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Exploring the Ideal Society in Plato's Utopia

Plato's republic utopia

Discover what makes a utopian society by exploring Plato's famous work, Utopia! This guide covers all concepts, from justice , for a well-rounded understanding of utopian ideals.

Plato's famous work, Utopia, tells the story of an ideal society featuring principles of justice and equality. Through detailed analysis, this guide explores all aspects of Plato’s utopia and reveals what makes it so special – from sources of knowledge and education to meditation practices and more.
Ideal Society in Plato's Utopia
Philosopher king

Introduction

Plato's Republic was the first utopian novel, complete with an ideal city: the Kallipolis. The totalitarian leanings of the Kallipolis have led many thinkers to criticize Plato's vision of utopia. Plato's Republic contains ideas that many modern readers will find repulsive — and figuring out why those ideas seem so ugly to us is a useful exercise. 

PLATO'S most important dialogue, the Republic, consists, broadly, of three parts. The first consists in the construction of an ideal commonwealth; it is the earliest of Utopias. One of the conclusions arrived at is that the rulers must be philosophers. Books VI and VII are concerned to define the word "philosopher." This discussion constitutes the second section.

The third section consists of a discussion of various kinds of actual constitutions and of their merits and defects.

when did Plato write the republic ?

The Republic by Plato 380 BCE.  All professors of political science believe that the book of the Republic is the first book of political science. 

The nominal purpose of the Republic is to define "justice." But at an early stage it is decided that, since everything is easier to see in the large than in the small, it will be better to inquire what makes a just state than what makes a just individual. And since justice must be among the attributes of the best imaginable State, such a State is first delineated, and then it is decided which of its perfections is to be called "justice."

Let us first describe ''Plato's Utopia'' in its broad outlines, and then consider points that arise by the way.

Plato's class system

Plato  begins by deciding that the citizens are to be divided into three classes: the common people, the soldiers, and the guardians. The last, alone, are to have political power. There are to be much fewer of them than of the other two classes. In the first instance, it seems, they are to be chosen by the legislator; after that, they will usually succeed by heredity, but in exceptional cases a promising child may be promoted from one of the inferior classes, while among the children of guardians a child or young man who is unsatisfactory may be degraded.

Tripartite nature of the body and the soul. 
1. The spirited element.
2. The bodily appetites.
3. The charioteer (reason) controls the two horses.

  Plato parts of the soul

Body

Soul

virtue

Head

Reason

Wisdom

Chest

Will

Courage

Abdomeners

Appetites

Temperance

State


 

Rulers

(Guardians)

 

 

Solider

(Auxilaries)

 

 

Labourers

(workers)

 

 


Plato's three parts of the soul example

The different parts of the soul pull in different directions. He likens us to a flying chariot with a driver and two horses; the driver is reason, one of the horses is spirit, the other is appetite. Appetite tries to pull the chariot down to earth, while spirit seeks to obey reason’s aim of taking it to the heavens. The charioteer has to struggle with the opposing forces thus represented. Plato gives more practical examples of this in the Republic, one of which is of a man who desires to fulfil a certain appetite but is angry with himself for having that appetite. These are the main outlines of Plato’s system.

The perfect Republic would be exist when the social structure is in harmony with the characteristics of body, soul, and virtue. 

Plato's harmonious society is divided into three classes according to the characteristics of head, chest, and abdomen.

Plato republic guardians

The main problem, as Plato perceives, is to insure that the guardians shall carry out the intentions of the legislator. For this purpose he has various proposals, educational, economic, biological, and religious. It is not always clear how far these proposals apply to other classes than the guardians; it is clear that some of them apply to the soldiers, but in the main Plato is concerned only with the guardians.

Rules of a utopian society

The first thing to consider is education. This is divided into two parts, music and gymnastics. Each has a wider meaning than at present: "music" means everything that is in the province of the muses, and "gymnastics" means everything concerned with physical training and fitness. "Music" is almost as wide as what we should call "culture," and "gymnastics" is somewhat wider than what we call "athletics."

