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Plato's Moderation and Censorship Within the City

In The Republic, Plato outlines in the prerequisites for a city in which justice, moderation, courage, and wisdom exist in a cohesive and harmonious state. Harmony and acting as a whole are key qualities for a city that relies on the order of its smaller constituting parts. As a metaphor, Plato favors the possibility of extending this definition of harmony such as that of the human body, whose order entirely relies on the functioning of its constituent organs. For maintaining an order of the city, Plato introduces a notion that defines what kind of knowledge and art is allowed to be accessed by citizens as well as the kind of knowledge that is not allowed. In doing so, Plato determines that certain people must be censored to the extent where individuals are not allowed to gain knowledge that may turn out to be harmful to the city’s rule. The way of moderating knowledge and art, broadens to an extent where it becomes an enactment of a certain kind of censorship. The enactment of an enforced order therefore becomes a necessity for the city since it is one of the ways by which harmony can be maintained within it. In this paper, we will investigate how this moderation is enacted in Plato’s Republic.

Plato outlines a harmonious city as a system in which its parts, namely its citizens, are assigned a role that they are most capable of enacting. The role for each citizen must correspond to the capabilities that they possess, which are acquired upon birth by every individual. These capabilities must in turn be applied to some art, which upon being practiced by the an individual, would not only benefit the individual who practices it, but also benefit other citizens along with the city itself. One must therefore not only produce what is enough for himself but also extend this ability to produce to others (371a). While one practices his artistry, he must ensure that he pays close attention to what he does while minding his own business (433b). These are one of the claims that Plato emphasizes on that in regards the activities of each individual, ultimately serving as something that helps maintaining an order within the city. Even a ruler, who might at first be assumed to mind the business of others, must instead focus on his business within the city rather than the business of a farmer or a shoemaker. However, Plato does present a contrary proposition where the ruler must at least be aware of how various new arts and practices are constantly introduced within the city:

Adeimantus, you and I aren’t poets right now but founders of a city. It’s appropriate for founders to know the models according to which the poets must tell their tales. If what the poets produce does counter to these models, founders must not give way; however, they must not themselves make up tales.

The act of controlling what people acquire as new information is more carefully outlined in regards to children and guardians alike. Plato states that children are not able to “calculate” at their young age and must therefore be persuaded in gaining this ability trough education (441a). Some children however, are not able to gain this ability or do so very late in their age (441b). In such cases, children must begin a process which determines how the child will grow up based on the skill that the child expresses most proficiency in. Of these capabilities for example, are the virtues that are necessary for maintaining a good guardian: courage and spirit. These are traits a guardian must possess by nature and is therefore hard to acquire if the individual is not gifted with these traits. Censorship can therefore be applied for the guardian’s and the city’s benefit so that the guardian can have a more appropriately assigned role (that most closely appertains to his nature) within the city and not digress into the ways that would make him incapable of enacting that what he is best at.

The balance of desires and wealth is also important for Plato since “poverty and wealth [which are] the products of the arts are worse and the men themselves are worse” (421e). The balance between excess and deficiency, wealth and poverty, recklessness and cowardice are notions that Plato advocates for throughout The Republic along with many other concepts. Thus, people must moderate themselves in order to live justly and harmoniously, and same applies to a city that must moderate the activities of its citizens in order to maintain a just and harmonious state. In many cases, individuals are not capable to maintain this harmonious state and the enforcement of law that forces them to cooperate is necessary for maintaining order in a good city.

Moderation and censorship seem to become almost as necessities for Plato due to the way human nature is susceptible to wrongdoings and bodily desires. Plato argues that “no one is willingly just but only when one is compelled to be so” depicting how force is necessary to direct human nature towards a set of rules that are prerequisites for being a good part of a good city (360c). Wrongdoings and bodily desires frequently direct people to experience things they ought not to, or introduce changes that might harm their art. Plato’s example with Gyges explicitly depicts how human nature is susceptible to wrongdoings when all the obstacles for committing a wrongdoing are voided (360b). It is in the interest of the city to protect individuals from such things. Constraining each individual within certain limits ensures that the individual would not commit any wrongdoings and not become someone who’s actions are entirely driven by desires or amassing as many luxuries as possible.

