EconomicsSeptember 29, 2015
Socrates’ Division of Labour
I had always admired the genius of Glaucon and his brother Adeimantus. The admirer of Glaucon called them as “Sons of an illustrious father, Sons of Ariston divine offspring of an illustrious hero” after they had distinguished themselves at the battle of Megara
There is something truly divine in you arguing for the superiority of injustice, and remaining unconvinced by your own arguments. But the greater my confidence in you, the greater is my difficulty in knowing what to say.
On the one hand I feel that I am unequal to the task. You were not satisfied with my answer to Thrasymachus that proved the superiority of justice over injustice. Yet it would be improper to hear that justice is evil without lifting a hand in her defence.
Glaucon and the rest wanted to arrive at the truth:
- On the nature of justice and injustice, and
- On their relative advantages.
This question is serious and needs very good eyes.
Justice is sometimes spoken of as the virtue of an individual, and sometimes as the virtue of a State. A State is larger than an individual. In the larger, the quantity of justice is likely to be larger and more easily discernible. We should enquire into the nature of justice and injustice:
- as they appear in the State, and
- in the individual.
We should start from the bigger to the smaller and then compare them. If we imagine the State in process of creation, we shall see the justice and injustice of the State in process of creation also.
After the State is completed, we might more easily discover justice and injustice. But should we to attempt to construct one? To do so, will be a very serious task.
A State arises out of the needs of mankind. No one is self-sufficing. We all have many wants. Many persons are needed to supply them. One takes a helper for one purpose and another for another. When these partners and helpers are gathered together in one habitation the body of inhabitants is termed a State. They exchange with one another, and one gives, and another receives, under the idea that the exchange will be for their good.
The true creator of a State is necessity.
- The first and greatest of necessities is food, which is the condition of life and existence.
- The second is a dwelling.
- The third clothing and the like.
Now let us see how our city will be able to supply this great demand. One man is a husbandman, another a builder, some one else a weaver—shall we add to them a shoemaker, or perhaps some other purveyor to our bodily wants?
The barest notion of a State must include four or five men. Each will bring the result of his labours into a common stock. The individual husbandman produces for four. He labours four times as long and as much as he needs to provide food for others and himself.
Will he provide only for himself 1/4 of the food in 1/4 of the time? In the remaning 3/4 of his time, he will make a house, coat or shoes, having no partnership with others?
Yes, that would be the better way. We are not all alike. There are diversities of natures among us which are adapted to different occupations. A person works better when he has only one occupation instead of many. A work is spoilt when not done at the right time.
Business does not wait when the doer of the business is at leisure. Instead, the doer must follow up what he is doing, and make the business his first object. If so, we must infer that all things are produced more plentifully and easily and of a better quality when one man does one thing which is natural to him and does it at the right time, and leaves other things. Then more than four citizens will be needed. The husbandman will not make his own plough or other implements of agriculture. The builder will not make his tools if he too needs many. The same is true for the weaver and shoemaker. Thus, carpenters, smiths, and many other artisans, will be sharers in our little State which is already beginning to grow. We can even add:
- shepherds and other herdsmen so that our husbandmen can have oxen to plough with and our builders can have draught cattle, and
- weavers so that they can have fleeces and hides.
At this point, our State will not be very large but not too small. Then it is impossible to place a city where nothing needs to be imported.
Then there must be another class of citizens who will bring the supply from another city. A trader must have something to give or produce at home must be not only enough for themselves, but such both in quantity and quality as to accommodate those from whom their wants are supplied. This would require more husbandmen and artisans, merchants who import and export. If merchandise is to be carried over the sea, many skilful sailors will also be needed.
They will need a marketplace and money-token to exchange their productions. If a husbandman or an artisan brings some product to market, and no one is available to exchange with him, he will not sit idle in the market-place. He will find people there who, seeing the want, be salesmen. In well-ordered states, they are commonly those who are the weakest in bodily strength and are therefore of little use Their duty is to be in the market to give money in exchange for goods from sellers and to take money from the buyers.
This want, then, creates a class of retail-traders in our State.
- ‘Retailer’ is the term for to those who sit in the market-place engaged in buying and selling.
- ‘Merchants’ are those who wander from one city to another.
- ‘Hirelings’ are another class of servants, who are intellectually hardly on the level of companionship.
- They have plenty of bodily strength for labour which they sell.
- ‘Hire’ is the name for the price of their labour.
- These hirelings help to make up our population.
Our state is now matured and perfected. Where then is justice and injustice and in what part of the State did they spring up?
Correct. What will be their way of life? Will they not produce corn, and wine, and clothes, and shoes, and build houses for themselves? When they are housed, they will work, in summer, commonly, stripped and barefoot, but in winter substantially clothed and shod.
