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Summary of Book V of the Republic by Plato

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Summary of Book V of the Republic by Plato

Book V (5) of the Republic begins with Socrates wanting to further identify and explain the four principles of both the soul and city. Before he continues, however, Adeimantus interrupts him, stating, “You seem to us to be taking the lazy way seem to’ve imagined you’d get away with speaking of it dismissively, saying it’s obvious, about women and children, that what belongs to friends will be shared in common.” Adeimantus, by stating this, is asking Socrates to further elaborate on the relationships, sexually speaking, of the guardians. Socrates, almost surprised that his listeners had not understood the first time around, begins to introduce his explanation of the guardian lifestyle.

    Socrates opens his discussion about the lifestyles of guardians by stating to his listeners that women should be brought up and trained in the same manner as men when looking at guardians. He uses guard dogs as an example, asking his listeners if it is possible for animals to guard as well as guardians if they, as women are presumed to be, are weaker than the guardians themselves. In saying this, Socrates then suggests that if guard dogs can be trained and cultivated the same as guardians, then women can also be trained and cultivated this way into equally capable guardians.

Socrates, in his explanation, also acknowledges that men and women are “different in nature”, but can still be cultivated in the same way. He states, “...whether one falls into a little swimming tank or into the middle of the biggest sea, all the same one just swims none the less.” (453D) He goes on to further explain that the capacity and capability of men and women to do certain tasks should not be determined by their gender, but, rather, by their aptitude for the task. He states that for any task, there is a man who is weakly suited for the task, as there will be one who is strongly suited - and the same applies to women.

Socrates then proceeds to introduce the sexual relationship between guardians, man and woman, and the parenting of their children. According to Socrates, “A parent is not to know the offspring that are its own, or a child its parent.” (457D) This means children shall be held in common - assuring that there is no attachments that would distract the guardians from ultimately guarding the city to their highest capacity capable. He also explains that the best guardians should breed with each other in order to produce the features of those guardians in the offspring. This, to Socrates, would ensure the cultivation of the most elite for guardianship.

With this taken into consideration, Socrates poses that the worst guardians should breed with each other. Thus, in doing this, there will be guardians of higher capacity produced by the best guardians, who will lead those of a lower capacity produced by the worst guardians. The only ones who shall have knowledge of this, however, is the rulers of the society - not the guardians. This is requirement will be instituted in order to prevent as little internal conflicts in the lives of the guardian as possible. On this note, Socrate suggests that there is a necessity for the rulers to establish some sort of festival for the guardians which creates the illusion of choice in marriage - when in actuality, the marriage pairings will be determined by the rulers. The rulers will decide this by awarding guardians who are good in battle with “special honors and prizes”, including “a more unrestricted privilege to sleep with the women”.

Circling back to Socrates’ initial statement about the relationship between parents and their children, Socrates explains that after the children are born, the rulers will then, knowing who is the best and worst guardians, separate them based on their parents. He claims that by sending the offspring of the best guardians to one section of the city to be nursed, and the offspring of the worst guardians to a different city for the same purpose, the rulers will be able to determine who is more fit as a guardian - without the guardians knowledge on any of this. On this matter, Socrates also claims that if a child is born as the result of a unapproved sexual interaction, one that is non-pious be it by age (a woman under or over her 20’s and a man under or over his 30’s) or by the simple act of untimely lust, that the child then be viewed as a bastard and condemned to death.  

In order to prevent any type of incest between the guardians, Socrates also suggests that they are to view all of the children who are of their unknown child’s age as their own children. He also states that if a man and a woman are related as siblings, only chance will bring them together in a sexual relationship, “But the law will grant brothers and sisters permission to be joined together if the lottery falls out that way and the Pythia confirms it.” (461E)

Socrates concludes this segment of his explanation by further explaining that only by following these requirements for the guardian can an agreement [unification] be achieved. He explains that the greatest evil of a city is “that which tears it apart”. By creating a system for the guardians where everything is to be shared and there are no words such a “mine” or “not mine”, the rulers can prevent the guardians from experiencing sentimental feelings such as jealousy, and acting out on such feelings. Every issue and accomplishment that the guardians are subjected to in the city, they will share together. Therefore, all goals and concerns of the city are the very goals and concerns of everyone in it. In this type of city, there would be no conflicts derived from the ownership or lack of possessions - the only possessions that one who have is their own being. The next question posed in Book V is the following: How is a society where all citizens are unattached to loved ones, possessions, and individualistic emotion possible?

Socrates does not answer this question immediately. Instead, he is asked by his listeners to explain the role of guardians in war. He explains that guardians in war should be accompanied by children who are being cultivated for guardianship in order to show them what they will need to do in war when they are actualized guardians. He states, “And in addition to watching, they’ll help out and take subordinate roles in all things that have to do with war, and tend to the needs of their fathers and mothers.” (467A)



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