Culture is to be devoted to making men gentlemen, in the sense which, largely owing to Plato.  there was in each an aristocracy enjoying wealth and social prestige, but having no monopoly of political power; and in each the aristocracy had to secure as much power as it could by means of impressive behaviour. In Plato's Utopia, however, the aristocracy rules unchecked.

Gravity, decorum, and courage seem to be the qualities mainly to be cultivated in education.

When any of these pantomimic gentlemen, who are so clever that they can imitate anything, comes to us, and makes a proposal to exhibit himself and his poetry, we will fall down and worship him as a sweet and holy and wonderful being; but we must also inform him that in our State such as he are not permitted to exist; the law will not allow them. And so when we have anointed him with myrrh, and set a garland of wool upon his head, we shall. send him away to another city.

The training of the body is to be very austere. No one is to eat fish, or meat cooked otherwise than roasted, and there must be no sauces or confectionery. People brought up on his regimen, he says, will have no need of doctors. Up to a certain age, the young are to see no ugliness or vice. 

But at a suitable moment, they must be exposed to "enchantments," both in the shape of terrors that must not terrify, and of bad pleasures that must not seduce the will. Only after they have withstood these tests will they be judged fit to be guardians. Young boys, before they are grown up, should see war, though they should not themselves fight.

Plato passes on to a curious argument about the drama. The good man, he says, ought to be unwilling to imitate a bad man; now most plays contain villains; therefore the dramatist, and the actor who plays the villain's part, have to imitate people guilty of various crimes. 

Not only criminals, but women, slaves, and inferiors generally, ought not to be imitated by superior men. Plays, therefore, if permissible at all, must contain no characters except faultless male heroes of good birth. The impossibility of this is so evident that Plato decides to banish all dramatists from his city. 

Plato private property : Plato proposes a thoroughgoing communism for the guardians, and (I think) also for the soldiers, though this is not very clear. The guardians are to have small houses and simple food; they are to live as in a camp, dining together in companies; they are to have no private property beyond what is absolutely necessary.

 Gold and silver are to be forbidden. Though not rich, there is no reason why they should not be happy; but the purpose of the city is the good of the whole, not the happiness of one class. Both wealth and poverty are harmful, and in Plato's city neither will exist. There is a curious argument about war, that it will be easy to purchase allies, since our city will not want any share in the spoils of victory.

 Plato say,  should have all things in common, including women and children. He admits that this presents difficulties, but thinks them not insuperable. First of all, girls are to have exactly the same education as boys, learning music, gymnastics, and the art of war along with the boys. Women are to have complete equality with men in all respects. "The same education which makes a man a good guardian will make a woman a good guardian; for their original nature is the same." No doubt there are differences between men and women, but they have nothing to do with politics. Some women are philosophic, and suitable as guardians; some are warlike, and could make good soldiers. 

Plato’s Utopia features a society where families and women are held in high regard. He espouses the idea that, for an ideal society to function as intended, men and women must share equally in tasks such as guardianship, education of children, and the pursuit of knowledge. According to Plato, it is only when women are kept from their rightful roles in the family – due to factors like war or poverty – that a society begins to suffer.

Plato - ''A state that dose not educate and train women is like a man who only trains his right arm.'' 

Plato on marriage said that the legislator, having selected the guardians, some men and some women, will ordain that they shall all share common houses and common meals. Marriage, as we know it, will be radically transformed.  

At certain festivals, brides and bridegrooms, in such numbers as are required to keep the population constant, will be brought together, by lot, as they will be taught to believe; but in fact the rulers of the city will manipulate the lots on eugenic principles. 

They will arrange that the best sires shall have the most children. Plato's views on children that all children will be taken away from their parents at birth, and great care will be taken that no parents shall know who are their children, and no children shall know who are their parents. Deformed children, and children of inferior parents, "will be put away in some mysterious unknown place, as they ought to be." Children arising from unions not sanctioned by the State are to be considered illegitimate. 

