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Socrates on Oligarchy and Democracy

Paper type: Essay
Pages: 9 (2081 words)
Categories: Democracy, Philosophers, Philosophy, Plato, Socrates, State
Downloads: 9
Views: 4


There are 3 distinct and separate classes of specialized citizens, all working for the good of the city. Guardians:(413d) “watch straight from childhood by setting them at tasks in which a man would most likely forget….” What the guardians learn in school is a set curriculum, yet it is also a test. If they fail, well then, they weren’t meant to be a guardian after all. They also give up the right to own private property and live in barracks because It is intended to benefit all inhabitants, not to make the Guardians happy.

If the Guardians must sacrifice ownership of property to benefit all inhabitants, then it is a small price to pay. Production is in private hands yet the city’s economy is not based on private ownership. Doctors are only trained to treat the healthy, who only suffer from a single, curable ailment. Doctors should not be trained to deal with the chronically ill. Those suffering from an incurable physical disease should be left to die naturally.

Those suffering from an incurable mental disease should be put to death.

To make sure the correct selection of rulers, all the young guardians in training are closely observed. They go through various tests, intended to determine which of them remain steadfast in their loyalty to the city. They’re exposed to various fears and pleasures meant to tempt or frighten, those who do best in these tests will proceed on to education that will prepare them to rule. The rest, destined to be warriors, will end their education. Too much physical training will make the guardians savage, while too much music and poetry will make them soft.

There are many occasions when Socrates discusses women and the roles they hold. He does say, “the women guardians must strip, since they should be clothed in virtue, not robes, they must take common part in war and the rest of the city’s guarding, and must not do other things.”(457a) Here Socrates is stating that they do have an equal part, just like men. Socrates declares that females will be trained alongside males, and will also receive the same education, and are able to take on the same political roles.

Yet Socrates also says, (451e) “except that we use the females as weaker and the males as stronger.”

(457a) “but lighter parts of these tasks must be given to the women than the men because of the weakness of the class.”

-(424a) Socrates states that the women and children will be held in common, “that the possession of women, marriage, and procreation of children…arranged” and like he stated, “it is also the case with the other animals,” to understand his true feelings on the matter.

(457d) “all these women are to belong to all the men in common, and no woman is to live privately with every man.” same goes for the children and knowing their parents, which there will be none of that as well.

Socrates denigrates all forms of ‘wives’ and only supports men and women as equal, sharing everything. The women are comrades whose social role is shared and includes temporary sexual intercourse, at the festival, the function of which is the guardianship of the guardian class, which is required for the continued existence of the ideal state.

They must surrender traditional family arrangements; Guardian men and women live together without traditional family structures, one example being Sexual Activity is very restricted and limited. Men and women are only supposed to reproduce during their prime and once they can no longer reproduce, they can have intercourse freely(460c).

Temporary marriages are arranged each year for the sake of reproduction. A lottery system is used so everyone believes their chances of mating and reproducing are equal during the festival, with equal chance. However, to their ignorance, the lottery is rigged to ensure that ONLY the best breed with the best(459e). A single person could mate with 4 while another can mate with none.

Offspring are raised in public nurseries, as they are the children of the city, for the city. Steps must be taken to mask the identity of the children’s real parents, Socrates says Keeping the traditional family intact would create divided loyalties. Once they are takin from their parents, they will never see them again, or at least not as their parents, because no one will know. To prevent incest, everyone assumes that every child is their own. If sex if committed between guardians, not during the festival, the child will be murdered. Even physical pleasures are inherently flawed because they are always mixed with pain. As Socrates put it, everyone says ‘mine,’ about the same things. Just because Socrates is trying to make the best city, some parts are very immoral, one example being ,(460c), “and those of the worse, and any of the others born deformed, they will hide away in an unspeakable and unseen place, as if seemly”. They want to keep the guardian race ‘pure.’

The city actually oppresses people, since everyone has to be specialized, yet as humans we are all very diverse, regardless if male or female. Also, the city discounts human nature, especially when referring to things like (424a), there is no way that a mother could let its child go, just as the child would always want to find their true parents.


You could possibly say that Protagoras is the greatest sophist, for a couple reasons. For one, he was the original sophist to coin that name. He claimed that he taught how to gain success in life. He said good citizenship consists of justice and self-restraint, which are natural to humans in the preservation of the social order, and more importantly, the survival of the species, which depend on being universally instilled. Protagoras would take the weaker argument and make it stronger.

