The City-State Analogy in the Republic

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I. Introduction Plato’s definition of justice in The Republic1 is based upon his division of the individual soul (psychē) and the state (polis) into three mutually interrelated parts. In this essay I will examine the structure of Plato’s analogy between the soul and the state in order to determine whether it is able to support a meaningful definition of justice in spite of charges of circularity and incoherence that are levelled against it. I will begin by considering Plato’s argument for the division of the soul into three logical elements, or parts, along with various objections to it, before moving on to consider the relationship between soul and state. In particular, I will argue that the precise nature of this relationship…show more content…
However, Plato’s definition of the soul only would only be infinitely regressive if the individual parts were exact replicas of the whole. In fact, there is no reason to think that this must be the case. Plato merely states that each part has an ability to function in accordance with its own nature, but its structure may be much simpler than that of the entire soul (Annas, op. cit. 144). If we were to subdivide each part into its reasoning, spirited and appetitive components we would find that they in turn were simpler entities than the part which we were seeking to explain, and so on down to the most basic elements or ‘atoms’ of the soul (presumably, in modern scientific terms, the individual neurons or synapses within the brain). In this way, Plato not only avoids the infinite regress but also outlines a powerful model for the emergence of complex behaviour from simpler logical components that foreshadows recent developments in the fields of neuroscience and artificial intelligence (ibid. 143). III. The Relationship Between Soul and State The analogy of the city or state (polis) is introduced by Socrates as a means of locating the nature of justice ‘on some larger surface’ (368d). When he returns to his consideration of the soul in 434d, he explicitly states that in terms of his justice
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