The Republic, Plato, 399 BCE


Born: 428/427 or 424/423 BC

Died: 348/347 BC (aged c. 80)

The Republic basically asks, “What is Justice”

  1. What the best Person is (personal level/morality)

  2. What the best State is (state level/justice)

The answer to this question is basically the same between the two. The most moral person is ruled by Reason (brain) and reason cooperates with Will Power (chest) to overcome the “appetites” (stomach+)

The just state is a state that is ruled by Reason (in the form of Philosopher Kings), with the cooperation of the Soldiers to rule over the People.

The Ship of State” is a story which justifies this.

The story begins with a situation where you have a bunch of people who have a bunch of money. Nothing special about them except for their money. With their money, they buy a ship, which they own. They staff the ship with Sailors, and each sailor, they choose because that sailor has a specific skill, and are best suited to do the job (non-democratic)/ Yet, there is one sailor who we haven’t mentioned – the navigator. He uses celestial bodies for navigation (Looking at the stars in order to navigate). One thing Plato assumes when telling the story, is that because the purpose of the ship is to go from Point A to Point B, that means all ships have a destination. If it is not in the harbour and not going anywhere, it has become untied and is a problem.

So, he asks questions like, “Just because these people have lots of money, should they tell the navigator where to go?” No, because they don’t know. The Sailor’s don’t know either. Except, while the Sailor’s cannot tell the navigator what to do, he can tell them what to do, for he knows what will help them reach their destination. What is the destination of the state? JUSTICE.

For plato, the whole justice of the state is to move people into it.

Distributive justice: How money gets distributed.

Retributive Justice: How criminals are dealt with.

The sailor’s, says Plato, are politicians. This is a problem because politicians tend to make decisions outside of their sphere or excellence. What is the minister of Forestry doing trying to tell us about gay marriage?

They see their jobs as hierarchy, and are constantly trying to move up the scale.

The Navigator is the Philosopher, and the celestial bodies they see are the Forms (Forms:Justice)

The world of Forms (World of Ideals) is unseen, and in it, there is the perfect form of everything we can see in this world.

Take a table, for example. Plato might ask you 2 questions about this table

  1. Is this the most perfect table imaginable? No, not really. If we can say that, then Plato feels confident in concluding that we must have some idea of what he might call, “tableness” – The ideal form of the table. We couldn’t describe it or create it but we know it.

  2. This is a table, is a chair a table? No. How do we know? Function is part of it, though you can use some things as other things… The fact that we are able to recognize specific things under general categories shows that we have the ability to understand the general ideas of general things.

As a point of interest, Aristotle disagreed. He said you see specific things, then place them in categories.

We have specific examples of Justice and Injustice in the world, which we all recognize.

So, how do we explain then, the fact that we all can recognize these things in categories?

We can see the ideals, so we can steer our world closer to them.

What’s important for society is knowing the form of justice, because that means you can navigate that state towards the form of justice.

Who are the rich people (masses)? They have power in terms of numbers when it comes to how many people where there.

It doesn’t matter whether they have truth or education, as long as they realize they have strength in numbers.