Socrates disagreed with sophists, yet some of his ideals align alongside each other, and they also helped Socrates develop his own reasoning. Socrates and sophist did not differ in method, but in overall purpose. Philosophers always have in the back of their mind that they could be wrong. Socrates pursed rational thought intended to discover real philosophical absolutes. sophists saw power as the ultimate value, and were paid ‘teachers’. They were the first to use ‘scientific studies,’ and broke the status quo, pondering on sciences that challenged the mainstream ideas surrounding god. Yet sophists would rather win an argument, then actually find truth. The sophists tended to believe that values are not real, but actually a matter of the opinion of the individual or culture, stated by Protagoras, “Man is the measure…” Socrates sought for higher standards than simply human opinion. It has to be possible to raise questions and to criticize the opinion of any person or culture. Therefore philosophy for Socrates calls for questions in search of meanings and values (such as beauty and goodness) that are real. One of Socrates criticisms of sophists is the way they go about reasoning, teaching people to memorize passages instead of relying on their own reasoning abilities. Socrates said that if the Sophists were to be right, then those who disagree with them are correct as well because their philosophy is true for them. The philosopher is someone who strives after wisdom, a lover of wisdom. Unlike the sophists claimed to do and their name suggests, which is someone who possesses wisdom as a finished product.

(488a) “he is rather deaf and likewise somewhat shortsighted; and knowledge of seamanship is pretty much on the same level.” “if they fail at persuasion and the other men succeed at it, they…kill the others…..”

Would you put an expert navigator in charge of navigation, or would you rather let everyone on the ship navigate? This is one argument for a government ruled by the wise rather than by the many.

One of Socrates main objections to democracy is that Democratic self-government does not work because the citizens don’t know how to run the state, nor do they want to. It requires too much time, self-discipline, and effort. it makes no effort to improve its subjects. People do not want to be improved;(book 7, with the allegory of the cave; peoples dislike in anything needed disciplined study, ideas against status quo, critical thinking like a philosopher) they want to gratify their desires and choose leaders who fill their desires and tell them what they want to hear. The citizens haven’t spent their life training to be good leaders, so why should they vote for them.

Education is needed for democracy, the populous is too uneducated, so it will always be someone who is selfish in power, and only got there by convincing the ignorant.

(571a) “the tyrannic man himself remains to be considered- how he is transformed out of the democratic man…” Socrates says that the worse life is that of a political tyrant.

A person has virtues and vices, and so does the state. the vices of a state lead to tyranny. Oligarchy turns into democracy which inevitably turns into tyranny; oligarchy and democracy both have potential to turn into tyranny under the right conditions. The point is balance is key in all aspects of life, and the state is no exception

The politicians are guided by emotions, which shouldn’t be done. They will be selfish. Democracy is just the road to political power, so the ability to give one’s own desires, is completely up to the mob following behind the leader. The only technique to rise to power is by telling people what they want to hear, Successful rulers behave like subjects and their subjects behave like rulers. The ruler’s main objective is convincing the majority of people, while politicians are dominated by harmful desires. In his point of view, Democracy has negative freedom.

“The excess of liberty, whether in States or individuals, seems only to pass into excess of slavery.” Democracy allows vices for all individuals, liberty is not restraining.

Oligarchy and Democracy actually incentivize greed and fail to mix in virtues of moderation and truth seeking in their people and thus they begin the domino effect toward the rise of a tyrant. Everyone is allowed to live and act as he likes. The absence of restraint develops into dislike of all restraint. Yet in his democracies, citizens exercised power directly, rather than through elected representatives.

Speaking in modern times, are the citizens of today’s democracies interested and informed enough to participate meaningfully in the democratic process?

Are today’s democracies, actually societies where people are well enough informed to be effectively in control of their district and lives, to be “their own governors”? Do the citizens really understand what goes on inside of government? Do a majority of citizens live in a little bubble that makes voting on the basis of uninformed or untruthful convictions, catchy slogans, and most prevalent, feelings or ‘their gut’?

The tension between what is public and what is private is always there, and has no choice to be because the fact that the city in speech completely goes against human nature. There will always be a child who wants to find his mom, a man who wants to find the woman he had a kid with. Or the fact that certain people will never get to reproduce, or the fact that citizens are forced into a specific type of job, the issue being people aren’t only suited for one job, with similar characteristics. People are diverse, and just like the philosophers, citizens have ideas and thoughts as well. The fact that men and women can’t live together and everything is shared also is an issue. For one, there is always going to be someone who is jealous or feels insignificant which will cause an uproar eventually, which will result in tyranny. Racism and feelings toward women are still very charged today.

Some people feel as if women should be 100% equal, but there will always be imbalances between the sexes. Some people now also feel like they did in these times, not wanting women to have power at all or that they are designated for a certain job type. If there are diverse ideas that people can think of, there will always be tension, yet just because of that, does not mean it is pure tyranny or chaos. People will always have a difference of opinion, yet the city in speech tries to make everything uniform, and leave knowledge to the sophists and philosophers.

Cite this essay

Socrates on Oligarchy and Democracy. (2019, Dec 06). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/socrates-on-oligarchy-and-democracy-essay

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