Plato's City-Soul Analogy and the Nature of Justice

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What is the purpose of the city-soul analogy and does it help us understand the nature of justice?

In his philosophy, Plato places a large emphasis on the importance of the idea of justice. This emphasis can be seen especially in his work ‘The Republic’ where, through his main character Socrates, he attempts to define the nature of justice and to justify this definition. One of the methods used by Socrates to strengthen or rather explain his argument on justice is through his famous city-soul analogy, where a comparison between a just city and a just soul/individual is made. Through this analogy, Socrates attempts to explain the nature of justice, how it is the virtue of the soul and is therefore intrinsically valuable to the individual, but it becomes apparent in the analysis and evaluation of the analogy that there may have been several purposes behind it. Inconsistencies within the analogy itself also raise questions to the validity in Plato’s definition and justification of justice. As previously stated, the most apparent purpose behind the city- soul analogy is to illustrate and justify how justice is intrinsically valuable for the individual. Socrates first explains that there is justice both in the city and in the individual, and as the city is larger than the individual, justice in the city is presented on a larger scale and will therefore be easier to see. By considering justice in the city first, the analysis of it will help shed light on the inquiry of the justice of the individual, identified with his or her soul. There seems to be legitimate reasoning behind this analogy as both the city and the individual have justice as a common variable, but when taken out of its philosophical realm and is identified with real human tendencies and ambiguities – so different to that of an organized structure of a city –it is hard to view the sole basis of this horizontal parallel analogy of the city and the individual as being wholly viable. This will further be explained in the following paragraphs. Socrates delves deeper into the analogy as he classifies the city into three sections – rulers, guardians, and workers – and associates them with the virtues of wisdom, courage, and self-discipline respectively. Justice in the city is the act of everyone performing his or her proper function. Similarly Socrates divides the soul of the individual into three elements – reason, spirit, and desire – and associates them with the same virtues found in the city (wisdom, courage and self-discipline) respectively, but are all also governed by reason. He states that justice in the soul is found when all parts of the soul perform their proper function and are in ‘harmony’. Injustice on the other hand is the inner conflict of the soul, therefore showing justice to be intrinsically valuable to the individual as the harmony of the soul is what is sought. From this analogy it is obvious that specialization, “to do one’s own”, is a key factor in the achievement of justice, but it is hard to conceive how the working class (the most inferior) is able to recognize and accept their role in the just city. Who is responsible for this classification? This will be further discussed in later paragraphs. Also, as previously mentioned, it is easy to assume that the city and the soul are similar in that they posses the same structure and virtues, but this analogy merely anticipates this finding of structures in the soul and does not determine that it is so. It is true that in a city, workers should succumb to the authority of rulers, as their wisdom will maintain order and guide. However, in the individual, the structure and roles of the soul are much more ambiguous. People are subjected to past experiences and inclinations that shape who they are and what they deem as important. Who is to say that an individual who prioritizes passion/appetite, what Socrates deemed as the inferior element of the soul, a little more than wisdom and spirit, will not...
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