Reading Questions
Plato’s Republic, Book I

Comprehension Questions

1) What is one respect in which Cephalus thinks that old age is a good thing?

2) Does Cephalus believe that wealth guarantees happiness?

3)  Socrates objects to the view that justice is speaking the truth and repaying debts by presenting an example.  What is the example?

4)  What is the first definition of justice given by Polemarchus?

5)  When Polemarchus says that justice requires benefiting friends and harming enemies, who does he think our friends and enemies are?  Does he think that someone who we believe is useful to us (but who in fact is out to harm us) is our friend? What about someone who we believe is out to harm us, but who in fact is a benefit to us?

6)  Socrates convinces Polemarchus to change his view of who our friends and enemies are.  How does Socrates convince Polemarchus?

7) Does Polemarchus think justice is a human excellence (or virtue)?  Does Socrates?

8) How does Thrasymachus define justice?

9) Who are the stronger and what is their interest?

10) Does Thrasymachus believe justice is a human excellence (or virtue)?

Critical Questions 

11) Cephalus suggests that one benefit of money is that it enables a good and well-balanced man to act justly.  Is Cephalus suggesting that a good and well-balanced man who was poor would be incapable of acting justly?  Do you think that Socrates would have a problem with that?

12) Why does Socrates think that it is never just to harm someone?  Is Socrates argument convincing?

13) Thrasymachus seems to hold the following two beliefs:           1) Justice is the interest of the stronger.          2) It is just to obey rulers.       Why might someone think these two beliefs cannot both be true, and how does Thrasymachus propose to avoid the difficulty?  Is Thrasymachus proposal satisfactory?

14) Thrasymachus is famous for holding that justice is high-minded foolishness (348c).  What does Thrasymachus mean by this?  Why does he believe this, and is there anything to what Thrasymachus is saying?

15) Throughout Book I, Socrates seems to be looking for a definition of justice.  What do you think Socrates expects of a good definition, and how does giving a definition of justice differ from other ways one might say something about justice or give examples of justice?

16) When Socrates speaks of a soul what do you think he has in mind?  How might what he has in mind be similar to or different from what people today have in mind when they use the word “soul”?

 Reading Questions
Plato’s Republic, Book II

Comprehension Questions:

1) Book II begins with Glaucon claiming that Socrates has not really persuaded his listeners.  Of what was Socrates trying to persuade his listeners?

2) Glaucon distinguishes three kinds of good.  What are they?  Can you give an example of each?

3) What kind of good does Socrates think justice is?

4) What kind of good do most people (according to Glaucon) think justice is?

5) What is the origin of justice according to Glaucon?

6) Glaucon relates the now famous story of the Ring of Gyges.  What is Glaucon trying to show or convince us of in telling this story?

7) What do Glaucon and Adeimantus want Socrates to prove?

8) Socrates proposes to imaginatively construct a city.  What reasons does he give for doing this?

9) Why do cities form according to Socrates?

10) Socrates assumes that the city will be characterized by a division of labor.  How is labor to be divided?  What reasons does Socrates give for this assumption?

11) Socrates distinguishes between the healthy city (which he constructs first) and the luxurious city (which he constructs only after Glaucon’s complaint).  What is the difference between the two?

12) What is the origin of war, according to Socrates?

13) What characteristics must guardians have?

14) How does Socrates claim to show that it is possible for there to be good guardians?

Critical Questions

15) Scholars often call the opening section of Book II  Glaucon’s Challenge.  What exactly is Glaucon challenging Socrates to show?  Try to be more precise than you were for question #7 above.

16) What kind of good (of Glaucon’s three) would Thrasymachus say justice is?  Or would he say it is good at all?

17) Glaucon asks Socrates about the justice of an individual (or the justice of a soul), but Socrates proposes to first examine justice in the city in the hope that this will prove helpful to Glaucon’s original question about the soul.  Is Socrates assuming that the city is similar to the soul (and that therefore justice in the city will be similar to justice in the soul)?  If he isn’t assuming this, what is Socrates doing?

18) What do you think of Socrates account of why cities form (see 369b-c)? Are there other reasons for the formation of cities that Socrates is ignoring?

19) The healthy city described by Socrates is very different from any cities we are familiar with.  What are some of the differences?

