Plato's Republics: A Dramatic Interpretation of the Early Cities in Plato's "Republic"

Simeon Burns


This dissertation will demonstrate a new methodological approach to reading Plato’s Republic. I develop and apply a dramatic, dynamic hermeneutic to Book II and part of Book III in the text. This method holds that each speech is the product of a preceding agreement or disagreement between two speakers. Agreements lead to the argument’s advancement and disagreements result in a regression to a previous agreement from which to restart the exchange. The focus section is largely on the early exchange Socrates has with Adeimantus. I argue that Socrates is an unwilling participant in the famous discussion on the meaning and value of justice and injustice. This makes the text’s argument a struggle for him to be freed of the several challenges he receives. Among several things, what makes the position of Socrates so difficult is that he must satisfy the demands of so many interlocutors concerning justice and that he must address a series of hostile fictional challengers that the sons of Ariston array against him in their opening speeches. He cannot directly speak to the brothers about their personal beliefs on justice and injustice but must blame the opinions of those that they report from non-present sources. Hence, he proposes a roundabout method to praise justice: constructing a city in speech and then examining the soul. The result is that he and Adeimantus go through a series of stateless cities before settling on the true city. The true city is rejected by Glaucon because he is disgusted with its living standards and desires to see affluence reconciled with the praise of justice. The institutionalization of the principle of excess leads to the genesis of the state, or the regime, in the guardians. These guardians shift the focus from the polis to the state and the guardian’s proper education and rearing, lengthening the argument again. The main struggle between Socrates and Adeimantus is over opposing conceptions of the guardians under the guise of their moral education: will they be selfless warriors or oligarchic lords? In the end Socrates gets Adeimantus to concede to his vision for them.