The way people keep flammable objects away from fire is the same way that a city must keep corrupt ideas away from its citizens. It seems like there is no logical nor moral benefit in allowing citizens to practice an art that would not benefit, if not harm the city. Plato is seen to advocate for this idea by the way Socrates expresses his concern for the “new ways” of art and music. Plato also defines the functional role of luxuries, pleasures, and desires within in a city and its citizens. Having these is what makes life more enjoyable and Plato even confesses that there should be some sort of a reward system that allows a limited amount of luxuries each individual can possess. The amount of luxuries a citizen is allowed to possess is dependent on numerous factors, the most important of which is the individual’s role that they partake within the city. It becomes evident that within the city there are people who amass a more significant amount of wealth because of their successful enactment of their role that the city has assigned to them; other people however, tend to receive wealth from an inheritance. For Plato, regardless of how the wealth was acquired, if the individual does not violate the city’s law, he is entirely justified to continue possessing it without any restrictions.

In The Republic, Guardians are defined as a group of people who are most susceptible to censorship. The presence of desires and new ways of music and art have to be kept away from guardians as much as possible, if not depriving them from such things completely. Just like an athlete must keep way from sweets, a guardian must keep way from from various pleasures and unapproved forms of art (404c). Plato is to some extents conservative regarding the amount of luxuries, pleasures and fulfillable desires allowed for the guardians. One of the few reasons given by Plato of why guardians must be more susceptible to censorship is because luxuries and new forms of art are very influential on the decision making of the guardians, and most importantly, impedes their function of guarding the city. Moreover, because guardians are given an important role such as the one of guarding the city, the risk for allowing the presence of unapproved ideas and ways of art, could lead to the city’s inability to defend itself. Since the city’s rule relies on the presence of a strong army (especially during the militarized era of the Peloponnesian war during which The Republic was written), foes may take advantage of any flaws in the military order of the city.

It becomes evident that while serving the city’s rule, guardians give up their liberty by being restrained from certain luxuries for the sake of maintaining order of their city. To justify the liberty that a guardian sacrifices for the city, the city in turn must effectively benefit its non-guardian population. In defense to this, Plato gives some direct and indirect reasons for how the guardian’s purpose of guarding the city may be justified.

The Rupublic as whole, can be viewed as a collection of dialogues through which notions like justice, moderation, and courage are examined and the way they apply to the city. A more important and abstract idea that Plato formalizes in The Rupublic is the fact that a whole is entirely dependent on the harmony of its consisting parts. Glaucon’s question, to which Socrates appeared to agree to was: “isn’t it quite necessary for us to agree that the very same forms and dispositions as are in the city are in each of us” (435e)? In support of this agreement, Plato defines the types of virtues that appertain to a just citizens to the same ones that are considered to be within a city. From this, it is meaningful to consider a city as being a notion that is entirely dependent on the ways of human nature. A guardian, being part of the city, must accept his being within it and enact any sacrifices necessary on his part that would aid the maintenance of the city’s harmony. The actions of the guardians are therefore relied by the city’s rule and in failing to do so does not benefit anyone but the foe. It can then be argued wether an individual who serves as a guardian is a free citizen. Plato perhaps would argue that it is not only necessary to inquire on whether the citizen is free, but rather, also inquire on whether the part he constitutes is free. Due to the fact that a guardian is a part of the city, he is in an agreement with the city through which he is obligated to support its rule. In doing so, the guardian must always keep in mind that he is a part of the whole and therefore always consider the benefits that may arise to the city rather than himself. As long as the guardian is serving willingly despite being actively persuaded to enact in specific ways, he is free in regards to his dedication of defending the city.


Plato, and Allan Bloom. *The Republic of Plato*. New York: Basic, 1968. Print.