James Fieser





Part 1

1. Plato — Civil Obedience, Justice and the Ideal State (from Crito and The Republic)

2. Aristotle — The Natural Foundation of Society (from Politics)

3. Cicero — Natural Justice (from On the Commonwealth)

4. Augustine — The Earthly and Heavenly Cities (from City of God and Against Faustus)

5. Thomas Aquinas — Natural Law (from Summa Theologica and On the Governance of Rulers)

6. Dante Alighieri — World Government (from On Monarchy)









Plato (428–348 BCE) was one of the great philosophers from ancient Greece’s golden age, and influenced virtually every area of philosophy. He lived in the city of Athens where he founded a school called the Academy, which his pupil Aristotle attended. Plato himself was a student of Socrates, and eccentric teacher who was put on trial and executed on the charges of atheism and corrupting the youth. While Socrates wrote nothing, Plato immortalized his teacher by making him the lead character in his philosophical dialogues. Below are selections from two of Plato’s works on political philosophy. First is the dialogue Crito, which discusses the issue of whether we are morally obligated to follow the laws of one’s country. The setting for this dialogue is Socrates’ prison cell, where he awaits execution. Crito, a wealthy young student of Socrates, encourages him to flee for his life. Socrates argues that all of Crito’s arguments for escaping merely reflect the “opinion of the many”; instead, Socrates’ decision should be based on the views of someone who is an expert in justice. Justice demands that he obey the state and the decision of the jury. To make his case, Socrates imagines that the laws of Athens are speaking directly to him. The laws offer two main arguments for obedience to the state. First, Athens has raised Socrates in much the way that his parents raised him, and, consequently, Socrates needs to obey the laws of Athens in much the way that children should obey their parents. Second, by consciously choosing to remain in Athens, Socrates made a contract with the city to obey its laws. The laws concludes by describing how miserable Socrates life would be if he fled to another town.

            Plato made his greatest impact on political philosophy in his dialogue The Republic, which investigates the nature of justice. Again, Socrates is the lead character in this dialogue and, in the selection below, he is joined by three others: Thrasymachus a teacher of rhetoric, and Plato’s two older brothers Glaucon and Adeimantus. Thrasymachus begins the dialogue by defending the skeptical position that justice is the interest of the stronger – essentially that might makes right. According to Thrasymachus, all governments seek their own interest, and the so-called “just” person always loses to the unjust person. Socrates disagrees and argues that acting unjustly is not more beneficial than acting justly. Socrates is then opposed by another skeptically-minded inquirer named Glaucon, who was Plato’s older brother. Glaucon presents a fable about a shepherd who finds a ring that makes him invisible, which he uses it to seduce the queen, kill the king, and take over the country. This, he believes, shows that injustice is more profitable than justice. To better clarify the nature of justice, Socrates proposes that the group explore the concept of a perfect society, how it emerges, and what its necessary components are. The guiding principle behind much of the discussion is that one person cannot do many jobs with success, and so there must be a division of labor. The ideal society that he describes has three classes. First is that of the tradespeople, who are responsible for the necessities of food, shelter, clothing as well as countless luxury items. Next is the guardian class, a professional army that is responsible for protecting society. To train the best possible guardians, they need to be educated from their youth with a strict curriculum that has censored out harmful lies within literature. Third is the ruling class, who are selected from the best of the guardians and show the greatest interest in furthering the good of their country. Socrates explains that everyone must remain within their respective social classes, and attempts to move to a new one will harm society. To assure that everyone complies, rulers need to trick people into thinking that they are naturally assigned their places in the social hierarchy. Justice, in essence, amounts to everyone doing his own job within the larger social framework. Saying more about the guardians, Socrates explains how they live in a communal setting, with no property. They are selectively bred to perpetuate their best attributes, and the parents won’t know which children are theirs. As to the rulers, society will function best when the kings are philosophers who have the capacity to know absolute truths, and not just the appearances of things.




Crito’s Argument: Why Socrates should Escape

Crito: .My beloved Socrates, let me beg you once more to take my advice and escape [from prison to avoid your execution]. For if you die I will not only lose a friend who can never be replaced, but there is another evil: people who do not know you and me will believe that I might have saved you if I had been willing to give money, but that I did not care. Now, can there be a worse disgrace than this—that I should be thought to value money more than the life of a friend? For the many will not be persuaded that I wanted you to escape, and that you refused.

            Socrates: But why, my dear Crito, should we care about the opinion of the many? Good men, and they are the only persons who are worth considering, will think of these things truly as they occurred.

            Crito: But you see, Socrates, that the opinion of the many must be regarded, for what is now happening shows that they can do the greatest evil to anyone who has lost their favor.

            Socrates: I only wish it were so, Crito; and that the many could do the greatest evil; for then they would also be able to do the greatest good—and what a fine thing this would be! But in reality they can do neither; for they cannot make a man either wise or foolish; and whatever they do is the result of chance.

            Crito: Well, I will not dispute with you; but please tell me, Socrates, whether you are not acting out of regard to me and your other friends: are you not afraid that if you escape from prison we may get into trouble with the informers for having stolen you away, and lose either the whole or a great part of our property; or that even a worse evil may happen to us? Now, if you fear on our account, be at ease. For in order to save you, we ought surely to run this, or even a greater risk. Be persuaded, then, and do as I say.

            Socrates: Yes, Crito, that is one fear which you mention, but by no means the only one.

            Crito: Fear not—there are people who are willing to get you out of prison at no great cost; and as for the informers they are far from being exorbitant in their demands—a little money will satisfy them. My means, which are certainly ample, are at your service, and if you have a scruple about spending all mine, here are strangers who will give you the use of theirs; and one of them, Simmias the Theban, has brought a large sum of money for this very purpose; and Cebes and many others are prepared to spend their money in helping you to escape. I say, therefore, do not hesitate on our account, and do not say, as you did in the court, that you will have a difficulty in knowing what to do with yourself anywhere else. For men will love you in other places to which you may go, and not in Athens only; there are friends of mine in Thessaly, if you like to go to them, who will value and protect you, and no Thessalian will give you any trouble. Nor can I think that you are at all justified, Socrates, in betraying your own life when you might be saved. In acting in that way you are playing into the hands of your enemies, who are hurrying on your destruction. And further I should say that you are deserting your own children; for you might bring them up and educate them; instead of which you go away and leave them, and they will have to take their chance; and if they do not meet with the usual fate of orphans, there will be small thanks to you. No man should bring children into the world who is unwilling to persevere to the end in their nurture and education. But you appear to be choosing the easier part, not the better and manlier, which would have been more becoming in one who professes to care for virtue in all his actions, like yourself. And indeed, I am ashamed not only of you, but of us who are your friends, when I reflect that the whole business will be attributed entirely to our lack of courage. The trial need never have come on, or might have been managed differently. This last act, or crowning folly, will seem to have occurred through our negligence and cowardice, who might have saved you, if we had been good for anything; and you might have saved yourself, for there was no difficulty at all. See now, Socrates, how sad and discreditable are the consequences, both to us and you. Make up your mind then, or rather have your mind already made up, for the time of deliberation is over, and there is only one thing to be done, which must be done this very night, and if we delay at all will be no longer practical or possible. I implore you therefore, Socrates, be persuaded by me, and do as I say.


Socrates’ Criticism

Socrates: Dear Crito, your zeal is invaluable, if a right one; but if wrong, the greater the zeal the greater the danger; and therefore we ought to consider whether I will or will not do as you say. . . . Is the pupil who devotes himself to the practice of gymnastics supposed to attend to the praise and blame and opinion of every man, or of one man only—his physician or trainer, whoever he may be?

            Crito: Of one man only.

            Socrates: And he ought to fear the criticism and welcome the praise of that one only, and not of the many?

            Crito: Clearly so.

            Socrates: In questions of just and unjust, fair and foul, good and evil, which are the subjects of our present consultation, ought we to follow the opinion of the many and to fear them, or, instead, the opinion of the one man who has understanding? Ought we not to fear and have reverence him more than all the rest of the world? . . . Then, my friend, we must not regard what the many say of us: but what he, the one man who has understanding of just and unjust, will say, and what the truth will say. Therefore you begin in error when you advise that we should regard the opinion of the many about just and unjust, good and evil, honorable and dishonorable. . . . Consider the matter in this way. Imagine that I am about to skip town (you may call it by any name which you like), and the laws and the government come and interrogate me. “Tell us, Socrates,” they say; “what are you doing? Are you not going by an act of yours to overturn us—the laws—and the whole state, as far as you can? Do you imagine that a state can subsist and not be overthrown when the decisions of law have no power, but are set aside and trampled upon by individuals?” What will be our answer, Crito, to these and similar words? Anyone, and especially a rhetorician, will have a good deal to say on behalf of the law which requires a sentence to be carried out. He will argue that this law should not be set aside; and will we reply, “Yes; but the state has injured us and given an unjust sentence.” Suppose I say that?

