In Plato’s Republic, Socrates and his pupils imagine a city (Kallipolis) with a highly stratified class system where justice thrives and people are happiest. Plato deliberately reserves a class for guardians, citizens who practice the craft of warfare, which indicates that the guardians are particularly important to Kallipolis (374b). Socrates endorses this claim when he asserts, “…that our guardians must be kept away from all other crafts so as to be the most exact craftsmen of the city’s freedom…”(395b10). In stating such, Socrates affirms their quintessential practice for the city: without a guardian class, the city could not sustain its inevitable growth or defend itself from foreign invasion. While the guardians are the exact craftsmen of the city’s freedom, a city where justice and happiness thrives, there are an alarming amount of rules which restrict their lifestyles. From being prohibited ownership of private property to living in communal quarters, the guardians evidently do not enjoy many traditional leisures. Likewise, in Book 4, Adeimantus notes that it is plausible for someone to accuse Socrates of not making the guardians happy. The implication of this objection is that the guardians are a necessary component of a city where justice and happiness thrives, yet they appear to be unhappy themselves.
In this paper, I argue that because the guardians are the exact craftsmen of a city where justice and happiness thrive, they consequently enjoy a lesser share of justice and happiness. I will support this claim by explicating how they work solely for the city, live an involuntarily restricted lifestyle, and receive a warped education and rearing during childhood. I further develop my claim so as to prove that the natures of justice and happiness are distributed unequally amongst citizens in Kallipolis. I will connect how this knowledge both adequately responds to Adeimantus’s counterargument and is in tandem with Plato’s ultimate goal: “in establishing our city, we are not looking to make any one group in it outstandingly happy, but to make the whole city so as far as possible” (420a5-7).
In Kallipolis, all citizens work jobs that they are individually best suited for. As a result, the city is provided with more goods of better quality. Obviously, there are many crafts that a city needs in order to survive, some of which are regarded as more essential to the survival of the city than others (369e-370e3). Moreover, some craftsmen produce lucrative goods in their jobs, for example artisans. The diversity of crafts practiced in Kallipolis allows citizens to trade for the goods they desire, while satisfying the needs of the city. Guardians, however, are the craftsmen of the city’s freedom, which means the city needs their craft more than any other. Plato has Socrates further defend the specialization of crafts by arguing that guardians therefore must have the most freedom from other crafts. The immediate implication of his newly enhanced claim is that it assumes the guardian class does not contend with the city’s interests, particularly that of creating a just city. Thrasymachus argues in Book 1 that justice is what is advantageous to the stronger; he quickly edits his definition, focusing on what is advantageous for the established rule. In this sense, the guardian class serves the function for what is advantageous for the established rule, namely the continued presence of justice in Kallipolis. To avoid completely adopting Thrasymachus’s definition of justice, Plato has Socrates continue by arguing that the guardian class is pledged solely to the city and in no way itself. Socrates complies: “Then isn’t it appropriate…” for the guardians to obey their rulers? 441e3-5). The function of the guardian class, therefore indeed, is to guard the city as their rulers see fit. But Socrates intentionally departs from Thrasymachus’s definition in that the guardians abandon their own interests.
In Book 2, Glaucon has Socrates assent to the fact that there are three sorts of good. One which people enjoy for its harmless pleasures; another which is enjoyed for its pleasures in spite of the accompanying consequences; and a third which is beneficial for its being avoids consequences. Socrates categorizes justice as the sort of good valued for itself and its consequences (357a-358a). Glaucon objects on the basis that most citizens consider justice as a burden and only practice it to acquire wages and reputation, not because they believe justice is good itself. Glaucon further challenges Socrates’ argument in favor of justice with a reincarnation of Thrasymachus’s original argument in that he must prove how justice itself is good. Moreover, Glaucon takes his objection to extreme, noting that injustice is more profitable than justice, given there are no consequences in making others suffer. Plato has Socrates temporarily abandon his argument in order to avoid acknowledging Glaucon’s legitimate critique. Instead, Socrates attempts to prove that justice is favorable for the collective entity of a city, rather than an individual. Ultimately, he creates this loophole of rejecting individualism to escape Glaucon’s counter-argument, but is forced to contend with it later in describing the guardians. In Book 3, Socrates creates restrictions for the guardian class which stymie their emergence as a nobility. Socrates insists that the guardian class is prohibited from possessing private property (unless the possession of such is wholly necessary), must reside in communal living quarters and use facilities under the same spirit, and may not possess material goods, for example precious metals (416d4-5, 417b7). These restrictions are a consequence of Socrates requisite of eliminating guardian individualism. However, in Book 1, Cephalus claims that someone who lives a just and pious life finds the possession of wealth most valuable (331a4-5, 331a10-b2). That withstanding, Socrates has done an injustice to the guardians in limiting their potential happiness. However, if these restrictions do not exist, then Socrates has erred in his logic. Thus, it stands to reason that guardians’ happiness must be limited in order to maintain a city where justice thrives.
Paradoxically, however, Socrates agrees that justice is having and doing of one’s own, of what belongs to one (434a). He agrees, in effect, to exactly what he earlier was disproving. This is because the guardians have been insulated as a result of their aforementioned education and rearing. Indeed, the lie of metals deceives the guardians. An ostensible injustice from the surface point of view, the lie of metals convinces the guardians that they have been endowed by a higher purpose to practice their craft (415a). What Plato emphasizes with the lie of the metals, is how influential the rearing and education of an individual is to their behavior. Furthermore, Plato has Socrates revisit this idea in Book 7 with the Allegory of the Cave. Ultimately, Plato has Socrates argue that early education can socialize the guardian class. The guardian education is akin to extensive proselytism, serving the interests of the city at the expense of the guardian class. Indeed, the guardians suffer the injustice of living a lie as they practice their craft. In addition to this, they are restricted to conditions which limit their potential happiness. Both draconian features, however, are dismissed in defense of Plato’s ultimate goal of making the whole city possible.
Though the guardians are the best of citizens, their role of being the exact craftsmen of the city’s freedom has implications (456e). Restrictions must be placed on the guardians to prevent individualism, as justice can only thrive in a collective entity. These restrictions and defined functions, though they unify the city and allow for justice to thrive, are at the expense of the guardians’ happiness. Plato has thus demonstrated that justice and happiness can indeed exist in a collective entity such as a city, but citizens enjoy them unequally. The inequality of their distribution ensures Plato’s ultimate goal: to make the city so far as possible.
Plato, and C.D.C. Reeve. 2004. Republic. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc.