. 8
( 9)


8.1 just ac tions a nd th e j ust s oul in r e p u b l i c 4
Near the end of Book 4, the argument turns back to just actions, a just soul,
and the relationship between the two. The infamous tripartite account of
the soul has been completed, with its rational, spirited, and appetitive parts,
corresponding to the three classes of people in the ideal city. Socrates has also
located courage, wisdom, and moderation in the tripartite soul. In terms
familiar from chapter four, he has described what it is to be courageous,
wise, and so on, rather than providing an account of what courageous or
wise actions are. This is largely what leads commentators to say that he has
abandoned behavioral de¬nitions of the virtues. And indeed Plato does not
attempt to put what all and only virtuous actions have in common into
purely non-evaluative terms. But that does not mean that the question of
determining which actions are the virtuous ones “ that is, the question that
such a behavioral de¬nition intended to answer “ can be simply skipped
over and replaced by the question of what it is to be virtuous. For when
we turn to the account of a just soul we ¬nd that nothing obviates the
necessity of correctly identifying virtuous actions and performing them, if
one hopes to become just and put one™s soul in the proper order.
In the early part of this argument (441e“442d), a just person, in parallel
with a just city, is described as the person in whom each of the parts of
his soul does only what it is supposed to and does not interfere with the
other parts. We learn that this especially concerns ruling: the rational part
of the soul is what ought to rule the entire soul, with spirit as its ally (441e,
442c). The rational part deliberates and issues commands, and spirit carries
them out. Together they make sure that appetite does not get out of hand,
revolt, and in violation of justice take over rule of the soul for itself (442a4“
b3). This harmony of soul is the way in which a person makes himself a
concordant unity (443e1“2).

248 Aiming at Virtue in Plato
Once the description of the harmonious state of soul that constitutes
justice is complete, Socrates abruptly lists the actions such a person would
refrain from, calling attention to the fact that there is no knowledgeable
way to determine these actions as unjust. A person with a just soul would
be least likely to embezzle, commit sacrilege, steal, betray, be unfaithful,
commit adultery, or neglect parents or the gods (442d“443b). He calls all
of these ordinary or everyday matters (t‡ fortik†) (442e1; cf. Ap. 32a8),
meaning, presumably, ordinary examples of unjust actions. It is this point
in the argument that has provoked much controversy and the accusation
that Plato illegitimately slides from a “Platonic” account of justice, whereby
justice is a harmonious state of soul which constitutes and/or contributes
to a person™s being “happy” and “healthy,” to the claim that a person with
such a harmonious soul will perform what are conventionally considered
just actions of the type listed.1 The objection then queries: why should we
think that having a harmonious soul implies acting justly in the ordinary
sense? I shall turn to this below (8.2). For now, let us note merely that,
in helping himself to a rough list of the types of actions the just person
would refrain from, Socrates takes the determining questions to be, roughly,
answered. If the argument from chapter seven is correct, this should be
particularly problematic since it is by the imitation and proper depiction
of such actions that a person acquires a just state of character in the ¬rst
Socrates concludes that the explanation of this just behavior stems from
each part of the person™s soul doing its own work with respect to ruling and
being ruled and thus that their dream from Book 2 of ¬nding “some type
of justice” (t…pon tin‡ t¦v dikaios…nhv, 443c1) by founding an ideal state
has been realized. The reason they have been successful is because justice
in the state “ each person™s performing his natural function and not doing
the work of another “ is “an image in a way of justice” (e­dwl»n ti t¦v
dikaios…nhv). What exactly is the image of justice? The passage elaborates:
it is right for the cobbler by nature to cobble and to do nothing else, and the
builder to build, and so on. This is presumably an image of the principle
that each should do his own work. So the “reality” is that justice is each
doing his own, and the image is the cobbler cobbling, the builder building,
and so on. In a complex seventeen-line sentence, which begins as follows,
Socrates sums up what they have learned about justice:

1 Sparked largely by Sachs (1963).
Aiming at virtue and determining what it is 249
In truth, as it seems, justice was some such thing [toio“to<n> m”n ti §n], but
not concerning an external action of the things of oneself, but an internal [one],
what is truly about oneself and the things of oneself.2 (443c9“d1)
It would be wrong to read this as attempting to offer a new de¬nition of
justice without quali¬cation.3 Socrates has already concluded that justice
is each of the parts of the soul doing what it ought with respect to ruling
and being ruled a few lines earlier (443b1“2). What he adds here is that
what they have found is justice in the individual and that this consists in a
harmony of the tripartite soul. The phrase “some such thing” picks up on
the phrase “an image in a way of justice” immediately preceding (443c4“
5).4 So, the sort of justice they have found in the state in fact mirrors what
it is to be a just individual, except that what it is to be a just individual
concerns “internal” rather than “external” actions. This is not intended to
be a de¬nition of justice tout court, which covers both just actions and just
people, but instead a de¬nition of what it is to be a just person.
After explaining that the just soul is one that has been made a concordant
unity Socrates then says that only once one has properly ordered one™s soul
should one turn to actions concerning the possession of wealth, treatment
of the body, political matters or private contracts (443e2“3). If we stop
here, it can indeed sound as though Socrates is making the concept of
the just agent prior to that of a just action. Since a person with a well-
ordered, just soul performs just actions, before one engages in actions of
some signi¬cance he ought to put his soul in proper order. But matters
cannot be this simple. There is a second part of the picture that has been in
play since the beginning of the description of the proper education: what
produces the proper ordering of the soul™s parts that constitutes justice in

Slings™ (2003) text changes toio“to to toio“ton without explanation. Burnet (1900“7): iv and
Adam (1902) have the neuter. On the authority of Hense, Slings also adds an additional ti, which
is not in the manuscripts, after the ¬rst ˆll†, so the translation would go, “but not something
concerning . . .”
As Slings™ (2003) additional ti might suggest; see previous note. See too Annas (1981), 158“9: “The
whole development of the argument is summed up vividly at 443c“d, where Plato says that the sphere
of justice is not external actions but a person™s own inward self. He has made the just agent primary,
not the question of just actions which dominated the concerns of Thrasymachus, and of Glaucon
and Adeimantus.” On the reading I defend, Plato™s claim is much more circumscribed. He is not
here making the just agent primary, only pointing out that the “sort of” justice Socrates has de¬ned
is one concerning what it is to be a just individual. As we have seen, and shall see, the habituation
principle makes the determination of what the just action is still central.
4 The reference to an image of justice, with hindsight, foreshadows the Form/image distinction to
come in the following books, and recalls the idea of forms appearing “everywhere” in things, which
we saw in 7.3 in the passage from Book 3 (402c).
250 Aiming at Virtue in Plato
the ¬rst place is a proper upbringing consisting in engaging in the right
activities. And this is not only an idea we must recall from Books 2“3,
but one that is brought out in this very passage, and, as we shall see, also
emphasized in the remaining sections of Book 4. The lengthy sentence ends
as follows:
. . . in all these cases [i.e. actions concerning the possession of wealth, treatment
of the body, political matters or private contracts] the agent5 believes and names
the just and ¬ne action, on the one hand [¡go…menon kaª ½nom†zonta dika©an
m•n kaª kalŸn prŽxin], to be the one which would preserve and help to produce
this state [¥ ‹n ta…thn tŸn ™xin sÛzh€ te kaª sunaperg†zhtai], and on the
other hand wisdom to be the knowledge that presides over this action [sof©an d•
tŸn –pistato“san ta…th€ t¦€ pr†xei –pistžmhn], and an unjust action to be
that which always dissolves this [state], while ignorance is opinion which in turn
presides over this [Šdikon d• prŽxin, ¥ ‹n ˆeª ta…thn l…h, ˆmaq©an d• tŸn ta…th€
a” –pistato“san d»xan]. (443e4“444a2)
Scholars have found Socrates™ claim that virtuous activities have the prop-
erty of preserving and “helping to produce” (sunaperg†zhtai) a virtuous
state of soul puzzling. Terence Irwin writes, “But his [Plato™s] claim that
promotion of psychic health is necessary to make an action just (443e4“6)
seems to misuse the analogy with health.”6 Irwin interprets the passage as
claiming that the promotion of psychic health makes an action just.7 But I
think that it says something importantly weaker: just actions will have the
property of preserving and helping to produce psychic health in the agent
who performs them, but that property is not what makes the action just,
rather it is the fact that the action is truly just (the ultimate explanation of
5 Shorey (1930), 413, n. d says that the unexpressed subject of the sentence is “anybody or Everyman.”
Although the subject is inde¬nite, it is restricted to one who wishes to be just and act justly. Reeve
(1988), 260 takes the subject to be the “philosopher-king,” which cannot be actually true given that
the philosopher-king has yet to be introduced. Nevertheless, Reeve is correct that the person who
has the wisdom that consists of the knowledge to preside over this action is the philosopher-king.
See also Cooper (1977/1999), 141, who sees that the only person who will be truly just is the one who
possesses knowledge of what it is best to do and be, and that this will be the philosopher-king with
his knowledge of the Form of the Good.
6 Irwin (1977), 210. See also the more limited remarks in Irwin (1995), ch. 15, n. 16, 386; Reeve (1988),
260“1 and 318“19. Annas (1981), 163 calls the habituation principle “in a way, a truism,” but denies
that doing ordinarily just actions will engender a Platonically just agent: “for the question of what
acts are ordinarily just, what duties one ought to do, is settled by society™s moral consensus quite
apart from considerations of what makes an agent Platonically just.” This is correct about what is
“ordinarily just,” but the text points to a determination about what is truly just. If we perform actions
that are truly just, and they are truly just because, as we shall learn, they participate in the Form of
Justice, then we will have a soul which is truly harmonious. Plato foreshadows this account here; see
7 This is widely accepted and naturally so if you think that what has been given in Book 4 is a de¬nition
of justice simpliciter. For example, see also Scott (2000), 2: “actions derive their claim to be just and
unjust depending on which state of soul they promote (443c9“444a2).”
Aiming at virtue and determining what it is 251
which will be that it participates in the Form of Justice) that causes it to
have the property of preserving and helping to produce psychic health. To
borrow a distinction from Aristotle, the relationship between an action™s
being just and its maintaining and helping to produce a harmony in the
soul is that of necessary coincident.8 While what makes an action truly
just is its relationship to the Form of Justice, it has the necessary property
of engendering and maintaining a just (i.e. harmonious) soul in the agent
who performs it, which is not part of the essence of what makes the action
just in the ¬rst place.9
Consider too this passage from Julia Annas:
The good man is the norm for just action; he can tell you what the right thing to
do is, because he is just. It is clear from what Plato says here [443e5] that the just
man identi¬es the just action by reference to the state of psychic harmony which
is Platonic justice, not by reference to lists of duties accepted from any external
The good man is the norm for just action insofar as he is, we might say, a
“just action detector.” Because of the state of his soul, which includes a good
deal more than we have discussed so far, particularly regarding its wisdom,
he is able to determine what the just and ¬ne thing to do is. So we (less
than just people) can look to the just man as a guide for determining which
actions are just, provided that we remember that he acts as he does because
the action in question is truly just, but the action is not just simply because
he does it. Annas™ second sentence risks obscuring this important point.
The just man does not identify “the just action by reference to the state of
psychic harmony which is Platonic justice,” because it is not its engendering
that psychic state that makes it just, but the fact that it is truly just that
makes it engender the harmonious psychic state. Thus the truly just man
or woman, the philosopher, will indeed look to an “external source,” but
that source will be the Form of the Good. Similarly the non-philosophers
will look to an external source as well: the philosophers.
Therefore on the interpretation I am arguing for an action could not be
truly just and yet fail to engender psychic harmony in an agent, although
it is not the engendering of that harmony that makes the action just, but its
relationship to objective justice (that is, the Form of Justice). If this under-
standing of the relationship between just actions and psychic harmony is
See Met. D, 1025a30“4. A property p is a necessary coincident of object X, if p belongs to X necessarily
in virtue of what X is, but is not part of the essence of X.
9 See Kraut (1992b), 317: “just acts, persons, and cities are not what justice is, and it is correct to call
them just only if this means that they participate in the Form of Justice.”
10 Annas (1981), 160.
252 Aiming at Virtue in Plato
correct, what reason does Plato offer for thinking it true? Why believe that
performing a truly just action would lead to psychic harmony of the sort
that Plato describes? In order to answer these questions we need to look
more closely at the harmony that constitutes a person™s being just. I shall
turn to this below (8.2) and return to this important passage as well (8.3),
but ¬rst I want to complete the examination of the relationship between
just actions and a just soul in the rest of Book 4.
After explaining that injustice is a corresponding disorder and chaos
in the soul (444b), Socrates asks Glaucon whether to act unjustly and to
be unjust and to do just actions are all very clear since justice and injus-
tice are (444c2“4). Strikingly, Glaucon responds, “How so?” How does
justice and injustice in the individual, explained in terms of psychic har-
mony and disharmony, resolve questions about acting justly and unjustly?
Socrates™ answer is to present an instantiation of the habituation principle,
drawing an analogy between virtue and health: as healthy actions produce
health and diseased actions disease, so doing just actions produces justice
and doing unjust actions produces injustice (oÉko“n kaª t¼ m•n d©kaia
pr†ttein dikaios…nhn –mpoie±, t¼ d¬ Šdika ˆdik©an;) (444c11“d1). This
answer explains the importance of doing just actions, but it says nothing
about how to determine which actions are the just ones.
A little further on a similar point is made for virtue generally when it
turns out to be a sort of “good condition” (eÉex©a)11 , health, and beauty of
the soul; vice the contrary (444d12“e1). Socrates adds more details to what
is a familiar account. The soul and body are independent loci of harm and
bene¬t. “Excellence” is the name for the state that is best for the soul, as
“health” is the name of the excellent state of the body. The value of the
soul is incomparable to that of the body (445a“b; cf. 591b3“7). But, unlike
in the Gorgias, we now have a more extensive and detailed account of what
this good state of soul consists in: a harmony of three parts, with reason
ruling and so on. Before Socrates turns to pose the critical question of
whether justice or injustice is more bene¬cial, he yet again repeats a version
of the habituation principle: “Is it not also the case that ¬ne practices [t‡
m•n kal‡ –pithde…mata] lead to the possession of virtue, but shameful
ones [t‡ d¬ a«scr†] [to the possession] of vice? “ Necessarily” (444e3“5).
The reference to “practices” recalls the account of education in Books 2“3,
the aim of which was to describe which pursuits and practices ought to
be engaged in. Above we saw Socrates remark that a person needs to put
one™s soul in order before he or she engages in proper actions (443e2“3). Now

