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The psychology of politics: the city-soul analogy in Plato's Republic

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Socrates' analogy between the city and the soul in the Republic is a crucial part of the dialogue, since it forms the basis for the interlocutors' definition of justice. Critics allege that there are structural inconsistencies between the city and the soul, and that even if they were somehow structurally analogous, they are nevertheless different. Why, then, would one expect that justice in one would be enlightening for the discovery of justice in the other? This paper examines the passages in which the analogy is developed and finds that Socrates' claims regarding similarities between the city and the soul are not as far-fetched as critics assert. Criticisms of the analogy are shown to be misunderstandings arising from an unwillingness to accept the political implications of Socrates' plan. Ultimately, the analogy rests on important structural similarities between the city and the soul, and is a powerful tool towards an understanding of the individual, of the city and of justice.

Keywords: Plato; Republic; analogy; city; justice; politics; psychology; soul

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Government, Harvard University, Littauer Center, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA. Email:

Publication date: January 1, 2002

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