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The City/Soul Analogy

In Book Two of The Republic, Plato focuses on the issues of justice vs. injustice and the reason for why a city of society comes about. I feel as though Plato is trying to say to people that a society or a city can come from injustice. People are always trying to find ways to make their lives better. The development of the city comes from necessity, necessity of things you need to survive. So I ask the question of whether or not justice is a necessity to be able to live a fulfilling life in not only a society but within you? This is laid out by Plato in what is referred to as the city/soul analogy. He uses the example of justice and injustice within a city as a parallel to the soul and living a fulfilling life.
Do injustice has a consequence and Glaucon says that this consequence results in a want or a need to fix it or create something to fix it. “And from there they began to set down their own laws and compacts and to name what the law commands lawful and just. And this, then, is the genesis and being of justice; it is a mean between what is best- doing injustice without paying the penalty- and what is worst- suffering injustice without being able to avenge oneself (II. 37. 359a).” He is saying that suffering injustice without being able to seek revenge for what has been done to you is worse than doing injustice and not suffering the consequences. Without a law or society, you are not able to suffer the consequences of doing injustice, but you are able at all times to seek revenge for injustice being done to you. I feel that the creation of a new city or society is the action of seeking revenge for injustice being done to you. You can have things the way you want them and you can fulfill the greatest of human needs that you at one time may have been deprived of.
Internal justice is an issue within this book. I feel as though external justice can affect the internal justice of one’s own soul. I feel as though society is a test for the individual soul. When you have a number of different souls living and interacting together, each person naturally is going to try and make the people and their surroundings fit their soul and life exactly, in order to make them feel comfortable. This creates problems for one’s own individual soul, because one cannot let society run his or her life. “So he must be stripped of everything except justice, and his situation must be made the opposite of the first man’s. Doing no injustice, let him have the greatest reputation for injustice, so that his justice may be put to the test to see if it is softened by bad reputation and its consequences (II. 39. 361c)” For a person to truly have a just soul, one must be stripped of everything else. Being able to focus on having a just soul takes a clear mind of everything else. One must not let society run their life, for it is bad for the soul. This can also be applied to the soul of the city. The creation of a city must be because of what is a necessity to its citizens, not to what is a necessity of its neighbors.
In this book, Socrates introduces the city/soul analogy. He states that there is justice within the soul and within the city, and that there are parallels between them. “”I’ll tell you” I said. “There is, we say, justice of one man; and there is, surely, justice of a whole city too” (II. 45. 368e).” There is an immense amount of symbolism in this book. This city/ soul analogy is a way for Plato to show an example of what a just soul can look like and feel like, through the depiction of a good city. Each of the three cities can be describes as well in a bigger picture in comparison to a soul, especially when it comes to justice. “So then, perhaps there would be more justice in the bigger and it would be easier to observe closely. If you want, first we’ll investigate what justice is like in the cities. Then, we’ll also go on to consider it in individuals, considering the likeness of the bigger in the idea of the littler? (II. 45. 369a).”
“So, on this basis each thing becomes more plentiful, finer, and easier, when one man, exempt from other tasks, does one thing according to nature and at the crucial moment (II. 47. 370c).” As more issues arise, the man must be able to fix them according to the nature of the problem. The crucial moment is important to fulfilling the task at hand, for one should not pass it by because it is important to take advantage of the moment before it passes. This goes towards helping a city or an individual gain more power to make their soul pure, to fix injustice, or to gain revenge. Again the crucial moments of such opportunities must be taken into account for the fulfillment of the soul and of the city. And each decision made at these crucial moments must be on account of what the soul wants and what the soul needs.
Plato gives little hints into the details of humans and their nature. I think he uses the characters and the men who are narrating the book as particular examples as well. These men are tools to be used in defining human nature and the soul and the subtle hints are throughout the book. “Since we are not clever men (II. 45. 368d).” Socrates stated this when introducing the city/soul analogy. He is recognizing the weakness that he and the other men narrating this book have within them. The weakness that they know nothing. This is true to be able to understand the nature of the human soul, one must know nothing and be completely stripped down to knowing nothing but justice, like what was stated earlier, so in that they can completely understand the true meaning of justice and injustice. This is the start of the book, this is Plato’s way of telling the reader that he or she must completely strip themselves of all they have perceived about the soul and they city, for they will be far more able to understand what is being taught to them.

20 Responses to “The City/Soul Analogy”

  1. khoneycutt says:

    I think you are right to point the passage where Socrates admits that he and the others are “not clever men” (368d). That frames the entire discussion to follow (as well as Socrates saying he spoke his “opinion” when he generates the analogy). What do you mean, though, when you say that we must strip ourselves of all that we know about the soul and the city before undertaking the investigation? I take the lack of “cleverness” to be a lack of procedural insight, not a lack of a true account (although it may mean that, too). In other words, I think the reason they need an analogy is that they can’t sharply; it isn’t that they see the wrong message, one which would need to be purged from them.

    Note that Glaucon, at least in the passage you point to, thinks it is worse to suffer injustice that to do it. But of course, as you intimate, this doesn’t square with the typical Socratic understanding of things. So somehow Socrates has to show that doing injustice is also worse (this is related to the statue stuff).

    There is more to say, of course, but we covered a lot of it in class. Remember that, if we take the analogy as a proportional metaphor, then we can only compare the whole city to the whole soul; it may not make complete sense if we compare all the little details.

    KH

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