11 The same word was used in discussion with Gorgias, Gor. 464a; see 3.4.
Aiming at virtue and determining what it is 253
Socrates emphasizes the second half of the circle: the generation of a virtuous
state by repeated performance of virtuous actions. Right here then, in the
midst of the account of justice in Republic 4, which is notorious for being
an account of justice in the soul and not of just actions, the signi¬cance
of which actions are indeed the just ones is repeatedly highlighted. For it
is only by engaging in the right sorts of activities that this much coveted
and well-described psychic health will be achieved and maintained. The
determining question thus looms large, as I have argued it has all through
the account of education.
Finally, consider Socrates™ restatement of the puzzle they face at the end
of Book 4:
And now at last, as it seems, it remains for us to consider whether it is pro¬table to
do just things and to engage in ¬ne practices and to be just [d©kai† te pr†ttein
kaª kal‡ –pithde…ein kaª e²nai d©kaion], whether or not it escapes notice that a
person is such, or whether [it is more pro¬table] to do injustice and to be unjust if
one does not have to pay the penalty nor must become better by being punished.
Note here the continued emphasis on both acting and being just. This
highlights the glaring absence of any account of how to determine what
the virtuous actions are, or why they are virtuous. We know, given the
habituation principle, that virtuous actions generate and maintain virtuous
souls. We know too, in more detail than in any previous dialogue, what a
virtuous soul is like, and why it is a good thing to have one. But we are
still at a loss as to how to get this project off the ground without a way of
determining which actions and activities are the ¬ne and virtuous ones.
Glaucon™s and Adeimantus™ challenge apparently left no conceptual room
for justice to be a good in itself, that is, on the account defended in chapter
six, a good for the soul. The only good in itself that the many acknowledge
is desire satisfaction “ something that the unrestrained unjust person has,
and the restrained just person does not. Thus acting unjustly appears to
be a good in itself, while acting justly seems to be an evil in itself. But
Socrates™ account has opened up conceptual space for a kind of good in
itself that is not even in view on the many™s account: namely the health and
harmony of the parts of the soul, generated and maintained through just
action. Acting justly and being just, then, are goods for the soul, since they
result in and/or constitute the excellent condition of the soul.12 Employing
reasoning familiar from the Crito (47d“48a),13 Glaucon dismisses further

12 See chapter six for discussion of “causal consequences” of just action.
13 This reasoning includes the principle of the superiority of soul over body.
254 Aiming at Virtue in Plato
inquiry as unnecessary: if life is not worth living with a ruined body, it is
absurd to think that the unjust life is more pro¬table if “the very nature
and constitution of that whereby we live is disordered and corrupted.” How
can life be worth living “if only someone can do whatever he wishes [‚ ‹n
boulhq¦] [and wishes to do] anything except that which will remove him
from the place where vice and injustice [arise] and make him possessed
of justice and virtue” (445a9“b4)? When Glaucon speaks of the trade-off
between the good of having psychic health and the good of the desire
satisfaction of a man doing “whatever he wishes” he takes it to be no
contest.14 But Socrates objects that there is still more work to do, and he is
right. If they are to appeal to the many, and convince them of the value of
justice, the argument for its superiority is not complete. First, there must be
a description of how precisely the unjust person fails to possess the good of
psychic health, for only then will we know that and how the just person is
better off. Then we must understand why acting justly does not nevertheless
remain a bad thing in itself insofar as it frustrates our desires, and why the
unjust man does not still possess a good in itself insofar as he may do “as he
pleases” and thus has desire satisfaction. Books 8“9 will address these issues,
beginning with detailed accounts of how the various degenerate characters
fail to possess the good in itself that is psychic harmony.15

8.2 j us t pe rs ons
What makes a person just is each part of his soul “doing its own,” particularly
regarding “ruling and being ruled” (443b1“2, 444d7“10). The central aspects
of this are: reason rules, spirit supports that rule, and appetite obeys. We
are told more about reason™s ¬ttingness to rule: reason is “in reality wise and
has forethought on behalf of the whole soul” (441e3“4). A person is wise
by virtue of “that small part in him which rules in him and makes these
commands [which spirit preserves] since it has, in turn, the knowledge in it
of what is bene¬cial for each [part of the soul] and for the whole, which is the
community of the three parts” (442c4“7). So when reasoning is functioning
at its best, it does not simply rule, but rules with knowledge. What is the
connection between its possession of knowledge and its acting on behalf
of the whole soul? I presume the idea is that, whatever the capacities of the
other two parts of the soul are,16 they do not and cannot, by de¬nition,
14 See 6.5 for the importance of doing “whatever one wants” in Glaucon™s and Adeimantus™ challenge.
15 Crucially they will argue that there is more to desire and desire satisfaction than appetite. See below,
16 A very controversial question; see, e.g., Bobonich (2002), ch. 3, 216“57.
Aiming at virtue and determining what it is 255
determine what is just or right or best simpliciter. The assessment of truth
about actions or people being just or unjust, right or wrong, and so on is the
job of reason. Spirit may determine whether something honors or dishonors
us and appetite may inform us of whether something is pleasurable or
painful in certain ways. But neither is capable of making determinations
about right or wrong, as only reason is interested in the truth about what is
excellent, instead of merely what pricks our honor or grati¬es our appetites.
Reason makes particular sorts of judgements “ about what is good, just, and
so on “ and, further, when it is ruling at its best it makes these judgements
correctly with knowledge.
Appreciating what is involved in reason ruling has led commentators to
claim that only philosophers can be just, since, although the reader does
not yet realize it at this point in Book 4, only philosophers have knowledge
and so only they are wise. Thus, given that what it is to be just is de¬ned as
the rational part ruling “with knowledge” and “with wisdom,” Plato™s view
must be that only philosophers can be just.17 I shall turn to this issue below,
but ¬rst I want to consider the question I left unanswered in the previous
section. I claimed that it is not an action™s effect on a person™s soul that
makes it just, even though a truly just act could not fail to engender psychic
harmony. But why believe that performing a truly just action promotes or
engenders psychic harmony?
Let us start with the case of the truly wise and just, who, we know with
hindsight, are the philosophers. When the Forms are introduced, we learn
that they are the paradigmatic objects of knowledge and comprehension.
By de¬nition, objects of knowledge18 are comprehended by reason. It is
only the rational part of the soul that can grasp what justice is, that is,
the Form of Justice.19 If we act truly justly, then we act in a way that
truly participates in the Form of Justice. This must be, at least, a necessary
17 See Cooper (1977/1999), 139“41; Irwin (1995), 229“35. Bobonich (2002), 41“88 holds a very strict
version of this and draws quite negative conclusions about the ethics and politics of the Republic
from it.
18 I am using “knowledge” here in the sense of knowledge of Forms, and not ordinary awareness of one™s
environment or of the fact that such and such would be pleasant or painful or dishonorable, which
spirit or appetite might “know” in the sense of be aware of. It is only reason that can possibly ascend
to grasp the Forms. Below I shall argue further that it is only the reason of the non-philosophers
that could understand the argument in Book 5, discussed in 7.4.3, about why philosophers should
19 I take it that this is uncontroversial no matter how sophisticated one thinks that the capacities of
appetite and spirit for forming beliefs and judgements may be. See, for example, Kamtekar (1998),
328 for a generous assessment. Bobonich (2002), 219 writes: “Plato characterizes each of these three
parts in agent-like terms: each is treated as the ultimate subject of psychological affections, activities,
and capacities that are normally attributed to the person as a whole.” See also Gill (1996), 240“75
and Irwin (1995), 217“22. For a more “de¬‚ationist” interpretation see Cooper (1984/1999), 120“1:
256 Aiming at Virtue in Plato
condition for having a harmonious soul, assuming we are convinced that a
harmonious soul has the nature that Plato says it does. Since reason ruling
with knowledge is what it is to have a harmonious soul, if someone acts
in a way that is not truly just (does not participate in the Form of Justice),
then either he is ignorant of what the just act is (and thus his reason is not
ruling with knowledge) or else some other part of his soul has taken over
rule and he is acting according to the ends of appetite or spirit; in either
case he is not just and so is in a less than healthy condition in the most
important part of himself. In order to have and maintain psychic health,
one must do what is truly just and virtuous.
The account of justice as a harmony in the soul, as I have said, answers
the question of why one would commit to SV; it is part of the response
to Glaucon™s and Adeimantus™ challenge to show how acting justly is good
for the soul. To act in a way that truly participates in the Form of Justice
(and ultimately in the Form of the Good) simply is to follow the rule of
reason, for it is reason and reason alone that can discover the truth about
what is ¬ne and just. Therefore to do truly just acts is to act in a way that
maintains and produces the psychic order that constitutes Platonic justice.
Does this account, however, miss the critical signi¬cance of motivation?
Surely, one might object, it is not enough to be just simply to do what the
just person would do. For obviously someone might act justly simply in
order to avoid a painful punishment or in order to be honored. In such
cases the agent is presumably led to do what the just person would do either
by appetite or spirit.
A philosopher™s motivation for acting justly stems from: (1) the moti-
vations and desires that arise and develop through the course of his early
education and from living in the Kallipolis, which ensure that appetitive
and spirited desires are calm and correct, and that virtuous actions are seen
as desirable and praiseworthy;20 and (2) from the understanding that psy-
chic health consists in the rule of reason over the other two parts of the
soul. Commitment to psychic health is commitment to SV. Anyone who
understands what psychic health is has been shown how acting virtuously
is a good for the soul; he has thus been given a reason to want to act
justly overall. Since reason alone can determine what truly virtuous action
is, only by following reason can one be psychically healthy. A philosopher,

