Plato’s Theory of Justice


Plato’stheory of justice quite different from and contrary to the justice as we understand it in constitutional-legal terms, can be precisely summed in following two quotes from the Republic: “Justice is having and doing what is one’s own”and “A just man is a man just in the right place doing his best and giving full equivalent of what he receives”.

In Liu of Introduction

Intellectuals reflect upon their own conditions. Plato’s immediate ambience was the democratic Athens, which had been in the state of a prolonged Peloponnesianwar with Sparta (431-404 BC) that had ended in Athenian defeat; overthrow of democratic government and banishment of the prominent democratic leaders in BC 404. No one is a winner in a war; both are losers, as far as the people of warring countries are concerned.  It wrecks not only economy and society but also the individual and social psyche.Before that Athens and Sparta were allies in Greco-Persian war (499-49 BC). It was a dilapidated post war economy and demoralized society. With the overthrow of rein of thirty that was installed by Spartan victors, democratic leaders in the restored democracy were taken over by a sense of insecurity and in desperation tried and executed Socrates, Plato’s teacher. To salvage Athens from its economic and political strife that is from injustice,Plato presents a blue print of an alternative system — the Ideal stateruled by professionally trained rulers, the philosophers, the political class,with the help of strong coercive apparatus, the warrior class.

In modern democracies too, there is political class. Plato’s political class consists of the philosophers, whose realm of excellence is reason. They undergo a 50 years long rigorous education to acquire the wisdom,the ability of comprehending the Idea of the Good and thereby the competence to practice the art of governance. The virtue of this political class is knowledge.They are deprived of the private family and property as a safety measure against any possible chances of their being corrupt; indulgent; sectarian or sloth. They do not live in palatial houses but in the barracks with their likes and the members of the auxiliary. In contrast the virtue of modern political class is ability to win the election by any means, verifying Machiavellian maxis, end justifies the means[1]. And the end is, attaining; retaining; expanding power. Many of its members have good records of criminal cases against them. Most of them are billionaires and spend huge amounts, in election campaigns. The US President, contesting for the second term, spends only 3 years in office, the 4th year is spent in fund raising. One’s ability to raise funds generally corresponds to ability to win the elections. There is no scope here for detailed comparison, the political class as envisioned in Plato’ republic has single motive of practicing the art of governance with perfection, i.e. selflessly pursuing the good of the people. Modern political class is concerned with its own wellbeing and perpetuation of the ruthless exploitation and oppression of the people by the global capital[2]. Members of the modern political classes are not Platonic philosophers but Machiavellian Princes. Unlike the modern political classes, which appeal to sentiments while trying to blunt rationality for seeking power at any cost, even at the cost destroying composite culture of the country, thePlatonic political class, the Guardians of the Ideal State appeal to the reason and seek to ensure justice for the entire society, of course the justice as envisioned and defined in the Republic. Here we shall be talking only about Platonic ruling classes.

The central concern of Plato inRepublic is justice, as is obvious from the subtitle of the text, “A treatise concerning justice”. It begins with the question of justice and concludes with the answer that justice lies in the harmonious, hierarchal well-ordering of society. Platonic concept of justice is not based on equality of humankind but just opposite of it. It is not equality but the harmonious, well-ordering that institutionalizes the inequality. According to Will Durant,during the 12 years of his wandering after the execution of his Guru, Socrates in BC 399, Plato wandered up-till the banks of Ganga.Even if had not he would have come in contact with Indian scriptures via Egyptians.[3]Plato’s “harmonious well ordering” of inequalities takes me to the childhood memories of my village. It was a “harmoniously well ordered” village society without any tension, at least over the surface. Though, the cracks in the prevalent social order had begun, but were only microscopically visible. Everyone was doing their respective works, asordained and prescribed by the Shastras, the four-fold Varnashram social-social division and the corresponding code of conduct. Plato’s Ideal state, the rule of Philosopher over the economically productive classes, with the help of the armed auxiliaries, appears to be a refined and edited version of the Varnashram code of conduct. In Varnashram paradigm, the leader of the armed classes (Kshatriyas) rule over the people on the advice of the intellectuals (Brahmins).In Plato’s Ideal State, the intellectuals do not take any chance, they rule themselves. The equivalent of the fourth, the lowest class of Indian model, the Shudra, is missing in Plato’s Ideal State. The slave can be considered as the near equivalent. Butthe slave treated as the property of the master, an ‘animate tool’, in Aristotle’s words[4], is conspicuously absent from Plato’s discourse. Either he took it for granted or did not find ubiquitous institution of slavery worth reckoning.

