Chapter 4 of Book 5

Female Guardians and their Children

by Socrates Icon

Women Should be Allowed Equal Occupations with Men

Socrates Such is the good and true City or State. The good and true man has the same pattern. If this is right then every other is wrong. The evil is one which affects not only the order of the State, but also the regulation of the individual soul, and is exhibited in four forms.

I was about to tell how the four evil forms succeed one another, when Polemarchus, sitting just beyond Adeimantus, began to whisper to him. He stretched and held the upper part of his coat by the shoulder, and drew Adeimantus towards him and said:

Polemarchus Shall we let him off, or what shall we do?

Adeimantus (raising his voice)= Certainly not, Socrates should not be let off. We think that you are lazy and mean to cheat us out of a whole chapter which is a very important part of the story. You think that we do not notice your airy way of proceeding, as if it were obvious to all how women and children ‘friends have all things in common.’ But what is right in this case needs to be explained. There are many kinds of community. So please say what sort of community you mean. We have been long expecting you to tell us about the family life of your citizens.

How they will raise children? What is the nature of this community of women and children?

We think that the right or wrong management of such matters will have a paramount influence on the State. The question is still unanswered, but you are already changing the topic.

Glaucon I agree.
Thrasymachus We all agree.
Socrates I thought that I had answered the question fully. But you begin again at the very foundation, ignorant of what a hornet’s nest of words you are stirring. I foresaw this gathering trouble, and avoided it.
Thrasymachus We came here to hear discourse.

Never mind about us.

  • What sort of community of women and children should prevail among our guardians?
  • How shall we manage the period between birth and education, which seems to require the greatest care?

The only way to determine how women and children will live in our State is to follow the path on which we originally started, when men were to be the guardians and watchdogs of the herd. The birth and education of our women is subject to similar or nearly similar regulations.

  • Are dogs divided into males and females?
  • Or do they both share equally in hunting, in keeping watch, and in the other duties of dogs?
  • Do we entrust the exclusive care of the flocks to the males?
  • Do we leave the bitches at home so that they can focus on bearing and suckling their puppies?

No, they share alike.

The only difference between them is that the males are stronger and the females weaker.


Different animals cannot be used for the same purpose unless they are bred and fed in the same way.

If women are to have the same duties as men, they must have the same nurture and education. The education which was assigned to the men was music and gymnastic. Then women must be taught music and gymnastic and also the art of war, which they must practise like the men.

The most ridiculous thing is to see old women naked in the palaestra, exercising with the men. They will not be a vision of beauty, just as enthusiastic and wrinkled old men continue to frequent the gymnasia.

People will joke against this innovation. They will talk of:

  • women’s attainments in music and gymnastic, and
  • their wearing armour and riding on horseback!

We must go forward to the rough places of the law.

At the same time, we beg these people for once in their life to be serious. The Cretans introduced the custom of naked warriors, followed by the Spartans.

Not long ago, the Hellenes and the barbarians thought that it was ridiculous and improper. But experience showed that being naked was far better than to be covered up.

The ludicrous effect to the outward eye vanished when reason was asserted. Then, those who ridiculed the good were called fools. The same became true for those who weigh the beautiful by any other standard but that of the good.

Women Can Lead Just as Men Can Lead


First, let us understand the nature of woman.

  • Can she share wholly or partially in the actions of men, or not at all?
  • Can she share in the art of war?

Our principle is for everyone to do the one work suited to his own nature.

But the natures of men and women differ very much. The tasks assigned to men and to women should be the same yet be agreeable to their different natures.

But when a man and a woman fall into the sea, they have to swim all the same.

We have said that:

  • different natures should have different pursuits, and
  • men’s and women’s natures are different.

We valiantly insist on the verbal truth, that different natures, as personality, should have different pursuits.

But our opponents use the word ’nature’ differently*, as physical natures.

  • Is nature of bald men opposite that of hairy men?
  • If bald men are traders, then should we forbid the hairy men to be traders?

*Superphysics note: The problem here is the ambiguity of the word “Nature”. Hindus solve this with a separate word “dharma”, just as Taoists use a separate word “tao” for “nature” that is based on metaphysics instead of that based on shallow perception


We never meant that the opposition of natures should extend to every difference both in physical and in personality. It only extends to those differences in personal pursuit.

