References

The Classics Pages
Includes a guided tour of Plato's Republic. I highly recommend this resource.

Plato
Excellent essay by Richard Kraut from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Philosophy Talk: Plato
Listen to this excellent radio program and take notes. The segment is about one hour. The free Real Player is required for streaming audio.

Plato and Platonism
A concise introductory essay from the Catholic Encyclopedia

The Philosophy of Plato
An well-organized overview from the Radical Academy

The Republic, Book I
One of Plato's greatest and most influential works. This is a marked-up version of the Jowett translation.

The Republic: Study Questions
To think about and look for when reading Book I.

The Apology
The mind altering depiction of the trial of Socrates. really, this work changed the world and if you read it well it will change you too.

Works by Plato
25 of his dialogues and letters from the 1871 translation by Benjamin Jowett

Plato's Allegory Of The Cave: A Springboard For The Matrix
A clever interpretation of Plato's allegory in relation to a philosophical movie The Matrix

Noble lies and perpetual war
Danny Postel and
Shadia Drury discusses Plato and other political philosophers in the service of contemporary theory and practice. This piece is particularly useful as an instance of how ancient philosophy remains relevant. Whether Drury's critique of Leo Strauss and current politics is accurate is open to discussion.


 

Plato: The Role of Women in the Ideal State

Republic Book V (excerpt)

Socrates: The part of the men has been played out, and now properly enough comes the turn of the women. Of them I will proceed to speak, and the more readily since I am invited by you. For men born and educated like our citizens, the only way, in my opinion, of arriving at a right conclusion about the possession and use of women and children is to follow the path on which we originally started, when we said that the men were to be the guardians and watchdogs of the herd.

Glaucon: True.

Socrates: Let us further suppose the birth and education of our women to be subject to similar or nearly similar regulations; then we shall see whether the result accords with our design.

Glaucon: What do you mean?

Socrates: What I mean may be put into the form of a question, I said: Are dogs divided into hes and shes, or do they both share equally in hunting and in keeping watch and in the other duties of dogs? or do we entrust to the males the entire and exclusive care of the flocks, while we leave the females at home, under the idea that the bearing and suckling their puppies is labour enough for them?

Glaucon: No, he said, they share alike; the only difference between them is that the males are stronger and the females weaker.

Socrates: But can you use different animals for the same purpose, unless they are bred and fed in the same way?

Glaucon: You cannot.

Socrates: Then, if women are to have the same duties as men, they must have the same nurture and education?

Glaucon: Yes.

Socrates: The education which was assigned to the men was music and gymnastic.

Glaucon: Yes.

Socrates: Then women must be taught music and gymnastic and also the art of war, which they must practice like the men?

Glaucon: That is the inference, I suppose.

Socrates: I should rather expect, I said, that several of our proposals, if they are carried out, being unusual, may appear ridiculous.

Glaucon: No doubt of it.

Socrates: Yes, and the most ridiculous thing of all will be the sight of women naked in the palaestra, exercising with the men, especially when they are no longer young; they certainly will not be a vision of beauty, any more than the enthusiastic old men who in spite of wrinkles and ugliness continue to frequent the gymnasia.

Glaucon: Yes, indeed, he said: according to present notions the proposal would be thought ridiculous.

Socrates: But then, I said, as we have determined to speak our minds, we must not fear the jests of the wits which will be directed against this sort of innovation; how they will talk of women's attainments both in music and gymnastic, and above all about their wearing armour and riding upon horseback!

Glaucon: Very true, he replied.

Socrates: Yet having begun we must go forward to the rough places of the law; at the same time begging of these gentlemen for once in their life to be serious. Not long ago, as we shall remind them, the Hellenes were of the opinion, which is still generally received among the barbarians, that the sight of a naked man was ridiculous and improper; and when first the Cretans and then the Lacedaemonians introduced the custom, the wits of that day might equally have ridiculed the innovation.

Glaucon: No doubt.

Socrates: But when experience showed that to let all things be uncovered was far better than to cover them up, and the ludicrous effect to the outward eye vanished before the better principle which reason asserted, then the man was perceived to be a fool who directs the shafts of his ridicule at any other sight but that of folly and vice, or seriously inclines to weigh the beautiful by any other standard but that of the good.

Glaucon: Very true, he replied.

Socrates: First, then, whether the question is to be put in jest or in earnest, let us come to an understanding about the nature of woman: Is she capable of sharing either wholly or partially in the actions of men, or not at all? And is the art of war one of those arts in which she can or can not share? That will be the best way of commencing the enquiry, and will probably lead to the fairest conclusion.

Glaucon: That will be much the best way.

