Republic Outline XVI, Book III
Prof. Bill Long 9/14/05
Finishing Book III, 410a-417b
I need to cover three topics in concluding our treatment of Book III: (1) the "balanced" life; (2) the role of the "noble lie;" and (3) the living arrangements of the guardians. In addition, I will show how Plato divides the guardian class into rulers and auxiliaries.
Plato never uses the word balance in Book III to describe the goal of the combined poetry/music and physical training he espouses. However, by studying 410b-412a closely, we see that this is what he is about. But perhaps it would be best to begin with a statement from Plato's conclusion on this:
"Then the person who achieves the finest blend of music and physical training and impresses it on his soul in the most measured way is the one we'd most correctly call completely harmonious and trained in music, much more so than the one who merely harmonizes the strings of his instrument" (412a).
And such a person, for Plato is to act as "overseer" in his city (412a). But why is this the case? Let's retreat to the intervening two pages to see why Plato concludes this.
S argues that both physical and musical/poetic education are established not simply for the body, but for the sake of the soul. But the balance or "blend" of the two is necessary because of what happens when one is cultivated to the exclusion of the others. If one is pursues physical training to the exclusion of the other, "savagery and toughness" results, but if all you stress is music, "softeness and overcultivation" is the result (410d). Those who devote themselves solely to physical training "turn out to be more savage than they should," while the poetically/musically inclined may have a tendency to softness. It is the "philosophic part of one's nature" that provides the proper harmony or cultivation. Plato has not yet introduced us to the tri-partite soul, but he will say, in Book IV, that the "rational" part of the soul serves to control the other parts (either by itself or in cooperation with the spirited part). Thus, Plato is almost unavoidably introducing terms that will be central later without fully defining them now.
We should not lose sight of his major point, however, which is that a proper balance between these two types of education is crucial. He never tires of making the point, and so we shouldn't be hesitant to repeat it, that "just as iron is tempered, and from being hard and useless, it is made useful. But if he keeps at it unrelentingly and is beguiled by the music, after a time his spirit is melted and dissolved until it vanishes, and the very sinews of his soul are cut out and he becomes 'a feeble warrior'" (411b). Notice the variety of terms that Plato uses to get at this 'balance' idea: "blend" or "tempering" or "harmony" or "rhytym" is desirable, but "melting" and "dissolving" or "softness" or "savagery" is to be avoided. If you have a "spirited" nature, however, where something other than reason is in charge, your "spirit becomes weak and unstable, flaring up at trifles and extinguished as easily. The result is that such people become quick-tempered, prone to anger, and filled with discontent..." (411c). If a person is a "hater of reason and of music" that person tries to "bull his way through every situation by force and savagery like a wild animal, living in ignorance and stupidity without either rhythm or grace" (411e). We now have a clear idea of the type of person that Plato's educational system wants to produce.
An Important Parenthetical Point
Though done quite briefly, an important distinction then follows in 412b-414b. He first speaks about the nature of ruling and the character of the guardians. They are people who "believe throughout their lives that they must eagerly pursue what is advantageous to the city and be wholly unwilling to do the opposite" (412e). People can be deprived of their loyalties by three methods: "theft, magic spells, and compulsion" (415b), but extreme attention must be directed to the future rulers, keeping them "under observation from childhood" to see if they have the inclination to "forget such a commitment" to the city (415d) through any of these methods. Indeed, there must be "tests" devised using these three methods to see if the person will be "deprived" of their convictions. If a person survives these tests that one is "to be made a ruler as well as a guardian" and to be honored in life and receive honors after death.
In this connection, then, S names the younger rulers auxiliaries and the older one rulers. The only thing seemingly unclear to me is whether Plato looks at auxiliaries as a sort of "soldier class," permanent in their location or a sort of "junior ruler" which will graduate to that position later in life. In Book IV the three classes seem to be clear and fixed; here it isn't quite as clear. But, we now have three classes, which will be basic for his future treament.
The Noble Lie
For the third time in two books, S returns in 414c to the way that falsehoods might be useful in the city (see also 389b-c; 382c). You might ask yourself the question on how falsehoods (i.e., lies) are to function in civic life. Plato quite honestly confronts the issue and says that lies are useful when they help to preserve the city. The noble lie in this instance is a story that must be told to the citizens, that each citizen has a nature of a certain kind--gold, silver, or bronze/iron-- depending on his/her role in the society. Therefore, the division of the city into rulers, auxiliaries and craftspeople is really a result of responding to the way the gods have set up the world. 414d-415c. This leads S to the famous statement: "So the first and most important command from the god to the rulers is that there is nothing that they must guard better or watch more carefully than the mixture of metals in the souls of the next generation" (415b). So, is a person's nature "fixed" according to S? Probably not. But the noble lie must be told in order to secure the safety of the city.
Living Conditions of the Guardians
Plato concludes Book III by describing the life of the guardians. It is a noted passage (416d-417b), stressing the lack of private property, the lack of privacy generally, and the "common meals and messes" of the guardians. Whatever they need to sustain a minimal life will be provided. But, they will be told the story that has just been told, that they have natures of gold and therefore have been chosen for this special role in the city. This will be the way the city is ruled.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long