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A Critical Analysis of The City-soul Analogy as Illustrated by Plato

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A Critical Analysis of The City-soul Analogy as Illustrated by Plato essay
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Analysis of Plato’s The Republic, City-Soul Analogy

In an elaborate effort to comprehend individual justice, Socrates engages in a lengthy debate which explores intricate details, structures, and overarching principles of a just city. This analysis will explore the City-Soul analogy through three separate human lenses. Section 1 will delve into the secondhand accounting of Socrates’ conversation, as recorded by his student Plato. Section 2, will analyze a political theorist’s perspective on the City-Soul. In the tertiary section, I will examine my own personal connotations in regards to Socrates’ City-Soul. As well as expose Socrates’ theoretically deduced reality in which he appoints himself God.

Section 1 

The City-Soul analogy comes about from Socrates’ rationality that the larger an object is, the easier it should be to read and understand. Since Socrates is committed to the determination of the true meaning and actions that exemplify justice and the just man, Socrates begins this cognitive quest by constructing a theoretical city in order to better understand man, who is physically smaller. Supporting the creation of this city are three other conversants: Thrasymachos a sophist, Glaucon and Adeimantos, who are brothers of Plato. The city is imagined from the ground up. This fundamental city starts with just four citizens, each of whom are expert craftsmen of a critical city-sustaining trade. Socrates notes that “A city, I take it, comes into being because each of us is not self-sufficient but needs many things.” (Plato p.153) Hence, cities are the psychical manifestations that support man’s growing needs and desires, and most notably, every man has a duty to support society in pre-determined role. Socrates affirms this by stating “we are not born all exactly alike but different in nature, for all sorts of different jobs…” (Plato p.154)

According to Socratic logic, One’s function within the city is thereby determined by each man’s naturally endowed talent. It is now indisputable that Socrate’s believes in a Devine power that assigns talents and thus roles to humans. The importance of this notion will be further explored in the third section. The analogy continues with the theme of assigning positions within the society, until the four men get to the artists. Compared to craftsmen and skilled laborers, artists produce more than tangible consumer goods. Artists of Socratic times include poets, painters, and fable makers. (Plato p.162) These positions in the city grant great power to those who occupy aforementioned professions. Art and culture are one in the same, that is each can shape the other. Art and culture have the power to carry on ideologies and specific ways of thinking. “Then first, as it seems, we must set up a censorship over the fable-makers, and approve any good fable they make, and disapprove the bad…” (Plato p.162) This power of the arts worries Socrates that his ideal citizens could be corrupted. It is with great irony that Socrates speaks on how to censor tales of the gods so that the youth and most prominently, the future guardians of the city do not just learn about harmful acts, but so they have no conceptual knowledge of what would even constitute a negative action. In order to preserve the justness of the city, the future guardians must not be educated on the human-like tendencies of the Athenian Gods.

By the end of the allegory, Socrates has brilliantly surmised the soul of his theoretical Polis. All individuals, at all societal levels within the city, play a unique role that is critical in the role of maintaining order, justice, and prosperity. Socrates also concludes that a lie must be told in order to cover up past contestations. In great literary fashion, Plato includes other conversants in order to exemplify actual human nature. Their inquires help Socrates strengthen his argument, and thus his polis by interjecting precisely where his argument must prove superior to any proposed alternative. An example of this rhetorical tool can be seen when Socrates proved to Thrasymachos (that)  “justice was better than injustice.” (Plato p.152)  The city-soul analogy is meant to set up the discussion for the rest of The Republic.

Section 2

Recent literature has focused on the City-Soul analogy in particular, in order to explain Plato’s The Republic as a whole. Viewed through the lens of a political theorist, Kateri Carmola’s Noble Lying: Justice and Intergenerational Tension in Plato’s Republic, attempts to explain Socrates’ reasoning for why a noble lie is needed in order for future citizens to be just. To understand this argument, one must first acknowledge that ancestry played a larger role in Socratic times in determining the career paths and life trajectories, than it does in our contemporary times. The need for a noble lie as articulated by Carmola: “The noble lie will generate an ideal just state by falsifying the origin, or generation, of the citizens, but it is a justice undercut by a potential reference to the continued problem of past generations.” (Carmola p.40)

Carmola makes it clear that Socrates is engaging in this discussion in order to solve the problems faced in his time and space. This notion is significant, as readers of philosophical literature (including myself) can mistake historical philosophers as writing for universal, and ever applicable reasons. The time variance between writing of, and reading of philosophical literature will change the way it is perceived. Carmola addresses this issue by identifying the youth who Socrates is directly addressing. (Carmola p.43) This argument is strengthened by the fact that 4th Century BCE Athenian Democratic structure was heavily centered around an age-grade system. (Constitution)

Further evidence for the need of Socrates’ noble lie, is explained by Carmola’s observation of intergenerational conflicts between the Greek Gods. This coincides with why Socrates felt the need to censor certain fables as mentioned in Section 1. Greek gods engaged in abusive familial relationships and consequently conveyed intergenerational tensions. Carmola reminds the reader of the well-known myth in which Crono’s eats his children out of fear they might kill him. More realistically applicable, there are stories of Hephaestus being abused by his parents. (Carmola p.44) Ancient Greek societies were heavily influenced by mythology, and from this, mythology was influenced just as much by society. The two have a symbiotic relationship.

