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Table of Contents
BOOK VIII: DEGENERATE SOCIETIES AND SOULS
Which life is the happier, the just or the unjust? This question guides the discussions of Books VIII and IX.
Book VIII begins with a brief review of the communal living arrangements of the guardians. Socrates then reminds his audience that although the just state has been described, other constitutions-defective ones-remain to be investigated. The point of the investigation is to demonstrate that happiness and injustice are incompatible.
In Book I Thrasymachus claimed that injustice brings happiness. Glaucon and Adeimantus carried on his argument (in the spirit of seeking clarity and not in the earnest conviction of belief) in Book II. At that time Socrates began his discourse on justice in the state and in the soul. And at the end of Book IV he was about to discuss the four kinds of injustices when Polemarchus and Adeimantus interrupted, insisting on an in- depth account of the just state. Now, at last, through a comparison of just and unjust constitutions, Socrates plans to solve a practical issue-should youth follow Thrasymachus' advice and pursue injustice, or should they pursue justice?
The just state is an aristocracy. For Plato aristocracy means "the rule of the best people." Plato's aristocracy is the model constitution of the state and soul to which he compares other kinds of constitutions.
The pattern of the discussions on defective constitutions is similar to the pattern Plato used in Books III and IV. There he described justice in the state, followed by a direct comparison of justice in the state with justice in the soul. Here he explains how forms of government become corrupted, and then he reveals the corresponding corruption in the souls of individuals.
However, Plato includes a new twist in these discussions. The type of corruption of one generation of souls, he claims, is the result of the particular failings of the preceding generation. In other words, the father's sins are not only passed on to the son, but also cause the son to become even more degenerate than the father.
Plato's account of the progressive degeneracy of society is not based on actual historical or sociological evidence. It is a theoretical explanation of factors that contribute to people falling away from wisdom. And on another level it is a description of different types of personalities. For instance, at various points you may find yourself identifying with some of the desires and motivations of the degenerate souls Plato describes. Don't despair. Most people catch glimpses of some of their less admirable characteristics in these passages.
In this book (and continued in the next), Socrates discusses the following kinds of injustices found in states and in individuals: 1. timocracy; 2. oligarchy; 3. democracy; and 4. tyranny.