“. . . Plato™s theory that there are three parts [of the soul] is, roughly, the theory that there are three
psychological determinants of choice and voluntary action”; and Gerson (2003).
20 At the moment we are talking about the motivation of ideal agents, i.e., the philosophers. See above,
7.4.1, for the effect of living in the Kallipolis on the two lower classes. Below, 8.3, we will discuss the
nature of virtue in non-philosophers.
Aiming at virtue and determining what it is 257
then, is someone who has shown superior ability to never waver from the
beliefs about what ought and ought not to be done that have been dyed into
her as a result of early education. In addition, she understands that the soul
is the most important part of her and that psychic health and harmony
consists in reason ruling, spirit supporting, and appetite obeying. Thus
she understands why she ought to be virtuous, in addition to her having
the habituated desire to be virtuous. Finally, given her advanced train-
ing in mathematics and dialectic she will know which actions, practices,
and institutions are truly just and good because of her knowledge of the
For many recent commentators, the metaphysics in Books 5“7 provides
in some way an account of why the philosophers are motivated to be just.21
I do not deny that knowledge of the Forms may supply philosophers with
additional motivations.22 On my view, elaborated in 8.4, the metaphysics
is about how to answer the outstanding determining questions and who
will be able to answer them. Thus it is truly a “digression,” as Socrates says
(543c4“6), from the main topic, since it is not about why a person is better
off doing just actions and being just. The answer to that is supplied by the
argument in Books 4 and 8“9, when we learn about the good that psychic
harmony is for the soul and the harm to the soul that results from various
forms of psychic disharmony.
Moreover, a philosopher will act justly, for reason will have the knowledge
of what justice is. But might not a philosopher know what justice is, and
still fail to act on it? To act unjustly would mean that either the philosopher
is ignorant, which he is not by de¬nition, or that he is ruled by some other
part of his soul than reason, which would mean that he would voluntarily
forgo the good of psychic health. Since a healthy soul is far more impor-
tant than a healthy body or than reputation or material gain, there would
be nothing of comparable value for the philosopher for which he would
exchange the good of a healthy soul.23 The philosopher-king, then, like the
phronimos in Aristotle™s Nicomachean Ethics,24 quite simply has no reason
21 See Cooper (1977/1999), Irwin (1995), 298“317, and Kraut (1992b).
22 See Brown (2004), 287“8. I agree with much of what Brown says. I differ from him in that I think
that, in addition to the early education of the philosophers, the argument in Book 4 is key to
philosophers™ (and, as we shall see, non-philosophers™) understanding of why they should be just.
Furthermore, what makes the philosophers particularly special is not so much their motivation as
their ability: their ability to know what is just, good, beautiful, and so on. It is this ability to answer
de¬nitively the outstanding determining questions, which we non-philosophers can have at best
true beliefs about, that quali¬es them to rule and makes the existence of the Kallipolis so much as
possible. See below.
23 This will be different for the non-philosopher, as we shall see below.
24 See 1146a5“7, 1152a6“8, and Burnyeat (1980), esp. 88.
258 Aiming at Virtue in Plato
to be incontinent. No action that runs contrary to virtue would motivate
the philosopher to act, since he values above all his psychic health, which is
constitutive of his happiness and is generated and maintained by virtuous
What generates a “gap” between psychic justice and “ordinary” or “com-
mon” justice is the assumption, shared by those who attempt to defend
Plato, that Plato is now de¬ning justice simpliciter as a state of psychic har-
mony. If we understand the de¬nition of justice as “harmony in the soul”
as replacing an account of just actions, then such a puzzle is pressing. On
the interpretation I defend, by contrast, the question of how to determine
which actions are just and virtuous remains, at this stage of the argument,
outstanding. Psychic harmony is what it is to be just; what it is that makes
things just is the Form of Justice. Determining which actions are just will
be a matter for those who know what Justice itself (the Form of Justice)
is. On the common view that makes psychic harmony constitute justice
simpliciter it becomes a mystery how anyone could determine whether an
action is just or not. A person would need to see whether it contributes to
psychic harmony. But how would one do this? There would be no content
to the idea that reason rules, for there would be no object for its knowl-
edge. It would be badly circular if what reason knows is simply that by
doing such and such an action it would continue to rule. There has to be
an explanation of why reason is superior to appetite and spirit, and that
is because it alone can have knowledge of the true nature of the Just, the
Beautiful, the Good, and so on. Thus, as we would expect, the reason why
the rational part ought to rule in the soul is the same as why philosophers
ought to rule in the Kallipolis: because it (they) alone has (have) knowledge
of the Good.
Finally, Socrates™ claims to knowledge in the Republic are consistent with
those in the “earlier” dialogues. In the account of the virtues in Book 4
Socrates does not disavow knowledge as he did in the dialogues of def-
inition.25 The interpretation defended here explains why Socrates can be
con¬dent (at this level of detail, cf. 435d) in his account of justice in the soul,
without contradicting his standard disavowal of knowledge of what justice
is, in the sense of knowing how to determine which actions or action-types
are just and ¬ne. The accounts of the virtues in Book 4 are not accounts that
even attempt to answer the question that the dialogues of de¬nition posed.
These dialogues were trying, unsuccessfully, to determine what virtuous
actions were in general: to answer the question of the Euthyphro. When

25 Irwin (1995), 262 takes this as a difference in need of explanation.
Aiming at virtue and determining what it is 259
this question is addressed in the middle books, Socrates disavows knowl-
edge of the Form of the Good, which will be necessary and suf¬cient for
answering these determining questions. What is striking about the view that
emerges is that, even with the determining question outstanding, Socrates
is able to describe what justice in the soul is in a way that supports the goal
of defending the aiming principle, SV, that one should do the just/virtuous
action above all. To the extent that earlier dialogues turned to questions of
being virtuous we have seen that they supply answers similar to the ones
given in the Republic “ courage is knowledge of what is to be feared and
what not. At the same time Socrates disavows, consistently, knowledge of
what virtue is. Lacking that general knowledge, he has no way to determine
which actions are virtuous, barring the intervention of his divine sign26 or
his following “the logos that seems best,” which is explicitly described as a
second best that falls short of knowledge. He has, by contrast, consistently
avowed knowledge of SV.27 The argument in Book 4 is about this question.
In the account of education, where the proper determination of which sto-
ries were the appropriate ones was at issue, Socrates cautioned Glaucon not
to think that they knew their account was right (392c; 402b“c; 416b“c). In
the middle books of the Republic as well, where I shall maintain that deter-
mining questions are central, Socrates will once again disavow knowledge
and offer epistemological caveats. On my reading, Socrates™ epistemological
claims about aiming and determining questions remain consistent.

8.3 th e virtu e of n on-ph ilos ophe rs
We have just discussed the motivations and psychic state of the ideal agent.
The Republic, however, is explicitly concerned with explaining to non-
philosophers why they ought to be just above all, that is, even if they will
lose out in terms of physical health or comfort, material goods, reputation,
and appetitive grati¬cation. The argument of Book 4 is intended to answer
the aiming question about why one should aim at justice and virtue above
all. It is an argument understandable by non-philosophers as well as by
philosophers; no knowledge of Forms is required. Thus non-philosophers
can understand why they should act justly and virtuously. What they lack,
which the philosophers have, is knowledge of how to answer determining
questions about which actions are just and virtuous, either in general or
in the here and now. Thus, I shall argue, non-philosophers in the Republic
26 See also Rep. 496c, where Socrates mentions it as the cause of saving him from the wrong way of
life, and enabling him to pursue philosophy in non-ideal circumstances.
27 See chapter one.
260 Aiming at Virtue in Plato
ought to be in a position similar to Socrates™: they have been given a good
reason to be committed to SV and, by the time Book 7 is completed, will be
aware that they do not have knowledge about how to answer determining
questions, but that philosophers do (see 7.4.3). All citizens of the Kallipolis
have had the effect on their souls of growing up in a well-ordered, harmo-
nious, beautiful, and just city, have witnessed ¬rst-hand true philosophers
as rulers, and have learned the “ethical truths” embodied in the Noble Lie.28
Furthermore, the auxiliaries (at least) have been given a “musical” educa-
tion aimed at training their spirit and appetite to desire what is truly good
and to listen to reason.
It is important to remember that the accounts of justice and wisdom
in Book 4 are given prior to the news that it is philosophers alone who
are wise and have knowledge. The overall aim of the Republic is to show
how it bene¬ts a person to be truly just above all and not simply appear
just. The answer to why one ought to be just is supposed to appeal to
the reader of the Republic and to the audience of the inner frame. If the
only person who could understand why one ought to be just above all,
regardless of the loss of bene¬t to one™s body or one™s material possessions
(including one™s reputation, which is quite important considering the status
of the auxiliaries), is one who knows what justice and goodness is, then the
argument of the Republic ends up as a failure. If only the philosopher knows
why it is valuable to be just, then only he values justice “for its own sake.”29
Thus only a philosopher will understand, for reasons that remain entirely
offstage, why he ought to act justly. But, as I have argued, the challenge of
Book 2 is to see what justice does itself by itself to one™s soul. The Book 4
answer that justice is a harmony in the soul, with each part of the soul doing
its proper work, is (a major part of ) the answer to the aiming question:
why be just/virtuous above all? The answer is because just actions preserve
the most healthy state of the most important part of oneself: one™s soul.
If non-philosophers had no prospect of being just, that is, of living with a
harmonious and healthy soul (even if they do not have the prospect of their
soul™s being in the best state possible for a human being “ namely wise),
which is engendered and protected by engaging in truly just actions and
activities, then the Republic would provide the non-philosopher with no

