Plato's Ideal State

This paper will discuss the different parts of Plato’s ideal state, as well as link them to the normative concepts of Property, Common/Public Good, and Justice. The discussion of justice will be lengthier than the others, on the grounds that it is the basis for a great deal of the discussion contained in Plato’s Republic. Each concept will be specifically discussed in its relation to the ideal state, as well as its function within the society. Firstly, the state will consist of three parts. These parts will be kept separate so there will be no interference in their prescribed function.

The three parts are as follows: rulers, who will attend to political affairs of the state, auxiliaries, who will protect the state, and craftsmen, who will provide their skills to the state. The citizens will be told a myth in order to control breeding outside of the class. A shortened version basically says that rulers have gold blood, auxiliaries have silver, and the craftsmen have bronze. When breeding takes place, it must be gold to gold, silver to silver, and bronze to bronze. However, Plato does allow the ideal that it is possible for gold blood to give birth to silver or bronze, and vice versa.

The rulers and auxiliaries are actually divided from a previous class, in which they both belonged, called guardians. The guardians are the most intelligent and skilled. They will live together, and be educated together. When the education and training reaches a certain point, they will be divided into the two classes, rulers and auxiliaries. The rulers are selected by their superior skill and knowledge. They will move on to more academic education, while the auxiliaries will continue with more physical training. The rulers continued education would consist of mathematics as well as dialectic.

After this period they will be returned to civilization in order to hold various positions in government. When they are at the age of fifty, they will be ready to be rulers. By this time, they will have acquired the four cardinal virtues: wisdom, courage, discipline, and justice. The cause of this lengthy education is to transform the future rulers into philosophers. The rulers of Plato’s ideal state are basically philosopher kings. The explanation for this is that philosophers love knowledge. A love of knowledge brings forth the seeking of more knowledge.

While seeking this knowledge, the philosophers must understand the Forms. Forms are anything in its pure state, such as: Justice, Beauty, Size, etc… In order to understand Forms you must understand why something has its assigned attribute. It must be understood what it is that makes something beautiful, or why something is large. The highest Form of all is Goodness. An analogy to help understand the Form of Goodness is this: Goodness is to knowledge as the sun is to sight. The sun gives us light, so that it might reflect off objects, allowing them to be seen.

Goodness gives us truth, and truth in turn illuminates the Forms, making them intelligible, allowing knowledge to be gained from them. Therefore, philosophers are in constant search of Goodness, this is what separates them from the rest and gives them the ability to rule the state. “Learning- loving philosophers actually benefit from the political responsibility forced upon them in gaining access to the ‘greatest learning matter,’ the idea of the good. “[1] Secondly, we will discuss the craftsmen class. This class consists of everyone that is not an auxiliary or a ruler. Doctors, masons, carpenters, etc, will all be in this category.

This category will have nothing to do with protection or the political matters of state. They will adhere strictly to their craft. This is where the first concept, Property, will be discussed. The craftsmen are the only class that is allowed property. Property can create greed, envy, lust, and other evil emotions, or desires. These are not desires that need to be traveling through the rulers or auxiliaries minds. That is why they are allowed no property other than necessities. The craftsmen’s property will be theirs and theirs alone, and cannot be confiscated by the rulers or auxiliaries.

However, it must be regulated. If a carpenter, for instance becomes extremely wealthy, e will not want to work anymore. Since he is not working, he is not contributing anything to society; this would create a chain of events that would unbalance everything. Now, we will move to the concept of the Common/Public Good. This concept, in a way, relates directly to the individual. Nothing should be done for the good of the individual, but for the good of the entire state. If individual happiness were an issue, greed and selfishness could arise, bringing with them catastrophe for the state.

