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The three classes of citizens
in Plato's Republic

Justice and Plato's Ideal State


In his The Republic Plato writes about dialogues between Socrates and others concerning Justice, and the establishment of an Ideal State where Justice should prevail.

Having defined Justice as "the having and doing of what is one's own" and effectively suggesting that "a just man is a man in just the right place, doing his best, and giving the full equivalent of what he receives" the dialogue moves toward asserting that an Ideal State will necessarily be composed of three classes, or categories, of persons because the Human Psyche or Soul of each individual is Tripartite.
Associable with this tripartism there are three categories of people differentiable by which of the three aspects of this Soul-Tripartism - appetite, spirit or reason - prevails in their own individual soul.

In Book 9 of Plato's The Republic there is a passage which explicitly sets out the Soul-Tripartism which forms the basis for Plato's suggesting that an Ideal State will be peopled by three classes of citizens:

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  ...As there are three parts, so there appear to me to be three pleasures, one appropriate to each part; and similarly three appetites, and governing principles.

  Explain yourself.

  According to us, one part was the organ whereby a man learns, and another that whereby he shews spirit. The third was so multiform that we were unable to address it by a single appropriate name; so we named it after that which is its most important and strongest characteristic. We called it appetitive, on account of the violence of the appetites of hunger, thirst, and sex, and all their accompaniments; and we called it peculiarly money-loving, because money is the chief agent in the gratification of such appetites.

  Yes, we were right.

  Then if we were to assert that the pleasure and the affection of this third part have gain for their object, would not this be the best summary of the facts upon which we should be likely to settle by force of argument, as a means of conveying a clear idea to our own minds, whenever we spoke of this part of the soul? And shall we not be right in calling it money-loving and gain-loving?

  I confess I think so, he replied.

  Again, do we not maintain that the spirited part is wholly bent on winning power and victory and celebrity?

  Certainly we do.

  Then would the title of strife-loving and honour-loving be appropriate to it?

  Yes, most appropriate?

  Well, but with regard to the part by which we learn, it is obvious to everyone that its entire and constant aim is to know how the truth stands, and that this of all the elements of our nature feels the least concern for wealth and reputation.

  Yes, quite the least.

  Then shall we not do well to call it knowledge-loving and wisdom-loving?

  Of course we shall.

  Does not this last reign in the souls of some persons, while in the souls of other people one or other of the two former, according to circumstances is dominant?

  You are right.

  And for these reasons may we assert that men may be primarily classed as lovers of wisdom, of strife, and of gain?

  Yes, certainly.

  And that there are three kinds of pleasure, respectively underlying the three classes?

  Exactly so.

  Now are you aware, I continued, that if you choose to ask three such men each in his turn, which of these lives is pleasantest, each will extol his own beyond the others? Thus the money-making man will tell you, that compared with the pleasures of gain, the pleasures of being honoured or of acquiring knowledge are worthless, except in so far as they can produce money.

  True.

  But what of the honour-loving man? Does he not look upon the pleasure derived from money as a vulgar one, while, on the other hand, he regards the pleasure derived from learning as a mere vapour and absurdity unless honour be the fruit of it.

  That is precisely the case.

  And must we not suppose that the lover of wisdom regards all other pleasures as, by comparison, very far inferior to the pleasure of knowing how the truth stands, and of being constantly occupied with this pursuit of knowledge…

Socrates / Socratic Dialogue related to there being three classes of citizens
(from Plato's The Republic Book 9)


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Given that people differ, (and are suggested of by Plato as being assignable to one of three citizenship categories), on the basis that, (as he is prepared to suggest), one of three behavioral tendencies - appetite, spirit or reason - tends to prevail in their own individual Souls; Plato suggests that persons in whom appetite prevails should become Artisans and producers, persons in whom spirit prevails should become Auxiliaries and be employed in defending the state against external threats and internal disorders, and persons in whom reason prevails should undergo rigorous selection, followed by very long periods of training, towards better preparing themselves to become philosopher-rulers or Guardians.

Hence Plato's identification of the three classes of persons who will people his Ideal State arises out of what he believes to be the Tripartite nature of the Human Psyche or Soul.

Peopled by three classes of citizens - Artisans, Auxiliaries and Guardians, a state could ideally hope for Justice to prevail where each class of person fulfilled their proper function as producers, defenders and rulers and did not interfere with each others' fulfillment of their individually necessary contributions to the functioning of the state.

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Several truly notable authorities
endorse Tripartite Soul Theory


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



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