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Appetite, Reason, and Education in Socrates’ ‘City of Pigs’

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Abstract In Book II of the Republic (370c-372d), Socrates briefly depicts a city where each inhabitant contributes to the welfare of all by performing the role for which he or she is naturally suited. Socrates calls this city the ‘true city’ and the ‘healthy one’. Nearly all commentators have argued that Socrates’ praise of the city cannot be taken at face value, claiming that it does not represent Socrates’ preferred community. The point of this paper is to argue otherwise. The claim is that Socrates genuinely believes the city is a healthy and desirable city, and that he believes that the First City (the so-called ‘city of pigs’) is in fact superior to the Kallipolis.

1. FN11) The translation used in this paper is that of G. M. A. Grube, revised by C. D. C. Reeve (second edition, Indianopolis, 1992).
2. FN22) Although Socrates never explicitly revisits the First City, he implicitly revisits it in several places throughout the Republic, for example at 420b and 443. See also C. J. Rowe, ‘The Place of the Republic in Plato’s Political Thought’ in G. R. F. Ferrari (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Plato’s Republic (Cambridge), 27-54 at 43-5.
3. FN33) Commentators who reject the First City altogether include: C. D. C. Reeve, Philosopher-Kings: The Argument of Plato’s Republic (Princeton, 1988), 170-9; Rachel Barney, ‘Platonism, Moral Nostalgia, and the “City of Pigs” ’, Proceedings of the Boston Area Colloquium in Ancient Philosophy 17 (2001), 207-27; John Cooper, ‘Two Theories of Justice’, Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association 74 (2000), 5-27; R. L. Nettleship, Lectures on the Republic of Plato (London, 1901), 69-76; D. T. Devereux, ‘Socrates’ First City in the Republic’, Apeiron 13 (1979), 36-40; Julia Annas, An Introductions to Plato’s Republic (Oxford, 1981), 76-9; I. M. Crombie, An Examination of Plato’s Doctrines, vol. I (London, 1964), 89-90; Catherine McKeen, ‘Swillsburg City Limits (The “City of Pigs”: Republic 370c-372d)’, Polis 21 (2004), 71-92. The one exception is Rowe, who argues in numerous places that Socrates is in earnest regarding his praise of the First City, in spite of the fact that commentators ignore or dismiss Socrates’ praise: see ‘The Place of the Republic’ (n. 2), 43-5; Plato and the Art of Philosophical Writing (Cambridge, 2007), Chapter 5; ‘The Literary and Philosophical Style of the Republic’ in G. Santas (ed.), A Guide to Plato’s Republic (Oxford, 2006), 7-24 at 15.
4. FN44) Importantly for the thesis of this paper, Socrates’ claim that Glaucon desires a ‘city with a fever’ seems, at least at first, unfounded; for all that Glaucon has requested is that the inhabitants ‘recline on proper couches, dine at a table, and have the delicacies and desserts that people have nowadays’. This is important because it suggests that Socrates sees something amiss in the tone of Glaucon’s complaint rather than merely in the luxuriousness of the items he requests. Couches and tables and desserts hardly represent gluttony. Indeed, Socrates grants the inhabitants of the First City ‘feasts’ and ‘sex’ and ‘desserts’ and ‘wine’, all of which seem more in keeping with a commitment to luxury and gluttony than the fairly modest requests that Glaucon makes. Why then does Socrates react so strongly to Glaucon’s requests? It is not because the items themselves are overly luxurious, but because Glaucon’s desire for them betrays his lack of moderation, and moderation is the virtue Socrates later claims forms the basis of a just soul (443b-444a). Glaucon’s insistence that individuals should not have to moderate their desires demonstrates that Glaucon’s soul is not in a healthy state (or better: not in a just state). In this moment, the fever that Socrates is referring to can only be the fever in Glaucon’s soul, since a city with couches, and tables and desserts certainly does not entail, nor does it even suggest, a city with a fever. This line of interpretation will be crucial in the coming discussion.