28 See 7.4.1 and 7.4.2 and Kamtekar (2004).
29 Cf. Irwin (1995), 235: “only philosophers choose justice for what it really is.” My reading of the
Republic would qualify such a claim in the following way. Non-philosophers do choose being just
for what it really is: a healthy, harmonious, state of soul. Of course non-philosophers do not know
what justice really is in the sense of knowing what makes just actions just: that is, they do not know
the Form of Justice.
Aiming at virtue and determining what it is 261
reason to be just.30 Thus I shall defend the iconoclastic idea that (almost)
everyone in the Kallipolis is led in a sense by the rational part of the soul.31
In Book 8 (580d“581c) Socrates says that people come in three types,
depending on which part of their soul rules: appetitive, spirited, or rational.
If it is assumed that this is true not simply of ordinary people but also of
those who have been raised in the special culture of the Kallipolis, then
one must assume that the producers in the Kallipolis seek (and perhaps
understand) that they will get the most of what they want (money) in
the Kallipolis, the auxiliaries realize that they will get the most honor,
and the philosophers understand that they will get the most access to
truth.32 Rachana Kamtekar writes: “[581b“c] could be simply an observation
about what people are like, whatever the natural and environmental causes,
rather than a claim that there are three ¬xed natures. But if it is the latter,
then it would seem that auxiliaries must be ruled by their spirited part,
and the producers by their appetitive part.”33 She then argues that non-
philosophers™ virtue would require an education “to value as ends things
other than their characteristic ends of honour or wealth.” Although I am
quite sympathetic with the overall direction of her argument, if an education
can lead a person to value as ends something other than honor or wealth “
for example, virtue “ in what sense would such a person still be ruled by their
appetitive or spirited part? Presumably, the point would be that the mere
valuing of ends other than the person™s “characteristic” ones is insuf¬cient
for that person to count as being led by reason.
I think that more ¬nely grained distinctions are needed. Given the
description of the nature of the rational part as that which seeks “in reality”
the truth and which cares for the whole soul, it seems plain that if, for

30 In addition, Plato says that the goal of the Republic is to make the city as a whole as happy as possible,
not just one class (421b3“7; 519e1“520a2). If the lower classes have no prospect of being virtuous or
at least of approximating virtue in some way, then they are entirely deprived of happiness.
31 The “almost” means that there can be exceptions, especially in the producer class. But I do think
that the majority of the producers in the Kallipolis will be led by their reason.
32 Reeve (1988) maintains such a view. Bobonich (2002), 47 explicitly claims that this passage states
“general psychological principles that apply to people both inside and outside the just city” (my
emphasis). Kamtekar (1998), 315 also adopts this idea without questioning it. She then works hard
to show how the resources of an auxiliary, who is led by his spirited part, can nevertheless achieve a
secondary or “imperfect” virtue that appreciates genuine virtue for approximately correct reasons,
even if he lacks the best reasons of the philosophers. Kamtekar (2004), esp. 145“9, raises important
objections against both Reeve™s (1988) and Bobonich™s (2002) view that non-philosophers desire to
achieve wealth or honor but do not value virtue as an end. One main criticism is that if the Kallipolis
simply helps producers or auxiliaries to maximize their wealth or honor then the Kallipolis in reality
fails to improve them morally and it is unclear how it has made them any happier, since it is false
that honor or wealth is the good.
33 Kamtekar (2004), 154.
262 Aiming at Virtue in Plato
example, an auxiliary comes to value as an end something other than honor,
he could only come to value that through an exercise of his reason. For it is
only reason, by de¬nition, that can value virtue qua virtue. Now it is true
that the mere fact that, for example, an auxiliary comes to value justice via
his reason does not show that he leads, as it were, his life around reason in
the sense that he spends his life pursuing the truth and seeking knowledge.
Rather, we might agree, on the assumption that 580d“581c does state gen-
eral psychological principles, that his life goals are set, in the main, by his
spirited part, even though his rational part operates on its own for the good
of his whole soul in his understanding that the philosophers should rule
and why they have a nature to rule. Thus the auxiliary realizes that he has
true beliefs about what ought to be done because they have been provided
for him by philosophers who know. This realization, I maintain, can only
be the result of the auxiliary™s reason aiming at discovering, as best it can,
what the truth is. In these capacities the reason of the auxiliary is not acting
as a servant of spirit, but realizing something about what is good for the
soul as a whole.
This is further illustrated in the discussion of the auxiliaries™ courage
(429c“430c). Socrates says that the auxiliaries™ courage consists in their
steadfast adherence to their educated “correct and lawful belief” about
what should be feared and what not (430b3“5). That the auxiliaries will not
abandon their beliefs because of pleasure, pain, fear, or desire implies that
they are led by their reason, which tells them that the laws and orders of the
rulers are in fact correct. For, if they were led by spirit in such situations,
it is easy to imagine that they might abandon the orders of the rulers in
certain situations; for example, if the rulers order them to withdraw and to
cease ¬ghting when (it might seem to the auxiliary) additional glory is to be
had. The situation is similar for the producers. We have seen in 7.4.3 that
a sort of Socratic wisdom will be the cognitive state of non-philosophers
in the Kallipolis about critical beliefs regarding the city, the role of the
philosophers, and the citizens. Of course the lowest class has not received
an auxiliary™s education and does not have the auxiliaries™ ability to preserve
their beliefs about what ought to be done in the face of temptation.
Despite these considerations, however, does the textual evidence from
Book 4 justify attributing justice to non-philosophers or does it rather,
as most scholars believe, explicitly rule out attributing it to anyone but
philosophers? As we have seen, a person is wise in virtue of the rational
part having knowledge within it of what is advantageous for each part and
for the soul as a whole (442c4“8). While no one disputes that philosophers
alone will be wise, we should be clear that the audiences of the inner and
Aiming at virtue and determining what it is 263
outer frames do not know this yet. These audiences agree, presumably, that
what it is to be truly wise is to have knowledge in the rational part of one™s
soul; as we have seen, they must wait until the argument at the end of Book
5 to learn that they themselves lack that knowledge and that philosophers
alone possess it. Most commentators conclude, nevertheless, that each of
the virtues (in particular, justice) requires wisdom so that the account of
virtue here amounts to saying that only philosophers can be just.34 But
these views focus exclusively on the idea that reason is only functioning
well (at its best) when it is wise, that is, when it itself possesses knowledge.
The passage we discussed in 8.1, however, is the one in Book 4 that actually
connects justice and wisdom. And if we examine it closely, we shall see that
it clearly leaves open the possibility that one could be just without oneself
possessing wisdom. I shall quote the passage again:
In truth, as it seems, justice was some such thing [toio“to<n> m”n ti §n], but not
concerning an external action of the things of oneself, but an internal [one], what
is truly about oneself and the things of oneself . . . [one needs to prevent meddling
among the parts of soul and to order harmoniously the three parts of his soul ¬rst
and only then turn to actions concerning the possession of wealth, treatment of
the body, political matters or private contracts] in all these cases the agent believing
and naming the just and ¬ne action, on the one hand [¡go…menon kaª ½nom†zonta
dika©an m•n kaª kalŸn prŽxin], to be the one which would preserve and help to
produce this state [¥ ‹n ta…thn tŸn ™xin sÛzh€ te kaª sunaperg†zhtai], and on
the other hand wisdom to be the knowledge that presides over this action [sof©an
d• tŸn –pistato“san ta…th€ t¦€ pr†xei –pistžmhn], and an unjust action to be
that which always dissolves this [state], while ignorance is opinion which in turn
presides over this [Šdikon d• prŽxin, ¥ ‹n ˆeª ta…thn l…h, ˆmaq©an d• tŸn ta…th€
a” –pistato“san d»xan]. (443c9 . . .“444a2)

As we saw above, Socrates is explaining that the justice they have found is
an internal justice, on analogy with the justice in the city, which consists in
the proper relationship between parts of the soul. The agent whose soul is
in proper order then turns to actions not only believing and naming as just
34 Cooper (1977/1999), 140; Irwin (1995), 223“36; Bobonich (2002), 43.
35 Bobonich (2002), 43 cites this passage as justi¬cation for the following claim: “Justice requires that
each part of the soul do its own job with regard to ruling and being ruled and this requires possession
of the other three virtues, including wisdom.” The passage does say that each part of the soul must
do its own job, but it does not say simply that justice requires the other virtues including wisdom;
rather, as I shall show, it says that an agent calls wisdom the knowledge that presides over the just
action, which in turn preserves the just state of soul. Importantly, talk about what the agent will
call wise (or, with hindsight, whom the agent will call wise) does not say anything about whether
the agent himself will possess the wisdom which presides over the just action; it makes the weaker
claim that it will call wisdom the knowledge that presides, leaving open who it is that possesses that
knowledge. Reeve (1988), Irwin (1977), (1995), and Cooper (1977/1999a) do not discuss at all the
passage™s claim that “the agent will call wisdom the knowledge that presides over the action.”
264 Aiming at Virtue in Plato
and noble the action that preserves this state, but also believing and naming
wisdom as the knowledge that presides over “this action.” What precisely
is the end of the passage saying about wisdom? Wisdom is contrasted
with ignorance. An unjust action is one which upsets and dissolves the
harmonious psychic state, while ignorance is when mere opinion (d»xa), as
opposed to knowledge, “presides over this [action].” Scholars note that this
is the ¬rst mention in the Republic of the knowledge/opinion distinction
that will ¬gure so largely in the epistemology of Books 5“7.36 I think
that the mention of wisdom and ignorance supports the understanding
of the relationship between the effects of just actions on psychic harmony
and the objective nature of just actions defended above. A just and ¬ne
action is one that preserves and engenders psychic harmony, but the ideal
agent also believes and names wisdom the knowledge that presides over
this same action “ the action that is truly noble and just and thus critical to
psychic harmony. With hindsight, the knowledge that presides over “this
action” is the knowledge of the Form of Justice which enables a person
to determine whether “this action” is just or not. We shall see in the next
section that the philosophers will use their knowledge of the Forms in order
to settle determining questions in the sensible world. I think that the critical
role of this is foreshadowed here. Thus, while it is true that just actions
engender just souls and help to preserve them, we must have knowledge
“presiding over” our actions to ensure that they are truly just and so will
truly have the proper effect. Without this, one might have the absurd result
that a just man (one who is ruled by reason) does unjust actions (actions
that are in reality unjust). The account here then is similar to the earlier
account of education where we saw that engaging in the proper actions and
activities brings about the proper type of person (7.3). Just as Socrates had
to pull the overanxious Glaucon back from concluding that they had in fact
described the proper education, which, Socrates said, must await knowledge
of forms, here too there is a reference to the necessity of wisdom and
knowledge for a person truly to be just. And the knowledge that is required
is knowledge of how to determine which actions are the truly ¬ne and just
But what is most signi¬cant about the passage for the understanding of
the justice of non-philosophers is that it does not require that the agent
himself possess the necessary knowledge. It requires something critically
different: that the agent believe and name wisdom to be the knowledge
presiding over actions, and that he name and believe ignorance to be mere
belief presiding over actions. This will be something a non-philosopher