A real physician and a person who thinks like a physician has the same nature. The real physician and the real carpenter have different natures.

  • If male and female differ in their fitness for any art, then such an art should be assigned to the gender fit for it
  • But if the difference is only in women bearing children, this is not a proof that a woman differs from a man in terms of what education she should receive.

Therefore, our guardians and their wives should have the same pursuits.


We ask our opponent: In the pursuits or arts of civic life, how does the nature of a woman differ from that of a man?

We can show that there is nothing peculiar in women which would affect them in the administration of the State.

Let us ask him:

  • When you spoke of a nature being gifted or not gifted, did you mean that:
    • one man will acquire a thing easily, while another man will acquire it with difficulty?
    • one man will learn something easily, while another man will take time to learn the same thing?
    • one man’s body is a good servant to his mind, while the body of the other man is a hindrance to him?
    • such differences distinguish a gifted man from an ungifted one?
  • Can you mention any pursuit where males do not have more of these gifts and qualities than females?
Glaucon Females are better than males in weaving and managing pancakes and preserves.

You are quite right in maintaining the general inferiority of females.

But many women are in many things superior to many men.

The Law Should Match the Nature of the People


Women would be inferior to men if:

  • the state treats men and women equally
  • there were no special institutions for women

In such a case, all our rules should only be for men and not for women.

  • One woman has a gift of healing, while another does not.
  • One woman is a musician, and another has no music in her nature.
  • One woman likes gymnastics and military exercises, and another is unwarlike and hates gymnastics.
  • One woman is a philosopher, and another is an enemy of philosophy.
  • One has spirit, and another is without spirit.
  • One woman will have the temper of a guardian, and another not.

The selection of the male guardians was determined by such differences. Both men and women have the qualities which make a guardian.

They differ only in their comparative strength or weakness. Those women who have such qualities are to be selected as the companions of men:

  • who have similar qualities and
  • whom they resemble in capacity and character.

The same natures should have the same pursuits.

Then, there is nothing unnatural in assigning music and gymnastic to the wives of the guardians.

This law would thus be agreeable to nature. Therefore, it is not an impossibility or mere aspiration.

The contrary practice, which prevails at present, is in reality a violation of nature. We had to consider:

  1. Whether our proposals were possible
  2. Whether they were the most beneficial

We shall establish the great benefit next.


The same education which makes a man a good guardian will make a woman a good guardian, for their original nature is the same.

This is what the arts of music and gymnastic will accomplish.

Thus, we have made a rule that is possible and very beneficial to the State.

Let the wives of our guardians strip. Their virtue will be their robe.

Let them share in the toils of war and the defence of their country. They will only get the lighter labours due to their weaker natures. But in other respects, their duties are to be the same.


Men will laugh at naked women exercising from the best of motives.

In reality, they are plucking ‘A fruit of unripe wisdom’. They are ignorant of what he is laughing at. The best of sayings is that “the useful is the noble and the hurtful is the base”.

There is one difficulty in our law about women. The rule that follows our first rule is:

  • The wives of our guardians are to be common.
  • Their children are to be common.
  • No parent is to know his own child, nor any child his parent.
Glaucon Yes, the possibility and the utility of such a law are far more questionable.

Having wives and children in common is very useful. However, its reality is very much disputed.

Let us assume that it were possible. How will it be done and how will it be beneficial to the State and to the guardians?

Our rulers must be willing to command their auxiliaries, just as their auxiliaries must be willing to obey their rulers.

The guardians themselves must obey the laws. They must also imitate the spirit of them in any details entrusted to their care. You are their legislator.


You have selected the men and the women for them.

  • They must be of like natures.
  • They must live in common houses and meet at common meals.
  • None of them will have anything specially his or her own.
  • They will be together and will be brought up together.
  • They will associate at gymnastic exercises.
  • They will be drawn by a necessity to have intercourse with each other which must be orderly.

In a city of the blessed, licentiousness is an unholy thing which the rulers will forbid. Then the legislator will make matrimony sacred in the highest degree, for what is most beneficial will be deemed sacred.