Socrates: Shall we take the other side first and begin by arguing against ourselves; in this manner the adversary's position will not be undefended.

Glaucon: Why not? he said.

Socrates: Then let us put a speech into the mouths of our opponents. They will say: 'Socrates and
Glaucon, no adversary need convict you, for you yourselves, at the first foundation of the State, admitted the principle that everybody was to do the one work suited to his own nature.' And certainly, if I am not mistaken, such an admission was made by us. 'And do not the natures of men and women differ very much indeed?' And we shall reply: Of course they do. Then we shall be asked, 'Whether the tasks assigned to men and to women should not be different, and such as are agreeable to their different natures?' Certainly they should. 'But if so, have you not fallen into a serious inconsistency in saying that men and women, whose natures are so entirely different, ought to perform the same actions?' --What defense will you make for us, my good Sir, against any one who offers these objections?

Glaucon: That is not an easy question to answer when asked suddenly; and I shall and I do beg of you to draw out the case on our side.

Socrates: These are the objections, Glaucon, and there are many others of a like kind, which I foresaw long ago; they made me afraid and reluctant to take in hand any law about the possession and nurture of women and children.

By Zeus, he said, the problem to be solved is anything but easy.

Socrates: Why yes, I said, but the fact is that when a man is out of his depth, whether he has fallen into a little swimming bath or into mid-ocean, he has to swim all the same.

Glaucon: Very true.

Socrates: And must not we swim and try to reach the shore: we will hope that Arion's dolphin or some other miraculous help may save us?

Glaucon: I suppose so, he said.

Socrates: Well then, let us see if any way of escape can be found. We acknowledged --did we not? that different natures ought to have different pursuits, and that men's and women's natures are different. And now what are we saying? --that different natures ought to have the same pursuits, --this is the inconsistency which is charged upon us.

Glaucon: Precisely.

Socrates: Verily, Glaucon, I said, glorious is the power of the art of contradiction!

Glaucon: Why do you say so?

Socrates: Because I think that many a man falls into the practice against his will. When he thinks that he is reasoning he is really disputing, just because he cannot define and divide, and so know that of which he is speaking; and he will pursue a merely verbal opposition in the spirit of contention and not of fair discussion.

Glaucon: Yes, he replied, such is very often the case; but what has that to do with us and our argument?

Socrates: A great deal; for there is certainly a danger of our getting unintentionally into a verbal opposition.

Glaucon: In what way?

Socrates: Why, we valiantly and pugnaciously insist upon the verbal truth, that different natures ought to have different pursuits, but we never considered at all what was the meaning of sameness or difference of nature, or why we distinguished them when we assigned different pursuits to different natures and the same to the same natures.

Glaucon: Why, no, he said, that was never considered by us.

Socrates: I said: Suppose that by way of illustration we were to ask the question whether there is not an opposition in nature between bald men and hairy men; and if this is admitted by us, then, if bald men are cobblers, we should forbid the hairy men to be cobblers, and conversely?

Glaucon: That would be a jest, he said.

Socrates: Yes, I said, a jest; and why? because we never meant when we constructed the State, that the opposition of natures should extend to every difference, but only to those differences which affected the pursuit in which the individual is engaged; we should have argued, for example, that a physician and one who is in mind a physician may be said to have the same nature.

Glaucon: True.

Socrates: Whereas the physician and the carpenter have different natures?

Glaucon: Certainly.

Socrates: And if, I said, the male and female sex appear to differ in their fitness for any art or pursuit, we should say that such pursuit or art ought to be assigned to one or the other of them; but if the difference consists only in women bearing and men begetting children, this does not amount to a proof that a woman differs from a man in respect of the sort of education she should receive; and we shall therefore continue to maintain that our guardians and their wives ought to have the same pursuits.

Glaucon: Very true, he said.

Socrates: Next, we shall ask our opponent how, in reference to any of the pursuits or arts of civic life, the nature of a woman differs from that of a man?

Glaucon: That will be quite fair.

Socrates: And perhaps he, like yourself, will reply that to give a sufficient answer on the instant is not easy; but after a little reflection there is no difficulty.

Glaucon: Yes, perhaps.

Socrates: Suppose then that we invite him to accompany us in the argument, and then we may hope to show him that there is nothing peculiar in the constitution of women which would affect them in the administration of the State.

Glaucon: By all means.

Socrates: Let us say to him: Come now, and we will ask you a question: --when you spoke of a nature gifted or not gifted in any respect, did you mean to say that one man will acquire a thing easily, another with difficulty; a little learning will lead the one to discover a great deal; whereas the other, after much study and application, no sooner learns than he forgets; or again, did you mean, that the one has a body which is a good servant to his mind, while the body of the other is a hindrance to him?-would not these be the sort of differences which distinguish the man gifted by nature from the one who is ungifted?

