Socrates proposes to expand on four types of vice as they are found in political constitutions, but is immediately interrupted by Polemarchus and Adeimantus, who want him to explain his earlier claim that wives and children should be held in common. They want to know why this arrangement should be considered ideal, and also whether it could ever actually be realized in practice, which emerges as a more general issue for the project as a whole. A lot of the discussion in this chapter is concerned with the philosophically uninteresting logistics of this communal arrangement. I'll report on selective remarks, but try to focus on the more provocative or conceptually substantive claims.
The reason for keeping children and wives in common, already provided in earlier books, is to prevent any particular attachments from conflicting with the devotion of the guardians to the city as a whole. There is a particularly strong statement of the ideal at 462a-b: "Is there any greater evil we can mention for a city than that which tears it apart and makes it many instead of one? Or any greater good than that which binds it together and makes it one?" "There isn't." Indeed, it seems Plato/Soc would prefer for the city to be united in pain than for just some of its members to be happy. With their biological parentage obscured, the guardians effectively become one big family, and they will be encouraged to observe proper familial devotion. Everyone is to assess their lot with reference, not only to the same shared set of objects, but with reference to the same family, the same "mine" in all possible respects (462c).
In a passage that has been the source of much subsequent criticism, Plato/Soc makes an analogy between his proposed methods for ensuring the reproduction of the citizenry and the mating and breeding of animals. Just as we breed from only the best of our animals, so too should we maximize the number of offspring produced by our fittest citizens (459). The worst citizens should be prevented, as much as possible, from reproducing. Plato/Soc suggests phony lotteries, among other ploys, to ensure optimal pairings. Children of "inferior" parents -- along with any other children found to be defective -- will be secretly left to the elements (460c). Yikes!
I've protested against Plato/Soc's assumption of fixed "natures" determinable in every individual. He expands here on this claim and some of its implications. We are to determine the relevant dimension of a child's nature by observing what sort of activities it learns with the most ease (455b). My skepticism is not entirely dispelled, but this does sound rather more innocent than I originally (rather uncharitably) took it to be. It follows from this that many natural differences are politically irrelevant. Women, for instance, are eligible for all of the positions traditionally reserved for men (and so I should probably be more careful with my pronouns).
Stepping back for a moment, I wonder how much Plato/Soc's tremendous confidence in education and the powers of reason might conflict with his doctrine of individual nature. To the objection that women training naked with men would cause problems, Plato/Soc responds that this is the rational way to do things, and so people will learn to regard it as the norm. (These women will "wear virtue or excellence instead of clothes" (457a).) How is it that we can educate everyone into these supposedly more enlightened sexual and familial norms -- reprograming the psyche at quite a deep level -- but that many people are constitutionally unsuited for higher learning? There is no outright contradiction in the text, but I think there is some potential tension between the views.
Anyhow, changing topics, I should at least call attention to the remarks on inter-polis relations, since this is something that came up earlier. Plato/Soc's view is that war with other Greeks should be treated as a form of civil war, in which the participants should never do anything to foreclose future reconciliation. There are fewer restrictions, by contrast, in a war against barbarians, with whom no political, cultural, or economic relations are desired. This strikes me as a sensible position, allowing for the obvious limitations of a worldview in which only Greeks count as full people.
Shifting into the last movement of this book, Socrates is called back to task on one of the original challenges presented in its opening pages: "whether its possible for this constitution to come into being and in what way it could be brought about" (471c). A mighty challenge indeed, and his response is characteristically indirect. It's also hedged with a considerable qualification (a consequence, in this case, of the ontology he will proceed to expound?), that we must be satisfied with practical approximations of the truths we articulate in theory (473a).
The key to the implementation of this ideal, simply put, is to get a philosopher in charge: "Until philosophers rule as kings in cities or those who are now called kings and leading men genuinely and adequately philosophize, that is, until political power and philosophy entirely coincide, while the many natures who at present pursue either one exclusively are forcibly prevented from doing so, cities will have no rest from evils[...], nor, I think, will the human race" (473c-d). Furthermore, those not suited to do philosophy and rule are "naturally fitted to leave philosophy alone and follow their leader" (474b-c). Authoritarian? Just a little? A great deal of apologetic rhetoric surrounds these pronouncement, anticipating and attempting to forfend our skepticism.
Plato/Soc defines the philosopher as one who desires the whole of wisdom and loves the sight of truth (475). The intended contrast here is with our mundane experience of the appearances of things. We want knowledge itself, not just acquaintance with images. We must distinguish, for instance, between beautiful items or varieties of beautiful features and the beautiful itself. Only acquaintance with the latter can supply us with the sort of authentic truth that is the mark of philosophy. Knowledge is specified to be of what is, which Plato/Soc seems to assume to be eternally stable and immutable. Ignorance, its opposite, ranges over what lacks being. Between these extremes lies opinion. Unlike knowledge, opinion is fallible, and this is to say that it must have a different object than knowledge. This object, intermediate between being and non-being, is appearance. Appearances have multiple, contradictory aspects, and our opinions about them are subject to various, arbitrary conventions (479). So most of us, Plato/Soc is claiming, live entirely in this realm of appearance and have only opinions, no real knowledge. Strong claims, on which more to follow in subsequent books.
These definitions established, the argument will continue in Book VI.
I see your response on the last post, and will reply soon.