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Plato's Republic - Book V

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Plato's most famous work is undoubtedly The Republic it has weathered the test of time to provide us with the most influential philosophical doctrine surviving from the ancient Mediterranean. Over the years Plato has been hailed by some as an advocate of women's rights because of some views he puts forth in The Republic. In Book V of the work Plato has Socrates, acting as his voice, engage in a discussion of the perfect state with Polemarchus, Adeimantus, Glaucon, and Thrasymachus. In the conversation Socrates puts forth the notion that women should be equal to men and that just because a person is of a certain sex it does not mean that they cannot still be beneficial to the operation of the society. This idea will be the focus of this paper, specifically the question of whether or not Plato's utopian society depends on the realization of equality between the sexes. In examining this question it must be kept in mind that notion of equality that is put forth in Book V is not in the modern day sense. Plato is exploring the possibility that women in ancient Greek society remained an untapped resource that was confined mainly to the household and devoid of civic duties.

Book V describes his ideal community which includes producers, guardians, and rulers. Plato promotes a specialization of employment and status based on innate ability, rather than gender. Given the time period in which this piece was written, Plato's assertions are quite liberal. Aside from making pointing out physical differences between the sexes, Plato distinguishes between more valid differences in nature. Plato recognizes the conflicting qualities of his statement that "one nature must practice one thing and different nature must practice a different thing, and that women and men are different. But at the same time, he asserts that "different natures must practice the same things" (453e). In Plato's society, "if either the class of men or that of women shows superiority in some art or other practice, then we'll say that art must be assigned to it"

Socrates argues that just because a main begets and a woman gives birth does not determine the ability to carry out an occupation anymore that ones state of baldness determines ones prowess at a given task. This is a simple argument but one that rings true. Plato does affirm that on average there exists a physical difference between the sexes however that does not mean that a woman can not be better at an occupation that a man. The ability of women to carry out tasks is what Plato is interested in, he believes that there are tasks that women of the different classes can perform as well as or better than men and that they should be utilized in service of the state. This is where it is clear that Plato is not interested in individual rights or the rights of women in particular but he is concerned with what women can provide for the community in whatever role they are suited for.

Most fifth-century Greeks believed that natural differences between males and females of the human species entailed a significant difference in regards to their appropriate social roles. Although Plato granted that men and women are different in height, strength, and similar qualities, he noted that these differences are not universal; that is, for example, although it may be true that most men are taller than most women, there are certainly some women who are taller than many men. What is more, he denied that there is any systematic difference between men and women with respect to the abilities relevant to guardianshipÐ'--the capacity to understand reality and make reasonable judgments about it. (454d) Thus, Plato maintained that prospective guardians, both male and female, should receive the same education and be assigned to the same vital functions within the society.

Plato thought that citizens of the Republic must be willing to strip away their material ornaments and consider more than their bodies when deciding what is good and just. Socrates continues that, if stripped of bodily differences, a woman (clothed in 'virtue') possesses the same quality of soul as a man. Thus she should possess the same role in the Republic: "there is no practice of a city's governors which belongs to woman because she's woman, or

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