Book 4 of Plato’s Republic returns us to the city/soul analogy, already covered in Book 2 and described in Post 0013. Having drawn a rough sketch of the city, Socrates now returns to the question of justice, and how we go about identifying just behaviour in the city.
The starting point has to be the four Greek virtues. A perfectly good city must contain the virtues of wisdom, courage, moderation and justice. The first three are easy to identify as they connect directly with one of the three classes of the city. The guardians have wisdom, the auxiliaries have courage, and the remaining citizens have moderation in restraining their natural desires to perform their specialised role and carry out the orders of the guardians.
But what about justice? Where does this exist in the city? Socrates realises they’ve been fools. They’ve tried to find justice in the far distance, when it’s actually been curling at their feet all along. In the city they’ve just described, each person minds their own business in carrying out their duties. So this must be justice. It existed all along, as soon as they agreed to the ‘one person, one role’ principle. Every citizen works together in harmony. Nothing would be more disastrous than a person trying to do the role of another class.
So now that we have a basic structure of the city, we can return to see how this works in parallel with the human soul. You will recall from Book 2 that we originally started the city construction process in order to identify justice ‘at large’. Now we can return to the smaller scale to see if justice can also be found in the individual. According to Socrates, a moral person should be no different from a moral city.
Starting from the premise that a single object cannot be in two states at once, Socrates notes that people can often be at conflict with themselves. This would suggest that the mind can be broken into constituent parts, and should not be viewed as a single object.
If we have created a city with three divisions, can we say that the mind is similarly divided into the same three parts of wisdom, passion and desire? Indeed we can according to Socrates. The same divisions exist within the mind. Consider an individual who is at conflict within himself. He may desire to have a drink, even though reason tells him not to drink. This shows us that there are at least two parts of the soul, conflicting with one another.
As for passion (‘spirit’), Socrates tells the rather bizarre story of Leontius, who decided to check out some dead bodies for curiosity’s sake, but suddenly felt angry at himself for doing so. His desire wanted one thing, but then his spirit wanted something else. Glaucon also points out that children are good examples of beings with passion and desire, but little in the way of reason.
As for justice, this too must parallel that of the city. The perfectly good individual then is one who lives in harmony with his three parts, each part doings doing its own specialised role without intruding onto the other parts. A citizen is wise as his reason governs his entire behaviour. He is passionate as his spirit supports him in his journey towards reason. He is moderate as he keeps his desires under control. In short then, he is just, since each part of his soul minds its own business and works with the other parts in perfect harmony.
Justice is therefore like health, while injustice is like a disease, introducing an unstable element into his soul, and causing the three parts to no longer operate together. With this conclusion, Socrates believes he has answered the original challenge. Since health is a better condition than disease, this proves the moral person is superior to the immoral one.
Of course, Socrates is far from finished. His group of eager listeners are still dissatisfied with some elements of the city, finding it impractical and almost barbaric. Are families really going to be abolished? Are women and children really going to be shared around, considered the property of everyone and no-one? This leads to another major digression, but this is a subject for another time.