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Plato's Republic

Plato employed his theory of Forms not only in metaphysical speculation about the original creation of the everyday world in which people live but also in showing the way human society should be constructed in an ideal world. One version of Plato's utopian vision is found in his most famous dialogue, the Republic. This work, whose Greek title ( Politeia 1) would be more accurately rendered as System of Government, primarily concerns the nature of justice and the reasons that people should be just instead of unjust. Justice, Plato argues, is advantageous; it consists of subordinating the irrational to the rational in the soul. By using the truly just polis as a model for understanding this notion of proper subordination in the soul, Plato presents a vision of the ideal structure for human society2. Like a just soul, the just society would have its parts in proper hierarchy, parts that Plato in the Republic presents as three classes of people, as distinguished by their ability to grasp the truth of Forms.3 The highest class constitutes the rulers, or “guardians”4 as Plato calls them, who are educated in mathematics, astronomy, and metaphysics. Next come the “auxiliaries,”5 whose function it is to defend the polis. The lowest class is that of the producers,6, who grow the food and make the objects required by the whole population. Each part contributes to society by fulfilling its proper function.

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