            Crito: Very good, Socrates.


Athens Like a Parent to Socrates

Socrates: The law would answer, “Was that our agreement with you, or were you to abide by the sentence of the state?” If I were to express my astonishment at their words, the law would probably add: “Answer, Socrates, instead of opening your eyes; you are in the habit of asking and answering questions. Tell us: what complaint have you to make against us which justifies you in attempting to destroy us and the state? In the first place did we not bring you into existence? Your father married your mother by our aid and gave birth to you. Say whether you have any objection to urge against those of us who regulate marriage?” None, I should reply. “Or against those of us who after birth regulate the nurture and education of children, in which you also were trained? Were not the laws, which have the charge of education, right in commanding your father to train you in music and gymnastic?” Right, I should reply. “Well then, since you were brought into the world and nurtured and educated by us, can you deny in the first place that you are our child and slave, as your fathers were before you? And if this is true you are not on equal terms with us; nor can you think that you have a right to do to us what we are doing to you. Would you have any right to strike or insult or do any other evil to your father or your master, if you had one, because you have been struck or insulted by him, or received some other evil at his hands? You would not say this. And because we think it right to destroy you, do you think that you have any right to destroy us in return, and your country as far as in you lies? Will you, O professor of true virtue, pretend that you are justified in this? Has a philosopher like you failed to discover that our country is more to be valued and is higher and far more holy than mother or father or any ancestor, and more to be regarded in the eyes of the gods and of men of understanding? Also to be soothed, and gently and reverently pleaded to when angry, even more than a father, and either to be persuaded, or if not persuaded, to be obeyed? When we are punished by her, whether with imprisonment or stripes, the punishment is to be endured in silence. If she leads us to wounds or death in battle, there we follow as is right. Neither may anyone yield or retreat or leave his rank. Whether in battle or in a court of law, or in any other place, he must do what his city and his country order him. Otherwise he must change their view of what is just: and, if he may, he must do no violence to his father or mother, much less may he do violence to his country.” What answer will we make to this, Crito? Do the laws speak truly, or do they not?

            Crito: I think that they do.


Social Contract between Socrates and Athens

Socrates: Then the laws will say: “Consider, Socrates, if we are speaking truly that in your present attempt you are going to do us an injury. For, having brought you into the world, and nurtured and educated you, and given you and every other citizen a share in every good which we had to give, we further proclaim to any Athenian by the liberty which we allow him, that if he does not like us when he has become of age and has seen the ways of the city, and made our acquaintance, he may go where he pleases and take his goods with him. None of us laws will forbid him or interfere with him. Anyone who does not like us and the city, and who wants to emigrate to a colony or to any other city, may go where he likes, retaining his property. But he who has experience of the manner in which we order justice and administer the state, and still remains, has entered into an implied contract that he will do as we command him. And he who disobeys us is, as we maintain, thrice wrong: first, because in disobeying us he is disobeying his parents; secondly, because we are the authors of his education; thirdly, because he has made an agreement with us that he will duly obey our commands; and he neither obeys them nor convinces us that our commands are unjust; and we do not rudely impose them, but give him the alternative of obeying or convincing us;—that is what we offer, and he does neither. These are the sort of accusations to which, as we were saying, you, Socrates, will be exposed if you accomplish your intentions; you, above all other Athenians.”

            Suppose now I ask, why me rather than anybody else? They will justly reply to me that I, more than all other men, have acknowledged the agreement. “There is clear proof,” they will say, “Socrates, that we and the city were not displeasing to you. Of all Athenians you have been the most constant resident in the city, which we may suppose that you love since you never leave it. For you never went out of the city either to see the games, except once when you went to the Isthmus, or to any other place unless when you were on military service. Nor did you travel as other men do. Nor had you any curiosity to know other states or their laws: your affections did not go beyond us and our state. We were your especial favorites, and you accepted our governing of you. Right here in this city you had your children, which is a proof of your satisfaction. Moreover, during your trial, if you had liked, you might have fixed the penalty at banishment. The state which refuses to let you go now would have let you go then. But you pretended that you preferred death to exile, and that you were not unwilling to die. And now you have forgotten these fine sentiments, and pay no respect to us the laws, of whom you are the destroyer. You are doing what only a miserable slave would do, running away and turning your back upon the compacts and agreements which you made as a citizen. Now answer this specific question: Are we right in saying that you agreed to be governed according to us in your actions, and not merely in your words? Is that true or not?” How will we answer, Crito? Must we not assent?

            Crito: We cannot help it, Socrates.

            Socrates: Then will they not say: “You, Socrates, are breaking the covenants and agreements which you made with us at your leisure, but not in any haste or under any compulsion or deception. Rather, it is after you have had seventy years to think of them, during which time you were at liberty to leave the city, if we were not to your liking, or if our covenants appeared to you to be unfair. You had your choice, and might have gone either to Lacedaemon or Crete, both which states you often praised for their good government, or to some other Greek or foreign state. Because you, above all other Athenians, seemed to be so fond of the state, or, in other words, of us her laws (and who would care about a state which has no laws?), that you never stirred out of her. The lame, the blind, the maimed were not more stationary in her than you were. But now you run away and forsake your agreements. Not so, Socrates, if you will take our advice; do not make yourself ridiculous by escaping out of the city.”


Prospects for Socrates if he Flees

For just consider, if you transgress and err in this sort of way, what good will you do either to yourself or to your friends? It is reasonably certain that your friends will be driven into exile and deprived of citizenship, or will lose their property. And you yourself, if you flee to one of the neighboring cities, as, for example, Thebes or Megara, both of which are well governed, will come to them as an enemy, Socrates, and their government will be against you, and all patriotic citizens will cast an evil eye upon you as a subverter of the laws, and you will confirm in the minds of the judges the justice of their own condemnation of you. For he who is a corrupter of the laws is more than likely to be a corrupter of the young and foolish portion of mankind. Will you then flee from well-ordered cities and virtuous men? and is existence worth having on these terms? Or will you go to them without shame, and talk to them, Socrates? And what will you say to them? What you say here about virtue and justice and institutions and laws being the best things among men? Would that be decent of you? Surely not. But if you go away from well-governed states to Crito’s friends in Thessaly, where there is great disorder and license, they will be charmed to hear the tale of your escape from prison, set off with ludicrous particulars of the manner in which you were wrapped in a goatskin or some other disguise, and metamorphosed as the manner is of runaways. But will there be no one to remind you that in your old age you were not ashamed to violate the most sacred laws from a miserable desire of a little more life? Perhaps not, if you keep them in a good temper. But if they are out of temper you will hear many degrading things; you will live, but how? As the flatterer of all men, and the servant of all men? And doing what: Eating and drinking in Thessaly, having gone abroad in order that you may get a dinner? And where will be your fine sentiments about justice and virtue? Say that you wish to live for the sake of your children—you want to bring them up and educate them—will you take them into Thessaly and deprive them of Athenian citizenship? Is this the benefit which you will confer upon them? Or are you under the impression that they will be better cared for and educated here if you are still alive, although absent from them; for your friends will take care of them? Do you fancy that if you are an inhabitant of Thessaly they will take care of them, and if you are an inhabitant of the other world that they will not take care of them? No; but if they who call themselves friends are good for anything, they will—to be sure they will.

            “Listen, then, Socrates, to us who have brought you up. Think not of life and children first, and of justice afterwards, but of justice first, that you may be justified before the princes of the world below. For neither will you nor any that belong to you be happier or holier or juster in this life, or happier in another, if you do as Crito proposes. Now you depart in innocence, a sufferer and not a doer of evil; a victim, not of the laws, but of men. But if you go forth, returning evil for evil, and injury for injury, breaking the covenants and agreements which you have made with us, and wronging those whom you ought least of all to wrong, that is to say, yourself, your friends, your country, and us, we will be angry with you while you live, and our brethren, the laws in the world below, will receive you as an enemy; for they will know that you have done your best to destroy us. Listen, then, to us and not to Crito.”

            This, dear Crito, is the voice which I seem to hear murmuring in my ears, like the sound of the flute in the ears of the mystic; that voice, I say, is humming in my ears, and prevents me from hearing any other. And I know that anything more which you may say will be vain. Yet speak, if you have anything to say.

