Summary: Book 3, Part 1 (386a-412b)

Socrates continues to discuss the content of stories that can be told to the guardians, moving on to stories about heroes. The most important function of this class of stories is to immunize the young guardians against a fear of death. Heroes must never be presented as fearing death or as preferring slavery to death. Hades—the place of dead souls—must never be presented as a frightening place. Heroes must never be presented as lamenting famous men as if their dying were a bad thing. Heroes should never be shown engaging in violent laughter since violent emotions in one direction usually lead to violent emotions in the other. Like the gods, they must always be portrayed as honest.

Glaucon raises the question of stories about normal mortal men, but Socrates postpones the issue. What poets currently say about men, he points out, is that the unjust often succeed and the just are wretched. They praise the former as wise and declare that it is good to be unjust if one can get away with it. Since it is our current mission to disprove these claims, it is not yet our place to outlaw this sort of story. We must first prove that these claims are false and only then can we outlaw these stories because they represent untruths.

Socrates discusses the style of stories that will be allowed. He lays out the most appropriate meter, and wonders whether these stories ought to be in dramatic or in lyric form. From here, he moves on to the other arts, such as painting and architecture. In all of these—as in poetry—he forbids the artists to represent characters that are vicious, unrestrained, slavish, and graceless. Any characteristics besides those the guardians should emulate are excluded.

Socrates moves on to what might seem like a surprising topic in a discussion on education: the correct love between a boy and a man. Socrates considered such relationships a vital part of a boy’s education. His main point here is to warn against allowing any actual sexual intercourse to contaminate these relationships. They should not involve an erotic element, he explains, only a pure sort of love.

Physical training of the guardians is the next topic. This training, he warns, should resemble the sort involved in training for war, rather than the sort that athletes engage in. He emphasizes how important it is to properly balance the music and poetry with physical training. Too much physical training will make the guardians savage, while too much music and poetry will make them soft.

Socrates prescribes the medical training that should be provided in the just city. Doctors should be trained to treat the healthy, who suffer from a single, curable ailment. They should not be trained to deal with the chronically ill. Those suffering from an incurable physical disease should be left to die naturally. Those suffering from an incurable mental disease should actively be put to death.

Analysis: Book 3, Part 1 (386a-412b)

The passage on the love between a man and a boy raises the question, what does love have to do with education? Eros, or proper love, is the emotion that motivates us to ascend to the heights of knowledge. As we will see later, true knowledge does not attach itself to the observable world around us. True knowledge, instead, has as its object the realm of the Forms, the universal, eternal truths that only our mind can access. Although study allows us to make the intellectual leap toward this higher realm, eros provides the emotional motivation for studying. For Plato, all action must be motivated by some desire or emotion. The emotional motivation that sends us looking for the Forms, then, is erotic love. Eros is the bridge between the physical world and the intelligible, the motivation for the philosopher’s quest.

Read more about knowledge and the Forms.

According to Plato’s dialogue The Symposium, erotic love spurs us toward knowledge in several steps. We first love the beauty of one physical body. From there, we go on to love two physical bodies. We next move on to the love of all physical beauty, and then to a love of traditions and institutions, to beautiful studies, and finally, to one supreme study, the knowledge of beauty itself. Once we have reached beauty itself, or the Form of Beauty, the journey is complete. We have achieved knowledge and become real philosophers. So the topic of erotic love is perfectly suited to a discussion of education. Erotic love is necessary in the education of the philosopher.

Read more about the visible and intelligible realms.

Plato forbids sexual intercourse to enter into these relationships. In the highest sort of love—which leads to knowledge of the Forms—the goal is to lead the beloved to knowledge of truth and goodness. What the lover desires, more than anything, is to improve the soul of the beloved. But this only explains why love should not focus primarily on physical pleasure, not why Plato forbid it.

