Plato’s “Republic” is a seminal text, that explores; the definition of justice, the character and order of a just city and the minutiae of human experience. Specifically in Book IV, Republic examines the four main virtues of life; Justice, wisdom, courage and moderation. Through this chapter one can postulate that for the harmony of the city and the individual the tenure of moderation and spirit must always be balanced. However book IV, is not simply suggesting, that moderation means a man is necessarily always the strongest version of himself; “in his soul, there resides a better principle and a weaker” (Republic, 431a).
Socrates is instead highlighting the dualistic nature of the soul and that human emotion and action function on binaries. In the selected excerpt of 431d in Book IV, Socrates questions the functionality of this idea of “self control” and sets forth in arguing his belief in the existence of a soul divided into two parts, and the functionality of each divide. He expresses to Glaucon the notion that self control reveals a soul divided into inferior and superior, or the binaries of ethically stronger or weaker.
Plato assesses the binate arrangement where “the naturally better part is in control of the worse” (Republic, 431a). and extends it to represent the city and the idea that a city is self controlled when the “better rules the worse” (Republic 431a), he extends the parable to then include the notion that a city that controls itself of its pleasures is one that lives in moderation and ultimately a kind of harmony. When viewed exegetically, there is moral significance in this sense of unity that therefore makes Socrates view less dogmatic and more aspirational.
For if we don’t attempt to find harmony and the best version of ourselves we become static and unable to progress. Book IV of Plato’s “Republic” advocates for the tripartite division of the soul, this division however does not imply axiomatically, that each element will be in harmony with on another. The dichotomy between State and individual that had been gently and covertly evolving through the last three dialogues comes into fruition towards the latter of Book IV.
Eventually Socrate’s discloses a key parallel; The City is the macrocosm of the individual and they should mirror each others principles. The compartmentalising of ones soul alludes to one of the key paradoxes of Socratic intellectualism. Human experience regularly contradicts the notion that if a person knows the right thing to do they will do it; throughout existence there are a plethora of situations in which people knowingly do the wrong thing.
By implementing non-rational parts of the soul, the dialectic of Plato’s Republic introduces the reality that people often do what we know to be wrong. We are moved, by appetite. Through the process of subdividing ones soul, a new idea of virtue comes to fruition, firstly the realisation of the importance in gaining knowledge and understanding which is the base of virtue; the second to realise that appetite and spirit can work in cohesion with reason in understanding.
Thus, the non-rational parts of the soul attain dependable habits to which the moral virtues can come to rely. Book III & IV spend most of their time addressing the concept that a human life is fundamentally a shared life. That instead of our primal state being as individuals, rather as individuals we must find ways of compromising and accepting each other’s presence. Essentially, Socrates is saying the basis of humanity is a shared life together, and any discussion of individual virtue has to formulate against the background of this assumption.
This idea manifests with the guardian class and the whole premise of each person performing the role they are best suited to in the city and nothing more. This represents a moderate society, a concept that is vexed. Whilst it seems entirely rational that people perform within their strengths so that a city can prosper, Socrates’ notions seem to negate an individual from choosing or playing an active role within the destiny of their own lives.
How can a person expect to better themselves when they are not afforded the opportunity to exceed the rulers expectations of them? The world of Republic presents moderation and justice as moral virtues. For each individual to perform the sort of job for which he or she is most well suited, becomes the origin for Plato’s account of justice, which he argues the balance of unity and integrity that is necessary for a prosperous human life.
There is much merit in this idea however not conclusively, for these parameters of Justice seems to rely on human beings performing as cogs within the machine of society each functioning within their section and doing only what they can to contribute and better society as a whole. The excerpt of the Republic, ultimately concludes that justice for the individual is the epiphany of an attempt at internal harmony among ones own tripartite soul.