36 See Adam (1902), 264; Shorey (1930), 416.
Aiming at virtue and determining what it is 265
will do, as we have seen, once he has gone through the Book 5 argument
(7.4.3). He will understand that mere opinion is fallible, while knowledge is
infallible. Further, realizing that philosophers alone have knowledge, he will
call the philosophers wise, believe them to be so, and believe that he ought
to listen to what they say. Thus he will, as I said above, follow his reason in
a derivative way. This passage does not say that possession of wisdom by an
agent is necessary for that agent™s having a harmonious soul and being just.
Rather, read carefully, it says that there must be wisdom and knowledge
present in determining which actions ought to be done in order for a person
to have and maintain a just soul. This might be accomplished by someone
who has the knowledge within himself (as it will turn out philosophers do)
or it might be accomplished by someone who can, as the passage requires,
at least recognize and call wisdom the knowledge of someone else (the
philosopher) that presides over the actions that non-philosophers will do
in the Kallipolis.
Thus inside the Kallipolis everyone will be led by reason in some way:
the philosophers by their own reason and thus in the best way, the non-
philosophers derivatively by the reason of the philosophers.37 Reason leads
derivatively in non-philosophers in two ways: in their Socratic wisdom
effected by their understanding that philosophers alone have knowledge of
the Good, Just, and so on (as we saw above, 7.4.3); and in their awareness
that they have true beliefs about what they ought to do and how the
Kallipolis ought to be, since they get their beliefs about these things from
the philosopher-rulers who have knowledge.38 It will be the reason of the
37 A caveat: incontinence is certainly possible for the citizens who are not philosophers. They have
been given the best education they are capable of receiving, have the advantages of living in the
Kallipolis, realize that they lack knowledge, that virtuous action is supremely important, and that
philosophers supply them with true beliefs about what they ought to do and how they ought to live.
But of course they sometimes act contrary to their reason, unlike philosophers (8.2). A large part
of the musical education, as we have seen, consists in testing whether auxiliaries and rulers preserve
their beliefs in the face of pleasure and fear. Socrates envisions a member of the auxiliaries who “on
account of vice” leaves his formation or drops his weapons in battle; such a person is then “demoted”
to craftsman or farmer (468a6“8). Recall too that auxiliaries function as police as well as military, so
bad behavior will be punished and incurably bad people will be put to death (410a2“4).
38 Bobonich (2002), 72 rejects the idea that non-philosophers can have true beliefs about what philoso-
phers have knowledge about because, he claims, it misleadingly suggests that they agree on content,
but differ only in epistemic states. The content about which non-philosophers have “false beliefs”
according to Bobonich is “what makes things good or ¬ne” and thus they will fail to recognize
“why virtue is good and ¬ne.” On my account, they will not have false beliefs about these things,
they will have Socratic wisdom about them: they will realize that Forms make things good and ¬ne
and they will realize that they lack knowledge of Forms. Further they will agree with the content
of philosophers™ judgements about what ought to be done in the city: they will have true beliefs
that the city ought to be ordered as it is, that philosophers ought to rule, that they ought to do
whatever they have been commanded to do by the philosophers, and that in this way they will have
harmonious souls led by reason and so will be psychically healthy (or as healthy as is possible for
them); philosophers, by contrast, will know these things.
266 Aiming at Virtue in Plato
non-philosophers that sees that the philosophers ought to rule. So it is
plausible to say that they are led by reason too “in a way” (cf. 590c7“d6).
The lower classes agree that the philosophers should rule, and understand,
in a sense, why they should rule insofar as they alone have knowledge
of Forms. They also understand, as we readers understand, that, just as
justice in the city consists in each class doing its own work, justice in the
soul consists in each “class” of the soul doing its own work. Any other
arrangement where, for example, spirit or appetite ruled rather than reason
constitutes an unhealthy state of the most important part of oneself. Despite
realizing that their own rational parts of the soul lack wisdom, the mass of
citizens can still follow their reason by acting not for the sake of honor or
appetite, but for the sake of virtue. They are committed to doing the right
thing above all, although they realize (with their reason) that they do not
have knowledge of what the beautiful/noble or just is. They further realize
that since philosophers do know, by doing what the philosophers say “ by
composing poetry or building buildings or ¬ghting in wars according to
the philosophers™ instructions “ they are doing what they ought to and so
they are acting in a way that produces and engenders a happy and orderly
soul and society.
Habituated virtue, generated by a proper upbringing “ that is, one con-
sisting of truly virtuous actions and practices “ together with an awareness
of their own ignorance about the nature of goodness and virtue is as vir-
tuous as most human beings can be. In this sense it captures the general
Greek sense of aretˆ as “excellence.” There is not one human state of excel-
lence because, Plato believes, there are different kinds of human beings with
different natural capacities for excellence. Habituated virtue is effective so
long as the actions and activities engaged in are truly virtuous; it is a just
action for the cobbler to cobble in the Kallipolis. Without philosophers
making determinations about which practices and activities are the truly
good and virtuous ones, the only way an ordinary person will be excellent
is by some stroke of luck “ e.g., the divine sign. This is why the Kallipolis
will never come into being, nor will evils end for cities or human beings,
until philosophers are rulers (473c6“d11). For only a philosopher is capa-
ble of knowing which actions are virtuous. Non-philosophers are capable
of realizing that they ought to be virtuous and thus do virtuous actions
(Gorgias, Protagoras, and Euthyphro agree with that). What they lack,
however, is wisdom. Although they are incapable of gaining wisdom for
themselves, they are not simply “slavish” in their virtue (cf. 430b), for they
can acquire the “human,” Socratic, wisdom of the Apology, and so achieve a
“political virtue” that is the result of their properly habituated and educated
Aiming at virtue and determining what it is 267
beliefs about the good (cf. 430c). A slavish virtue would consist in doing
the right thing simply out of fear of punishment or hope of reward. The
non-philosophers of the Republic, by contrast, understand that truly just
actions are truly good for their souls and for their city, and they also realize
that the philosophers know what is truly just.
Let me summarize where we are. By the end of Book 4 Socrates has begun
to answer an aiming question: why is acting justly of supreme importance?
The partial answer is that acting justly is valuable in itself insofar as it
generates and maintains psychic health, of which we now have a fairly
detailed description. There is more to goods for the soul than simply desire
satisfaction. But at the same time we have seen that this answer, in order to be
effective, needs a determination to be made: how can we determine which
actions and practices are the virtuous ones? This question has dogged the
argument ever since Socrates and company began to describe the education
of the future guards, and is all the more pressing now that we realize how
much particular actions and practices affect and effect: the very well-being of
the most important part of ourselves. The account in Book 4, relying as it
does on the habituation principle, makes this concern explicit. Cleitophon™s
complaint is exacerbated, not resolved. It will be the task of Books 5“7 to
address this determining question. If I am correct about the structure of
the argument, we can see how the Republic is a deeply uni¬ed work that
expands on and develops the views we have seen in the earlier dialogues.

8. 4 t he p romise of a n a nswe r to de te rm in i ng
qu es ti ons
There is, of course, a profound difference between philosophers and non-
philosophers, but it consists not so much in a difference in their motivations,
as in their abilities. The philosopher alone has knowledge of which actions
and practices are good, ¬ne, and just and thus will truly produce good, ¬ne,
and just characters. Knowledge is described in the Republic as a capacity
(dunamis) “ it gives the philosopher a special ability to determine which
actions and practices are the right ones, which is why the philosopher ought
to rule.
The middle books of the Republic are most famous for the metaphysics
and ontology they present with strikingly vivid and original imagery.
Socrates and his interlocutors ascend to these metaphysical heights as
the result of explaining and defending Socrates™ shocking claim that the
Kallipolis will arise only if philosophers become rulers, or else the rulers
become philosophers (473d). As we have seen, it turns out that philosophers
268 Aiming at Virtue in Plato
alone have knowledge of real beings, namely, the Forms. In Books 6“7
the Forms are described in greater detail, through the images of the Sun,
Line, and Cave, as are also the nature and education required for potential
I shall only trace a speci¬c line of thought through Plato™s metaphysics.
Applying the aiming/determining distinction I shall argue that the Forms
play a critical role for moral epistemology: they are the answer “ or perhaps
more accurately the promise of an answer “ to the determining questions
posed by Socrates in earlier dialogues. There are many passages that show
that the philosopher™s knowledge of the Forms enables him to determine
which particular actions and practices are truly just, and that without such
knowledge these determinations cannot be properly made. Thus I offer
a different way of explaining the signi¬cance of the metaphysics of the
central books. Some scholars attempt to integrate the middle books into
the Republic as a whole by claiming that they present a metaphysical defense
of justice.39 On such a view an understanding of the Forms contributes to
understanding why we should be just.40 On the view defended here, this
is an aiming question addressed primarily in Books 4, 8, and 9, while
the metaphysics in Books 5“7 addresses the determining question of what
the content of justice and virtue is, and who will know it. In the preceding
sections we have seen how important resolving these determining questions
is: the creation and maintenance of a just and healthy soul depend upon it.
We saw that throughout the account of education in Books 2 and 3 there is
a tension between the description of the stories necessary for generating the
virtues, and Socrates™ explicit claim that they could not know whether the
education they had described was right. The Forms determine the nature
of actions, characters, and bodies.41
39 See, e.g., Cooper (1977/1999); Dahl (1991/2000); Irwin (1995), 298“317; Kraut (1992b). Brown (2004)
discusses and raises problems for these views. Scott (2000), esp. 19, disputes the idea that there is
any “metaphysical defense of justice” actually executed in the Republic. Although he believes such a
defense “would have packed far more punch,” he argues that Socrates limits himself to psychological
argument, which is more appropriate for his less advanced audience.
40 I do not need to deny that the philosophers may possess additional motivations for being just that
non-philosophers lack; I simply deny that this is what makes them particularly special. Thus I can
explain how the details of a philosopher™s abilities and of the educational process that gets him there
is indeed a “digression” (as Socrates says at 543c4“6) from the main topic “ the aiming question of
“Why be just?” “ that looks at the determining question of what makes an action just and who has
knowledge of that. If the metaphysics is an essential part of the defense of why we should be just,
then it could hardly count as a “digression”; see Brown (2004), n. 23, where he attributes a similar
objection to Myles Burnyeat, and feels that he could dismiss it if there were better evidence that
Books 5“7 dealt with the “gap” between being psychologically just and practically just. The view that
the metaphysics addresses determining questions that have been outstanding in all of the dialogues
can take this passage in stride.
41 Kraut (1992b), 318 brie¬‚y raises and dismisses a position similar to mine in which Forms are important
because knowledge of them is necessary to avoid errors in judgement about what is truly just. By
Aiming at virtue and determining what it is 269
Particular actions and bodies have the characters they have because of
their association with the Forms. The Forms appear to be everywhere
because of their association with particulars (476a5“8). What makes an
action or a person just is the participation in the Form of Justice.42 This is
familiar Platonic metaphysics. But it has important repercussions for our
discussion. The Form of Justice is the answer in the Republic to the unan-
swered “What is F?” question of the dialogues of de¬nition. The account of
justice in Republic 4, as we have seen, goes no distance towards addressing
the problem of the Euthyphro “ just as the “being” answers in the dialogues
of de¬nition did not mitigate the dialogues™ ending in aporia; such answers
did not contribute towards determining what the solution was to the par-
ticular dilemma that gave rise to the discussion (see 4.2). Knowledge of the
Forms, however, is precisely the substantive knowledge of all of the virtues
that makes the answering of determining questions possible. Indeed it is
because the philosophers can answer such questions correctly that they are
most ¬t to rule.
In several passages Socrates makes clear that the philosopher will use his
knowledge of the Forms to answer the outstanding determining questions.
Consider this passage from the beginning of Book 6, which immediately
follows the account of how the philosophers differ from the sight-lovers
and how Forms differ from sensibles at the end of Book 5:
Do they seem to you any different than blind people “ those who are lacking in
reality knowledge of the being of each thing [i.e. of Forms] and who have no clear
model [par†deigma] in their soul, and are not capable, just as a painter is, to gaze
at the most real thing [e«v t¼ ˆlhq”staton], both referring and contemplating
constantly there [kˆke±se ˆe©] as precisely as possible, and then in this way both to
establish beliefs [n»mima] here about ¬ne and just and good things, if they need to
be established, and by guarding them to preserve the [beliefs] that have been laid
down? (484c6“d3)
I have translated this complex sentence literally and ungracefully in order
to bring out certain clear contrasts that are explicit in the Greek. The
philosopher, having knowledge of the Forms, has a model in his soul to
which, like a painter, he can refer. The painter looks at the real thing, the
model, and then paints the image. Similarly the philosopher goes from
looking “there” “ i.e., at the realm of Forms “ in order to establish the
common beliefs/customs/laws about justice, and so on, “here,” namely in
the sensible world, that need establishing, and to preserve and protect the