For the definition of justice, Plato theoretically creates the Ideal State, from the beginning, from the point zero, of the human association, in a teleological manner. Though Plato’s imagined, ‘naturally evolved’ first human association, the First City is nothing but the fictionalized version of the then existing democratic Athens. TheVarnashram code of conduct, with reference to theManusmriti[5], was created as philosophical justification and source of validity of an already existing, institutionalized order in the aftermath of Brahmanical counter revolution against the Buddhist intellectual and social revolution[6].  TheIdeal State of Plato’s Republic was a plea for a desirable alternative to the existing democratic government, which he considered government of fools and“vowed to destroy.”[7] To philosophically validate the Varnashram social order, the myths of the Gods Brahma etc. were created. Defying all the biological laws,Brahma, “the creator”, createdfrom his different organs four hierarchal classes – Brahmins (intellectuals) from the head; Kshatriyas (the warriors) from the arms;economic classes from the stomach and the lowest, the Shudra (the servant classes) from the feet[8]. Plato, to convince the people of lower classes of their innate inferiority,invented the myth of metals — the medicinal lie or the Royal lie. The philosopher king should propagate that the God has created people with the qualities of different metals – gold; silver and the inferior metals, like bronze and copper. Those who are created by God with the qualities of gold are destined to be philosopher; those with that of silver are destined to be warriors and the rest the economic producers[9]. And this arrangement is irreversible.As the doctor can lie to the patient and patient cannot to doctor, in the same way the king could tell lie to the people but people cannot. The right to spread lies belongs only to the ruler.

Plato’s project of Ideal State remains unrealized, as envisioned in Republic.He himself was disillusioned with its feasibility in his last days and theorizes the “second best state” based on law, in his last voluminous work, the Laws. As his student Aristotle had pointed that he thought about only the theoretical best without taking into consideration, the practicality and existing reality. Idea of the ideal emanates and is related to the existing reality, not the other way. The universals do not create particulars but existing of particulars determines the nature of the universal. Plato’s ideal state ruled by the philosopher still remains an idea andthe Varnashram system, as an idea and institution has yet not been totally banished.

After this little longer introduction, in the following pages I shall try to critically summarize the initial (Book I –III) processes and points in Plato’s philosophical journey in search of the ‘truth’, the ‘justice’.

Basic Assumption

          Everything has an end corresponding to its nature, says Plato. Then end of eyes is to see clearly, similarly the end of the state is to govern well. Like everything else the philosopher too has an end. With that end in mind, he makes certain axiomatic assumptions. Plato’s end it to have a state with ‘good governance’, the Ideal State in place of democratic governance in which the entire population is the member of the political community. As has been discussed in the section dealing with the theory of ideas, for Plato the essence lies not in the object but in its idea. Object is just the shadow, appearance of the invisible essence. A visible human is only appearance of the essence – soul.

  • Tripartite composition of soul (seetheory of soul of the series.);
  • Men (Humans) are, by nature, interdependent for their needs;
  • Everyone is intended with a nature and the realization of that nature ought to be the end of life;
  • One can do only one thing appropriately and hence one ought to do only what he is intended by nature.
  • Governance is an art needing specific ability


  • I

The Setting

As is well known, Plato’s works are in “dialogue” format, i.e. in the form of debate and discussion, with Socrates as the protagonist, except in the Laws[10].This dialogue, Republic, is in the form of reminiscence of Socrates. As a very systematic scholar, Plato first critiques the prevailing views, rejects them and then gives his own views. The views he rejects, puts them in the mouth of other characters in the narrative and puts the views, he supports in the mouth of Socrates. In the first scene Socrates, while returning from a festive fare, is on the way intercepted and invited by Polymarcus for a dinner-discussion at his place. Public discussions and debates (Shastrarth in the Indian context), in ancient societies, provided platforms for dissemination of knowledge, as well as for intellectual duals. Apart from Socrates, other characters of the drama are: Cephalus, an old rich business man; his son Polemrachus; Thrasymachus, a Sophist scholar; Glaucon and Adeimantus, Socrates’s pupils; and Cleitophon.