Glaucon: No one will deny that.

Socrates: And can you mention any pursuit of mankind in which the male sex has not all these gifts and qualities in a higher degree than the female? Need I waste time in speaking of the art of weaving, and the management of pancakes and preserves, in which womankind does really appear to be great, and in which for her to be beaten by a man is of all things the most absurd?

Glaucon: You are quite right, he replied, in maintaining the general inferiority of the female sex: although many women are in many things superior to many men, yet on the whole what you say is true.

Socrates: And if so, my friend, I said, there is no special faculty of administration in a state which a woman has because she is a woman, or which a man has by virtue of his sex, but the gifts of nature are alike diffused in both; all the pursuits of men are the pursuits of women also, but in all of them a woman is inferior to a man.

Glaucon: Very true.

Socrates: Then are we to impose all our enactments on men and none of them on women?

Glaucon: That will never do.

Socrates: One woman has a gift of healing, another not; one is a musician, and another has no music in her nature?

Glaucon: Very true.

Socrates: And one woman has a turn for gymnastic and military exercises, and another is unwarlike and hates gymnastics?

Glaucon: Certainly.

Socrates: And one woman is a philosopher, and another is an enemy of philosophy; one has spirit, and another is without spirit?

Glaucon: That is also true.

Socrates: Then one woman will have the temper of a guardian, and another not. Was not the selection of the male guardians determined by differences of this sort?

Glaucon: Yes.

Socrates: Men and women alike possess the qualities which make a guardian; they differ only in their comparative strength or weakness.

Glaucon: Obviously.

Socrates: And those women who have such qualities are to be selected as the companions and colleagues of men who have similar qualities and whom they resemble in capacity and in character?

Glaucon: Very true.

Socrates: And ought not the same natures to have the same pursuits?

Glaucon: They ought.

Socrates: Then, as we were saying before, there is nothing unnatural in assigning music and gymnastic to the wives of the guardians --to that point we come round again.

Glaucon: Certainly not.

Socrates: The law which we then enacted was agreeable to nature, and therefore not an impossibility or mere aspiration; and the contrary practice, which prevails at present, is in reality a violation of nature.

Glaucon: That appears to be true.

Socrates: We had to consider, first, whether our proposals were possible, and secondly whether they were the most beneficial?

Glaucon: Yes.

Socrates: And the possibility has been acknowledged?

Glaucon: Yes.

Socrates: The very great benefit has next to be established?

Glaucon: Quite so.

Socrates: You will admit that the same education which makes a man a good guardian will make a woman a good guardian; for their original nature is the same?

Glaucon: Yes.

Socrates: I should like to ask you a question.

Glaucon: What is it?

Socrates: Would you say that all men are equal in excellence, or is one man better than another?

Glaucon: The latter.

Socrates: And in the commonwealth which we were founding do you conceive the guardians who have been brought up on our model system to be more perfect men, or the cobblers whose education has been cobbling?

Glaucon: What a ridiculous question!

Socrates: You have answered me, I replied: Well, and may we not further say that our guardians are the best of our citizens?

Glaucon: By far the best.

Socrates: And will not their wives be the best women?

Glaucon: Yes, by far the best.

Socrates: And can there be anything better for the interests of the State than that the men and women of a State should be as good as possible?

Glaucon: There can be nothing better.

Socrates: And this is what the arts of music and gymnastic, when present in such manner as we have described, will accomplish?

Glaucon: Certainly.

Socrates: Then we have made an enactment not only possible but in the highest degree beneficial to the State?

Glaucon: True.

Socrates: Then let the wives of our guardians strip, for their virtue will be their robe, and let them share in the toils of war and the defense of their country; only in the distribution of labours the lighter are to be assigned to the women, who are the weaker natures, but in other respects their duties are to be the same. And as for the man who laughs at naked women exercising their bodies from the best of motives, in his laughter he is plucking a fruit of unripe wisdom, and he himself is ignorant of what he is laughing at, or what he is about; --for that is, and ever will be, the best of sayings, That the useful is the noble and the hurtful is the base.

Glaucon: Very true.

Socrates: Here, then, is one difficulty in our law about women, which we may say that we have now escaped; the wave has not swallowed us up alive for enacting that the guardians of either sex should have all their pursuits in common; to the utility and also to the possibility of this arrangement the consistency of the argument with itself bears witness. (Rep. 451c-457b).


Book I of The Republic

Part One
The Setting

Part Two
Justice as honesty
Part Three
Justice as loyalty
Part Four
Justice as the interest of the stronger

 

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