contrast, according to Kraut, 319, Forms are the best kinds of goods, which “we must possess in
order to be happy.”
42 See also Socrates™ “safe answer” in the Phaedo (100b“e).
270 Aiming at Virtue in Plato
appropriate ones that have already been established. The philosopher uses
the Forms to settle the determining questions that have eluded resolution
until now. Knowing what the Forms of Justice and Fineness are she will
know which practices and actions are just and ¬ne here. He (or she) will
therefore know how to generate just souls, which we know are souls that
have the good of psychic health, and will be able to answer the questions
about education that had to be left only tentatively answered in Books 2
and 3. In what ways and to what extent the knowledge of the philosopher
will match our “ordinary” conception of justice is unclear, and meant to
remain so.43
Prior to any discussion of the Form of the Good or the three famous
images, Socrates already talks of the effect that the philosopher would have
on education. If there were a “necessity”44 for him to mold other human
characters (¢qh), besides his own, in public and private in accordance with
what he sees “there,” he would be a good craftsman “of temperance and
justice and of all civic virtue” (500d4“8). We learn that the way he will
generate such people is by looking frequently “in either direction” “ that
is, at the Forms themselves and at the sensibles that he wants to mold in
the likeness of the Forms. Using a painting metaphor once again, Socrates
describes the philosopher as looking towards “the just by nature and the
¬ne and the temperate and all such things,” and then looking at what needs
to be instilled in human beings, “mixing and blending together the human-
colored paint from practices [–k t¤n –pithdeum†t¤n]” (501b1“7). In the
course of looking “there” and then “here” he shapes the proper characters
of human being by dictating what practices (–pithde…mata) they should
engage in and, as above, what the beliefs and customs (n»mima) should be
about the just, the ¬ne, and so on. It is clear that what the philosopher is
doing is making the correct determinations of which actions and practices
generate the appropriate type of character in keeping with the habituation
principle. In other words the philosopher will do thoroughly and correctly
what Socrates tried to do roughly and tentatively in Books 2 and 3 in the
course of describing the education that generates virtuous types. Thus the
43 We might think of the Recollection Theory of the Meno and Phaedo in this regard. While there is
no mention of recollection in the Republic, it would, if true, give us some reason to be con¬dent that
our beliefs about virtue were not entirely off-base insofar as they are the result of being reminded of
the Forms which each person™s soul knew before birth.
44 Talk of necessity appears to foreshadow the philosopher™s obligation to “descend” into the cave once
again. See below and 519d ff. Yu (2000) focuses on what he calls “the paradox” of the philosopher™s
obligation to give up contemplation and play a political role. His view, 132“3, that the philosopher
who refused to return to the “cave” would still in a sense be just, does not take into account Glaucon™s
response to Socrates that it is “impossible” for the philosopher to disobey the order to return, “for
we are ordering just things to just people” (520e1). See Brown (2000).
Aiming at virtue and determining what it is 271
philosopher will provide the wisdom and knowledge that presides over
actions that are truly just and so preserve and promote a harmonious soul
(cf. 443e“444a, discussed in 8.3); and the non-philosopher will realize this.
Once the Form of the Good is introduced it turns out that knowledge of
it is the ultimate culmination of the highest education of the very best types;
the Form of the Good is the unhypothetical ¬rst principle of everything and
itself transcends even being (508e ff.). I shall not offer an account of what this
heady description means (even Glaucon is a bit overwhelmed by it [509c]),
or of how the Form of the Good operates in Plato™s metaphysics.45 For my
purposes, what is important is the role that such knowledge is taken to play
in the determination of which particular actions and practices are virtuous.
Socrates is clear that knowledge of the Form of the Good is necessary for
anyone who is to make such determinations correctly: “it is necessary for
one who intends to act wisely [–mfr»nwv pr†xein] either in private or in
public to have seen this [the Form of the Good]” (517c4“5). This recalls
the earlier claim in Book 4 (444a) that the just person would call wisdom
the knowledge that “presided over” the just action. The philosopher will be
compelled to descend into the “Cave” once again, and not simply remain in
contemplation of the Forms. Once the philosopher has become habituated
to seeing the shadows he will be able to discern them countless times better
than those who are ignorant of the Forms (520c). But before he has had this
habituation, when he ¬rst arrives from “there,” he will appear confused if he
has to contend about justice “in lawcourts or anywhere else” (517d8) with
people who have never seen the Form of Justice. What is important here
for me is that the philosopher will be contending in such situations: he will
be making determinations about what is just in a lawcourt (cf. Euthyphro™s
prosecution of his father, Meletus™ prosecution of Socrates).46 This shows
that the role of the metaphysics is not to support the claim that a person
should be just/virtuous above all (i.e., to defend SV, a particular answer to
an aiming question); this argument has been interrupted after Book 4 and
will resume in Books 8 and 9. Here Socrates explains what the knowledge
is that the philosopher-king will possess that will enable him to determine
which actions and practices are truly just and good.
45 See Annas (1981), ch. 10; Irwin (1995), ch. 16; Reeve (1988), ch. 2 and Reeve (2003). See Silverman
(2002) for a discussion of Plato™s metaphysics in general.
46 Burnyeat (2000), 56 emphasizes the abstract nature of the philosopher™s knowledge: “For Plato, the
important task of ruling is not day-to-day decision-making, but establishing and maintaining good
structures, both institutional and psychological. In both city and soul, dispositions and structure
are prior to their expression in action (433d“434c, 443b“444a).” I am arguing that the text makes
clear that the philosophers will also contend in quite concrete arenas. Further, I emphasized above
(7.2“3) that “dispositions and structures” are brought about, in turn, by concrete actions.
272 Aiming at Virtue in Plato
Although, prior to his habituation to sensible affairs (a process that
will take ¬fteen years to complete [540a4]), he may get confused about
these things, a fundamental goal of that process will be the ability to make
determinations correctly about what is just and ¬ne, and so on, here based
on his knowledge of what justice and so on themselves are there. The person
who is not a philosopher and therefore lacks knowledge of the Form of the
Good will know neither the Good itself “nor any other good thing” (oÎte
Šllo ˆgaq¼n oÉd”n, 534c4“5). But once the education is complete, the
philosophers will properly order themselves, the citizens, and the state by
looking at the Form of the Good and “using it as a model” (parade©gmati
crwm”nouv –ke©nwƒ, 540a9). It is part of the duty of the philosophers, armed
with this rare knowledge, to make the correct determinations about which
actions and practices are the truly just ones and therefore generate truly
virtuous characters. The repeated image of the painter and the use of a
“paradigm” at which to look explicitly recalls Socrates™ language in the
Euthyphro, where he was looking for a way to determine which actions are
the pious ones. Thus in the middle books of the Republic the Forms play
a critical role and are meant to solve an outstanding problem for moral
epistemology: even if we know that one ought to aim at virtue, and why,
what is virtue either in general or in the here and now? The Forms are the
virtues “in general” and the philosophers, knowing them, will be able to
answer de¬nitively the questions about what is just in the here and now.47

8.5 t he role a nd sig nifi ca n ce of book s 8 a n d 9
At the beginning of Book 8, Glaucon reminds everyone where they were at
the end of Book 4, before they “digressed” (543c5) to discuss the metaphysics
of the middle books. I have argued that those books addressed “ or at least
explained who would address and how “ the outstanding determining
questions about the nature of justice and the good. The claim that they
are now returning in Book 8 to an earlier issue ¬ts well with the thesis
defended here that Books 4, 8, and 9 address the aiming question of why
a person is better off performing truly just actions and so truly being just.
Socrates asks Glaucon to offer him “the same hold” just as in a wrestling
match (544b4). Socrates will retain this simile throughout to delimit the
three arguments that follow. It is important to understand it properly. The
fact that Socrates asks Glaucon to give him the same hold shows that there
has yet to be a fall; three falls constitute victory. This is what we would

47 As well as such questions could ever be answered in the sensible realm.
Aiming at virtue and determining what it is 273
expect. So far Socrates has only shown that there is a good for the soul that
the just person possesses, namely, psychic harmony. In order to throw the
opponent the ¬rst time, he must show that this good is not also possessed by
those who fail to have a just soul. From the beginning of Book 8 until 580a
in Book 9, Socrates explains how the different degenerate constitutions,
and the character-types from which such governments arise (see 544d), fail
to achieve the good for the soul that is justice, and which constitutes the
character of people in the best city. Socrates shows that, in the degenerate
state, ¬rst spirit (in the timocratic man), then appetite (in the oligarchic,
democratic, and tyrannical man) subvert the leadership role of reason and
set up new ends. He thus explains how these degenerate types fail to achieve
the good in itself that is the harmony and “health” of the just soul described
in Book 4. This constitutes a “¬rst fall” because it is the ¬rst time we have
seen a respect in which the just person is “better off” than the unjust with
respect to his soul.
We have seen in chapter six that injustice is thought by the many to be a
good in itself, and that what it means to be a good in itself is to be a good
for the soul. Further, the puzzle raised by Glaucon and Adeimantus is to
show that a just person is better off with respect to his soul, that is, that he
possesses more goods for the soul, disregarding goods for the body or mate-
rial possessions, than the unjust person. Part of what makes the next two
arguments in Book 9, both of which focus on pleasure, seem problematic is
that they are supposed to be about whether the just person is happier than
the unjust. Commentators who focus on the eudaimonist framework worry
about the arguments concerning which life is more pleasurable because, if
Plato endorses this as part of an argument about which person is happier,
then his conception of happiness seems to involve pleasure.48 But Plato is
hostile to hedonism earlier in the Republic (505c, 509a), as well as in other
places in the corpus. As a result some scholars simply marginalize the argu-
ments about pleasure as an optional extra for the just person, but not part
of the main argument about whether he is happier or not.49 Throughout
this book, however, I have tried to interpret Plato independently of any
reliance on eudaimonism. If we follow the understanding of Glaucon™s and
Adeimantus™ challenge I argued for in chapter six, Socrates should show
how the just person possesses more goods for the soul than the unjust per-
son. I am perfectly willing to agree that he speaks of this as showing that

48 Butler (1999a) suggests that the solution is to embrace the idea that Plato is arguing hedonistically,
but he does not work this out in detail.
49 For example, Kraut (1992b); see also Annas (1981), 306.
274 Aiming at Virtue in Plato
the just person is “happier” than the unjust,50 but I do not think it is the
concept of happiness that is doing the real work in the argument. Rather,
as I emphasized in chapter six, the only good for the soul recognized by the
many is the pleasure of desire satisfaction, which acting justly frustrates.
Thus the goodness of injustice consists in the pleasure for the soul of desire
satisfaction: particularly the allegedly natural desire for pleonexia without
If this is right, we can understand why Socrates spends the time he does
in Book 9 discussing the contrasting pleasures involved in different sorts of
lives. In particular, it is critical for him to address the pleasure associated
with injustice and show that is not the good for the soul that it seems to
the many. If he neglects this part of the argument, injustice remains a good
in itself, even if, after Book 4, we see that justice is good for the soul as
well.52 This is why, despite Glaucon™s protestations, the task of defending
justice is not complete at the end of Book 4. A just soul may be still
frustrated in at least some of its appetites insofar as it refrains from taking
what it wants, even though it has gained a different good for itself, namely
health or harmony.53 By the time we get to 580a in Book 9, it is clear that

50 See Butler (1999a), p. 37, n. 1.
51 Essentially the position of Thrasymachus and Callicles: see 359c and chapters three and ¬ve.
52 So I am arguing in part against the position defended by Kraut (1992b), who writes (314): “So, in
order to accomplish the task Plato assigns himself in the Republic it is both necessary and suf¬cient
that he show why justice is so much more advantageous than injustice. But he never says or implies
that if he can show that justice brings greater pleasures, then that by itself will be a suf¬cient or a
necessary defense of justice. By supporting justice in terms of pleasure, Plato is showing that there
is even more reason to lead the just life than we may have supposed. But the fundamental case for
justice has been made before the discussion of pleasure has begun . . . we can rest content with our
earlier conclusion that pleasure has a modest role to play in the overall scheme of the Republic.”
Kraut, like Cross and Woozley (1964), ch. 11 and Murphy (1951), ch. 5, ¬nds the apparently sudden
switch to a discussion of pleasure late in Book 9 puzzling and something to be explained away. On
my view, even if the arguments are weaker than we might like, they play an understandable and
necessary role in the overall response to Glaucon and Adeimantus, as Plato says they do. By showing
the pleasure of just actions Plato is not simply giving us more reason to pursue the just life “ nor,
as Annas (1981), 314, claims, is he showing that the just life has “good consequences.” Rather, he is
showing that the alleged value of injustice for the soul is in reality worthless and superseded by the
nature and quantity of pleasure that stems from the just life.
53 There is no reason to think that a just person would not still want, say, a rare ¬rst edition which
she has no way of justly obtaining. Of course she would never take it unjustly, even if she could
take it with impunity (having Gyges™ ring), but that does not mean she would no longer want to
have it, and that her desire for it would not thereby be frustrated. This is true regardless of how she
experiences restraining herself from taking the book. I say this to leave room for a conception of the
virtuous person along the lines of John McDowell™s (1979) article, where the reasons to act contrary
to virtue are “silenced” for the virtuous person. McDowell, I think, would acknowledge that the
virtuous person might still say, “I would love to have that ¬rst edition,” even if she would never be
attracted to stealing it; that is, she experiences no struggle in doing what is right. But even if her
Aiming at virtue and determining what it is 275
non-virtuous types all fail to have this good for the soul. But thinking about
it this way we can see that the argument is not complete. Thrasymachus
might concede that his hero fails to have the health that is psychic harmony,
and that therefore he fails to possess something that is good for the soul.
But the good in itself that is desire satisfaction remains for the possessor
of the Ring who is willing to act unjustly. Surely, Thrasymachus might
insist, such a person has a far more pleasurable, if less healthy, life. We
have, then, a stand-off with the just person possessing one type of good in
itself, psychic health, and the unjust person another, appetite- or honor-
satisfaction. We can now understand why it is important that Plato, in a
much-maligned section of the Republic, develops two arguments regarding
the pleasures of the philosopher versus the pleasures of the tyrant.54 If he is
to confront and refute Thrasymachus™ position, as developed by Glaucon
and Adeimantus, he must not only show that justice is a good in itself
possessed only by the just person (which he has done), but also that being
unjust is not a competing good in itself insofar as it is pleasurable (desire-
satisfying) and that being just is not also an evil in itself insofar as it is
painful (desire-frustrating).
I believe that there is also a second motivation for the arguments about
pleasure. Pleasure understood as appetite grati¬cation has posed a partic-
ular challenge for Socrates in the positions of Thrasymachus and Callicles
with respect to determining questions. As we have seen, if excellence con-
sists wholly or in part in appetite grati¬cation, then determining what the
excellent action is in particular circumstances (and in general) becomes a
much more straightforward task: the excellent action is the action that grat-
i¬es one™s appetite. One can, relatively simply, read off what the right action
is simply from one™s desires. As the dialogues point out, this is not always
as easy as it seems: one™s appetites can con¬‚ict with one another, either
immediately or in the longer term. But it is still a relatively simpler matter.
In the hedonist argument of the Protagoras, for example, determining what
excellence is reduces to the art of measurement.55 What is best, what is
frustration is not experienced as psychologically painful, it remains true of her nevertheless that she
has a desire which is frustrated. This would partly mitigate the challenge of Book 2, where acting
justly was described not only as useless but as “harsh” and “painful.” If McDowell is right, then it is
not so for the virtuous person. But she is nevertheless not achieving the good for the soul that desire
satisfaction still is at this point in the argument.
54 This is not to say that I think that the arguments that follow are good ones. The Philebus, of course,
revisits the question of the role of pleasure in the good life. The advantage of the view defended
here is that it explains why such arguments are a necessary part of Plato™s accomplishing his goal of
showing that the just person is better off than the unjust.
55 See 4.4.
276 Aiming at Virtue in Plato
most excellent, is simply what is most pleasant just as the best runner is the
fastest, and the strongest person is the one who can lift the most. There is
no longer a question of getting virtue right or of determining what is truly
virtuous, apart from ensuring that a lesser desire does not get ful¬lled at
the cost of leaving a greater desire unful¬lled. The nature of virtue is not a
feature of the world about which we need knowledge; rather it is, at most,
a matter of correctly ordering the relative strengths of our desires.
I shall only look at the two arguments about pleasure in enough detail to
argue for understanding them in the way I have said. They remain deeply
problematic in themselves.56 The ¬rst is from 580c“583b.57 The goal of
the argument is to show that it is the just person who in reality possesses
the good for the soul of the most and best pleasure, not the unimpeded
unjust person, as the many think. Socrates refers again to the tripartite
division of the soul, and now characterizes people as falling into three
types corresponding to the three parts of the soul: the lover of learning
or philosopher, the lover of honor, and the lover of gain or pro¬t. The
tripartite account of the soul generates three possible sources of desire and
motivation,58 whereas the many equated desire simply with what would
now be called “appetite ful¬llment.” These three types are depicted as
living three different sorts of lives, each devoted to the pleasure associated
with their particular end: learning and truth, honor and glory, appetite
ful¬llment and money (581c8“d3). If you asked each one which life was the
most pleasant, each would answer that his own was and think little of the
others™. He then poses the challenge in striking terms:
Given, then, that the pleasures of each type, as well as each [type of] life, are in
dispute “ not about whether living [one type of life] is ¬ner and [another] more
shameful [k†llion kaª a­scion] nor about whether one is better and [another]
worse [t¼ ce±ron kaª Šmeinon], but about whether [one life] itself is more pleas-
ant and more painless [than another] “ how can we know which of these [three
characters] speaks most truly? (581e6“582a2)

Socrates and his interlocutors are accustomed to arguing about which
type of life, or which type of pleasure, is more noble or more shameful, or
better or worse; once an interlocutor agrees that the pleasant is not simply

56 For discussion of the two arguments see, e.g., Annas (1981), 305“20; Butler (1999b); Gosling and
Taylor (1982), ch. 6; Murphy (1951), ch. 5; Reeve (1988), 144“53.
57 Socrates calls this the “second demonstration” that the just person is the best and happiest, and the
unjust the worst and most miserable; the ¬rst being the contrast in the state of soul between the just
person (Book 4) and the degenerate types (Books 8“9, until 580a).
58 See Cooper (1984/1999).
Aiming at virtue and determining what it is 277
identical with the good, hedonism is defeated.59 But now the topic is not
what is nobler or more excellent, but simply what is most pleasant. Socrates
says that there is even dispute about this, which is a surprising and much less
familiar argument, both in Plato and in ordinary life. While people often
dispute whether a certain pleasure is noble or not, it is taken as obvious
in such discussions that indulging in the pleasure is itself more pleasurable
than refraining. The issue raised in Book 2 is addressed and challenged
here. In Book 2 appetite grati¬cation, doing “whatever one wishes,” is
simply equated with pleasure, but at this point we understand that there
are three sorts of pleasures, and so which is the most pleasant becomes the
very subject of contention. The aiming/determining distinction helps us
to see the importance of this question. One attraction of hedonism, in
any form, is that it appeared to offer a relatively simple way of settling
determining questions about what one ought to do, both in general and
in the here and now. But if, as Socrates now suggests, the very idea of
what is most pleasant is itself contentious, such a straightforward move is
no longer available. Socrates proposes that the matter be settled according
to three criteria: experience (–mpeir©a), wisdom (fr»nhsiv), and argument
(l»gov) (582a). Then he argues that the philosopher is the far superior judge
since he possesses greater experience, wisdom, and facility at argument than
the other two types. Therefore his judgement that the philosophical life
is most pleasant is most authoritative. Continuing the wrestling image,
this constitutes the second fall for the proponent of injustice: in fact the
philosopher™s pleasures are greater than the unjust person™s.
We might note that this argument works in a way similar to the argument
against the sight-lovers in Book 5. I argued above that its purpose was to
instill a sort of Socratic wisdom: an awareness that one does not have
knowledge. In Book 5, however, there was an argument that was supposed
to show non-philosophers that, in order for knowledge to be possible, there
must be Forms, and that without knowledge of Forms a person would be
relegated to belief about the nature of the just, the beautiful, and so on.
Here the audiences of the inner and outer frames are again supposed to
acquire a sort of Socratic wisdom: an awareness that they are ignorant of the
pleasures of philosophy. But this time there is no argument to this effect, but
simply an appeal to experience. Philosophers have experienced something
that non-philosophers have not and we non-philosophers must take their
59 This is the standard Platonic move against extreme hedonism: surely the pleasant is not simply the
same as the good, so that there are no cases in which what is pleasant and what is good come apart?
See Rep. 6, 505b“c, 509a; cf. also Socrates™ example of the catamite against Callicles (Gor. 494d ff.),
discussed in chapter three.
278 Aiming at Virtue in Plato
word for it that it is most pleasant. While I imagine that the arguments
of Books 5“7 regarding the unique capacities of Plato™s philosophers that
justify their rule strike modern readers as inadequate, this appeal to the
philosophers™ unique experience works still less well.
What is potentially even more worrying is how considerations about the
pleasure of the philosopher are supposed to appeal to the non-philosopher.
I emphasized above the importance of the potentiality of non-philosophers
to be led in a way by reason, so that they could have harmonious souls
and see that acting justly would turn out to be a good for their souls.
But in this ¬rst argument about pleasure it seems that grasp of the great-
ness of the pleasure of learning about the “things that are” is restricted to
philosophers alone (582b2“6, 582c7“9). If this is true, it may appear to be a
problem for successfully completing the reply to Glaucon and Adeimantus,
if the non-philosopher is entirely cut off from this type of pleasure. I think
that the next argument will mitigate this unattractive conclusion. Socrates
here claims, correctly, that the philosopher alone will have the greatest
pleasure in truly knowing the things that are “ and non-philosophers sim-
ply have to take his word for it. But in the next argument we shall see that
others are not entirely cut off from the sort of pleasure that the philosopher,
as the most just person, experiences.
The second argument about pleasure (583b“587c) is counted as the third
argument overall, and the one which Socrates calls “the greatest and most
decisive” (m”gist»n te kaª kuriÛtaton, 583b6). I do not think that we
need to make much of this claim, as long as we keep the wrestling metaphor
in mind.60 Socrates is not saying that this argument about pleasure is more
important than the argument about psychic harmony; it is rather that,
since it will constitute the third fall for the proponent of injustice, it will
constitute a victory over him. According to the previous argument, the
pleasures of learning and knowledge are greater than the pleasures of the
other parts of the soul. Thrasymachus might concede this and yet still insist
that appetitive pleasure is of a superior kind “ for example, more manly “
and that the tyrant has more of this sort of pleasure. Plato™s third argument
aims to remove this ¬nal possibility.
What is important about this “most decisive throw” for our purposes
is that its argument about pleasure is less exclusive than the previous one.
As above, if the arguments regarding pleasure concern a kind of pleasure
that is not at all attainable by non-philosophers, then it remains unclear

60 Kraut (1992b), 312“13 tries to downplay its signi¬cance, while Butler (1999a) and (1999b) seems to
exaggerate it.
Aiming at virtue and determining what it is 279
why appeal to it would be persuasive to them. If to know the pleasure of
the truly just person is to know the pleasure of the philosopher, which is
to know what the philosopher knows “ the objective nature of the Just
itself, the Good itself, and the rest of the Forms “ then the above objection
would appear to be decisive. In fact, however, a key passage allows the
distinctive pleasure of the rational part to be available to characters who do
not themselves possess knowledge “ that is, to non-philosophers. This is a
welcome conclusion, for then, even if a non-philosopher cannot have the
amount of pleasure that a philosopher can in contemplating the Forms, he
can nevertheless experience a lesser, but similar, kind of pleasure. Consider
the following passage:
Which kinds do you believe participate more in pure being, those such as bread,
drink, and delicacies, and, generally, nourishment, or the kind of true belief, knowl-
edge, and understanding [t¼ d»xhv te ˆlhqo“v e²dov kaª –pistžmhv kaª no“], or,
again, in sum, of all of virtue? (585b11“c2)

What is interesting here is that the cognitive states that constitute a “¬ll-
ing up” of the rational part include true belief, as well as knowledge and
understanding. True belief, which as we have seen is a cognitive state that
the non-philosophers of the Kallipolis share in, is included as part of the
distinctive pleasure of the rational part of the soul. While it is surely not the
same as having knowledge of the Forms, it is presented as akin neverthe-
less. So a non-philosopher, guided by the philosopher in acting truly justly,
will also act in a way so as to partake to a degree in the highest kind of
By the end of this argument (simply assuming it is successful) the unjust
person (1) does not have the good for the soul of psychic health (but instead
the evil in itself of a disharmonious soul) (Book 4 and Books 8 and 9 until
580a); (2) has smaller pleasures than the just person; and (3) has qualitatively
inferior pleasures. Thus, the person who acts unjustly with impunity has
no advantage for his soul whatsoever.
Beginning from the argument of Book 4 that the just person™s soul is the
one with psychic health, consisting in the rule of the rational part, Book 9
adds that the pleasures of the rational part (learning, knowledge of truth,
and so on) are the greatest in quantity and also the “highest, purest, and
most true” of the pleasures. And what is more, only when the soul is led by
reason will the lower parts of the soul also achieve the truest pleasures that
they can achieve, albeit of secondary quality (586e). At 590c7“d6, Socrates
says that in the best situation people will be governed by having wisdom in
themselves, but otherwise they ought to be the “slaves” of the best person
280 Aiming at Virtue in Plato
(i.e., the philosopher, who does have wisdom in herself ). This passage
points again to two possibilities for being led by reason with knowledge: in
one case, one has the knowledge for oneself, in the second one obeys the
one who has knowledge.61
So the tyrant will fail to have psychic health, will fail to have the greatest
amount of pleasure, will fail to have the truest and most real pleasures,
and will not even have the best pleasures that are possible for the lower
parts of his soul. Thus, in fact, there are no goods for the soul that accrue
to the tyrant when compared with the just person. The argument against
Thrasymachus is now complete. While I have not tried to defend the
arguments about pleasure in Book 9, and they may well have fatal ¬‚aws, we
can understand why they are necessary for completing the reply to Glaucon
and Adeimantus. They are designed to eliminate any competing goods for
the soul that might be left to the unjust person over the just person. As
long as pleasure is not addressed, the defender of Thrasymachus might still
maintain that the unjust person possessed some compensating good for
the soul not had by the just person. Socrates seeks to leave him no good
There is one ¬nal aspect to the argument, which involves the meta-
physics of the middle books. In chapters ¬ve and six, we saw that part of
the Thrasymachean position is that the defense of the value of justice, in
addition to everything else, is based on a type of illusion: the defender of
justice falsely believes that justice has objective value in a way that a per-
son who is more sophisticated and less na¨ve understands is false. Justice is
not something real, in accordance with which the just person acts. When
Socrates relies on the ontology and metaphysics from Books 5“7 to ground
his claims about the greatness and superiority of the philosopher™s pleasure
61 We might hesitate to see the second possibility as a positive one, since the person in the second
condition is called a “slave” of the one who knows. See Bobonich (2002), 106 and 203. But in
this passage Socrates is explicitly recalling Thrasymachus™ immoralist speech, where Thrasymachus
lauded the abilities of the complete tyrant who “enslaved” the entire city (344b5“c2). He is picking
up on Thrasymachus™ language, not making a substantive point about the classes in the Kallipolis.
It is true that, as we have seen, the lower classes will obey the philosopher-kings, but the relationship
will be a harmonious one. Here too Socrates emphasizes that everyone being guided by wisdom
(either their own for the philosophers, or others™ for the rest) will make all the classes “akin and
friends” (590d6). This recalls the earlier passage (431c“e), where moderation in the city consists in
the harmonious relationship between the classes and in their agreement about who should rule and
who should be ruled. Further, at 463b Socrates says that in cities other than the Kallipolis the rulers
call the people “slaves,” but in the Kallipolis the rulers call them “wage-payers” and “food-providers”
and the ruled call the rulers “preservers” and “auxiliaries.” Thus, the word “slaves” which Socrates
uses here in Book 9 ought to be understood as picking up on the language of Thrasymachus, which
is also the “ordinary” language, about those who are ruled.
Aiming at virtue and determining what it is 281
in the ¬nal argument, we see Socrates attacking this head on. The defender
of injustice does not have the truth about the nature of justice, but is in fact
stuck in a position from which he does not even recognize real pleasure. Not
only does the just person possess all the goods for the soul, she alone best
grasps what is most real. It is Thrasymachus and the defender of injustice
who fail to connect to reality, not the proponent of justice.
ch a p t er 9


In this book I provide an interpretation of the dialogues of Plato that most
centrally treat the concept of virtue. It may be of interest to some readers
to summarize brie¬‚y the view that has emerged and in conclusion to say
something, albeit brief and tentative, about the philosophical plausibility
of this interpretation, its relation to certain later ethical theories with which
it has the most in common, and its potential value.
In a number of respects I have treated these very familiar dialogues quite
differently from the way they have been approached in recent years. Perhaps
the most signi¬cant difference in approach is the avoidance of interpreting
Plato™s ethics in terms of the eudaimonist framework. As I say several times,
it is not that I think that Plato™s ethics is not eudaimonist. Rather it is that
in the texts themselves the overwhelming focus is on virtue as a supreme
end and aim. The typical way that the eudaimonist framework operates in
interpreting ancient ethics is to say that we know what the highest good,
what the supreme aim, is: eudaimonia. What we then need to do next is
determine what eudaimonia is. Is it a state or an activity? Does it consist
exclusively of virtue or are external goods part of it? The serious downside
of this approach to reading Plato is that it obscures, I argue, what are in
fact the more central puzzles about ethics in the dialogues.
The way Socrates actually proceeds in the dialogues is by explicitly claim-
ing that virtue ought to trump any other aim we might have in acting. By
understanding SV as an answer to an aiming question, I put to one side
the issue of the relationship between doing the right thing and happiness.
I call attention instead to the blunt fact that this is what Socrates says is the
supreme end. Beginning in the Apology, Socrates trumpets SV and claims
that everyone should join him in his absolute commitment to it. Setting
out from this claim, the dialogues about virtue then launch investigations
in two directions. The ¬rst is to ask an aiming question: why should I
be committed to doing the virtuous action above all in preference to an
action that, for example, keeps me alive or grati¬es my appetites? In other
Epilogue 283
words, why should I be a virtuous person, where a virtuous person is one
who is committed absolutely to SV? The second line of investigation turns
to determining questions: given that I am committed to acting virtuously
above all, how do I determine what the virtuous action is?
I show that thinking about Platonic ethics in this way yields views about
the dialogues that render them quite consistent across these topics, includ-
ing Socrates™ claims about what he does and does not know, culminating
in the Republic. The ethical philosophy that emerges is the following. One
should commit above all to doing the right thing. To do the right thing
should be the supreme aim of one™s action understood either as an explicit
aim or as a limiting condition (expressed in the formulation, “it is never
right to do wrong”). The reason why one should be committed and moti-
vated to act in this way is that only by so acting will one have the most
important part of oneself, one™s soul, become and remain in a healthy con-
dition. There is no good that can compensate for the harm of the most


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