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The Republic by Plato - Barron's Booknotes
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BOOK IV

THE VIRTUES OF THE INDIVIDUAL (434d-445e)

Socrates returns to the question that began the discussion on the just state: What is justice in the individual? And he has meticulously worked toward a special formulation of this question: Is justice in the individual the same as justice in the state? In effect, Socrates has presented you with the opportunity to use your "keen vision" for determining the similarities between the organization of a state (political theory) and the "good" characteristics of individuals (ethical theory).

NOTE: Before you begin comparing Socrates' ideas on the virtues of the state with those on the virtues of the individual, consider the substantial differences between politics and ethics. The words politics and ethics are derived from the Greek language. Politics comes from polis, which means "city" or "city-state"; ethics from ethos, which means "character" or "custom." In philosophy and humanities courses, a clear distinction is usually drawn between political theories (say, Machiavelli's The Prince and Hobbes' Leviathan) and ethical theories (say, Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics and Hume's Enquiry into the Principles of Morals). But for Socrates and Plato, the studies of politics and ethics concerned the same topic-the best way to live among others. Like other Athenian citizens, they would have had to stretch their imaginations far to think of human life without overtures of political melodies.

Not justice is "writ large." Socrates has explained that the harmonious functioning of a state depends upon each class of citizens performing its tasks and on not meddling in the affairs of the other classes. This specialization, he claims, benefits all citizens. But is the analogy between justice in the state and justice in the individual a reasonable comparison?

Here Socrates engages in some elementary psychology. His aim is to discover wherein lies the moral constitution of the individual. In the process of his investigation he arrives at the notion of a tripartite (three-part) soul: sensation, emotion, intelligence.



Socrates' argument for the existence of different elements in the soul is based, in part, on his observation that a person often reacts in opposite ways to the same situation. For example, a hungry man will normally eat a meal set before him unless he has good reasons for not doing so-perhaps health precautions against high-fat foods or fear of being poisoned. Thus, Socrates concludes, people do not act from one motivation alone. Like the state, an individual is a complex organism that can react to the same stimulation in a variety of ways. What are these ways?

First Socrates discusses the category of desires (appetite and sensation), thirst and hunger being "the most conspicuous members." He says that thirsty people naturally want to drink. But when they are ill and are informed that quenching their thirst could have dire consequences for their health, they abstain. Reason, in this case, masters desire.

There are, then, at least two elements of the soul-desire and reason. There is also a third-emotion, "the principle of high spirit." Like reason, emotion can master desire. Socrates presents a gory example of a man who wanted to see the bodies of those publicly executed, yet cringed at the thought of seeing them. He had two conflicting desires. Yet his anger, his emotion, mastered his desires. He ran to the corpses and cried out his anger over their crimes.

Although desire (sensation and appetite), emotion (spirit and will), and reason (intellect) are separate elements in the soul, often reason and emotion band together to win victories over the desires, which must always be controlled. This alliance in the individual soul is similar to the alliance in the state between the wise rulers and their high-spirited auxiliaries.

Further, as it must be in the state, the rational part of the soul, the wise part, must rule on behalf of the good of the entire individual. The high-spirited, emotional part must be made the subject to and the ally of reason. Together reason and emotion ill preside over the appetites (the baser emotions and desires). In this fashion the entire soul and body will be strong, healthy, and beyond the corruption of the appetites.

It follows, then, that the individual is a miniature state. Justice in the soul is like justice in the state.

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