Plato saw sexual intercourse as serving no useful end. Heterosexual intercourse must be tolerated because it is necessary for procreation, but homosexual intercourse, he believed, serves no end but the fulfillment of physical pleasure. Since homosexual intercourse is useless, it cannot be good or beautiful. Whatever is neither good nor beautiful should be avoided. Second, as Plato makes clear later in The Republic, the health of a man’s soul is determined by the desires he aims to fulfill. A just soul is a soul that pursues the right desires. Desire for physical pleasure is not worth fulfilling. So though the good man, the philosophical man, might have physical desires directed at his young friend, it is crucial to his virtue that he not act on these; he must not try to satisfy his lust for physical pleasure. Instead, he must transmute that erotic desire into a longing for truth and goodness, and a longing to find this truth and goodness together with his beloved.

Summary: Book 3, Part 2 (412c-end)

Now that Socrates has finished laying out the proper education for guardians, he introduces the third and final class of the just society: rulers. The group until now has been called guardians is split. The best from this group will be chosen out as rulers, and only they will now be termed “guardians,” while the rest will remain as warriors and will be termed “auxiliaries,” because their role is to aid rulers by carrying out and enforcing their decisions.

To ensure the right selection of rulers, all the young guardians in training are closely observed. They are made to go through various tests which are intended to determine which of them remain steadfast in their loyalty to the city. They are exposed to various fears and pleasures meant to tempt or frighten them out of their convictions. Those who do best in these tests will proceed on to higher forms of education that will prepare them to rule. The rest, destined to be warriors, will end their education where Socrates left off. The further education of rulers is not discussed until Book 7.

To ensure that there is never controversy over who should rule, Socrates suggests telling all citizens a useful fiction, usually termed “the myth of the metals.” The myth contends that all citizens of the city were born out of the earth. This fiction persuades people to be patriotic. They have reason to swear loyalty to their particular plot of ground and their fellow citizens. That plot of ground is their mother, and their fellow citizens are their brothers and sisters. The myth holds that each citizen has a certain sort of metal mixed in with his soul. In the souls of those most fit to rule there is gold, in those suited to be auxiliaries there is silver, and in those suited to be producers there is either bronze or iron. The city must never be ruled by someone whose soul is mixed with the wrong metal; according to an oracle, the city will be ruined if that ever happens.

The people must be told that though for the most part iron and bronze people will produce iron and bronze children, silver people silver children, and gold people gold children, that is not always the case. It is critical to observe the next generation to discover their class of soul. Those who are born to producers but seem to have the nature of a guardian or an auxiliary will be whisked away and raised with other such children. Similarly, those born to guardians or auxiliaries who seem more fit as producers will be removed to that class of society. Although the just society is rigid in terms of adult mobility between classes, it is not as rigid in terms of heredity.

Plato ends the chapter with a brief discussion about housing provided for the guardians. The guardians, we are told, all live together in housing provided for them by the city. Guardians receive no wages and can hold no private wealth or property. They are supported entirely by the city through the taxation of the producing class. One last useful fiction that will be told to the guardians is that it is unlawful for them to even handle gold or silver—that it is impious for them to mix earthly gold and silver with the divine silver and gold in their souls. Socrates’s reasoning is clear: if the rulers are permitted to acquire private property, they will inevitably abuse their power and begin to rule for their own gain, rather than the good of the entire city.

Analysis: Book 3, Part 2 (412c-end)

Many first-time readers of The Republic are shocked by how authoritarian Plato’s ideal city is. In this section, many of the authoritarian aspects come to the fore. Personal freedom is not valued. The good of the state overrides all other considerations. Social classes are rigid, and people are sorted into these classes with no thought to their preferences. Of course, Plato would object to this latter claim by saying that each person will find their class most pleasing to them since it is best suited to their nature. Nonetheless, they are given no input when the state determines what life they will lead. A citizen’s fate—producer, warrior, or ruler—is decided at an early age, and no provisions are made for individuals to shift classes as they mature.

Read more about specialization.

Those labelling the ideal city authoritarian can also point to state-controlled propaganda in the form of the myth of the metals. The irony is that for someone who claimed to value truth so highly, Plato has little trouble justifying wide-scale deception. The good of the state overrides all else, including the importance of truth.

But rather than draw back from this authoritarian utopia in horror, we might do well to suspend judgement for the time being. As we read through The Republic, we should ask ourselves why we value personal freedom so highly and what we might be sacrificing by placing such a high priority on freedom.