            Crito: I have nothing to say, Socrates.

            Socrates: Leave me then, Crito, to fulfill the will of God, and to follow where he leads.




Whether Might makes Right (The Republic, Book 1)

Socrates: As concerning justice, what is it? Is it no more than to speak the truth and to pay your debts? Aren’t there exceptions even to these? Suppose that a friend when in his right mind has deposited weapons with me and he asks for them when he is not in his right mind, ought I to give them back to him? No one would say that I ought or that I should be right in doing so, any more than they would say that I ought always to speak the truth to one who is in his condition. . . . But then speaking the truth and paying your debts is not a correct definition of justice. . . .

            Several times in the course of the discussion Thrasymachus had made an attempt to get the argument into his own hands, and had been put down by the rest of the company, who wanted to hear the end. But when Polemarchus and I were done speaking and there was a pause, he could no longer hold his peace; and, gathering himself up, he came at us like a wild animal, seeking to devour us. We were quite panic-stricken at the sight of him. . . .

            Thrasymachus: I proclaim that justice is nothing else than the interest of the stronger. . . . The different forms of government make laws democratic, aristocratic, tyrannical, with a view to their several interests. These laws, which are made by them for their own interests, are the justice which they deliver to their subjects, and him who transgresses them they punish as a breaker of the law, and unjust. This is what I mean when I say that in all states there is the same principle of justice, which is the interest of the government. As the government must be supposed to have power, the only reasonable conclusion is that everywhere there is one principle of justice, which is the interest of the stronger. . . .

            Socrates: When Thrasymachus had thus spoken, having, like a waterboy, deluged our ears with his words, had a mind to go away. But the company would not let him; they insisted that he should remain and defend his position; and I myself added my own humble request that he would not leave us. . . .

            Then, I continued, no physician, in so far as he is a physician, considers his own good in what he prescribes, but the good of his patient. For the true physician is also a ruler having the human body as a subject, and is not a mere money-maker. Have we admitted that?

            Thrasymachus: Yes.

            Socrates: And the captain likewise, in the strict sense of the term, is a ruler of sailors and not a mere sailor?

            Thrasymachus: That has been admitted.

            Socrates: And such a captain and ruler will provide and prescribe for the interest of the sailor who is under him, and not for his own or the ruler’s interest?

            He gave a reluctant “Yes.”

            Then, I said, Thrasymachus, there is no one in any rule who, in so far as he is a ruler, considers or requires what is for his own interest, but always what is for the interest of his subject or suitable to his art. He looks to that, and he considers that alone in everything which he says and does.

            When we had got to this point in the argument, and everyone saw that the definition of justice had been completely upset, Thrasymachus, instead of replying to me, said:

Thrasymachus: Tell me, Socrates, have you got a nurse?

            Socrates: Why do you ask such a question when you ought rather to be answering?

            Thrasymachus: Because she leaves you to snivel, and never wipes your nose: she has not even taught you to know the shepherd from the sheep.

            Socrates: What makes you say that?

            Thrasymachus: Because you imagine that the shepherd or ox herder fattens or tends the sheep or oxen with a view to their own good and not to the good of himself or his master. You further imagine that the rulers of states, if they are true rulers, never think of their subjects as sheep, and that they are not studying their own advantage day and night. Oh, no. You are so entirely misguided in your ideas about the just and unjust that you do not even know that justice and the just are in reality another’s good. That is to say, it is the interest of the ruler and stronger, and the loss of the subject and servant. Injustice is the opposite, for the unjust is lord over the truly simple and just. He is the stronger, and his subjects do what is for his interest, and minister to his happiness, which is very far from being their own. Consider further, most foolish Socrates, that the just is always a loser in comparison with the unjust. First of all, in private contracts: wherever the unjust is the partner of the just you will find that, when the partnership is dissolved, the unjust man has always more and the just less. . . .

            Socrates: I am not convinced, and I do not believe that injustice is more beneficial than justice, even if uncontrolled and allowed to have free play. For, granting that there may be an unjust man who is able to commit injustice either by fraud or force, still this does not convince me of the superior advantage of injustice, and there may be others who are in the same predicament with myself. . . .

            Is not the power which injustice exercises of such a nature that wherever she takes up her residence, whether in a city, in an army, in a family, or in any other body, that body is, to begin with, made incapable of united action by reason of sedition and distraction? Does it not become its own enemy and at variance with all that opposes it, and with the just? Is not this the case?

            Thrasymachus: Yes, certainly.

            Socrates: And is not injustice equally fatal when existing in a single person? In the first place it renders him incapable of action because he is not at unity with himself, and in the second place it makes him an enemy to himself and the just. Is not that true, Thrasymachus?

            Thrasymachus: Yes. . . .

            Socrates: The result of the whole discussion has been that I know nothing at all. For I know not what justice is, and therefore I am not likely to know whether it is or is not a virtue, nor can I say whether the just man is happy or unhappy.


Advantages of Injustice: The Ring of Gyges (Book 2)

Socrates: With these words I was thinking that I had made an end of the discussion; but the end, in truth, proved to be only a beginning. For Glaucon, who is always the most confrontational person, was unhappy that Thrasymachus left, and he wanted to continue the battle. So he said to me:

            Glaucon: Socrates, do you wish really to persuade us, or only to seem to have persuaded us, that to be just is always better than to be unjust?

            Socrates: I should wish really to persuade you if I could.

            Glaucon: Then you certainly have not succeeded. . . . I will begin by speaking, as I proposed, of the nature and origin of justice.

            They say that to do injustice is good by nature, and to suffer injustice, evil; but that the evil is greater than the good. So when men have both done and suffered injustice and have had experience of both, not being able to avoid the one and obtain the other, they think that they had better agree among themselves to have neither. Hence there arise laws and mutual covenants. That which is ordained by law is termed by them lawful and just. This they affirm to be the origin and nature of justice; it is a mean or compromise, between the best of all, which is to do injustice and not be punished, and the worst of all, which is to suffer injustice without the power of retaliation; and justice, being at a middle point between the two, is tolerated not as a good, but as the lesser evil, and honored by reason of the inability of men to do injustice. For no man who is worthy to be called a man would ever submit to such an agreement if he were able to resist; he would be mad if he did. This, Socrates, is the common explanation of the nature and origin of justice.

             Now that those who practice justice do so involuntarily and because they have not the power to be unjust will best appear if we imagine something of this kind. Having given both to the just and the unjust power to do what they will, let us watch and see where desire will lead them. Then we will discover in the very act the just and unjust man to be proceeding along the same road, following their interest, which all natures believe to be their good, and are only diverted into the path of justice by the force of law. The liberty which we are supposing may be most completely given to them in the form of such a power as is said to have been possessed by Gyges, the ancestor of Croesus the Lydian. According to the tradition, Gyges was a shepherd in the service of the King of Lydia. There was a great storm, and an earthquake made an opening in the earth at the place where he was feeding his flock. Amazed at the sight, he climbed down into the opening, where, among other wonders, he saw a hollow brazen horse, having doors, at which he, stooping and looking in, saw a large dead body, as appeared to him, more than human and having nothing on but a gold ring. He removed it from the finger of the dead and climbed back out. Now the shepherds met together, according to custom, so that they might send their monthly report about the flocks to the King. He came into their assembly with the ring on his finger, and as he was sitting among them he happened to turn the sleeve of the ring inside his hand, when instantly he became invisible to the rest of the company and they began to speak of him as if he were no longer present. He was astonished at this, and, again touching the ring, he turned the ring’s sleeve outward and reappeared. He made several experiments with the ring, and always with the same result. When he turned the ring’s sleeve inward he became invisible, when outward he reappeared. After this he schemed to be chosen one of the messengers who were sent to the court. As soon as he arrived he seduced the Queen, and with her help conspired against the King, killed him and took the kingdom.

            Suppose now that there were two such magic rings, and the just put on one of them and the unjust the other. No man can be imagined to be of such an iron nature that he would stand fast in justice. No man would keep his hands off what was not his own when he could safely take what he liked out of the market, or go into houses and lie with anyone at his pleasure, or kill or release from prison whom he would, and in all respects be like a god among men. Then the actions of the just would be as the actions of the unjust: they would both eventually come to the same point. This we may truly affirm to be a great proof that a man is just, not willingly or because he thinks that justice is any good to him individually, but of necessity. For wherever anyone thinks that he can safely be unjust, there he is unjust. For all men believe in their hearts that injustice is far more profitable to the individual than justice, and he who argues as I have been supposing, will say that they are right. If you could imagine anyone obtaining this power of becoming invisible, and never doing any wrong or touching what was another’s, he would be thought by the observer to be a most wretched idiot, although they would praise him to one another’s faces, and keep up appearances with one another from a fear that they too might suffer injustice. . . .

