Plato Republic
Conversation held on Monday, April 23rd 2018, 8 pm Central (9 EST/6 Pacific) 

“Where in it, then, would justice and injustice be? Along with which of th things we considered did they come into being?“ 

“I can’t think, Socrates,” he said, “unless it’s somewhere in some need these men have of one another.” (II.372a)

Summary of Book II 369b-373a

Following upon the brief but rich section previously, Socrates, with the help of his interlocutors, begins to watch a city “coming into being” in speech, letting “our need” make it. The first stage is the city of utmost necessity, made up of four or five men. When a constraint or limitation “one man, one job” is introduced, to produce what is “plentiful, finer and easier”, the city quickly turns into a “throng” of people, all with the aim of helping to fill the needs of the different roles in the city.

Another constraint is introduced: it is “pretty nearly impossible” for a city to be self-sufficient all on its own, and has a need for importing some things.  From this limitation, the need for exchange, buying and selling, leads to markets and an established currency. From this need produces inequalities. A certain set of men dedicated to markets (on the principle of ‘one man, one job’ by nature those who are suited to it), and then another set of men by implication, those who in their minds or nature wouldn’t be up to the level of the partnership in the markets, and who sees their strength instead, the “wage earners”.

At this point the city has grown to completeness (371e), and Socrates then asks where would justice and injustice be in this city?  Adeimantus is not sure, but thinks it must be in some need people have for each other.

Socrates doesn’t deny this, but goes on to paint a portrait of what this city is like at 372a: this is the true or truthful city, he says (372e)

At this point Glaucon interrupts, obhecting that Socrates” portrait is missing first, “relishes” and then, “couches” and other things like tables and so on, things that he says are “conventional”, “like men have nowadays.”

Socrates accepts this as now entering into a different city: “We are, as it seems, considering not only how a city. but also a luxurious city, comes into being.  Perhaps that’s not bad either. For in considering such a city too, we could probably see in what way justice and injustice naturally grow in cities.”

Opening Question

Why does Socrates make “need” – or lack of self-sufficiency – the starting point? Why this starting point?

Observations and Reflections 

In this section, we witness coming into being a city of utmost necessity, which has four or five people, to the city as it has “grown to completeness”.  Out of the constraints of “One man, one job – according to their natures “, and the further constraint of limited resources,  the city engages in trade with other cities, has a market, a currency and several ‘classes’ individuals whose roles are assigned not by fiat or arbitrary whim, nor by dint of tradition, but by their individuals natures and fitness for particular jobs they need to perform. By Socrates’ description or painting vignette of the city, after 371e, we might be tempted call this the natural city, or the city by nature.

This natural city, which has been made by “our need” – a city which Socrates says is the truthful or true city – we observed, is one in which philosophy or the need for philosophy does not appear to exist. It is also evidently one where laws have yet been made, or government.  Socrates asked where justice is in this city – it is not immediately evident where it is, unless it is somewhere in the need people have for each other.

At this point, it looks like there are two possibilities: either there is no justice here, in which case justice has only a conventional nature, and arises as a consequence  of problems that arise in a feverish city; or that justice is in fact here in this city, but it is hiding in plain sight. It would seem that justice would need to be present already, if what we are getting here has any hope of overcoming or correcting the views presented by Thrasymachus in Book I, and then re-presented by Glaucon and Adaimantus at the beginning of Book II.

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