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Socrate's Picture of the Soul

In Book IV of The Republic, Socrates emphasizes on the importance of guardians, auxiliaries and money makers to have a clean soul to maintain a clean and just city. One of his paradigms was that an object, or a system—should not make itself seem big by many disconnected connections; but rather, the connections should be interconnected, and act as a whole.1 This particular assertion is what according to Socrates, resembles a “healthy” city; where each citizen practices an activity assigned to him by nature and “will not become many, but one”.2 If the equilibrium between forms and virtues in citizens becomes unstable, then so would the city’s equilibrium. The city itself will no longer be considered a city with good rule if its citizens and rulers don’t maintain a just soul and strive towards virtue.

In order to maintain a balance and a healthy soul in a city, Socrates uses a tripartite form of division to divide the city into three classes; guardians, auxiliaries and money makers. Guardians are one of the few individuals who should be capable of ruling the city justly based on their ability to recollect ‘true knowledge’ within their soul. Auxiliares, also known as counsels, are citizens who protect the city with their dedication and courage. Money makers are people of both; the lower and higher classes. This class distinction is crucial for the city since it feeds it with produce and keeps the trade in the city active.

When all the money makers in a city work in conjunction with each other, they can help each other in the process of doing so. If every citizen were to work for himself, no help would come outside his own capacities. Without collaboration and the exchange of thoughts among men, the progress in a city can stall. Therefore, it is important to establish a system where classes are obligated to depend on each other, rather than leaving this as an option. Dividing a system into multiple smaller parts is how we can insure that a system will maintain a balance longer, before it starts to cease.3

The base of a city’s soul consists of every single citizen that lives in the city, for the very thing that declares the state of a whole—is the state of its parts. The four virtues that a person should strive perfecting in order to maintain a good soul; are wisdom, courage, moderation, and justice.4 In the Meno, Socrates states that all these virtues are present as a gift from the Gods in many people from the very first moment they are born.5 A person’s ability to recollect is what will insure him access to these virtues.

Ideally, a guardian or a counsel should be one of the most virtuous men in the city who possess this gift from Gods but at the same time, have a good ability to moderate and not be distracted and manipulated by luxuries. A good guardian will also make sure “that no [one] has what belongs to others, nor [one] be deprived of what belongs to him”.6 Socrates believes that philosophers would resemble perfect guardians for a city although he understands the rule of Athens can be skeptical to allow philosophers to partake in such administrative positions. Socrates claims that it is the guardian that should strive to become a philosopher, not the philosopher who strives to become a guardian.

It appears that Socrates does not define a clear line between what kinds of virtues the wealthy class should strive for that the poor class shouldn’t be allowed to strive for. The wealthy and the poor should all strive to acquire true knowledge based on their soul and not be limited in resources while they go through this process. Socrates used one of Meno’s servants to prove Meno that even a person with no knowledge can still have the ability to recollect true knowledge present within his soul.7 In the process of doing so, Meno and Socrates did not mind that the servant was recollecting, even though he was part of the lower class.

Socrates does define a set of exceptions and practices that the wealthy and the poor should not do while going through the process of recollection. One of which includes the ability to curb short-term desires and focus more on one’s long term desires. Short-term desires include the ones that derive from fears and corrupt desires.8

A citizen should therefore be courageous enough to not let fears and desires manipulate his inner opinions and recollections. A member of a class should also not worry about acquiring the knowledge of something other than the knowledge that his class is meant to acquire. For instance Socrates gives a good example of how a counsel should not worry about becoming knowledgeable in producing crop or bronze implements.9 This is the kind of knowledge that a farmer and a carpenter should worry about, but not the counsel. If a person becomes too manipulative by his short-term desires, he would start acquiring worthless knowledge instead of acquiring the knowledge that is right to him. A good citizen should therefore be courageous and be able to follow his long term desires instead of falling for short-term desires which frequently turn out to be corrupt.

The soul of every citizen influences the soul of the whole city for that is what resembles an interconnected city. It is therefore the job of the guardian to make sure that this balance is maintained. Socrates makes an assertion regarding the city’s soul and implies that innovations can be a threat to a whole system if they are created based on a new form rather than being based on an older and already established form. This regards all possible forms of art practiced in the city such as drama, sculpture or poetry. If a poet creates “a new way of song” rather than “a new song”; this can possibly lead to a change in the city’s order and sway the city into an unintended direction.10 Perhaps, this implies that shoemakers, singers, and carpenters should not create a new way of their practice that are unlike their current practice, unless it gets approved by the guardians.

