Justice in the Soul
Plato’s chief claim is that the virtues for individual people come “in the same way and in the same part” (441c) as the virtues of the city do.
In order to make good on this claim, he first has to show that the soul has parts (463a-439b) and also that the parts of the soul correspond to the three parts of the city (439c-440c).
We discussed the analogy between the city and the soul. We were particularly concerned with his description of the members of the productive class. Can they be just or not?
The City-Soul Parallel
Plato says that both the city and the soul have three parts and that those parts parallel one another.
But the relationship between the parts of the city and the parts of the soul goes even deeper than this. Plato says that people belong to the classes they do by virtue of which part of their soul is the predominant one. He says that “the reason we say there are three primary kinds of people” is that the rational part rules “in some people’s souls while one of the other parts … rules in other people’s” (Plato 1997, 581c). So there is more than an analogy here. Plato uses the parts of the soul to explain the division of the city into three classes.
Can the Productive Class be Just?
Jasper said no. A just person has to be controlled by his or her reasoning part and the members of the productive class are controlled by their appetites. This is not an embarrassing result for Plato but rather, it’s his theory. Plato believes the guardians have authority because they are superior; that implies that everyone else is inferior.
Adam said yes. The definition of justice is playing your role. The members of the productive class can play their role by, well, being productive. Plato says that the virtue of moderation “spreads throughout the whole” city; I assume justice is similar (Plato 1997, 432a). This works because every class can perform its own role.
We had a dandy discussion of these two alternatives with plenty said on either side. I think that’s appropriate because, in my opinion, Plato is pulled in both directions and did not completely make up his mind about whether the members of the productive class can be just. That’s why it’s an interesting question!
These are the things you should know from today’s class.
- What is the relationship between the parts of the city and the parts of the soul?
- Why is Plato inclined to say that the productive class can be just?
- Why is Plato inclined to say that the productive class cannot be just?
Plato. 1997. “Republic.” In Complete Works, edited by John M. Cooper, translated by G. M. A. Grube and C. D. C Reeve. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company.