Christian Analysis of "The Republic of Plato"

1. Book I

The Republic of Plato[1]

Book I [2]

 Three Visions of Justice

 A discussion between Philosopher Socrates, Aristocrat Glaucon, and Democratic Sophist Thrasymachus, with an audience of interested citizens, develops over the definition of justice, a subject vitally important to be understood if philosophers are able to exist in society. Leading this discussion are three proposed visions of justice.  The first, spoken by old man Cephalus, defines justice as telling the truth, and paying back what is owed, appealing to the noetic, most noble, part of the soul. The second, spoken by Cephalus’ son Polemarchus disagrees, and defines justice as to do good to friend, and to harm one’s enemies that give pleasure to the themotic, spirited, part of the soul. Pompous Sophist Thrasymachus disagrees with both and declares justice to be the advantage of the stronger making connection with the appetitive passions, the lowest part of the soul that is seldom satisfied. These three visions are debated by the men with Socrates leading them with questions that forces them to defend their position which leads to deficient expressions of all three ideas. The definition of justice is not determined in Book I, but the nature of the discussion leads the reader to learn many things about justice through the conversations. 

The conversation between Socrates and the men leads listeners to carefully weigh the important definition of justice. It begins when wealthy Cephalus confronts his approaching end, where money matters little, as he wrestles with the destination of the unjust to Hades upon death (330d). Yet, in his consideration of the benefits of money, he stands upon wealth as a prevention for forcing a man to steal and lie to pay that due to gods in sacrifice or men indebted (331a); thus, the wealthy man avoids becoming unjust and forced to pay the penalty after death. This argument leads to Socrates narrowing Cephalus’ definition of justice to “Justice is telling the truth and paying what you owe to your fellow man,” eliminating the part where gods are participants in justice.

Socrates challenges this definition, but the old man has sacrifices waiting, and leaves the defense of his definition of justice to his rightful heir, Polemarchus to defend (331d). Polemarchus does not handle his inheritance well. He quickly moves from his father’s definition, even though it is well-supported by respected Poet Simonides, when Socrates inserts the problems of inconsistency of paying that which is owed without consideration of circumstance (i.e. mental illness, obligation to friends, etc.) (332a) Thus, the most noble of definitions does not stand to the truth.

Polemarchus is guided by Socrates to consider the circumstances of situation when obligation to pay that which is owed. When considering the different payments due that of friends vs. that due to enemies, Polemarchus’ definition of justice becomes “Do good to friends and harm to enemies.” This becomes the definition of justice that Socrates addresses next (debating the art of medicine, cooking, piloting, farming, music, guardianship, etc. (332-334)), that causes Polemarchus’ to consider the difficulties of this position. Socrates links Polemarchus position to poets Homer and Simonides that seems to support the idea that justice is the art of stealing for the benefit of friends and the harm of enemies (334b). Not only does the definition collapse under careful questioning since it is always unjust to cause harm (335e), the fact that it is linked to the famed poets far removes it from the philosophers’ realm as useless fodder worthy of disregard. The themotic benefits to the soul of such a position cannot be realized.

Next foolish and pompous Sophist Thrasymachus, motivated to gain tuition-paying learners for his sophist school (338 a), attempts to outwit Socrates in a lawyerly debate of his definition that justice comes only to the advantage of the stronger. The seemingly brilliant oratory skills of Thrasymachus quickly lead him into a bind, as Socrates unravels his stance with questions that force him to defend his position that collapses under careful examination.

Socrates begins the questioning with the nature of food to prove that it is both advantageous to the strong and weak alike (338d); but, Thrasymachus felt this direction too lowly, and instead develops his argument that rulers of the three types of government (tyrannical, democratic, aristocratic) always rule to their advantage, thus proving his point in his mind (338e).  Socrates leads Thrasymachus’ theory to collapse, when it is agreed that rulers can sometimes make mistakes in their rule, and direct things that are disadvantageous to them (339c – 340c). Then Socrates brings attention to the motive of rulers that are based upon both greedy lusts and compassionate cares, using the examples of doctors, pilots, and shepherds (341c - 347a). Since each requires wages for their effort, then rulers are dependent upon the weaker; justice cannot rest upon the stronger if it is the weaker that the stronger serve (347b). Further, in Socrates opinion, no just man rules for profit or honor, but choose to do so because there is no one better to fill that position (full consideration of the needs of the weaker).

Socrates also implores spirited Glaucon’s opinion that it is the just man that receives most assets because of his idealistic need for justice to be good (347e) in contrast with Thrasymachus’ position that the unjust man always is more profitable, since he is unattached by moral requirements existing for the just (343b – 344c). Socrates turns Thrasymachus’ argument inside out by proving that injustice creates factions while justice causes unanimity and friendship. At the end of Book 1, Socrates declares, “Then, my blessed Thrasymachus, injustice is never more profitable than justice” (354b). While the definition of justice is not resolved in Book 1, a great deal is learned that establishes the foundation for the chapters to follow.

Deeper Philosophical Thought

 The political community reflects the soul of man. The discussions between Glaucon (themotic part of soul that is spirited and courageous), Thrasymachus (appetitive part of the soul that is passionate) and Socrates (noetic part of the soul that is reasonable and noble) show the platonic soul in dialogue.  This becomes the under girding dynamic of Book I.

Christian Application


[1] Plato, The Republic of Plato - Translated with Notes and an Interpretive Essay by Allan Bloom, trans., Allan Bloom, Second ed. (Basic Books, 1968).

[2] Warren Gage, Plato and Augustine Cc502d‐Sp_1 Lecture Videos (Fort Lauderdale, FL: Knox Theological Seminary, 2013). Where do the lectures of brilliant teaching by Dr. Warren Gage end as he guides my understanding through his nuanced considerations of The Republic from a Christian perspective? Without his teachings, I would not have been able to see the depths of information that are reflected; however, his skillful handling forces my mind to reach greater heights; where his teaching ends and mine takes over cannot be fully separated. Thus, I give full credit to the deeper things recorded in these papers to Dr. Gage, and encourage others interested in seeking a Classic and Christian Master’s degree to be well worth your study time at Knox Seminary.