After exchange of the greetings, Socrates asks Cephalus about his feelings of being wealthy. Apart from other things, he included that being just as one of the attributes of being value and gives cue to Socrates to initiate the discussion on justice, the reminisces of which is Republic. Cephalus answers in terms of prevailing notions of morality that justice was paying back one’s debts and retires to offer sacrifice to Gods, leaving the stage for the next generation and his son Polemachus takes entry to supplements the father’s answer. The views Plato criticizes and rejects are categorized as, traditional; radical and pragmatic views of justice.

Traditional view of justice

The spokespersons of this view in the Republic are Cephalus and Polemarchus. Cephalus repliedin terms of prevalent moral values that justice lies in telling the truth and paying debt. To this Socrates says that  in normal conditions these are the normal morality, not justice. “Suppose that a friend when in his right mind has deposited arms with me and he asks for them when he is not in his right mind, ought I to give them back to him? No one would say that I ought or that I should be right in doing so, any more than they would say that I ought always to speak the truth to one who is in his condition”[11]. As mentioned above,Cephalus after giving his opinion retires for performing sacrifice and his son Polemarchus enters the scene. He added “justice is giving to each man what is proper to him” and “justice is art which gives good to friends and evil to enemies”[12].

Plato, through Socrates, extensively argues against the traditional views expressed through father son-duo by using various ancient sayings; examples and metaphors and rejects them. Socrates uses the simile of sickness, which is cured by physician by giving the sick parson medicine, “what is proper to him”. “But when a man is well, … there is no need of a physician, in the same way as one who is not on a voyage has no need of a pilot” in the same way as there is no need of a war ally in time of peace. But justice is not situation centric, it is infinite and universal.

Justice is the quality of soul, it cannot be art. Art can be good or bad but justice, being the highest virtue of the soul, is always good. It is difficult to distinguish between friend and enemy, as one’s appearance does not really reflect his real essence. A just soul follows the path of goodness and cannot do evil to anyone. He considers it as sadism and sadism is a contradiction in terms with justice. He argues that doing good to friends may be a just act but harming anyone, even an enemy, cannot be the objective of justice, as evil cannot be removed by counter evil. Tit for tat is not justice. More over this view presents justice as relationship between two individuals. Justice is not the quality of only good individual life but also of good social life[13].

Radical View of Justice

The views expressed by Thrasymachus, are called radical view of justice. Thrasymachus, who was at unease and “He roared out to the whole company: What folly, Socrates, has taken possession of you all? ……”. He expressed his observation as “justice is nothing else than the interest of the stronger”[14]. This is like ‘the might is right’ that historically has not been very far from reality, but Plato was a philosopher of what ought to be. As the rulers are most powerful in any society, they make laws in their own interest and hence working in the interest of the ruler is justice and following one’s own is injustice. Wise men can follow their own interest by being unjust. He concludes that an unjust man is wiser; stronger and happier[15].  Socrates through point-to-point arguments rejects this view[16].

Firstly Socrates of Republic rejects his view that self-interest of the ruler is justice. One of the key contributions of Plato to the world of political philosophy is his idea of governance as an art. And artist does not follow self-interest but the interest of the subject. The subject of the ruler is the people and his interest lies not in pursuing the self-interest but in ensuring the well-being of the people. Kautilya also s The way the physician does not pursue the self-interest but that of the patient. Teaching is an art.Objective of the teacher is to help students in becoming critical, responsible citizens with theoretical clarity; to help them in acquiring abilities to scientifically comprehend the world and determine his role to better it.   Plato rejects the concept of politics or governance as a consequence force or muddling of numbers but of scientific deliberations. The interest of ruler lies in the interest of people. This maxim finds an echo in Kautilya’s Arthshstra[17] around a century later.

Secondly, the unjust person cannot be happier than the just. According to Plato, happy is one who knows his nature, ability and limitations and places himself accordingly and does not into the race of competition. Happiness lies in realizing one’s nature. A teacher feels happy by realizing his nature, that is, by having a good engrossing class with the students’ participation. Quoting a section of dialogue would not be inappropriate.

“Then an evil soul must necessarily be an evil ruler and superintendent, and the good soul a good ruler?

Yes, necessarily.

And we have admitted that justice is the excellence of the soul, and injustice the defect of the soul?

That has been admitted.

Then the just soul and the just man will live well, and the unjust man will live ill?

That is what your argument proves.

And he who lives well is blessed and happy, and he who lives ill the reverse of happy?


Then the just is happy, and the unjust miserable? So be it. But happiness and not misery is profitable.


Then, my blessed Thrasymachus, injustice can never be more profitable than justice”[18].

Thirdly, the unjust cannot be wiser than just as wisdom lies in realizing, as mentioned above, in knowing one’s limitations and act accordingly and not in indulgence into competition. And acting according to one’s nature is justice and hence a just man is wiser than the unjust.

And finally an unjust person cannot be stronger than the just. For Plato, strength lies in unity and unity is possible on if people living together in a community have commitment to certain common principles and common wellbeing of all. The consensus to the principles is possible only in a just society.

With the refutation of Thrasymachus’s views ends the Book I and also vocal presence of Thrasymachus.

Pragmatic view of justice

          The spokespersons of this view that considers justice to be the “child of fear” and the “necessity of the weaker”[19] are Glaucon and his brother Adeimantus. Anticipating Hobbes many century later, it assumes a state of nature where everyone is free to do injustice and become victim of it. To get out of it people enter into an agreement of not doing injustice to anyone and thereby not being victim of injustice from any one. A code of justice is created to make the agreement functional. Thus men recognize their natural tendencies of injustice but pretend to be just under the fear of the force of law.[20]

Socrates refutes and rejects this view with systematic arguments that justice is not an artificial virtue that emanates from a contract. Justice is innate quality of soul and conscience. It does not depend upon a contract nor needs any external recognition, it exists by itself[21]. After saying this he begins to theoretically construct ideal state to define justice.

  • II

Plato’s Concept of Justice

After arguing against above three views of justice, on the request of Galucon and Adeimantus, Socrates in Republic sets out to define justice in society and in individual.“Justice, which is the subject of our enquiry, is, as you know, sometimes spoken of as the virtue of an individual, and sometimes as the virtue of a State”[22]. Plato applies teleological and architectonic methodology to explain the concept of justice beginning from the starting point of humanassociation, on the basis of hisbasic assumptions. Above quote indicates that justice operates at two levels – at the level of Individual and at the level of state or the society as in his opinion, state is individual writ large. Then in the larger unit, the quantity of justice is likely to be larger and more easily discernible. “I propose therefore that we enquire into the nature of justice and injustice, first as they appear in the State, and secondly in the individual, proceeding from the greater to the lesser and comparing them.”[23]He begins to construct the society from the beginning, when different people interdependent natures for meeting their survival needs on the principles of division of labour and exchange. He calls this naturally evolved association as the first city.

The First City

All the writings are reflections on the contemporary state of affairs, great writings become all time classics. The Republic being the foundational text in the history of western political philosophy, still remains relevant even after around two and half a century. “One of the main causes Plato’s pervasive and persuasive influence throughout the history the ablest exponent of the aristocratic theory of state and the acutest critic of democratic way of life”[24].History of evolution of civilization hitherto has been the history of evolution of inequalities. Plato provides their rationalization on the basis of presumed innate abilities or nature. Someone’s nature or ability may be of a farmer and someone’s that of a carpenter and so on. As par Plato’s one of the basic assumption one should do only one thing suited to his nature and accordingly he theorizes the principle of division of labour.

“A State, I said, arises, as I conceive, out of the needs of mankind; no one is self-sufficing, but all of us have many wants. Can any other origin of a State be imagined?” tells Socrates to Glaucon. Justice is the original principle laid down at the foundation of state, “that one man should practice one thing only and that thing to which his nature was best adapted. ….. And if we imagine the State in process of creation, we shall see the justice and injustice of the State in process of creation also.”[25] As people have many needs and wants “and many persons are needed to supply them, one takes a helper for one purpose and another for another; and when these partners and helpers are gathered together in one habitation the body of inhabitants is termed a State”[26]. He begins with basic necessities of food, dwelling and cloth and the like. “Barest notion of state must include four or five men.”[27] If everyone produces for everything himself to fulfill his needs one would not be able to do it efficiently and hence as is one of his basic assumptions that one should do only one thing to which his nature is suited[28]. This community based on the principle of division of labour and exchange of economic needs is called the First City. The principle of division of labour enhances the productivity and gives rise to more specialized crafts. Plato’s theory of division of the labour anticipates Adam Smith centuries later for the enhancement of the Wealth of Nations but not the equivalent exchange. The entire product of producers is appropriated by the non-producer capitalist, the producers get meager wages to be able to survive to reproduce[29].