Mothers are to be between twenty and forty, fathers between twenty-five and fifty-five. Outside these ages, intercourse is to be free, but abortion or infanticide is to be compulsory. In the "marriages" arranged by the State, the people concerned have no voice; they are to be actuated by the thought of their duty to the State, not by any of those common emotions that the banished poets used to celebrate.

Plato believed that in an ideal society, laws must be established to protect the citizens and their well-being. Furthermore, he argued that the most suitable authorities must be set in place to enforce these laws and keep personal affairs in check. In Utopia, elected officials are chosen carefully with qualifications in mind, while rulers are appointed after a rigorous selection process to ensure they have the skills necessary for good governance.

I come last to the theological aspect of the Plato ideal city. I am not thinking of the accepted Greek gods, but of certain myths which the government is to inculcate. Lying, Plato says explicitly , is to be a prerogative of the government, just as giving medicine is of physicians. The government, as we have already seen, is to deceive people in pretending to arrange marriages by lot, but this is not a religious matter.

There is to be "one royal lie," which, Plato hopes, may deceive the rulers, but will at any rate deceive the rest of the city. This "lie" is set forth in considerable detail. The most important part of it is the dogma that God has created men of three kinds, the best made of gold, the second best of silver, and the common herd of brass and iron. 

Those made of gold are fit to be guardians; those made of silver should be soldiers; the others should do the manual work. Usually, but by no means always, children will belong to the same grade as their parents; when they do not, they must be promoted or degraded accordingly. It is thought hardly possible to make the present generation believe this utopia philosophy, but the next, and all subsequent generations, can be so educated as not to doubt it.

What Plato does not seem to realize is that the compulsory acceptance of such myths is incompatible with philosophy, and involves a kind of education which stunts intelligence.

Plato’s Utopia promotes spiritualism as an essential part of life and views it as a beneficial practice for the society. Meditation, discussions on philosophical topics, chanting, and other forms of prayer are activities the citizens regularly take part in. These practices allow them to make sense of their lives and find peace within their own minds. Plato believed these practices helped cultivate self-reflection, community, and connection to something greater than themselves.

Aristotle and Plato politics
Plato and Aristotle are the central figures in Raphael’s sixteenth-century fresco, The School of Athens. Plato (left) points to the heavens while Aristotle (right) points outward suggesting his belief that natural forces can be explained by logic and reason.

Ancient Greek philosophers had different philosophies and visions of how an ideal society should look. Plato and Aristotle had very different ideas on the composition of their utopias. Plato believed in an idealistic government full of higher order sociological values whereas, Aristotle advocated for a more realistic representation of human nature. Each philosopher proposed his own version of utopia, one based on thought and contemplation, the other based in reality, with both striving to achieve the best structure for a utopian society.

Plato republic justice

The definition of "justice," which is the nominal goal of the whole discussion, is reached in Book IV. It consists, we are told, in everybody doing his own work and not being a busybody: the city is just when trader, auxiliary, and guardian, each does his own job without interfering with that of other classes.

Before philosophy began, the Greeks had a theory or feeling about the universe, which may be called religious or ethical. According to this theory, every person and every thing has his or its appointed place and appointed function. This does not depend upon the fiat of Zeus, for Zeus himself is subject to the same kind of law as governs others. 

The theory is connected with the idea of fate or necessity. It applies emphatically to the heavenly bodies. But where there is vigour, there is a tendency to overstep just bounds; hence arises strife. Some kind of impersonal super  Olympian law punishes hubris, and restores the eternal order which the aggressor sought to violate. 

This whole outlook, originally, perhaps, scarcely conscious, passed over into philosophy; it is to be found alike in cosmologies of strife, such as those of Heraclitus and Empedocles, and in monistic doctrines such as that of Parmenides. It is the source of the belief both in natural and in human law, and it clearly underlies Plato's republic justice.

for Plato it has no such implication. "Justice," in the sense in which it is almost synonymous with "law" as when we speak of "courts of justice" is concerned mainly with property rights, which have nothing to do with equality. The first suggested definition of "justice," at the beginning of the Republic, is that it consists in paying debts. This definition is soon abandoned as inadequate, but something of it remains at the end.