20) Obviously, Socrates and his friends were familiar with many real flesh and blood cities.  Why do you think Socrates might have wanted to look for justice in a city he constructs instead of looking for it in a real city?

21) Are Socrates’ assumptions about the division of labor plausible?  To what extent does Socrates believe that people are naturally suited to a specific job?  Does Socrates underestimate the importance of education and training?

Reading Questions
Plato’s Republic, Book III

 Comprehension Questions

1) The end of Book 2 and much of Book 3 are devoted to explaining how the guardians of the city are to be educated, and it becomes clear that Plato is in favor of restricting the sorts of stories the guardians can be told.  We might call this censorship.   What is the benefit of such restrictions supposed to be?

2) Socrates tells us that an important part of the guardians education will involve being told stories about human beings, but he doesn’t think the content of these stories can be fully spelled out at this point in the discussion (see 392a-c).  What in general will be the content of these stories and why cant Socrates spell the content out more fully at this point?

3) In Book 3, the city first gets rulers.  Where do the rulers come from? What belief must the rulers have?

4) Part of the function of the rulers is to guard the city.  Against what two general types of danger must the city be guarded?

5) Who are the auxiliaries?

6) Socrates proposes that the rulers, guardians and other citizens be told a noble falsehood.  What is this falsehood, and what is it supposed to persuade the rulers of?

7) Does the introduction of highly trained guardians and rulers pose any possible dangers to the city?  If so, what danger?

Critical Questions

8) Socrates advocates a great deal of censorship.  Do you think he's right to do so?  If not, why not?

9) The noble falsehood has a number of parts.  Are they all false?

10) Does the city need rulers?  If so, why?  Would the healthy city (Book 2) need rulers?

11) By the end of Book 3, Plato seems to be thinking of the city as composed of three classes: the rulers, the auxiliaries, and the producers (craftsmen, farmers, merchants, etc.).  Are all cities composed of these three classes?  Must a just city be so composed?

12) The noble falsehood suggests that each person is naturally suited to be a member of one of the three classes.  Is this true?  Does Plato think it is true?

Reading Questions
Plato's Republic, Book IV (through 435a)

Comprehension Questions

1) At the opening of book 4, Adeimantus objects to certain features of the city established in book 3.  What is his objection?

2) Socrates responds to Adeimantus by spelling out what he is aiming at in constructing the city.  What is he aiming at?

3) What is more important to the health and survival of the city according to Socrates, good education or good laws?  What reasons does Socrates give?

4) What are the four virtues of the city?

5) One of the virtues of the city is wisdom, and it involves a certain sort of knowledge.  Who has this knowledge and what is it?

6) What is justice in the city?

7) What is injustice in the city?

Critical Questions

8) What do you think of Adeimantus's objection?   Do the rulers and guardians get enough compensation for their work?  Are they happy?  Would you be happy as a guardian in Plato's city?

9) Is Socrates right to place so much emphasis on education?  What reasons does Socrates give for his view about the relative importance of education and laws?  Do you agree with his conclusions about their relative importance?

10) At 427e Socrates and Adeimantus agree that the city they've created is completely good.  Given everything you know about the city would you agree?  Could there be a better city?  If you think so, how would it differ from Plato's city?

11) Has Socrates found justice in the city?

12) One important feature of Plato's city is that a large portion of the population has no role to play in the leadership of the city.  For example, the craftspeople are not eligible to become rulers; they don't vote on laws and policies; they don't have authority to elect or replace their leaders.  Why does Socrates construct the city in this way? What is the danger of allowing everyone a share in ruling (as in a democracy)?

Reading Questions
Plato's Republic, Book 5 and Book 6 through 506b

Comprehension Questions 

1) Does Socrates think that women and men have different natures?

2) Does Socrates think that some women are fit to be rulers?

3) In discussing the role of women in the city and the place of the family, Plato organizes much of Book 5 around three waves of criticism (each corresponding to an innovation Plato is proposing).  What are the three waves of criticism?

4) Socrates discusses two possible objections to the holding of wives and children in common.  What are they?

5) In discussing the third and greatest wave of criticism, Socrates claims that one of two things must happen if a city is to be happy.  What are the two things?

6) How does Glaucon think people will react to Socrates proposal that the city be ruled by philosopher-kings?

7) Why are philosophers (and only philosophers) fit to rule?

