An Analysis of Plato’s Republic: Book 5

Hey! Today I will be writing about Book 5 of the Republic. Enjoy!

Socrates begins Book 5 saying that the city/person they have described is good and ideal, and all others are bad. He states there are four kinds of bad cities. But just as he is about to get into this, he is interrupted and asked to talk about education more. Darn it, Polemarchus! At one point Socrates states that people who are skilled at the same thing are of one nature. I highly disagree with this. I don’t know whether we just disagree about the definition of nature. I’m not actually even sure if I like the term “Human nature.” It puts one’s soul in a category. But I think if it does exist, it refers to your emotions, not your occupation.

Later, Socrates has to discredit the idea of a family. This is so, so, wrong. The human mind is mainly self-sufficient but requires one main thing: Trust in others. If there is no air of positivity around, they will grow lonely and depressed. This is all the more important in childhood, when one is being raised and their mind being shaped. They will become antisocial and desolate. Socrates says that since the people who are educating these children are trained to parent them, they will be even better parents than their biological parents. But I disagree. I think children share a certain bond with their biological parents. And it is even enhanced when they are brought up by only them, instead of a variety of trainers who the children will never get to learn well enough. After that, to calm me down, Socrates talks about the good repercussions of his plans for the city’s soldiers. They will not become greedy or begin to think about what is theirs or not. They will not make claims on land or children. There will, in general, be less of an air of hostility. I think this goes even farther than that. People will be compelled to make a life for themselves, and will earn stuff for themselves.

After talking about Pros and Cons of the soldier class, Socrates talks about what they should do. Whether they should loot their enemies or plunder villages, and various other moral questions. Eventually, Socrates compares this to one’s soul. War against others is argument against others, and a civil war is internal conflict of your soul. And, of course, your spirit, or in the analogy the soldiers, conduct these wars. But I disagree. Shouldn’t your wisdom, or in the analogy your rulers, conduct argument? You don’t want to let anger or pride control your argument. You want knowledge and reason to. And the same goes for battle. While the soldiers fighting are useful, they should not be conducting the battle! Their Generals and advisors, the rulers, should.

Now we get to something very interesting. Socrates says knowledge consists of knowing things as they are, and believe consists of forming opinions as they are. But then, wouldn’t knowledge in definition be belief? After all, can we really know something? We have no actual sign that we are 100% correct. From this conclusion, I would understand why Socrates says he doesn’t know anything. I would love for someone to try to define knowledge in the comments.

In the end, I really enjoyed his thoughts about war and knowledge in the latter part of Book 5 more. An update: This Sunday will be my last paper on The Republic for a few weeks as I am visiting a friends house. Rather, I am going to be writing about history primarily with my friend. Also, await an essay on Model painting!

9 thoughts on “An Analysis of Plato’s Republic: Book 5

  1. Very interesting. You might like to look at what Aristotle says about Socrates’ proposals in his Politics book 2. I think you will agree with some of his concerns.


  2. Happy birthday! My 12-year-old has no interest in Plato or philosophy. I’m not gonna try and negotiate a trade with your parents but it’s great you’re reading Republic. My faves are Symposium and Apology (of the ones I’ve read).


  3. Well, defining knowledge is a tough problem. After all, it even has its own branch of philosophy! It is of course also a psychological issue. People are often convinced that they know things that are demonstrably untrue, and will sometimes say that they continue to be convinced even after being presented with evidence to the contrary. As the aphorism goes: “it ain’t so much the things we don’t know that get us into trouble. It’s the things we know that ain’t so.” (for an interesting discussion of the origin of this saying, see

    So my own view on this is that being conscious and having a consistent sense of self requires a continuing reconciliation of information about the world with that sense of self. If something that I believe to be true is a core element of that consistent sense of self, I would be loathe to believe otherwise (even if presented with evidence to the contrary) because that would precipitate a psychological crisis. I might continue to assert that I know the thing to be true.

    Back to the question of why Socrates would say he knows nothing, I wonder if he isn’t engaging in a bit of sophistry. He seems to have some clear beliefs about things, and employs his questions and protestations of ignorance as a device to get others to accept the validity of the things he “knows”. I think he understands that it’s easier to get someone to accept something as true (i.e., something they personally believe) if they arrive at the belief via a rhetorical path that entails step-by-step demonstrations that the new belief is consistent with things they already believe. An alternative approach, say “X is true, and you should accept that X is true because I’m a famous philosopher” is much less likely to be effective in convincing someone.

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