As a political theorist, Carmola explains why there is in fact a need for Socrates’ envisioned city to be built upon a lie. Carmola believes that Plato’s Republic revolves around this central intergenerational conflict.  Justice requires politics and governing. Socrates is attempting to lay the groundwork for an implementation of a political ideology, to govern a society without unjust intergenerational dilemmas. Thrasymachos and Glaucon must be convinced that a just city is far superior to one that contains even the slightest actions of injustice. (Carmola p.57) The noble lie is more than pertinent in the city-soul analogy, for it is “a device used by Socrates throughout the Republic”. (Carmola p.58) It is a rhetorical tool that fashions a solid argument.

Section 3

In my studies, I find it most enlightening to ask not, what a particular historical figure is saying, but rather why it is being said and in what context. To further my understanding I have learned the best way to understand the argument presented is by analyzing the author from a sociological and scientific perspective. The key to understanding reason with a time, place, and cultural variance from one’s own, is to observe from a top-down perspective. First, a sense of the societies’ scientific knowledge will allow for an understanding of how their reality is perceived, and what causal effect it has on their logic. No matter the intelligence of an individual, one will always be constrained by the collective knowledge of the species. In Socrates’ case his logic was flawed by the aggregate understandings of his day.

As a philosopher, one would think Socrates would have been ranked among the most enlightened men of his day. Because he had the misfortune of being alive in a time devoid of pure science, mythology and divine beings were used to explain natural events. The presence of these false beliefs allowed Socrate’s to posit a pure, higher meaning of just. Justice is nothing more than a social construct. The values ascribed to this manor of acting are absolutely relative and can vary infinitely. Thus there can never be an exact definition, rather only is it possible for consensus to be had. When agreed upon by a significant number, this shared perception gives rise to all constructs of society.  With this being the case in Socrates’ time, and with several thousand years of scientific progress, I can now observe his actions with the utmost adherence to empirical-based explanation and rationality.

While literature by Carmola focused on the practicality of Socrates’ allegory, and class discussions on the city-soul focused on identifying mechanisms that promote justice, I focus on the cognitive journey Socrates and his fellow conversants embark upon in the City-Soul allegory. In the City-Soul allegory, Socrates was unconsciously playing god. Socrates is creating a theoretical reality in which he is the ultimate decision-maker over the lives of all in the city. He chooses how the guardians should be educated, and what stories of the mythological gods need censorship. (Plato p.162) Today, it is common knowledge that the Greek Gods are a form of animism. This theme of assigning spiritual qualities to natural events is found throughout the ancient world. The knowledge of why natural events occur is now considered elementary. With advanced scientific understanding, the natural world becomes less mysterious, and thus the primitive method of assigning responsibility to gods is no longer required. Fundamental principles are established and triumph over animism.

Why would Socrates feel the need to censor these godly fables? The simple answer is always the best, and in this case it is that these gods have flaws typically associated with humans. By deductive reasoning alone, one could surmise the obvious notion that the creators of The Creator are man himself. As Ludwig Feuerbach concludes in The Essence of Christianity, “God is the manifested inward nature, the expressed self of a man,—religion the solemn unveiling of a man’s hidden treasures, the revelation of his intimate thoughts, the open confession of his love-secrets.” (Feuerbach p.34) In the allegory, Socrates, who is indeed very enlightened for a being of his day, is in fact outwardly projecting his inward nature. Readers of The Republic are actively bearing witness to humans imagining a perfect concept and attributing a governor of said perfect moral principle that can then be instilled within others. In the allegory, the philosophers are the governing force. The culmination of this creation is when the “God perception” take holds within the Freudian super-ego and is then actively drawn upon when individuals must decide to be just or unjust. In the City-Soul, Socrates appoints guardians to physically protect the city, while he himself has the privilege of being the city’s super-ego.

How one views the City-Soul allegory is based on individual perspective, and influenced by personal academic interests. While most literature encountered for the research on this topic focused on the practical applicability of Socrates’ insights, I have thus demonstrated the causal factors that had effect on the allegory. With this in mind, the practicality of what other literature has said seems to be based on inherent misunderstanding of basic natural functions, and 2,400-year-old false perceptions of reality.

Works Cited

  1. Carmola, Kateri. “Nobel Lying: Justice and Intergenerational Tension in Plato’s Republic.” Political Theory 31.1 (2003): 39-62. ProQuest. Web. 26 Oct. 2013. (Carmola)
  2. Constitution of the Athenians in the 4th century BC. 2010. Chart. Wikimedia Web. 3 Nov 2013. (Constitution)
  3. Rouse, W.H.D. Great Dialogues of Plato. New York: Signet Classics, 1984. eBook.  (Plato)

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