Chapter 2 Book 4

Justice is Svadharma

by Socrates Icon



I will discover justice by starting with the assumption that our State, if rightly ordered, is perfect. Being perfect, therefore, has:

  • wisdom
  • courage
  • temperance
  • justice.

Wisdom is the first virtue found in a State. It means being good in counsel. Good counsel is a kind of knowledge because ignorant men cannot counsel well. There are many and diverse kinds of knowledge in a State, such as the knowledge carpentry. But this kind of knowledge does not make a city wise. A wise city is not one that counsels best on carpentry. A city is called agricultural because it has a knowledge in agriculture.


But what is the knowledge that created the State? This knowledge advises citizens on:

  • general things about the entire State, and
  • how a State can best deal with itself and with other States.

It is the knowledge of the guardians from which the city gets good counsel and wisdom. In our city, there will be more smiths than true guardians. The guardians will be the smallest of all the classes, as ordained by nature.

The whole State thus is natural and will be wise. Thus, we have discovered the nature and place of one of the four virtues in the State.

Courage is Steadfastness Against Adversity and Temptation


It is easier to see the nature of courage. Everyone who calls any State courageous or cowardly, will be thinking of how the people fight in a war on the State’s behalf. But this is not the courage that I mean.

I define courage as the city preserving a portion of itself against things to be feared under all circumstances, as our legislator has educated them. ‘Under all circumstances’ means either in pleasure or in pain, desire or fear. This courage is a kind of salvation that respects things to be feared, what they are and of what nature, which the law implants through education.


Dyers want to dye wool by selecting their white colour first. They prepare this with much care and pains so that the white ground may take the hue in full perfection.

The dyeing then proceeds. Whatever is dyed in this way gains the permanent colour which cannot be removed by washing. But when the ground has not been duly prepared, the colour will have a poor look.


This is why we educated our soldiers in music and gymnastic. We were building the influence which would prepare them to absorb the dye of the laws perfectly.

The colour of their opinion was to be indelibly fixed by their nurture and training. It is not to be washed away by the potent lyes of sorrow, fear, or pleasure. Pleasure is a mightier agent for washing the soul than any soda or lye. Desire is the mightiest of all other solvents. Courage is this sort of universal saving power of true opinion.

Glaucon I agree. I suppose that you mean to exclude mere uninstructed courage, such as that of a wild beast or a slave. To you, such uninstructed courage is not the courage which the law ordains, and should have another name.

Yes, I mean ’the courage of a citizen.’ But we are seeking justice and not courage. We have said enough about courage.

Two virtues of temperance and justice remain to be discovered in the State. This will end our search. Can we find justice without troubling ourselves about temperance?

Glaucon I do not know how that can be accomplished. Nor do I want to understand justice at the expense of temperance. So please consider temperance first.



Temperance has more of the nature of harmony and symphony than courage. It is the controlling of certain pleasures and desires. This is implied in the praise saying ‘a man being his own master.’

There is something ridiculous in the expression ‘master of himself’. It means that the master is also the servant and the servant is the master since the same person is denoted. It really means that in the human soul there is a better and a worse principle.

When the better principle is controlling the worse principle, then a man the master of himself. The better principle is also the smaller. Evil education or association causes the better principle to be overwhelmed by the worse principle. The man becomes “unprincipled” or the slave of the self.


Our newly-created State is a master of itself, if the words ’temperance’ and ‘self-mastery’ truly express the rule of the better principle over the worse.

The complex pleasures, desires, and pains are generally found in:

  • children
  • women
  • servants
  • freemen of the lowest and more numerous class.

Whereas the reasonable and moderate desires guided by true opinion are to be found only:

  • in a few, and
  • those the best born and best educated.

The meaner desires of the many are held down by the virtuous desires and wisdom of the few. Our city can be called “temperate” if it masters its own pleasures, desires, and masters itself. In such a state, the subjects agree to follow their rulers.

This means temperance will be both in the rulers and the subjects.

Temperance is a sort of harmony, because temperance is unlike courage and wisdom. Each of which resides in a part only.

  • Wisdom makes the State wise.
  • Courage makes the State valiant.
  • Temperance extends to the whole and runs through all the notes of the scale.

It produces a harmony of the weaker and the stronger and the middle class, whether you suppose them to be stronger or weaker in wisdom or power or numbers or wealth, or anything else.

Temperance is the agreement of the naturally superior and inferior both in states and individuals.


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