With refinement of crafts people develop new tastes and wants that he calls artificial needs. “Let us then consider, first of all, what will be their way of life, now that we have thus established them. Will they not produce corn, and wine, and clothes, and shoes, and build houses for themselves? And when they are housed, they will work, in summer, commonly, stripped and barefoot, but in winter substantially clothed and shod. They will feed on barley-meal and flour of wheat, baking and kneading them, making noble cakes and loaves; these they will serve up on a mat of reeds or on clean leaves, themselves reclining the while upon beds strewn with yew or myrtle. And they and their children will feast, drinking of the wine which they have made, wearing garlands on their heads, and hymning the praises of the gods, in happy converse with one another. And they will take care that their families do not exceed their means; having an eye to poverty or war.”[30] And “of course they must have a relish–salt, and olives, and cheese, and they will boil roots and herbs such as country people prepare; for a dessert we shall give them figs, and peas, and beans; and they will roast myrtle-berries and acorns at the fire, drinking in moderation. And with such a diet they may be expected to live in peace and health to a good old age, and bequeath a similar life to their children after them.”[31]

The above mentioned first city is the edited version of the existing system in which the entire population was the part of the economic class based on the system of division of labour and exchange and the market. But the governance, in Palo’s view that he repeats so often in Republic, is a superior art, not a matter of force or number but ability to comprehend the Idea of Good and act accordingly. And only wise, the highly educated philosophers have that ability.

The Ideal State

After describing this gathering as a rustic, happy egalitarian First City, he cleverly extends the principles of division of labour and exchange to create a hierarchal second city — the Ideal State. The first city is unguided by the reason.[32]Thus evolved luxurious and prosperous first city gets into “feverish condition” caused by “expansion of human wants”, as “the country which was enough to support the original inhabitants will be too small now and not enough”.  For the extended population describing this gathering as a happy egalitarian First City, the community of “pigs”[33], he cleverly extends the principles of division of labour and exchange to create a hierarchal second city — the Ideal State. For extension of territory and saving the prosperity from the neighbors, a new class functionally specialized in war is needed.

“Then without determining as yet whether war does good or harm, thus much we may affirm, that now we have discovered war to be derived from causes which are also the causes of almost all the evils in States, private as well as public”.[34]As one person must do only one thing, there is need of specialized class that is good at art of war — the class of warriors, the “watch dogs”. “Then it will be our duty to select, if we can, natures which are fitted for the task of guarding the city”.[35]Using the tripartite theory of soul he proves that those who excel in the faculty of spirit, the virtue of which is courage, are ideally suited for it. The courage as virtue has been discussed in the theory of soul section of this essay. “The feverish condition is, however not limited to the threat of external war but also implies the internal disruption or dissolution of the health and the balance of the first city through internal unrest.”[36] And hence there arises need of a special class of warriors. But this class drunk with power might degenerate into praetorians and quarrel continuously among themselves and with the members of producing classes. As mentioned above that Plato compares the warriors, the defenders of the city as watch dogs, which are friendly with the insiders and furious over outsiders by instinct. So to make the perfect watch dogs they need training to imbue them with the principles that makes the city worth defending.

Thus the need of the class of the warriors (auxiliaries), leads to the need of another class to recruit and train this class as well as future guardians. The characteristic virtue of his class is wisdom in the same way as the characteristic virtue of fighters and producers are courage and temperance respectively. The first city according to him was the result of the natural evolution, the “second” or the “ideal” city of the republic is the product of rational planning and direction. This Platonic community is the first example of the planned state. The recruitment and training is done through education that is separately discussed in the theory of education. To convince the auxiliaries and producers Plato advises the ruling class, the wise, the philosopher to spread the medicinal lie (the myth of metals) as discussed in the introduction. Thus he theoretically constructs the Ideal State for justice, in which everyone has his own and does his own. In the first city the entire population was part of the division of labour economy, like the entire population was the members of the political community in Athens, in Ideal state only around 80% remain into economic community rest distinguish themselves as the ruling classes – the guardians and the auxiliaries. Thus Plato divides the egalitarian, ‘happy’ first city into three exclusive classes – economic; coercive and political. In fact the coercive class is the state apparatus and that is why the upper two classes are clubbed together. The existing states are the degenerated form of Plato’s Ideal. The personnel in the state apparatuses, though belong to working collective in the capitalist state, yet is not part of working class in Marxist sense, but a class apart,like Plato’s auxiliaries.