How can marriages be made most beneficial? Glaucon, I see that you have dogs for hunting and many birds. You take care to breed from the best only. You only take those of ripe age. If care was not taken in the breeding, your dogs and birds would greatly deteriorate. Good heavens, what consummate skill will our rulers need if the same principle holds of the human species!

Glaucon Certainly, the same principle holds. But why does this involve any particular skill?

Because our rulers will often have to practise on the corporate body with medicines. When patients do not require medicines, they only need to be put under a regimen. The inferior kind of practitioner is deemed to be good enough. But when medicine has to be given, then the doctor should be better.

Our rulers will find a considerable dose of falsehood and deceit necessary for the good of their subjects. We could use medicines as an advantage. This lawful use of medicine is often needed in the regulations of marriages and births.

The best of either sex should be united with the best as often. The inferior should be united with the inferior as seldom as possible.

They should rear the offspring of the best sort of union, but not of inferior union if the flock is to be maintained in first-rate condition. Now these must be a secret which the rulers only know. Otherwise, the guardians will break out into rebellion.


We should appoint certain festivals when we will bring together the brides and bridegrooms, sacrifices offered, and suitable hymeneal songs composed by our poets. The number of weddings is a matter which must be left to the discretion of the rulers. Their aim is to preserve the population size.

They will have to consider the effects of wars, diseases, and any similar agencies, in order to prevent the State from becoming too large or too small. We shall have to invent some ingenious kind of lots which the less worthy may draw on to select their partner. This will make them accuse their own ill-luck and not the rulers.

Our braver and better youth might have greater facilities of intercourse with the women given them. Their bravery will be a reason, and such fathers should have as many sons as possible. The proper officers can be either male or female.

They will take the offspring of the good parents to the pen and deposit them with certain nurses who live in a separate quarter. But the offspring of the inferior will be put away in some mysterious, unknown place, as they should be.

Glaucon Yes, that must be done if the breed of the guardians is to be kept pure.

They nurses will:

  • provide for their nurture
  • bring the mothers to the fold when they are full of milk
  • take the greatest care that no mother recognises her own child

Care will also be taken that the process of suckling shall not be protracted too long. The mothers will have no getting up at night or other trouble. They will hand over all this sort of thing to the nurses and attendants.

Glaucon You suppose the wives of our guardians to have a fine easy time when they are having children.

They should.

The parents should be in the prime of life. The prime of life is about 20 years in a woman’s life and 30 in a man’s.

  • A woman at 25 years may begin to bear children to the State, and continue to bear them until 40.
  • A man may begin at 25, when he has passed the point at which the pulse of life beats quickest, and continue to beget children until he be 55.
Glaucon Certainly, both in men and women those years are the prime of physical as well as of intellectual vigour.

It is unholy and unrighteous for anyone above or below the prescribed ages to take part in the public hymeneals. A person who produces a child outside of those ages bears the offspring of darkness and strange lust.

This is different from the proper birth under the sacrifices and prayers offered by priestesses and priests. Those proper acts help the new generation to be better and more useful than their parents.


The same law will apply to the guardians within the prescribed age connects with any woman in the prime of life without the sanction of the rulers. He is raising up a bastard to the State, uncertified and unconsecrated. This applies only to those who are within the specified age. After that, we allow them to range at will, except that a man guardian may not marry his daughter, his daughter’s daughter, his mother, or his mother’s mother.

Women, on the other hand, are prohibited from marrying their sons, fathers, son’s son, or father’s father in either direction. We give strict orders to prevent any embryo which may come into being from seeing the light. If any force a way to the birth, the parents must understand that the offspring of such an union cannot be maintained.

Glaucon But how will they know who are fathers and daughters, and so on?

They will never know.

Dating from the day of the hymeneal, the married couple will call all the children born in the 7th and 10th month afterwards as their children. Those children will call them their parents. All who were begotten at the time when their fathers and mothers came together will be called their brothers and sisters and will be forbidden to inter-marry.

This, however, is not an absolute prohibition of the marriage of brothers and sisters. If they receive the sanction of the Pythian oracle, the law will allow them. This is how our guardians are to have their families in common.


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