How just this assertion can be towards the money makers can be questionable. However, it follows that only the guardians to worry about discovering new faults in the city while the money makers follow the guardian’s already established rule. The guardian’s rule already has the knowledge and experience for overcoming certain types of faults that once formed in the past. Even if a fault that has never been reported were to suddenly occur—a guardian is the type of citizen that would be able to come up with the best solution. A vaccine for a deadly virus can be a perfect analogy to this argument. Prevention is certainly the best way to avoid the spread of a virus; however, once the spread has already taken place, it is preferable for a vaccine to be available. The guardian is the type of citizen that can provide this ‘vaccine’.

When a new way of some sort of practice becomes introduced by the lower class, it should not be allowed to spread in the city without the guardian’s consent. Otherwise, similar to a virus; there is a possibility that a new way of practice will introduce faults in the city that in return, can turn out to be unknown to the guardians and will only create difficulties while the ‘vaccine’ for the faulty practice is being investigated. Guardians are the people who can provide this solution most efficiently and justly. Thus, it is crucial for the city that its guardian is virtuous and is capable of accessing the cure through their recollection abilities. Socrates claims that by nature, not many have the skills of a guardian which require a person to have an intimate connection with true knowledge and the ability to recollect it.11 Furthermore, it is also important for a guardian to have a good ability to recollect justice, for it provides sustainability to the rest of the three virtues.12 With justice, it is possible to have a better insight of what wisdom, courage, and moderation is.

Apart from the city’s soul, the status of citizens is crucial for maintaining a balance among people. Socrates gives some examples of citizens who can give up their mastery as soon as they acquire more wealth than they should (The Republic, 421c). A frequent mistake of the wealthy is to be thirsty when it is against own desires.13 One can have an uncourageous soul and be deceived by his short-term desires in order to start believing in something that shouldn’t be believed in according to virtue .

A priority for the city’s rule is to maintain a fair balance between the wealthy and the poor since “one produces luxury, idleness, and innovation, while the other produces illiberality and wrongdoing as well as innovation”.14 Both wealth and poverty encompass different negatives and positives within them, however, if they maintain a balance between each other, the strength of the city will increase. If the city were to have only one type of class, it would only weaken the city’s order because of the imbalance between wealth and poverty. On the other hand, when wealth and poverty are combined and balanced, they produce a harmony as opposed to de-tuned musical note, in which an imbalance between them would metaphorically produce.

Socrates then goes on to say that cities with a good balance between wealth and poverty, can win in a battle with another city which lacks this kind of balance. He provides an very example where a boxer with knowledge of war can beat two boxers with the knowledge of wealth.15 A strong “knowledge of war”, perhaps, is a combination of good rule of the wealthy and good craftsmanship of the poor. As “knowledge of war” is important for a boxer, a good balance between wealth and poverty is important for a city.

There is a possibility of an infinite source of prosperity for both the soul of the city and the soul of its individual citizens. As an individual or a city approaches a state of a perfect soul, it begins to acquire an attribute that allows it to be constantly “better than itself”.16 At a certain threshold, it will get stuck in a loop of constant prosperity in which every time it is referred to a preceding version of itself, it can be considered that it prospered in some degree. If the soul is striving to not just be “better than any previous instance of oneself” but simply, “better than oneself”, it will eventually reach this state. And this is what according to Socrates, any system should achieve.

Works Cited

Bloom, Allan David. The Republic of Plato. 2nd ed.
New York: Basic, 1991. Print.

Grube, G. M. A. Five Dialogues. 2nd ed. Indianapolis, IN:
Hackett Pub., 2002. Print.

  1. The Republic, 423c 

  2. The Republic, 423d 

  3. Assuming that the claim of Cebes to which Socrates agrees is true; everything has a moment of birth and decease (Phaedo, 110d) 

  4. The Republic, 472e 

  5. Meno, 100b 

  6. The Republic, 433e 

  7. Meno, 82b 

  8. The Republic, 429c 

  9. The Republic, 428c 

  10. The Republic, 424c 

  11. The Republic, 428e 

  12. The Republic, 433c 

  13. The Republic, 440a 

  14. The Republic, 422a 

  15. The Republic, 422b 

  16. The Republic, 431b