By the end of Book 1 of Republic, Socrates has disposed of the challenges from Polemarchus and Thrasymachus. However, the two brothers Glaucon and Adeimantus are far from satisfied. Socrates hasn’t properly answered the two basic questions: (1) what is justice, and (2) what makes justice intrinsically good? (Is the just life really better than the unjust life?)
Book 2 starts then with the brothers turning the tables. They will now lecture Socrates on morality, trying to clarify what Thrasymachus was really getting at in his arguments.
Glaucon starts by identifying three types of ‘good’: (1) something that’s good for its own sake, but has no consequences (such as a harmless pleasure), (2) something that’s good for its consequence even if the initial act is a bit of a ‘nuisance’ (such as taking medicine), and (3) a combination of the first two, something that’s good for its own sake as well as having good consequences (such as staying healthy).
Although Socrates favours the third definition, Glaucon feels that justice is more an example of the second type. It might be undesirable to do a just act as it’s inconvenient or costly or a pain in the backside, but one is brought up believing that it’s better to act morally towards others. If we all decided to act immorally, the result would be chaos, so a kind of contract develops where people agree to be kind to one another for the sake of keeping the peace. But people really don’t want to be just. They are reluctantly forced into this position.
Glaucon highlights what Thrasymachus said earlier. Why is it that the unjust man often ends up having a better life than the just man? Is acting morally rather useless and ineffective then? Glaucon highlights the story of the ring of Gyges. This grants its wearer the power of invisibility. If we’re never going to get caught using such a ring, then what would stop us from using it? Why should we not seek an obvious advantage? Rather than aiming for a goal of actual morality, why not just aim at the far easier goal of appearing to be moral?
After Glaucon finishes, Adeimantus picks up from where his brother left off. One only needs to garner a reputation for being moral, and then the rewards will flow that person’s way. What does one really achieve from being truly moral, apart from being treated well by the Gods? Even the God argument is not convincing, says Adeimantus, as the Gods can be won over by entreaties, so the immoral person wins again, enjoying life and the afterlife
Socrates begins his long reply, highly impressed with the arguments of the two brothers. To find justice in the individual man, it would help us greatly if we could firstly find justice in the city. Socrates believes the two are parallel entities, and because the city is the much larger of the two, the search for justice should be easier. Once we find justice in the city we can then find the equivalent version of justice in the individual soul. Glaucon agrees with this approach, so the lengthy construction project begins.
The very first cities began on the basis of needs. Rather than one individual having to do everything on their own – building, farmer, baking, shoemaking – it was far more efficient for each person to specialise in one task, and then combine their labours to bring overall benefit to the community. (The idea of specialisation – one person, one task – will continue to be a vital element of the imaginary city under construction.) The result will be a stable, productive city, albeit with no ‘luxuries’ such as government or military or even meat.
Glaucon objects to this ‘city of pigs’, saying that people demand more than just the necessities. The luxuries are what make life worth living. Socrates accepts this, so declares that the city must now go to war to claim more land from its enemies. This land is needed to create the extra resources now required to support the more lavish lifestyle.
As a result of this expansion, and the fact we must stick to the ‘one person, one task’ principle, the city will need a new class of citizen. Since this type of person must be spirited, aggressive and competitive, the presence of the warrior creates a potential problem for the city. How can we be certain that they don’t use their competitive nature in working against the city? Socrates realises there is only one solution: education. Our ideal guardians must have a philosopher’s love of knowledge.
This starts another major discussion, that of educating the ‘guardians’. At this point in the discussion, the guardians refer to both the rulers and the military, however Socrates will shortly distinguish between the two by calling the rulers the ‘guardians’ proper, while the military will be known as the ‘auxiliaries’. So now the Republic will turn in a new direction, focusing on such issues as education, censorship, families, and communal living.
This however is a subject for another time…