            Socrates: Glaucon and the rest begged me by all means not to let the question drop, but to proceed in the investigation. They wanted to arrive at the truth, first, about the nature of justice and injustice, and secondly, about their relative advantages. I told them what I really thought, that the inquiry would be of a serious nature, and would require very good eyes.

            Seeing then, I said, that we are no great wits, I think that we had better adopt a method which I may illustrate thus; suppose that a short-sighted person had been asked by someone to read small letters from a distance; and it occurred to someone else that they might be found in another place which was larger and in which the letters were larger—if they were the same and he could read the larger letters first, and then proceed to the lesser—this would have been thought a rare piece of good fortune.

            Adeimantus: Very true. But how does the illustration apply to our inquiry?

            Socrates: I will tell you. Justice, which is the subject of our inquiry, is, as you know, sometimes spoken of as the virtue of an individual, and sometimes as the virtue of a State.

            Adeimantus: True.

            Socrates: And is not a State larger than an individual?

            Adeimantus: It is.

            Socrates: Then in the larger the quantity of justice is likely to be larger and more easily discernible. I propose therefore that we inquire into the nature of justice and injustice, first as they appear in the State, and secondly in the individual, proceeding from the greater to the lesser and comparing them.

            Adeimantus: That is an excellent proposal.

            Socrates: And if we imagine the State in the process of creation, we will see the justice and injustice of the State in the process of creation also.

            Adeimantus: I dare say.

            Socrates: When the State is completed there may be a hope that the object of our search will be more easily discovered.

            Adeimantus: Yes, far more easily.

            Socrates: But ought we to attempt to construct one? To do so, as I am inclined to think, will be a very serious task. Think about this.

            Adeimantus: I have thought about this, and am anxious that you should proceed.




Emergence of the Tradespeople Class (Book 2)

Socrates: A State arises, as I conceive, out of the needs of mankind. No one is self-sufficing, but all of us have many wants. Can any other origin of a State be imagined?

            Adeimantus: There can be no other.

            Socrates: Then, as we have many wants, and many persons are needed to supply them, one takes a helper for one purpose and another for another; and when these partners and helpers are gathered together in one habitation the body of inhabitants is termed a State.

            Adeimantus: True.

            Socrates: And they exchange with one another, and one gives, and another receives, under the idea that the exchange will be for their good.

            Adeimantus: Very true.

            Socrates: Then let us begin and create in idea a State; and yet the true creator is necessity, who is the mother of our invention.

            Adeimantus: Of course.

            Socrates: Now the first and greatest of necessities is food, which is the condition of life and existence.

            Adeimantus: Certainly.

            Socrates: The second is a dwelling, and the third clothing and the like.

            Adeimantus: True.

            Socrates: And now let us see how our city will be able to supply this great demand. We may suppose that one man is a husbandman, another a builder, someone else a weaver. Should we add to them a shoemaker, or perhaps some other purveyor to our bodily wants?

            Adeimantus: Quite right.

            Socrates: The barest notion of a State must include four or five men.

            Adeimantus: Clearly.

            Socrates: And how will they proceed? Will each bring the result of his labors into a common collection? Will the individual husbandman, for example, produce for four, and labor four times as long and as much as he needs to provide the food with which he supplies others as well as himself? Or will he have nothing to do with others and not bother producing for them, but provide only for himself a fourth of the food in a fourth of the time, and in the remaining three-fourths of his time be employed in making a house or a coat or a pair of shoes, having no partnership with others, but supplying himself all his own wants?

            Adeimantus thought that he should aim at producing food only and not at producing everything.

            Probably that would be the better way. When I hear you say this, I am myself reminded that we are not all alike. There are diversities of natures among us which are adapted to different occupations.

            Adeimantus: Very true. . . .

            Socrates: Then more than four citizens will be required; for the husbandman will not make his own plough or hoe, or other implements of agriculture, if they are to be good for anything. Neither will the builder make his tools—and he too needs many; and in like manner the weaver and shoemaker.

            Adeimantus: True.

            Socrates: Then carpenters, and smiths, and many other artisans, will be sharers in our little State, which is already beginning to grow?

            Adeimantus: True.

            Socrates: Yet even if we add ox herders, shepherds, and other herdsmen, in order that our husbandmen may have oxen to plough with, and builders as well as husbandmen may have draught cattle, and curriers and weavers fleeces and hides,—still our State will not be very large.

            Adeimantus: That is true; yet neither will it be a very small State which contains all these.

            Socrates: Then, again, there is the situation of the city—to find a place where nothing need be imported is nearly impossible.

            Adeimantus: Impossible.

            Socrates: Then there must be another class of citizens who will bring the required supply from another city?

            Adeimantus: There must.

            Socrates: But if the trader goes empty-handed, having nothing which they require who would supply his need, he will come back empty-handed.

            Adeimantus: That is certain.

            Socrates: And therefore what they 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.

            Adeimantus: Very true.

            Socrates: Then more husbandmen and more artisans will be required?

            Adeimantus: They will.

            Socrates: Not to mention the importers and exporters, who are called merchants?

            Adeimantus: Yes.

            Socrates: Then we will want merchants?

            Adeimantus: We will.

            Socrates: And if merchandise is to be carried over the sea, skilful sailors will also be needed, and in considerable numbers?

            Adeimantus: Yes, in considerable numbers.

            Socrates: Then, again, within the city, how will they exchange their productions? To secure such an exchange was, as you will remember, one of our principal objects when we formed them into a society and constituted a State.

            Adeimantus: Clearly they will buy and sell.

            Socrates: Then they will need a marketplace, and a money-token for purposes of exchange.

            Adeimantus: Certainly.

            Socrates: Suppose now that a husbandman, or an artisan, brings some production to market, and he comes at a time when there is no one to exchange with him,—is he to leave his calling and sit idle in the marketplace?

            Adeimantus: Not at all. He will find people there who, seeing the want, undertake the office of salesmen. In well-ordered states they are commonly those who are the weakest in bodily strength, and therefore of little use for any other purpose. Their duty is to be in the market, and to give money in exchange for goods to those who desire to sell and to take money from those who desire to buy.

            Socrates: This want, then, creates a class of retail-traders in our State. Is not ‘retailer’ the term which is applied to those who sit in the market-place engaged in buying and selling, while those who wander from one city to another are called merchants?

            Adeimantus: Yes.

            Socrates: And there is another class of servants, who are intellectually hardly on the level of companionship. Still they have plenty of bodily strength for labor, which accordingly they sell, and are called, if I do not mistake, hirelings, hire being the name which is given to the price of their labor.

            Adeimantus: True.

            Socrates: Then hirelings will help to make up our population?

            Adeimantus: Yes.

            Socrates: And now, Adeimantus, is our State matured and perfected?

            Adeimantus: I think so.

            Socrates: Where, then, is justice, and where is injustice, and in what part of the State did they spring up?

            Adeimantus: Probably in the dealings of these citizens with one another. I cannot imagine that they are more likely to be found anywhere else.

            Socrates: I dare say that you are right in your suggestion. We had better think the matter out, and not shrink from the inquiry. Let us then consider, first of all, what will be their way of life, now that we have thus established them. . . . For I suspect that many will not be satisfied with the simpler way of life. They will be for adding sofas, and tables, and other furniture; also dainties, and perfumes, and incense, and courtesans, and cakes, all these not of one sort only, but in every variety; we must go beyond the necessities of which I was at first speaking, such as houses, and clothes, and shoes: the arts of the painter and the embroiderer will have to be set in motion, and gold and ivory and all sorts of materials must be acquired.

            Adeimantus: True.

            Socrates: Then we must enlarge our borders; for the original healthy State is no longer sufficient. Now will the city have to fill and swell with a multitude of callings which are not required by any natural want. . . . And the country which was enough to support the original inhabitants will be too small now, and not enough?

            Adeimantus: Quite true.

            Socrates: Then a slice of our neighbors’ land will be wanted by us for pasture and tillage, and they will want a slice of ours, if, like ourselves, they exceed the limit of necessity, and give themselves up to the unlimited accumulation of wealth?

            Adeimantus: That, Socrates, will be inevitable.

            Socrates: And so we will go to war, Glaucon. Will we not?