8) What is the difference between knowledge and opinion?

9) At the beginning of Book VI, to additional requirements of the ruler (besides being a philosopher and what that entails; see question 7 above) are introduced. What are they?

10) Adeimantus raises a seemingly important objection to the view that philosophers should rule.  What is his objection and what does Socrates think of it?

11) What are some ways in which a philosophic nature can become corrupted, and who does the corrupting?

12) Socrates and Adeimantus that a certain sort of human being is impossible: it has never existed and never will.  What sort of human being is impossible?

13) What does Socrates think of the constitutions which actually exist? (The answer to this question is relevant to Question 20 from the reading questions for Book II)

14) Does Socrates think that it is possible for the city he has described to actually come to exist?  Does he think that it is likely?

Critical Questions

15) One question which is often raised about the Republic is whether Plato intends the city he describes as a practical proposal.  In other words, is Plato suggesting that people try to transform Athens into a city ruled by philosophers?  Alternatively, is Plato merely describing a city in order to answer the question what is justice (without supposing that it would be wise to try to institute the city he describes)?  Warning: there's no simple answer to this one, but it is obviously very important to our assessment of the Republic as a whole.

16) Many readers react to Socrates proposal that philosophers should rule just as Glaucon says they will.  Do you think this is the right reaction?  If you were to  try to defend Socrates proposal, what would you say?

17) The vast majority of the population in Plato's city have no share in rule.  Is this problematic?

18) What do you think of Plato's proposals for the family?

19) Some people consider Plato a proto-feminist in virtue of what he says about women; others think he's anything but?  What would you say?

20) At 494a Socrates claims that the majority cannot be philosophic?  Do you think he's right about this?  Even if he is, should the majority have a role in ruling the city?  Or is Socrates right to exclude the majority from ruling?

21) Socrates long speech at 496 seems to suggest that even true (non-corrupted) philosophers will be in no hurry to try to rule the city.  Why would the philosopher be reluctant?  How might Plato respond to this problem?

Reading Questions
Plato's Republic, Book 8 

Comprehension Questions

1) What are the five kinds of constitution?

2) In simple terms, how would an aristocracy (a city of the sort Socrates has constructed) decay? (You need not worry about all the numbers and roots and square increases Plato talks about.)

3) What traits does the timocratic ruler have?  Which ones does the timocratic ruler put forward as justifying his rule?

4) What is an oligarchy?

5) What are the two faults of the oligarchic city?

6) Socrates says that the oligarchy is the first city to have the greatest of evils present.  What is the greatest of evils?

7) What is a drone and what different kinds of drones are there?

8) How does an oligarchy transform itself into a democracy?

9) Socrates says that a democracy looks as though [it] is the finest and most beautiful of the constitutions.  Why does it look so beautiful?

10) What is the role of toleration in a democratic constitution?  How does toleration affect the sorts of people who hold public offices in a democratic government?

11) How does Socrates define the distinction between necessary and unnecessary desires?

12) By what is a democratic person ruled?  How, in this respect, does he differ from an oligarchic person? From a timocratic person?  From a philosopher?

13) What’s wrong with democracy according to Socrates?

14) What does a democracy take to be the Good, according to Socrates?

15) What is a tyranny and how does a democracy transform into a tyranny?

Critical Questions

16) Review Socrates discussion of the greatest of evils and the subsequent introduction of the drones.  Would it be accurate to say that the greatest of evils is severe poverty and that the drones are the severely poor?  If not, is there another characterization that would be better?

17) At 544, Socrates suggests that his division of constitutions is exhaustive, i.e., that every possible city belongs to one of the five types of constitutions (aristocracy, timocracy, oligarchy, democracy, and tyranny).  Is this claim plausible? If not, can you give an example of a city that would not fall into one of these five classes?  What reasons does Socrates give for his claim, and are they compelling?

18) What do you think of Socrates discussion of democracy?  Is his characterization of democracy fair?  Are his criticisms of democracy true?

19) Throughout Book VIII, Socrates uses the word constitution [actually he uses the Greek word politeia, which is translated as constitution], but it seems that Socrates doesn't mean by constitution what we usually mean by constitution.  We usually mean a written document setting down fundamental rules and institutions for a political community.  How would you describe what Socrates means by constitution? Can you think of a better translation for the Greek word politeia?