5. FN55) That the First City is just and not merely ‘true’ and ‘healthy’ is evidenced by the fact that the city is patterned on the definition of justice that Socrates offers at 443b-c: ‘Then the dream we had has been completely fulfilled – our suspicion that . . . we had hit upon the origin and pattern of justice right at the beginning of the founding of our city . . . Indeed, Glaucon, the principle that it is right for someone who is by nature a cobbler to practice cobblery and nothing else, for the carpenter to practice carpentry, and the same for the others is a sort of image of justice – that’s why it’s beneficial.’
6. FN66) Rowe, ‘The Place of the Republic’ (n. 2), 43-5.
7. FN77) While an analysis of Glaucon is central for the purposes of this paper, it can be argued that Socrates begins to construct a new city because the challenge posed by Socrates’ interlocutors was to show that the just life is a better life than the unjust one tout court . This, too, is evidently not sufficiently shown by the First City. In other words, the First City is apparently insufficient to persuade those who do not already share Socrates’ view that the just life is better than the unjust one. This reading, however, still does not warrant interpreting Socrates’ praise of the First City as disingenuous.
8. FN88) Importantly, a few lines earlier (371e), Socrates had asked Adeimantus where justice and injustice were to be found in the outline of the just city that immediately preceded Socrates’ description of the First City. Adeimantus claims he does not exactly know how to identify them. Socrates responds that while justice and injustice may be hard to see, the interlocutors must ‘look into it and not grow weary’ (372a). Then he immediately launches into his description, thus indicating that he considers justice and injustice to be present.
9. FN99) He eventually comes to fully recognize this by 591c-592a.
10. FN1010) The fact that commentators have not recognized the pedagogical purpose have led them to assume that the care and complexity must be evidence of Socrates belief in the Kallipolis’ political superiority. This assumption is unwarranted.
11. FN1111) The difficulties of this project are well known. Though we do not have the space to pursue this topic here, we are inclined to think that a straightforward reading casts a different light, as it were, on the infamous banishment of the poets: namely, enabling us to ask its pedagogical role with respect to purging Glaucon’s immoderate soul – or, perhaps, restructuring Glaucon’s moral psyche.
12. FN1212) The fact that Socrates offers no such encomium bears on the argument of this paper and will be discussed in the conclusion below.
13. FN1313) See Iakovos Vasiliou, Aiming at Virtue in Plato (Cambridge, 2008), Chapters 7-8, engaging with this puzzle.
14. FN1414) Thus the straightforward reading of Socrates’ praise has the added benefit of reconciling Socrates’ inconsistencies between his discussion of the philosopher-kings and himself and Glaucon.
15. FN1515) Julia Annas, Platonic Ethics, Old and New (Ithaca / London 1999), 81. Annas argues that, at 592a7, the phrase ‘city of himself’ (τῇ ἑαυτοῦ πόλει) is significant because it better establishes the fact that the Kallipolis is not meant to be a political city to be lived in but an idealized city that represents justice in the soul. The fact that many translators have opted for an interpretation that suggests that Glaucon should find the real Kallipolis reflects one of the biases that this paper is attempting to dislodge.
16. FN1616) Socrates equates justice and moderation at 443b-444a.
17. FN1717) Cooper, ‘Two Theories of Justice’ (n. 3), 13-14; Crombie, An Examination of Plato’s Doctrines (n. 3), 89-90; Nettleship, Lectures on the Republic of Plato (n. 3), 72. The reason so few commentators share the assumption of Cooper, Crombie, and Nettleship – that the inhabitants of the First City are not fully human in the relevant sense – is that Socrates gives no indication whatsoever that they are not fully human. Indeed, during the construction of the First City, Socrates repeatedly identifies himself and his interlocutors with the inhabitants of the First City (369c, 369d, 370a), and when Glaucon suggests that modern people would not be content in the First City, Socrates retorts only that some people would not be satisfied. The burden of proof therefore lies on the aforementioned commentators to adduce evidence that Socrates does not think the citizens are fully human in the relevant sense, since there is evidence that he thinks they are. Unfortunately, they do not offer the exegetical evidence of Socrates’ denial of the humanity of the inhabitants of the First City; and, as will be shown, the theoretical evidence they offer instead is not convincing either.