            Glaucon: Most certainly

            Socrates: Then without determining as yet whether war does good or harm, thus much we may affirm, that now we have discovered war to be derived from causes which are also the causes of almost all the evils in States, private as well as public.

            Glaucon: Undoubtedly.


Need for the Guardian Class and Censorship in their Education (Book 2)

Socrates: And our State must once more enlarge. This time the enlargement will be nothing short of a whole army, which will have to go out and fight with the invaders for all that we have, as well as for the things and persons whom we were describing above.

            Glaucon: Why? Are they not capable of defending themselves?

            Socrates: No, not if we were right in the principle which was acknowledged by all of us when we were framing the State. The principle, as you will remember, was that one man cannot practice many arts with success.

            Glaucon: Very true.

            Socrates: But is not war an art?

            Certainly. . . .

            Glaucon: Socrates: And the higher are the duties of the guardian the more time, and skill, and art, and application will be needed by him?

            Glaucon: No doubt.

            Socrates: Will he not also require natural aptitude for his calling?

            Glaucon: Certainly. . . .

            And what will be their education? Can we find a better than the traditional sort? And this has two divisions: gymnastics for the body, and music for the soul.

            Glaucon: True.

            Socrates: Will we begin education with music, and go on to gymnastics afterwards?

            Glaucon: By all means.

            Socrates: When you speak of music, do you include literature or not?

            Glaucon: I do.

            Socrates: And literature may be either true or false?

            Glaucon: Yes. . . .

            Socrates: Will we just carelessly allow children to hear any casual tales which may be devised by casual persons, and to receive into their minds ideas for the most part the very opposite of those which we should wish them to have when they are grown up?

            Adeimantus: We cannot.

            Socrates: Then the first thing will be to establish a censorship of the writers of fiction, and let the censors receive any tale of fiction which is good, and reject the bad. We will desire mothers and nurses to tell their children the authorized ones only. Let them fashion the mind with such tales, even more fondly than they mold the body with their hands. But most of those which are now in use must be discarded.

            Adeimantus: Of what tales are you speaking?

            Socrates: You may find a model of the lesser in the greater; for they are necessarily of the same type, and there is the same spirit in both of them.

            Adeimantus: Very likely. But I do not as yet know what you would term the greater.

            Socrates: Those which are narrated by Homer and Hesiod, and the rest of the poets, who have ever been the great storytellers of mankind.

            Adeimantus: Which stories do you mean, and what fault do you find with them?

            Socrates: A fault which is most serious. The fault of telling a lie, and, what is more, a bad lie.

            Adeimantus: But when is this fault committed?

            Socrates: Whenever an erroneous representation is made of the nature of gods and heroes – such as when a painter paints a portrait not having the shadow of a likeness to the original.

            Adeimantus: Yes, that sort of thing is certainly very blamable. But what are the stories which you mean?

            Socrates: First of all, there was that greatest of all lies in high places, which the poet told about Uranus, and which was a bad lie too -- I mean what Hesiod says that Uranus did, and how [his son] Cronus retaliated on him [by castrating Uranus]. The doings of Cronus, and the sufferings which in turn his son [Zeus] inflicted upon him, even if they were true, ought certainly not to be lightly told to young and thoughtless persons. If possible, they had better be buried in silence. But if there is an absolute necessity for their mention, a chosen few might hear them in a mystery. . . . If we mean our future guardians to regard the habit of quarrelling among themselves as of all things the basest, neither should any word be said to them of the wars in heaven, and of the plots and fighting of the gods against one another, for they are not true. No, we must never mention the battles of the giants, or let them be embroidered on clothing. We must be silent about the innumerable other quarrels of gods and heroes with their friends and relatives. If they would only believe us we would tell them that quarrelling is unholy, and that never up to this time has there been any quarrel between citizens. This is what old men and old women should begin by telling children; and when they grow up, the poets also should be told to compose them in a similar spirit. Consider the narrative of Hephaestus binding Hera his mother, or how on another occasion Zeus sent him flying for taking her part when she was being beaten, and all the battles of the gods in Homer. These tales must not be admitted into our State, whether they are supposed to have an allegorical meaning or not. For a young person cannot judge what is allegorical and what is literal. Anything that he receives into his mind at that age is likely to become permanent and unalterable. Therefore it is most important that the tales which the young first hear should be models of virtuous thoughts. . . .


Selecting the Ruling Class (Book 3)

Socrates: What is the next question? Must we not ask who are to be rulers and who subjects?

            Glaucon: Certainly.

            Socrates: There can be no doubt that the elder must rule the younger.

            Glaucon: Clearly.

            Socrates: And that the best of these must rule.

            Glaucon: That is also clear.

            Socrates: Now, are not the best husbandmen those who are most devoted to husbandry?

            Glaucon: Yes.

            Socrates: And as we are to have the best of guardians for our city, must they not be those who have most the character of guardians?

            Glaucon: Yes.

            Socrates: And to this end they ought to be wise and efficient, and to have a special care of the State?

            Glaucon: True.

            Socrates: And a man will be most likely to care about that which he loves?

            Glaucon: To be sure.

            Socrates: And he will be most likely to love that which he regards as having the same interests with himself, and that of which the good or evil fortune is supposed by him at any time most to affect his own?

            Glaucon: Very true.

            Socrates: Then there must be a selection. Let us note among the guardians those who in their whole life show the greatest eagerness to do what is for the good of their country, and the greatest repugnance to do what is against her interests.

            Glaucon: Those are the right men.

            Socrates: And they will have to be watched at every age, in order that we may see whether they preserve their resolution, and never, under the influence either of force or magic spells, forget or cast off their sense of duty to the State. . . . Therefore, as I was just now saying, we must inquire who are the best guardians of their own conviction that what they think the interest of the State is to be the rule of their lives. We must watch them from their youth upwards, and make them perform actions in which they are most likely to forget or to be deceived, and he who remembers and is not deceived is to be selected, and he who fails in the trial is to be rejected. That will be the way?

            Glaucon: Yes.

            Socrates: And there should also be toils and pains and conflicts prescribed for them, in which they will be made to give further proof of the same qualities.

            Glaucon: Very right.

            Socrates: And then we must test them with magic spells—that is the third sort of test—and see what will be their behavior. Similar to those who take colts amidst noise and tumult to see if they are of a timid nature, so too must we take our youth amidst terrors of some kind, and again pass them into pleasures, and prove them more thoroughly than gold is proved in the furnace. In this way we may discover whether they are armed against all magic spells, and of a noble bearing always, good guardians of themselves and of the music which they have learned, and retaining under all circumstances a rhythmical and harmonious nature, such as will be most serviceable to the individual and to the State. And he who at every age, as boy and youth and in mature life, has come out of the trial victorious and pure, will be appointed a ruler and guardian of the State. He will be honored in life and death, and will receive sepulture and other memorials of honor, the greatest that we have to give. But him who fails, we must reject. I am inclined to think that this is the sort of way in which our rulers and guardians should be chosen and appointed. I speak generally, and not with any pretension to exactness.

            Glaucon: And speaking generally, I agree with you.

            Socrates: Perhaps the word “guardian” in the fullest sense ought to be applied to this higher class only who preserve us against foreign enemies and maintain peace among our citizens at home, that the one may not have the will, or the others the power, to harm us. The young men whom we before called guardians may be more properly designated auxiliaries and supporters of the principles of the rulers.

            Glaucon: I agree with you.




The Noble Lie: Staying Within one’s Class (Book 3)

Socrates: How then may we devise one of those necessary falsehoods of which we lately spoke—just one noble lie which may deceive the rulers, if that is possible, and at any rate the rest of the city?

            Glaucon: What sort of lie?

            Socrates: Nothing new, only an old Phoenician tale of what has often occurred before now in other places, (as the poets say, and have made the world believe,) though not in our time, and I do not know whether such an event could ever happen again, or could now even be made probable, if it did.

            Glaucon: How your words seem to hesitate on your lips!

            Socrates: You will not wonder at my hesitation when you have heard.

            Glaucon: Speak, and fear not.

            Socrates: Well then, I will speak, although I really know not how to look you in the face, or in what words to utter the bold fiction, which I propose to communicate gradually, first to the rulers, then to the soldiers, and lastly to the people. They are to be told that their youth was a dream, and the education and training which they received from us was only an illusion. In reality, during all that time they were being formed and fed in the womb of the earth, where they themselves and their arms and bits and pieces were manufactured. When they were completed, the earth, their mother, sent them up. Since their country, then, is really their mother and also their nurse, they are bound to advise for her good, and to defend her against attacks. They are to regard their citizens as children of the earth and their own brothers.

