of the soul is fit to rule.
  • In order to live a virtuous life, it is necessary for the individual to cultivate balance in his/her soul. Thus, persons ruled by appetite or spirit (emotion) are “out of balance” and their actions are apt to provoke personal or social disharmony.
    • Appetite: In cases where appetite rules (oligarchic and tyrannical characters fit here) individuals are at the mercy of the their biological or material whims. Drug addiction fits this profile. Individuals who are addicted to self-destructive patterns of behavior are apt to feed their appetites at the expense of other life pursuits. People can also be ruled by material greed in much the same way. The key here is that desire is determinative; these are cravings of the highest degree. Later in the semester, we’ll see parallel concepts in Buddhist ethics.
    • Spirit: The emotional, passionate side of our character is centered on the idea of status on a social level. Ambition, desire for honor and glory, moral indignation, and cravings for admiration, all fit under the umbrella of spirit. Love relationships fit into this category as well. Our interactions with others provide core experiences that influence our emotional development.
    • Reason: The intellectual, thinking part of the soul that must weigh options, decide between alternatives, and “suppress dangerous urges.”Plato clearly puts reason in control of the soul because it acts as good counsel seeking understanding and insight before acting. Rational individuals possess a strong contemplative faculty. They think before they act and are unlikely to take rash action in any given situation.

The Chariot & the Charioteer

  • After some consideration decide whether or not you agree with Plato. Is reason the best ruler for one’s soul? If you think not, be ready to support your position with clear claims.
  • One man, one art: Plato contends that each one of us performs/does one thing best. We each have one best skill and it is the development of this skill that is of paramount importance in creating a harmonious existence.If we do not have insight into what we do best, the chances of achieving a balanced soul are likely reduced. Hence the Socratic imperative, “know thyself.”
  • Just Society: First ask yourself: is it possible to have a just society? What would it look like? How would we direct education, the economy, leisure, and social resources? What is fair?
    • Plato wrestles with the idea of justice in his most famous work entitled, The Republic.
  • His answer concerning social justice exactly parallels his notion of individual justice. There are three parts of the soul and three corresponding divisions in the social order.


    Soul Society







    Plato’s four virtues: wisdom, courage, moderation & justice.

Guide Questions:

Book III:

  1. How does Plato justify censorship? What is the purpose of using it to shape young minds?
  2. Plato distinguishes between good and bad lies. What is a bad lie? A good lie? Who has the authority to lie in the imaginary city-state?
  3. Why will the stories about “evil acts” be censored?
  4. How does Plato propose that we alter the stories about death? Why is this alteration necessary to spur on the warriors/guardians?
  5. Why ought citizens cultivate self-control and temperance?

Book VII:

  1. The cave is an allegory for everyday reality. Who are the prisoners?
  2. What kinds of activities do the prisoners engage in? How does this compare to our present experiences with popular imagery?
  3. Plato describes the process of the prisoner being liberated from the chains. Is this a voluntary liberation?
  4. Who helps the prisoner make sense of realities both in and outside the cave?
  5. What is the experience of release like for the prisoner? Can he immediately interpret the new images and realities? Why or why not?
  6. Why does the prisoner have to return to the cave? Since we have established that the remaining prisoners will not welcome his return, why should we send this liberated prisoner back?










cave & divided line