In Plato’s ideal state, the individual is rewarded with his/her happiness, or good, knowing that hatever has taken place, was for the good of the state as a whole. Finally, we will discuss one of the main concepts of Plato’s Republic, Justice. Justice is discussed in two ways over the course of the Republic. Firstly, it is discussed as that of a Just state. After finding out what a just state is, that knowledge allows Socrates to determine what a Just man is. Justice in a state “occurs when each of the three parts properly performs its own function, not interfering with the function of the other parts. [2] If a ruler or auxiliary becomes envious of the craftsmen’s ossessions, then they might abuse their power in order to take them away. This action may lead to greed or lust, which will certainly throw the states operations out of balance. On the other hand, if craftsmen were to become envious of the rulers political power, he may try and use his possessions in order to bribe and attain this power. Now, the craftsmen are not trained or educated to hold this power, therefore, they cannot possibly make decisions that are in the best interest of the state.

These are the reasons why each class is separated, and assigned a specific job or duty. When these boundaries are crossed and the rules are violated, the deterioration of the state begins. Now that we have found what makes a state just, we can understand what makes a just man. If a just state has three parts that have their own jobs, then the man must as well. Mans three parts are his reason, emotions (or spirited part), and his desires. Reason is in correlation with the states rulers, emotion with the auxiliaries, and desires with the craftsmen.

A just man is one that allows each of his three parts do their own jobs without interfering with the others. His reason should make his ecisions govern his actions, as well as keep his emotions and desires in check. His emotions should maintain stability and govern the desires. Finally, a man’s desires must always be kept under close watch. Although, you cannot completely deny your desires, in the fact that they are what makes us human. When all these work independently to do their assigned duties, the man is just. It is my belief, that in Plato’s eyes you cannot have a just state without just men, or a just man without a just state. Justice, in fact, like mercy is ‘twice blessed,’ being both a man’s own good and another’s ood at one and the same time. “[3] The reasoning for this point of view is the following argument. When a man is just, he is not only useful to himself, but to others as well. In an unjust state, only corrupt men are needed, leaving the just man useless. This provides as a sort of transition to the last topic of the paper; other forms of government, and why they would fail. The other forms of considered government, in order of best to worst, are: Timocracy, Oligarchy, Democracy, and Tyranny.

Now, it will be discussed why Plato believed each one of these forms will fail. Firstly, Timocracy, is a state ruled by the military class. The auxiliaries do not have as much knowledge as the rulers, therefore they are more likely to make mistakes. Suppose they were to make a mistake in breeding. Out of this mistake could come a person with political power who possibly has bronze in their veins. This will lead to the ruling class to want property and private lives. This will lead to ambition, which will lead to courage and honor taking the place of wisdom and intelligence.

Since the rulers of a state need the virtue of wisdom, the state has already become unjust. Oligarchy is a form of government that is ruled by the wealthy. Since rulers are chosen on the basis of their wealth, wealth is what is most important to them. This may cause them to rule unjustly. We now have a rich class and a poor class, which will always be plotting against each other. The unity of our state is now destroyed, as well as its justness. Next is the democracy, a form of government in which anyone can rule, regardless of qualifications. Politicians in a democracy are considered good leaders as long as they are friends to the people.

Since everyone does as they like, t is not a unified state, where everyone has a duty, but more of a collection of anarchic states. Finally there is Tyranny, the worst of all forms, which is the rule of one by force. A tyrannies downfall is simple, the ruler is controlled by his desires, no matter what they may be, or who they may harm. A tyrant will use any force or means necessary in order to feed his lust, greed, and other evil desires. I enjoyed reading Plato’s Republic immensely, I think it’s his idealism I that attracts me to his way of thinking. I definitely have mixed feelings about the ideal state.

Some things I like, and others scare me to death. I don’t understand what keeps the rulers from wanting possessions, but I guess it is my love of privacy and property that hinders my sight. I also don’t understand how the myth of the blood will endure their increasing knowledge. If the goal is to have a ruler with a love of knowledge, then someday they will awaken from their ignorance of the myth. Another thing I have wondered, is who will be qualified to teach the future rulers? How will these qualifications be decided? There are many flaws Plato’s ideal state, however, I have yet to see an idea that isn’t.


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