            Glaucon: You had good reason to be ashamed of the lie which you were going to tell.

            Socrates: True, but there is more coming. I have only told you half. “Citizens,” we will say to them in our tale, “you are brothers, yet God has framed you differently. Some of you have the power of command, and in the composition of these God has mingled gold, for which reason they have the greatest honor. Others God has made of silver, to be warriors. Others again who are to be farmers and tradespeople he has composed of brass and iron. Generally, the species will be preserved in their children. But since all people are of the same original stock, a golden parent will sometimes have a silver son, or a silver parent a golden son. And God proclaims as a first principle to the rulers, and above all else, that there is nothing which they should so anxiously guard, or of which they are to be such good guardians, as the purity of the race. They should observe what elements mingle in their offspring. If the son of a golden or silver parent has a mixture of brass and iron, then nature orders a transposition of ranks, and the eye of the ruler must not be sympathetic towards the child because he has to move down in the social scale and become a farmer or tradesperson. Similarly, there may be sons of tradespeople who having a mixture of gold or silver in them are raised to honor, and become guardians or warriors. For a prophecy says that when a man of brass or iron guards the State, it will be destroyed.” Such is the tale. Is there any possibility of making our citizens believe in it?

            Glaucon: Not in the present generation; there is no way of accomplishing this. But their sons may be made to believe in the tale, and their sons’ sons, and posterity after them.

            Socrates: I see the difficulty. Yet the fostering of such a belief will make them care more for the city and for one another. . . .


Justice as Doing One’s Own Business (Book 4)

Socrates: Well then, tell me whether I am right or not. You remember the original principle which we were always laying down at the foundation of the State, that one man should practice one thing only, the thing to which his nature was best adapted. Now justice is this principle, or at least a part of it.

            Glaucon: Yes, we often said that one man should do one thing only.

            Socrates: Further, we affirmed that justice was doing one’s own business, and not being a busybody. We said so again and again, and many others have said the same to us.

            Glaucon: Yes, we said so.

            Socrates: Then to do one’s own business in a certain way may be assumed to be justice. Can you tell me from what I derive this inference?

            Glaucon: I cannot, but I should like to be told.

            Socrates: Because I think that this is the only virtue which remains in the State when the other virtues of temperance and courage and wisdom are abstracted. This is the ultimate cause and condition of the existence of all of them, and while remaining in them is also their preservative. We were saying that if the three were discovered by us, justice would be the fourth or remaining one.

            Glaucon: That necessarily follows.

            Socrates: If we are asked to determine which of these four virtues by its presence contributes most to the excellence of the State, the question is not so easily answered. That is, should the award go to the agreement of rulers and subjects [i.e., temperance]; or to the preservation in the soldiers of the opinion which the law ordains about the true nature of dangers [i.e., courage], or wisdom and watchfulness in the rulers [i.e., wisdom]; or whether this other which I am mentioning, (which is found in children and women, slave and freeman, artisan, ruler, subject), I mean the virtue of everyone doing his own work, and not being a busybody [i.e., justice]?

            Glaucon: Certainly, there would be a difficulty in saying which.

            Socrates: Then the power of each individual in the State to do his own work appears to compete with the other political virtues, wisdom, temperance, courage.

            Glaucon: Yes.

            Socrates: And the virtue which enters into this competition is justice?

            Glaucon: Exactly.

            Socrates: Let us look at the question from another point of view. Are not the rulers in a State those to whom you would entrust the office of determining law suits?

            Glaucon: Certainly.

            Socrates: And are law suits decided on any other ground but that a man may neither take what is another’s, nor be deprived of what is his own?

            Glaucon: Yes; that is their principle.

            Socrates: Which is a just principle?

            Glaucon: Yes.

            Socrates: Then on this view we will recognize that justice is the having and doing what is a person’s own, and belongs to him?

            Glaucon: Very true.

            Socrates: Consider this, now, and say whether you agree with me or not. Suppose that a carpenter does the business of a cobbler, or a cobbler of a carpenter. Suppose they exchange their implements or their duties, or the same person does the work of both, or whatever be the change. Do you think that any great harm would result to the State?

            Glaucon: Not much.

            Socrates: Suppose that the cobbler or any other man whom nature designed to be a tradesperson, has his heart lifted up by wealth or strength or the number of his followers, or any like advantage, and attempts to force his way into the class of warriors. Suppose a warrior moves into that of legislators and guardians, for which he is unfitted, and either to take the implements or the duties of the other. Suppose that one man is a tradesperson, legislator, and warrior all in one. I think you will agree with me in saying that this interchange and this meddling of one with another is the ruin of the State.

            Glaucon: Most true.

            Socrates: Considering, then, that there are three distinct classes, any meddling of one with another, or the change of one into another, is the greatest harm to the State, and may be most justly termed evil-doing?

            Glaucon: Precisely.

            Socrates: And the greatest degree of evil-doing to one’s own city would be termed by you injustice?

            Glaucon: Certainly.

            Socrates: This then is injustice. And on the other hand when the trader, the auxiliary, and the guardian each do their own business, that is justice, and will make the city just.

            Glaucon: I agree with you.




Selective Breeding of the Guardians (Book 5)

Socrates: The law which is the sequel of this and of all that has preceded, is to the following effect: “that the wives of our guardians are to be common, and their children are to be common, and no parent is to know his own child, nor any child his parent.” . . . First, I think that if our rulers and their guardian auxiliaries are to be worthy of the name which they bear, there must be willingness to obey among the guardians and the power of command in the rulers. The guardians must themselves obey the laws, and they must also imitate the spirit of them in any details which are entrusted to their care.

            Glaucon: That is right.

            Socrates: You who are their legislator, having selected the men, will now select the women and give them to them. They must be as far as possible of like natures with them; and 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, and will associate at gymnastic exercises. And so they will be drawn by a necessity of their natures to have sex with each other. Necessity is not too strong a word, I think?

            Glaucon: Yes: necessity, not geometrical, but another sort of necessity which lovers know, and which is far more convincing and constraining to the mass of mankind.

            Socrates: True. This, Glaucon, like all the rest, must proceed after an orderly fashion; in a city of the blessed, recklessness is an unholy thing which the rulers will forbid.

            Glaucon: Yes, and it ought not to be permitted.

            Socrates: Then clearly the next thing will be to make marriage sacred in the highest degree, and what is most beneficial will be deemed sacred?

            Glaucon: Exactly.

            Socrates: And how can marriages be made most beneficial? That is a question which I put to you, because I see in your house dogs for hunting, and quite a few distinguished type of birds. Now, I ask you, have you ever attended to their pairing and breeding?

            Glaucon: In what particulars?

            Socrates: Why, in the first place, although they are all of a good sort, are not some better than others?

            Glaucon: True.

            Socrates: And do you breed from them all indifferently, or do you take care to breed from the best only?

            Glaucon: From the best. . . .

            Socrates: Good heavens, my dear friend! What supreme skill will our rulers need if the same principle holds of the human species! . . . Our rulers will find that a considerable dose of falsehood and deceit necessary for the good of their subjects: we were saying that the use of all these things regarded as medicines might be of advantage. . . . The principle has been already laid down that the best of either sex should be united with the best as often, and the inferior with the inferior, as seldom as possible; and that they should rear the offspring of the one sort of union, but not of the other, if the flock is to be maintained in first-rate condition. Now these goings on must be a secret which the rulers only know, or there will be a further danger of our herd, as the guardians may be termed, breaking out into rebellion.

            Glaucon: Very true.

            Socrates: Had we not better appoint certain festivals at which we will bring together the brides and bridegrooms, and sacrifices will be 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, whose aim will be to preserve the average of population? There are many other things which they will have to consider, such as the effects of wars and diseases and any similar agencies, in order as far as this is possible to prevent the State from becoming either too large or too small.

            Glaucon: Certainly.

            Socrates: We will have to invent some ingenious kind of lottery which the less worthy may draw on each occasion of our bringing them together, and then they will accuse their own ill-luck and not the rulers.

            Glaucon: To be sure.

            Socrates: And I think that our braver and better youth, besides their other honors and rewards, might have greater facilities of intercourse with women given them; their bravery will be a reason, and such fathers ought to have as many sons as possible.

            Glaucon: True.

            Socrates: And the proper officers, whether male or female or both, for offices are to be held by women as well as by men.

            Glaucon: Yes.

