Republic Outline IX, Book II
Prof. Bill Long 9/8/05
Building the Kallipolis, 369a-375a
S is now in the position of having to "track down what justice and injustice are and what the truth about their benefits is" (368c). But he has been exhorted by the friends not to do two things. First, they don't want merely a "theoretical argument" (367b) that justice is stronger than injustice. That was the type of response S gave to T's argument in Book I, which left everyone unsatisfied. Nor do they want S to praise the "reputation" of justice (367b)--which means the way that the just life is better than the life of injustice, or how glorious it is to act justly. They want an account of justice as it is, by itself, without the adornment of praise or blame.
S realizes this is a tall order but proposes a method to arrive at the meaning of justice. It will be a method fit for those "lacking keen eyesight" (368d)--the method of 'writing small letters large' so that all can see them. It is like projecting a small image on a screen. It becomes large, and we can see it clearly. Thus, before describing justice for an individual, he will first describe what justice is in a city. If he can find justice in the city, he thinks he ought to be able to reduce it to what it is in the person. But, in order to find justice in the city, he first has to create a city. Thus, S begins the most entertaining and illuminating task of creating a society from scratch. It is a purely intellectual exercise, but one that is foundational to S's ultimate view of justice. So, let's see how he creates the city.
Describing the Beautiful City--the Kallipolis
S begins by suggesting that a city comes about because none is self-sufficient. We all need things that we can't supply by ourselves (369c). We need food, shelter, clothes, and people to provide these. Thus, the "essential minium" for a city is "four or five men" (369d). They agree that it would be better for one person to supply all the medical care (rather than each supply his own) and another the food, so we have the beginnings of specialization in the city. But this actually is good because "we aren't all born alike, but each of us differs somewhat in nature from the others" (370b). Thus, we have introduced an idea that will be very important for S as the argument proceeds--that a city works best (and justice will flourish) when people are doing what their nature leads them to do. And, S argues, each person has one thing or one craft only to perform (369b). He states this point clearly:
"The result, then is that more plentiful and better-quality goods are more easily produced if each person does one thing for which he is naturally suited, does it at the right time, and is released from having to do any of the others" (369c).
Because of the specialization this entails, our city must grow. But it won't be a huge settlement. It needs carpenters and metal workers, cowherds and shepherds, importers and exporters (merchants). 370d-371b. People in the city don't produce just enough for themselves; they have to produce enough for export in order that the city may import goods that they need. And, because there will be production, there will need to be a market where the retailers (371d) sit around all day ("those whose bodies are weakest") to make sales. Some people who seem to have weaker minds, but whose bodies are strong enough for labor, will sell their strength for a price called a wage (371e).
The city has seemingly grown to completeness, and its life is described in a delightful passage (372a-c), but no one seems to know where justice is yet to be found. It may be "somewhere in some need that these people have of one another" (372a), but S surely doesn't know. They must press on.
Overlaying The Feverish City on the Kallipolis
But one of S's interlocutors interrupts and objects. "It seems that you make your people feast without any delicacies" (372c). There follows a long section on the type of food that people will eat, but the desription, with its verbal play, is meant to suggest a rather spare and abstemious city. S's hearers press him to talk about delicacies and desserts and comfortable reclining when eating. S sees that they want to talk about the origin of a "luxurious" city (372e) or what he will later call a "city with a fever" (373a). This city is filled with luxuries for all. In order to do this the city must expand and bring far more people into it. They will need more doctors, for example, because people will become sick more often through indulgence in gastronomic delights (373d).
Then S posits how wars emerge. Since we always will want more, we will discover that our land isn't sufficient for us, and we will need to "seize some of our neighbors' land" (373e). War "comes from those same desires that are most of all responsible for the bad things that happen to cities and the individuals in them" (373e). War happens to the feverish city. But if we are going to fight a war, we need warriors, and so the city must be further enlarged. S suggests that since warfare is a profession, one needs a class of "guardians" who can protect the city with "greatest skill and devotion" (374e). But, so that we don't lose the thread of an earlier point, S says that those who take up the guardian life are also people "whose nature is suited to that way of life" (374e).
Plato has taken us a long way in just a few pages. We have a distinction between a simple and a luxurious city, a hint that it is a person's nature that stands behind his/her craft, a suggestion that war emerges when luxury is added to a city. Many questions emerge for discussion. Is the luxurious city characterized by pleonexia? Why doesn't Plato link the two concepts, since pleonexia was so important to his discussion in Book I? And, if we are going to have a "nature" for the guardians (it will be a "spirited" one, as we will see in the next essay), why isn't there a separate nature for a farmer, a cobbler, a painter, etc? Plato ultimately will divide the world into three "natures," but why does he divide it as he does? And, finally, what do you think about his theory of how war arises?
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long