Virtue theory in Plato's "Republic"

Griffin T Nelson, Marquette University


The dissertation concerns the ethics of Plato, specifically the ethical theory found in the Republic from Book II to Book VII. There are two main contributions to Platonic scholarship. First, an original interpretation of the main argument of the Republic is offered. The origin of the state discussion indicates that every member of the state is assigned a pursuit based on having a nature which suits her for it and she must also train sufficiently. It is argued that Plato bases the main argument on the scheme of 'nature, training and knowledge,' and that he is specifically interested in the nature, training and knowledge of the guardians. In Book II he discusses the guardians' physical nature and also their non-rational natural qualities. The moral training extends from Book II to Book IV, beginning with shaping character through mousikê; Book IV contains aspects of a moral theory similar to Aristotle's in the Nicomachean Ethics, such as actions which create the right state of soul. Thus, there is a comprehensive theory of character formation, since the character of the young is shaped passively through mousikê at first, then is shaped actively through the doing of certain types of actions. In Book V Plato discusses the intellectual nature of the guardians, while Books VI-VII contain the intellectual training and Plato's theory of knowledge. So, the main argument of Republic Books II-VII is based on the scheme of 'nature, training and knowledge.' The second contribution is showing that Plato's moral theory in the Republic anticipates Aristotle's mature theory in the Nicomachean Ethics. First, Politics Book VIII has a theory of mousikê almost identical to Plato's in Republic Books II-III. Second, Plato has many key concepts of a virtue theory in Republic IV: hexis, praxis, actions which create the right state of soul, actions which are done to preserve this state, and also being in this state better enables one to act morally. So as Politics VIII is to Nicomachean Ethics II, so Republic II-III is to IV; this proves that Plato has a developed moral theory.

Recommended Citation

Nelson, Griffin T, "Virtue theory in Plato's "Republic"" (2006). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI3244565.