            Socrates: The proper officers will take the offspring of the good parents to the pen or fold, and there they will deposit them with certain nurses who dwell in a separate quarter; but the offspring of the inferior, or of the better when they chance to be deformed, 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.

            Socrates: They will provide for their nurture, and will bring the mothers to the fold when they are full of milk, taking the greatest possible care that no mother recognizes her own child; and other wet-nurses may be engaged if more are required. Care will also be taken that the process of suckling will not be protracted too long; and the mothers will have no getting up at night or other trouble, but will hand over all this sort of thing to the nurses and attendants. . . . A woman at twenty years of age may begin to bear children to the State, and continue to bear them until forty; a man may begin at twenty-five when he has passed the point at which the pulse of life beats quickest, and continue to produce children until he is fifty-five. . . . The law will apply to anyone of those within the prescribed age who forms a connection with any woman in the prime of life without the sanction of the rulers. For we will say that he is raising up a bastard to the State, uncertified and unconsecrated.

            Glaucon: Very true.

            Socrates: This applies, however, only to those who are within the specified age. After that we allow them to range at will, except that a man may not marry his daughter or his daughter’s daughter, or his mother or his mother’s mother; and women, on the other hand, are prohibited from marrying their sons or fathers, or son’s son or father’s father, and so on in either direction. And we grant all this, accompanying the permission with 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 a union cannot be maintained, and arrange accordingly.

            Glaucon: That also is a reasonable proposition. But how will they know who are fathers and daughters, and so on?

            Socrates: They will never know. . . .


The Philosopher-King (Book 5)

Socrates: I think that there might be a reform of the State if only one change were made, which is not a slight or easy one, though is still possible. . . . “Until philosophers are kings, or the kings and princes of this world have the spirit and power of philosophy, and political greatness and wisdom meet in one, and those more common natures who pursue either to the exclusion of the other are compelled to stand aside, cities will never have rest from their evils – no, nor the human race, as I believe. Only then will our State have a possibility of life and see the light of day.” Such was the thought, my dear Glaucon, which I would gladly have uttered if it had not seemed too extravagant. For it is indeed a hard thing to be convinced that in no other State can there be happiness private or public.

            Glaucon: Socrates, what do you mean? I would have you consider that the word which you have said is one at which many people, and very respectable persons too [will be outraged]. . . .

            Socrates: We must explain to them whom we mean when we say that philosophers are to rule in the State, then we will be able to defend ourselves. There will be discovered to be some natures who ought to study philosophy and to be leaders in the State, and others who are not born to be philosophers, and are meant to be followers rather than leaders. . . . He who dislikes learning, especially in youth, when he has no power of judging what is good and what is not, such a one we maintain not to be a philosopher or a lover of knowledge, just as he who refuses his food is not hungry, and may be said to have a bad appetite and not a good one?

            Glaucon: Very true.

            Socrates: Whereas he who has a taste for every sort of knowledge and who is curious to learn and is never satisfied, may be justly termed a philosopher? Am I not right?

            Glaucon: If curiosity makes a philosopher, you will find that many strange creatures will have a title to the name. All the lovers of sights have a delight in learning, and must therefore be included. . . .

            Socrates: The lovers of sounds and sights are, as I conceive, fond of fine tones and colors and forms and all the artificial products that are made out of them, but their mind is incapable of seeing or loving absolute beauty.

            Glaucon: True.

            Socrates: Few are they who are able to gain the sight of this.

            Glaucon: Very true.

            Socrates: And he who, having a sense of beautiful things has no sense of absolute beauty, or who, if another leads him to a knowledge of that beauty is unable to follow—of such a one I ask, Is he awake or in a dream only? Consider: is not the dreamer (sleeping or waking) someone one who equates dissimilar things, who puts the copy in the place of the real object?

            Glaucon: I should certainly say that such a person was dreaming.

            Socrates: But take the case of the other, who recognizes the existence of absolute beauty and is able to distinguish the idea from the objects which participate in the idea, neither putting the objects in the place of the idea nor the idea in the place of the objects—is he a dreamer, or is he awake?

            Glaucon: He is wide awake.

            Socrates: And may we not say that the mind of the one who knows has knowledge, and that the mind of the other, who imagines only, has opinion?

            Glaucon: Certainly.


Source: Plato, Crito and The Republic, Books 1-5, tr. Benjamin Jowett.


Questions for Review

1. Crito gives four or so arguments for why Socrates should flee Athens. What are they?

2. What is Socrates argument against the views of the many?

3. What is the argument that the laws presents regarding obligation towards one’s parents?

4. According to the laws, what specifically did Socrates do to contractually bind himself to the city of Athens?

5. At the close of the dialogue, the laws describes five or so negative consequences of Socrates fleeing to another city. What are they?

6. In the Republic, according to Thrasymachus, justice is merely the interest of the stronger. What examples does he give to make his case?

7. According to Glaucon, what is the standard explanation of justice?

8. Explain how the production of luxury items expands the size of society.

9. Give examples of the stories in Hesiod’s and Homer’s writings that need to be censored from young guardians.

10. In what ways should potential rulers be tested to see if they are suitable as leaders?

11. List and describe the four virtues of a state.

12. Describe the selective breading process of the guardians.

13. According to Socrates, philosopher-kings have the capacity to see absolute beauty. What kind of beauty, by contrast, do ordinary people perceive?


Questions for Analysis

1. What’s so bad about the opinions of the many, particularly regarding the issue of fleeing a city to avoid execution?

2. Socrates argues that we should follow the views of experts, such as horse trainers, and particularly experts in justice. Are there really “experts” in justice, and who might they be?

3. Evaluate the laws’ argument based on obligation towards one’s parents.

4. Under what conditions might (or might not) a person enter into a contractually binding agreement with his/her country?

5. The dialogue opens with Crito presenting arguments for why Socrates should escape. The arguments are pragmatic in nature, and Socrates rejects them for merely reflecting the views of the many. At the close of the dialogue, the laws presents arguments that are also pragmatic. Do these too reflect the views of the many, or is there an underlying difference between the two sets of arguments?

6. According to Thrasymachus, the so-called “just” person always loses to the unjust person. Does this adequately prove that justice is merely the interest of the stronger? Explain.

7. Glaucon speculates that if a just person got hold of Gyges’ ring, he’d do the same thing that an unjust person would. Do you agree? Explain.

8. Plato defends the censoring of literature that guardian youth are exposed to. Is this censorship restricted to the young, or does it impact adults in society too? In either case, is the censorship he describes justifiable?

9. Throughout the Republic, Plato draws on the principle that one person should practice one thing only, the thing to which his nature was best adapted. Does he over-apply this principle?

10. Plato’s conception of selective breeding: good idea or bad?

11. On two occasions Plato maintains that rulers need to be deceitful when devising social policy, one regarding the myth of the three metals, and the other regarding the secrecy of selective breeding. Is this kind of deceit justifiable?

12. The distinguishing feature of the philosopher-king is that he has knowledge of absolute truths such as beauty (i.e., the “forms” in Plato’s theory of knowledge). Would knowledge of absolute truths be a real advantage to a ruler? Explain.










Aristotle (384–322 BCE) is one of the great philosophers of ancient Greece’s golden age who, like his teacher Plato, helped define the discipline of philosophy in Western civilization. Aristotle lived in Athens where he founded a school called the Lyceum, and for a time tutored Alexander the Great. The selections below are from the beginning portions of his book Politics, where he argues that society is grounded in a distinction between natural rulers and natural subjects. The state, Aristotle argues, is prior to the individual, since people who live in isolation are savages and do not have the bonds of justice that come with living in society. The household is the foundational component of society and it consists of three ruler-subject relationships: master-slave, husband-wife, and father-child. Some people are naturally born masters and others slaves, depending on their mental superiority or inferiority, where the slave is designed for labor and the master for giving orders. For Aristotle, such natural slavery is both useful and morally justifiable. However, mere “slavery by law” where people are captured in war and enslaved, is neither useful or justifiable. Just as the master-slave relation is based on differing mental abilities, the same is with the husband-wife and father-child relationships. While slaves have no mental capacity to make deliberative judgments, women have that capacity without authority, and children have that capacity only in an immature condition. All members of the household have moral virtues, but those virtues differ based on household members’ role. The man has the virtues of temperance and courage in commanding, while the woman has the virtues of temperance and courage in obeying. The slave has the virtue of self-control in fulfilling his duty. Aristotle continues by discussing the various forms of government—those ruled by one, a few, and many people. In all of these forms, he argues they become perverted when the rulers seek their own gain, rather than that of the governed. Justice, in all forms of government, is connected the idea of equality, but the challenge is determining which qualities (e.g., wealth) are relevant for determining a person’s equality or inequality. Ultimately, he argues, the idea of equality is relative to the advantage of the state, and the common good of the citizens.




