Why does Glaucon mention the myth
of the Ring of Gyges? What intuition of ours is he trying to jog?
In Book II, Glaucon tries to reinforce the
challenge to justice that Socrates must meet in the remainder of
the book. He argues that justice is the sort of good that is only
desired for its consequences, not for its own sake. Justice, he
claims, is a necessary evil that human beings endure out of fear
and weakness. Because we can all suffer from one another’s injustices,
he explains, we agree, as a society, to behave justly and thus avoid
greater harm. Given the chance to escape reprisals, though, any
human being would choose to be unjust rather than just.
In order to illustrate this point, Glaucon appeals to
the Ring of Gyges. According to mythology, this ring has the special
power to make its possessor invisible. Glaucon’s intention in invoking
this magical entity is to argue that even the most just man only
behaves as he does because of fear of reprisal. If such a man were
able to behave unjustly with impunity—as he could if he were invisible—then
he would do so.
Glaucon himself does not believe that justice is a necessary
evil; he thinks that it is the highest form of good, the sort that
is desired both for its own sake and for its consequences. His wish
is that Socrates provide a compelling argument to this effect.
Plato go to such lengths to prove that there are three distinct
parts to the human soul? Explain both why he needs three aspects
to the soul, and also why these aspects need to be distinct and
independent from one another.
Plato applies the word ‘justice’ to both
societies and individuals, and his overall strategy in The Republic is
to first explicate the primary notion of political justice, and
then to derive an analogous concept of individual justice. Plato
defines political justice as being inherently structural. A society
consists of three main classes of people—the producers, the auxiliaries,
and the guardians; the just society consists in the right and fixed
relationships between these three classes. Each of these groups
must do the job appropriate to it, and only that job, and each must
be in the right position of power and influence in relation to the
In Book IV, Plato demonstrates that these three classes
of society have analogs in the soul of every individual. The soul
is a tripartite entity. The just individual can be defined in analogy
with the just society; the three parts of his soul are fixed in
the requisite relationships of power and influence.
That is why Plato needs to show that there are three
parts of the soul, but we can still ask why it is important for
Plato to demonstrate that the three types of desire present in every
individual correspond to three independent sources of desire.
This distinction of parts allows the three types of desire
to be exerted simultaneously and to coexist with each other in both
conflict and harmony. Political justice is a structural property,
consisting in the realization of required relationships between
three classes. The relationships constituting political harmony
are fixed and static in the same sense as are the mathematical ratios
constituting musical harmony. So in the just individual as well,
though desires come and go, the relationship between the different
sets of desires remains fixed and permanent.
Why does Plato banish the poets
from his city?
After defining justice and proving its worth,
Socrates turns his critical eye toward the poets. In a shocking
move, he banishes nearly all poetry from his city (the only exceptions
he makes are for hymns to gods and eulogies for famous men). Plato
regrets this edict, feeling that it is an aesthetic sacrifice, but
one necessitated by the greater good of the city; the poets, he
feels, are too dangerous. He lays out three distinct, though related
reasons for his harsh judgement.
His first gripe with the poets is that they deal in the
least real things. Their wares are images, shadows, reflections.
The objects of their art are, as Socrates puts it, far removed from
“what is.” By “what is,” we understand the Forms—the unchanging,
absolutes of the intelligible realm. The imperfect mutable copies
of the Forms, sensible particulars such as trees, chairs, tables,
flowers, are once removed from this most real realm. But the products
of poetry are nothing but copies of these once-removed objects.
Worse, since only the Forms can be objects of knowledge, the poets
know nothing, though they are widely believed to have vast stores
In addition, poets make a practice of imitating the worst
aspects of souls. They do not imitate the rational part, since this
aspect is both hard to imitate and hard to understand. Instead,
they imitate the appetitive part of the soul, and attempt primarily
to gratify the appetites with laughter and cheap thrills.
Worst of all, poetry corrupts the soul, strengthening
the appetitive part and weakening the rational. It encourages us
to indulge in emotions like pity, amusement at base jokes, sympathy
with sexual lusts. Because we feel these emotions vicariously through
fictional characters, and not ourselves, we believe that we are
safe. However, we do not realize that once we begin to allow these
sorts of emotion reign they gain power and flourish. Soon we are
feeling pity for ourselves, amusement at base events in our own
life, and our own sexual lusts. Our appetitive part begins to gain
control of the rational, and we are made unjust.