18. FN1818) Barney, ‘Platonism, Moral Nostalgia and the “City of Pigs” ’ (n. 3), 217-20; Reeve, Philosopher-Kings (n. 3), 171, 176; Devereux, ‘Socrates’ First City’ (n. 3), 38-9; Annas, An Introduction to Plato’s Republic (n. 3), 76-8; McKeen, ‘Swillsburg City Limits’ (n. 3), 70-2; Marguerite DesLauriers, ‘Commentary on Barney’, Proceedings of the Boston Area Colloquium in Ancient Philosophy 17 (2001), 228-35.
19. FN1919) Cooper, ‘Two Theories of Justice’ (n. 3), 13-14; Crombie, An Examination of Plato’s Doctrines (n. 3), 89-90; Nettleship, Lectures on the Republic of Plato (n. 3), 69-72.
20. FN2020) Cooper, ‘Two Theories of Justice’ (n. 3), 14.
21. FN2121) Other commentators have pointed this out. See for example, Barney, ‘Platonism, Moral Nostalgia, and the “City of Pigs” ’ (n. 3), 218.
22. FN2222) The closest these commentators come to offering evidence is the exegetically unsupported statement that the inhabitants lack these characteristics. ‘[Simplicity] is all the people actually want. That is because . . . they are assumed not to be motivated at all by any of that open-ended desire for pleasurable gratification that was the hallmark of human life . . . So, at any rate, Socrates seems to argue’ (Cooper, ‘Two Theories of Justice’ [n. 3], 13-14; italics added). The fact that Cooper acknowledges that Socrates only ‘seems’ to argue for the citizens’ lack of open-ended desires is tell-tale. There is no direct evidence whatsoever that he regards these citizens to be unlike other human beings; indeed, as argued above, the direct evidence is on the side of their inclusion in the human community by Socrates’ repeated identification of himself and his interlocutors with the inhabitants of the First City, as when he claims ‘I think a city comes into being because none of us is self-sufficient, but we all need many things. Do you think a city is founded on any other principle? . . . Come, then, let’s create a city in theory from its beginnings (τῷ λόγῳ ἐξ ἀρχῆς ποιῶµεν πόλιν). And its our needs, it seems, that will create it’ (369c; italics added). Socrates’ repeated use of the first person plural in his description should not be ignored here; from the very beginning of the founding of the First City (which, importantly, also remains the basis of the Kallipolis) Socrates indicates that the city will be made up of people like him and Glaucon and Adeimantus. There is no suggestion whatsoever in these lines that he imagines these inhabitants to be different in their basic nature from him or his interlocutors. Indeed, Socrates’ identification of his needs and the needs of the inhabitants of the First City continues when he says ‘surely our first and greatest need is . . . food . . . Our second is for shelter’ (369d; italics added). And: ‘It occurred to me that, in the first place, we aren’t all born alike but each of us differs somewhat in nature from the others, one being suited to one task, another to another’ (370a; italics added). In fact, it would require much more from these commentators to explain the point, for Socrates, in filling an imaginary city with subhumans or nonhumans in the first place. Glaucon’s impassioned response is odd, too, on this view.
23. FN2323) Barney, ‘Platonism, Moral Nostalgia, and the “City of Pigs” ’ (n. 3), 218-19; Reeve, Philosopher-Kings (n. 3), 178; McKeen, ‘Swillsburg City Limits’ (n. 3), 90.
24. FN2424) Reeve puts it this way: ‘It should be obvious, however, that the First Polis is no more self-sufficient than its members. For . . . it lacks the means of defending itself against such consequences of unnecessary appetites as war and civil strife’ (Philosopher-Kings [n. 3], 178). Echoing similar ideas, Rachel Barney claims that ‘the problem with the First City is not just that it would be unstable from one generation to the next. . . . Rather, the city is not a genuine possibility at all: for it embodies the hypothesis that a city without rational rule could be moderate in its appetites, and that hypothesis is false’ (‘Platonism, Moral Nostalgia, and the “City of Pigs” ’ [n. 3], 220).