They will feed on barley-meal and flour of wheat, baking and kneading them, making noble cakes and loaves. These they will serve up on a mat of reeds or on clean leaves, themselves reclining the while upon beds strewn with yew or myrtle.
They and their children will feast, drinking of the wine which they have made, wearing garlands on their heads, and hymning the praises of the gods, in happy converse with one another. They will take care that their families do not exceed their means; having an eye to poverty or war.
Of course they must have a relish—salt, and olives, and cheese. They will boil roots and herbs such as prepared by country people. They shall have figs, and peas, and beans for dessert. They will roast myrtle-berries and acorns at the fire, drinking in moderation. With such a diet, they may be expected to:
- live in peace and health to a good old age, and
- bequeath a similar life to their children after them.
People should be given the ordinary conveniences of life. People who are to be comfortable are accustomed to lie on sofas, dine off tables, and have sauces and sweets in the modern style.
How is a luxurious State created? There is no harm in this. In such a State, we can see better how justice and injustice originate. Many will not be satisfied with the simpler way of life. They will be for adding sofas, tables, perfumes, incense, courtesans, and cakes in every variety. We must go beyond the necessaries such as houses, clothes, and shoes. The arts of the painter and the embroiderer will have to be set in motion. Gold and ivory and all sorts of materials must be procured. We must then enlarge our borders, because the original healthy State is not enough.
The city will have to fill and swell with many callings which are not required by any natural want, such as:
- actors who have to work with forms and colours,
- the devotees of music,
- These are poets and their attendant train of rhapsodists, players, dancers, and contractors. These make diverse kinds of articles, including women’s dresses.
- servants, tutors, nurses wet and dry, tirewomen and barbers, physicians, as well as confectioners and cooks, and swineherds.
- They were not needed before in the former version of our State.
- animals of many other kinds for food.
The country is now too small. A slice of our neighbours’ land will be wanted by us for pasture and tillage. They will want a slice of ours if, like ourselves, they exceed the limit of necessity and allow the unlimited accumulation of wealth. Then we shall go to war with them. Thus, war comes from causes which are also the causes of almost all the evils in States, private as well as public. Our State enlarges.
This time, the enlargement will be a whole army which will have to go out and fight the invaders to defend all that we have. One man cannot practise many arts with success. But war is an art, which needs as much attention as shoemaking. We did not allow the shoemaker to be a husbandman, a weaver, or a builder so that that our shoes would be well made. We assigned one work to each one that naturally fits him and made him focus only on that work all his life.
He would be a good worker if he did not let opportunities slip. It is most important that the work of a soldier should be well done. But the art of war is not so easily acquired. A man cannot both be a warrior and a husbandman, shoemaker, or other artisan. A man who had devoted his earliest years to training and nothing else will be superior to one who only trains for recreation.
Tools are useful only if men have learned to use them. How then will he who takes up a weapon become a good fighter in one day? The higher the duties of the guardian, the more time, skill, art, and application will be needed by him.
He also requires natural aptitude for his calling. Then it will be our duty to select the natures fitted for the task of guarding the city. The selection will be not easy. But we must be brave and do our best. The noble youth is very like a well-bred dog in respect of guarding and watching.
Both of them should be:
- quick to see and overtake the enemy,
- strong and brave when they have caught and have to fight with him.
An animal that has no spirit will not likely be brave. Spirit is invincible and unconquerable. Its presence makes the soul of any creature absolutely fearless and indomitable. We now have a clear notion of the bodily qualities required in the guardian.
Of the mental qualities, his soul is to be full of spirit. But these spirited natures tend to be savage with one another, and with everybody else. They should be dangerous to their enemies, yet gentle to their friends. If not, they will destroy themselves without waiting for their enemies to destroy them. How can we find a gentle nature which has also a great spirit, for the one contradicts the other?
A good guardian will not lack these two qualities. Yet their combination appears to be impossible. But there are natures gifted with those opposite qualities, as seen in many animals. Our friend the dog is a very good one. Well-bred dogs are perfectly gentle to their acquaintances, yet fierce to strangers. Then there is nothing impossible in our finding a guardian who has a similar combination of qualities.
A guardian, besides the spirited nature, needs to have the qualities of a philosopher.Whenever a dog sees a stranger, it becomes angry even if he does no harm. But when it sees an acquaintance, it welcomes him even if he does nothing good.
This instinct of the dog is very charming. Your dog is a true philosopher because it distinguishes the face of a friend and of an enemy only by the criterion of knowing and not knowing.
An animal must be a lover of learning if it determines what it likes and dislikes by the test of knowledge and ignorance. Philosophy is the love of learning and wisdom.
A man who is likely to be gentle to his friends and acquaintances, must by nature be a lover of wisdom and knowledge. Then he who is to be a really good and noble guardian of the State will require to unite in himself philosophy and spirit and swiftness and strength.