There are several points to be noted about Plato's definition. First, it makes it possible to have inequalities of power and privilege without injustice. The guardians are to have all the power, because they are the wisest members of the community; injustice would only occur, on Plato's definition, if there were men in the other classes who were wiser than some of the guardians. 

That is why Plato provides for promotion and degradation of citizens, although he thinks that the double advantage of birth and education will, in most cases, make the children of guardians superior to the children of others. If there were a more exact science of government, and more certainty of men following its precepts, there would be much to be said for Plato utopia ideas.

No one thinks it unjust to put the best men into a football team, although they acquire thereby a great superiority. If football were managed as democratically as the Athenian government, the students to play for their university would be chosen by lot. But in matters of government it is difficult to know who has the most skill, and very far from certain that a politician will use his skill in the public interest rather than in his own or in that of his class or party or creed.

The next point is that Plato's definition of "justice" presupposes a State organized either on traditional lines, or, like his own, so as to realize, in its totality, some ethical ideal. Justice, we are told, consists in every man doing his own job. But what is a man's job?  in Plato's State no man has any legal father. His job, therefore, must be decided either by his own tastes or by the State's judgement as to his aptitudes. 

The latter is obviously what Plato would desire. But some kinds of work, though highly skilled, may be deemed pernicious; Plato takes this view of poetry . The purposes of the government, therefore, are essential in determining what is a man's job. 

Plato's the republic summary

The Republic is Plato’s most famous dialogue, contains many of his best-known arguments and is one of the great classics of world literature. It is also the victim of a serious and widespread misconception, in that it is held to present a political utopia, a polis [city state] to be imitated. This assumption has led to a criticism of the Republic as recommending a totalitarian regime or an extremely communistic society. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Plato’s ideas philosophy influenced leaders for over two thousand years. Plato argued in favor of an “aristocracy of merit,” or rule by the best and the wisest people.

Although all the rulers are to be philosophers, there are to be no innovations: a philosopher is to be, for all time, a man who understands and agrees with Plato. (According to me, Today, this philosophy coincides with of India for example NARENDRA MODI.)

When we ask: what will Plato's Republic achieve? The answer is rather humdrum. It will achieve success in wars against roughly equal populations, and it will secure a livelihood for a certain small number of people. It will almost certainly produce no art or science, because of its rigidity; in this respect, as in others, it will be like Sparta

In spite of all the fine talk, skill in war and enough to eat is all that will be achieved. Plato had lived through famine and defeat in Athens; perhaps, subconsciously, he thought the avoidance of these evils the best that statesmanship could accomplish.

 Plato tried to established the republic in Sicily but failed and had to flee to Athens.

Plato's Republic, unlike modern Utopias, was perhaps intended to be actually founded. This was not so fantastic or impossible as it might naturally seem to us. Many of its provisions, including some that we should have thought quite impracticable, were actually realized at Sparta. 

The rule of philosophers had been attempted by Pythagoras, and in Plato's time Archytas the Pythagorean was politically influential in Taras (the modern Taranto) when Plato visited Sicily and southern Italy. It was a common practice for cities to employ a sage to draw up their laws; Solon had done this for Athens, and Protagoras for Thurii. 

Colonies, in those days, were completely free from control by their parent cities, and it would have been quite feasible for a band of Platonists to establish the Republic on the shores of Spain or Gaul. Unfortunately chance led Plato to Syracuse, a great commercial city engaged in desperate wars with Carthage; in such an atmosphere, no philosopher could have achieved much. In the next generation, the rise of Macedonia had made all small States antiquated, and had brought about the futility of all political experiments in miniature.

Allegory of cave Plato - one of the best example and Allegory of cave today still relevant.

utopian philosophers

Thomas More , Charles Fourier ,Tommaso Campanella ,Henri de Saint-Simon ,John Rawls ,Ernst Bloch ,Francis Bacon ,ctor Considerant , Dus Huxley, al-Farabi, Étienne Cabet ,  Lady Margaret Lucas Cavendish ,Rafał Włodarczyk, Theodor W. Adorno

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