25. FN2525) Barney, ‘Platonism, Moral Nostalgia, and the “City of Pigs” ’ (n. 3), 219.
26. FN2626) Naturally, it could be argued that Socrates would have provided such measures had not Glaucon interrupted him and demanded a luxurious city. Nevertheless, because he does not provide stop-gap measures we must determine whether they can be found implicit in the later chapters of Republic.
27. FN2727) Allan Bloom, The Republic of Plato (New York, 1968), 347.
28. FN2828) This is the case even in Crito where Socrates argues that an individual should obey the laws of the state, even if those laws unjustly condemn the individual to death. His reasons for submitting to his own execution are not because he kow-tows to the state out of fear of punishment, but because obeying the laws of the state conforms to the edicts of reason.
29. FN2929) Suggesting that the inhabitants of the First City follow reason to moderate their desires will seem to some to be an illicit introduction of philosophical reasoning into the city. On the basis of Socrates’ own words about moderation, and on the basis of the identification of himself with the inhabitants of the First City, the inhabitants must exercise some level of reason. Thus, even though the inhabitants of the First City may seem like simple rustics, Socrates’ words entail that they must also exercise reason. See also Rowe ‘The Place of the Republic’ (n. 2), 44.
30. FN3030) ‘Then . . . we [can] confidently assume in the case of a human being, too, that if he is to be gentle towards his own and those he knows, he must be a lover of learning and wisdom’ (376c).
31. FN3131) Barney, ‘Platonism, Moral Nostalgia, and the “City of Pigs” ’ (n. 3), 218.
32. FN3232) Barney, ‘Platonism, Moral Nostalgia, and the “City of Pigs” ’ (n. 3), 219.
33. FN3333) As we shall see, while Socrates does not seem to envision a system of laws in the First City, he later claims that for moderation and reason to be established in a community, children should not be freed from their parents’ rational control until they have demonstrated their internalization of it. Thus, while there may be no formal laws or formal policing of those laws, it does seem that Socrates advocates an informal agreement between community members requiring the control of members of the community who have not demonstrated their embodiment of reason.
34. FN3434) This passage is significant because it repudiates McKeen’s claim that the First City is a mutual benefit society and does not value justice for its own sake ( ‘Swillsburg City Limits’ [n. 3], 89-90). Even if it were the case that the inhabitants of the First City valued peace, good health, and eschewed poverty and war as individuals and for their own benefit, as McKeen argues, we would not be able to conclude that they did not value justice for its own sake. To know whether justice is valued for its own sake, we must determine whether the benefit the individual seeks is based in her own moderation and harmony (justice), or in the fulfillment of her unnecessary appetitive desires. In either case, the individual will perform his role ‘because each believes that this is better for himself’, but in the case of the just individual the seemingly self-interested action includes an orientation towards justice.
35. FN3535) Naturally, Socrates does not have time to elaborate on this point in his brief description of the First City, as he is cut off by Glaucon’s objection. Nevertheless, based on what Socrates claims later in the Republic we can infer a great deal about the cultivation of moderation that must be present in the First City.
36. FN3636) ‘Platonism, Moral Nostalgia, and the “City of Pigs” ’ (n. 3), 219.
37. FN3737) This interpretation is to be preferred to Barney’s, for it does not commit Plato or Socrates to the view that people can be spontaneously moderate: indeed, the view is rather that where there is moderation there was an appropriate kind of education.
38. FN3838) This discussion takes place after Socrates and Glaucon have ceased talking specifically about the Kallipolis as a political entity. They are general conclusions about the training of individuals that follow from the establishment of the tripartite structure of the soul, conclusions that would apply to any community organization.

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Affiliations: 1: Department of Educational Foundations, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Winther Hall 6053, 800 West Main St., Whitewater, WI 53190 USA ; 2: Program in Philosophy and Education, Teachers College-Columbia University 334 D Horace Mann, 525 West 120th Street, New York, New York 10027 USA ; 3: University of Wisconsin-Whitewater


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