Thus Plato cleverly extends principles of the division of labour of material production and exchange to divide the society into hierarchically order of the classes of producers and non-producers, in which non producers rule over the producing masses. The relationship between carpenter and the farmer is not the same as the relationship between a farmer and the philosopher kings. This ideal virtually boils down to be a aristocracy. The society is just if it is harmoniously united, i.e. one doing only that for which he is ordained to.

The main difference between a craftsman and a philosopher in the Republic is the difference between political wisdom and technical knowledge as he explains in the theory of knowledge. Only philosophers have the he insight that a high, specialized learning, needed to comprehend the human affairs and deal with them. Material and exposure of a crafts man is finite limited to only visible world in contrast the material and exposureof philosopher to the world of ideas, which is infinite and unlimited. Effectively Plato’s notion of justice is creation of Aristocratic community, in which the Aristocrats, emanating from planned breeding and education, a special theory of eugenics, as is dealt in details in the section dealing with the theory of communism. Communism and education are two pillars of the Ideal State.

The Social Justice

                    Plato theory of justice, i.e. the theory of the ideal state is organic theory. As mentioned in the introduction, Plato considers ‘state’ as ‘individual writ large’. Therefore he theorizes not only social justice, i.e. the justice in society, as discussed above, but also individual justice, i.e. the justice in individual and links them. A just state is the state ruled by philosophers; defended by warriors and material needs are supplied by the producing classes. A state can be just only with just individuals, who are ready to accept the order in conformity with their nature. How to convince the inferior classes? Plato gives the theory of meritocracy through his theory of education that is separately dealt with. Also he invents many myths, like the myth of the metal mentioned above. It should be noted that Platonic social justice is not only different from but the reverse of the contemporary discourse on social justice aimed at ending the class/caste hierarchy. Platonic social justice is, as witnessed above,aimed and creating and perpetuating class hierarchy.

Individual Justice

“The state is not known by the quality of oak and rocks but by the character of individuals living in it”[37]. The justice in individual is possible only if the elements of soul are well ordered and harmoniously united in conformity to its tripartite structure. The inferior elements, the spirit and appetite are controlled by reason, which the willingly obey, in the same way as the classes, the warriors and producers, whose realms of excellence are spirit and appetite respectively willingly obey the dictates of the class, whose realm of excellence is  reason.

Some observation

Before concluding this discussion with a critical note, let us see major points emerging from the above discussion.

  • It is not a legal but moral concept that does not need any legal code of conduct to guide the philosopher king. He is the embodiment of wisdom.
  • It involves division of labour among the producers – non-hierarchical, technical division of labour on the one hand and the hierarchical class division on the other.
  • It is functional specialization in accordance with one’s nature
  • It is a theory of non-interference. Respective classes must not encroach into the realm of other classes.
  • It is also architectonic. To define justice it constructs the edifice of the Ideal state beginning from the laying of the foundation.
  • It is neither just functional specialization nor the departmental excellence, these are its just the conditions. Justice is the coordinating virtue of all the virtues of the soul.

In lieu of conclusion

Plato’s concept of justice is not the justice, as understood in juridical-legal sense. There is no law. The ruler, being the perfect embodiment of wisdom and virtues, is the law in him-self. He is capable of grasping and ensuring people’s wellbeing with the help of state’s coercive apparatus. There can be no limitation of law over the ruler. This has given chance to his critics to call him the first fascist[38]. His unselfish commitment to his duty, ensuring the wellbeing of the, is projected as unchallengeable as he has no property and family under the scheme of communism of property and the family. Defying Platonic link between honesty and family and property, we find many examples in modern democracies, batcher or married bachelor members of the political class ensuring the wellbeing of capitalists on the cost of people’s well-being[39]. Effectively it is a theory of a social code of conduct in a hierarchically divided society, like Manusmriti. The source of validity in Republic is relativity of rationality and not divinity, in Manusmriti, it is the Gods. It is a theory of temperateness, a moral value and not the justice. It prescribes the code of conduct for various classes of limiting their acts within their respective spheres and not invades others in the tripartite social structure. What if “the harmonious well-ordered unity”, the epitome of justiceis disturbed by clash of wills or interest? Plato does not take cognizance of this possibility, but implication of his discussion on the need of a specialized class of fighters, is that it shall be dealt with coercion. It is a theory of total subordination of individual to state that ruled by philosophers is infinite and absolute.

This theory emphasizes on excessive unity of the ruling classes — philosophers and the soldiers — and excessive separationfrom the masses, the vast majority of the economic classes, which are conditions and the part of the state. Manusmriti was created to the existing four-fold hierarchical social order with huge difference between lower and higher classes.Republic pleads for creation of such social division in the context of his contemporary social and political equality, though economic inequality did exist apart from the inhuman institution of slavery. Aristotle takes its cognizance and stated that there were two cities in every city, the city of the rich and the city of the poor. Plato, an aristocrat, belonging to the “class of gainfully unemployed”[40],is not bothered about economic inequality but political equality, notwithstanding the intellectual inequality. His main concern was the participatory democracy, as it existed in his contemporary Athens, in which all the freemen were members of the political community. His problem was political parity of intellectually ‘unequal’ people. How can a cobbler; carpenter; farmer or so sit on judgment on general of generals at par with intellectually superiors like him? In his view, politics is an art to be practiced only by virtuous, virtue is knowledge and the subject of knowledge is world of ideas and the Idea of Good. His pessimism about potentially of perfection in ordinary people makes him to feel thatonly a small number of people have aptitude for knowledge that is refined by education. Hence his famous statement that philosophers should be kings or the existing kings and princes must be instructed into philosophy. He tried to teach philosophy to the king of Syracuse, Dionysius I and subsequently his so Dionysius II and failed[41].

To conclude the ‘in-lieu of conclusion’ it can be said that Plato’s vision of a just society and just individual is well ordering of the classes and faculties of soul respectively on the basis of the hierarchy of knowledge. Plato was against the democratic rule full of corruption, but instead of reforming with equal universal education he opines for of its destruction and its replacement by the rule of philosopher with the help of armed auxiliary, the armed forces. Ifthe Republic is taken out of its historical context and placed it in the general context of the class societies, in which a political class and a coercive state apparatus have been historical realities, Plato’s scheme could be welcomed. Politically educated rulers without conflict of interest should be preferred as they do not have private property and family and live together in barracks and thereby devote themselves to ensure the wellbeing of the people. Gandhi’s advice to the legislators to live in hostels and to travel together to parliament in bus, bears Platonic influence.

 Ish Mishra, Associate Professor, Dept. of Political Science, Hindu College, University of Delhi

[1] Prince

[2] A note with reference to Biplab Dasgupta SAP & NEP

[3] The Story of Phil

[4] Note with reference to it

[5] A brief note on Arthshastra and Dharmshastra traditions

[6] Ambedkar

[7] A note with references

[8] A note

[9] Rep

[10] Note

[11] Plato, Republic, Htpp//  p. 181

[12] Ibid p.183

[13] Ibid  pp. 181-88

[14] Ibid p. 190

[15] Ibid pp. 190-93

[16] Ibid pp. 193-209

[17] Note with the quote from AS

[18]Republic, op.cit. pp.207-08

[19] Ibid p. 213

[20] Ibid pp. 212-215

[21] Ibid

[22] Ibid p. 221

[23] Ibid

[24] William Ebenstein, Great Political Thinkers,  OUP, New Delhi, 1960

[25] Ibid p. 278

[26] Ibid p. 221

[27] Ibid

[28] Ibid pp. 223-24

[29] Adam Smith, Wealth of Nation,

[30]Republic, op.cit.  p. 224

[31] Ibid p.225

[32] Ibid

[33] Ibid

[34] Ibid p. 226

[35] Ibid p. 227

[36] Ebenstein, op. cit. p. 5

[37] Ibid p.

[38] Note

[39] Note

[40] Sudipta Kaviraj, Concept of Man in Political Theory, Social Scientist, New Delhi, December 1979

[41] Note


Support Countercurrents

Countercurrents is answerable only to our readers. Support honest journalism because we have no PLANET B.
Become a Patron at Patreon

Join Our Newsletter


Join our WhatsApp and Telegram Channels

Get CounterCurrents updates on our WhatsApp and Telegram Channels

Related Posts

Join Our Newsletter

Annual Subscription

Join Countercurrents Annual Fund Raising Campaign and help us

Latest News