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Plato's Ideal State

Justice and the health of the soul
Civic virtues - courage, wisdom and moderation


During Plato's lifetime he was agonizingly aware of the sufferings associated with conflict as his home state - Athens - was involved in some thirty years of active disputation with Sparta, in which Athens was the loser.
Athens ceased to be democratic and was under the rule of "Thirty Tyrants" for a time and Plato's much loved and respected friend and teacher, Socrates, was condemned to death, as seventy-year-old, by Athenian authorities who found cause to greatly disapprove of what he was teaching to the youth of Athens.
Small wonder, then, that Plato would ask searching questions about the nature, and possibilty, of an Ideal State.

Plato's eventual view of what constitutes an Ideal State, as the following video clip makes clear, is very directly related to his, (and Socrates'), considered view as to what constitutes Justice.


Plato's Ideal State, as envisioned in his most famous work 'The Republic', was suggested of as being peopled with three categories, or classes, of citizens - artisans, auxiliaries and philosopher-rulers.

Each of these categories of citizens were suggested of as being made up of persons who had similar behavioral tendencies and outlooks to each other.
In The Republic, and another work Phaedrus, Plato suggests that individual Human Beings each have a Tripartite Soul with the three aspects featuring in this Tripartism-of-Soul being - appetite, spirit and reason.

Appetite - channeled through the "appetative" artisan class - would produce goods and services, spirit - channeled through the "courageous" auxiliaries - would provide potential for defence of the state, reason - channeled through the philosopher-rulers (who Plato's suggests of as having had some fifty years of training in preparation for their exercise of authority in the Ideal State) - could provide for the guidance of appetite, and of spirit, in order that the state was ruled wisely in the interests of all.

In Plato's Ideal State three civic virtues, Wisdom, Courage and Temperance, prevail. Plato sees this as being a situation where Justice is established allowing conditions favorable to the health of the soul of each individual.

According to Plato where reason, spirit and appetite each "does its own work," and "does not meddle with what isn't its own", Justice will result in the lives of all individuals, and in the functioning of the state.


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Some selections from Dr. Will Durant's - The Story of Philosophy - convey important information about this:

Let us study The Republic.
[Dr. Durant here takes the view that:
The most important parts of The Republic (references are to marginally-numbered sections, not to pages) are 327-32, 336-77, 384-5, 393-426, 433-5, 441-76, 481-3, 512-20, 572-94. The best edition is Jowett's; the most convenient is in the Everyman series. References are to The Republic unless otherwise stated.]

… we are ready at last to answer the question with which we began - What is justice? There are only three things worth while in this world - justice, beauty and truth; and perhaps none of them can be defined. Four hundred years after Plato a Roman procurator of Judea asked, helplessly, "What is truth" - and philosophers have not yet answered nor told us what is beauty. But for justice Plato ventures a definition. "Justice," he says, "is the having and doing of what is one's own" (433).
  This has a disappointing sound; after so much delay we expected an infallible revelation. What does the definition mean? Simply that each man shall receive the equivalent of what he produces, and shall perform the function for which he is best fit. A just man is a man in just the right place, doing his best, and giving the full equivalent of what he receives. A society of just men would be therefore a highly harmonious and efficient group; for every element would be in its place, fulfilling its appropriate function like the pieces of a perfect orchestra. Justice in a society would be like that harmony of relationships whereby the planets are held together in their orderly (or, as Pythagoras would have said, their musical) movement. So organized, a society is fit for survival; and justice receives a kind of Darwinian sanction. Where men are out of their natural places, where the business man subordinates the statesman, or the soldier usurps the position of the king - there the coördination of parts is destroyed, the joints decay, the society disintegrates and dissolves. Justice is effective coördination.
  And in the individual too, justice is effective coördination, the harmonious functioning of the elements in a man, each in its fit place and each making its coöperative contribution to behavior. Every individual is a cosmos or a chaos of desires, emotions and ideas; let these fall into harmony, the individual survives and succeeds; let them lose their proper plan and function, let emotion try to become the light of action as well as its heat (as in the fanatic), or let thought try to become the heat of action as well as its light (as in the intellectual) - and disintegration of personality begins, failure advances like the inevitable night. Justice is a taxis kai kosmos - an order and beauty - of the parts of the soul; it is to the soul as health is to the body. All evil is disharmony: between man and nature, or man and men, or man and himself. … Justice is not mere strength, but harmonious strength - desires and men falling into that order which constitutes intelligence and organization; justice is not the right of the stronger, but the effective harmony of the whole. …


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Another brief selection from Dr. Will Durant's - The Story of Philosophy - reads:

… And what shall we say to this whole Utopia? Is it feasible? And if not, has it any practicable features which we could turn into contemporary use? Has it ever in any place or measure been realized?
  At least the last question must be answered in Plato's favour. For a thousand years Europe was ruled by an order of guardians considerably like that which was envisioned by our philosopher. During the Middle Ages it was customary to classify the population of Christendom into laboratores (workers), bellatores (soldiers), and oratores (clergy).


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endorse Tripartite Soul Theory


Key Socratic Dialogues from
Book 4 and Book 9 of Plato's Republic



Plato's Ideal State       Plato's Chariot allegory      


Philosophy - Eastern and Western & 'Tripartite' Human Nature


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