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Guardians in the Republic

Women as well as men qualify to be guardians1 because they possess the same virtues and abilities as men, except for a disparity in physical strength between the average woman and the average man. The axiom justifying the inclusion of women, namely that virtue is the same in women as in men2, is perhaps a notion that Plato derived from Socrates. The inclusion of women in the ruling class of Plato's utopian city-state represented a startling departure from the actual practice of his times. Indeed, never before in Western history had anyone proposed— even in fantasy— that work be allocated in human society without regard to gender. Moreover, to minimize distraction, guardians3 are to have neither private property nor nuclear families4. Male and female guardians are to live in houses shared in common, to eat in the same mess halls, and to exercise in the same gymnasiums. The children are to be raised as a group in a common environment by special caretakers. Although this scheme is meant to free women guardians from child-care responsibilities and enable them to rule equally with men, Plato fails to consider that women guardians would in reality have a much tougher life than the men because they would have to be pregnant frequently and undergo the strain and danger of giving birth. At the same time, he evidently does not believe they are disqualified for ruling on this account. The guardians who achieved the highest level of knowledge in Plato's ideal society would qualify to rule over the ideally just state as philosopher-kings.

To become a guardian, a person from childhood must be educated for many years in mathematics, astronomy, and metaphysics to gain the knowledge that Plato in the Republic presented as necessary if one was to rule for the common good. Plato's specifications for the education of guardians in fact make him the first thinker to argue systematically that education should be the training of the mind and the character rather than simply the acquisition of information and practical skills. Such a state would necessarily be authoritarian because only the ruling class would possess the knowledge to determine its policies and make decisions determining who is allowed to mate with whom to produce the best children.

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