States Aim at the Highest Good

1.1. Every state is a community of some kind, and every community is established with a view to some good; for mankind always act in order to obtain that which they think good. But, if all communities aim at some good, the state or political community, which is the highest of all, and which embraces all the rest, aims at good in a greater degree than any other, and at the highest good.

            Some people think that the qualifications of a statesman, king, householder, and master are the same, and that they differ, not in kind, but only in the number of their subjects. For example, the ruler over a few is called a master; over more, the manager of a household; over a still larger number, a statesman or king, as if there were no difference between a great household and a small state. The distinction which is made between the king and the statesman is this: When the government is personal, the ruler is a king; when, according to the rules of the political science, the citizens rule and are ruled in turn, then he is called a statesman.

            But all this is a mistake; for governments differ in kind, as will be evident to anyone who considers the matter according to the method which has until now guided us. As in other departments of science, so in politics, the compound should always be resolved into the simple elements or least parts of the whole. We must therefore look at the elements of which the state is composed, in order that we may see in what manner the different kinds of rule differ from one another, and whether any scientific result can be attained about each one of them.


Natural Rulers and Subjects: Families, Villages, States

1.2. He who thus considers things in their first growth and origin, whether a state or anything else, will obtain the clearest view of them. In the first place there must be a union of those who cannot exist without each other, namely, of male and female. This is a union which is formed, not by deliberate purpose, but because, in common with other animals and with plants, mankind have a natural desire to leave behind them an image of themselves. Because of this, the race may continue, and through natural ruler and subject, both may be preserved. For that which can foresee by the exercise of mind is by nature intended to be lord and master, and that which can with its body give effect to such foresight is a subject, and by nature a slave. Hence master and slave have the same interest. Now nature has distinguished between the female and the slave. For nature is not stingy, like the smith who fashions the Delphian knife for many uses; she makes each thing for a single use, and every instrument is best made when intended for one and not for many uses. But among barbarians no distinction is made between women and slaves, because there is no natural ruler among them: they are a community of slaves, male and female. Accordingly, the poets [Euripides] say, “It is plausible that Greeks should rule over barbarians” as if they thought that the barbarian and the slave were by nature one.

            Out of these two relationships between man and woman, master and slave, the first thing to arise is the family, and Hesiod is right when he says, “First house and wife and an ox for the plough,” for the ox is the poor man’s slave. The family is the association established by nature for the supply of men’s everyday wants, and the members of it are called by Charondas “companions of the cupboard,” and by Epimenides the Cretan, “companions of the manger.” But when several families are united, and the association aims at something more than the supply of daily needs, the first society to be formed is the village. And the most natural form of the village appears to be that of a colony from the family, composed of the children and grandchildren, who are said to be suckled “with the same milk.” And this is the reason why Hellenic states were originally governed by kings; because the Hellenes were under royal rule before they came together, as the barbarians still are. Every family is ruled by the eldest, and therefore in the colonies of the family the kingly form of government prevailed because they were of the same blood. As Homer says: “Each one gives law to his children and to his wives.” For they lived dispersedly, as was the manner in ancient times. Accordingly, men say that the Gods have a king, because they themselves either are or were in ancient times under the rule of a king. For they imagine, not only the forms of the Gods, but their ways of life to be like their own.

            When several villages are united in a single complete community, large enough to be nearly or quite self-sufficing, the state comes into existence, originating in the bare needs of life, and continuing in existence for the sake of a good life. And therefore, if the earlier forms of society are natural, so is the state, for it is the end of them, and the nature of a thing is its end. For what each thing is when fully developed, we call its nature, whether we are speaking of a man, a horse, or a family. Besides, the final cause and end of a thing is the best, and to be self-sufficing is the end and the best.


The State is Prior to the Individual

Hence it is evident that the state is a creation of nature, and that man is by nature a political animal. And he who by nature and not by mere accident is without a state, is either a bad man or above humanity. He is like the “Tribeless, lawless, hearthless one,” whom Homer denounces, the natural outcast is immediately a lover of war; he may be compared to an isolated checker piece.

            Now, that man is more of a political animal than bees or any other gregarious animals is evident. Nature, as we often say, makes nothing in vain, and man is the only animal whom she has endowed with the gift of speech. And whereas mere voice is but an indication of pleasure or pain, and is therefore found in other animals (for their nature attains to the perception of pleasure and pain and the intimation of them to one another, and no further), the power of speech is intended to set forth what is useful and not useful, and therefore likewise what is just and unjust. And it is a characteristic of man that he alone has any sense of good and evil, of just and unjust, and the like, and the association of living beings who have this sense makes a family and a state.

            Further, the state is by nature clearly prior to the family and to the individual, since the whole is of necessity prior to the part. For example, if the whole body is destroyed, there will be no foot or hand, except in an equivocal sense, as we might speak of a stone hand; for when destroyed the hand will be no better than that. But things are defined by their working and power; and we ought not to say that they are the same when they no longer have their proper quality, but only that they have the same name. The proof that the state is a creation of nature and prior to the individual is that the individual, when isolated, is not self-sufficing. Therefore he is like a part in relation to the whole. But he who is unable to live in society, or who has no need because he is sufficient for himself, must be either a beast or a god: he is no part of a state. A social instinct is implanted in all men by nature, and yet he who first founded the state was the greatest of benefactors. For man, when perfected, is the best of animals, but, when separated from law and justice, he is the worst of all; since armed injustice is the more dangerous, and he is equipped at birth with arms, meant to be used by intelligence and virtue, which he may use for the worst ends. Accordingly, if he has not virtue, he is the most unholy and the most savage of animals, and the most full of lust and gluttony. But justice is the bond of men in states, for the administration of justice, which is the determination of what is just, is the principle of order in political society.


Parts of the Household

1.3. Seeing then that the state is made up of households, before speaking of the state we must speak of the management of the household. The parts of household management correspond to the persons who compose the household, and a complete household consists of slaves and freemen. Now we should begin by examining everything in its fewest possible elements; and the first and fewest possible parts of a family are master and slave, husband and wife, father and children. We have therefore to consider what each of these three relations is and ought to be: I mean the relation of master and servant, the marriage relation (the conjunction of man and wife has no name of its own), and thirdly, the procreative relation (this also has no proper name). And there is another element of a household, the so-called art of getting wealth, which, according to some, is identical with household management, according to others, a principal part of it. We will also have to consider the nature of this art.




Property in the Household

Let us first speak of master and slave, looking to the needs of practical life and also seeking to attain some better theory of their relation than exists at present. For some are of opinion that the rule of a master is a science, and that the management of a household, and the mastership of slaves, and the political and royal rule, as I was saying at the outset, are all the same. Others affirm that the rule of a master over slaves is contrary to nature, and that the distinction between slave and freeman exists by law only, and not by nature; and being an interference with nature is therefore unjust.

            1.4. Property is a part of the household, and the art of acquiring property is a part of the art of managing the household. For no man can live well, or indeed live at all, unless he is provided with necessities. As in the arts which have a definite sphere, the workers must have their own proper instruments for the accomplishment of their work, so it is in the management of a household. Now instruments are of various sorts: some are living, others lifeless. With a ship’s rudder, the captain has a lifeless instrument, with the look-out man, he has a living instrument. For in the arts the servant is a kind of instrument. Thus, too, a possession is an instrument for maintaining life. And so, in the arrangement of the family, a slave is a living possession, and property a number of such instruments. The servant is himself an instrument which takes precedence of all other instruments. For if every instrument could accomplish its own work, obeying or anticipating the will of others, like the statues of Daedalus, or the tripods of Hephaestus, which, says the poet, “of their own accord entered the assembly of the Gods” if, in like manner, the shuttle would weave and the pick touch the lyre without a hand to guide them, chief workmen would not want servants, nor masters slaves.

            Here, however, another distinction must be drawn. The instruments commonly so called are instruments of production, while a possession is an instrument of action. The shuttle, for example, is not only of use; but something else is made by it, whereas of a garment or of a bed there is only the use. Further, as production and action are different in kind, and both require instruments, the instruments which they employ must likewise differ in kind. But life is action and not production, and therefore the slave is the agent of action. Again, a possession is spoken of as a part is spoken of. For the part is not only a part of something else, but wholly belongs to it; this is also true of a possession. The master is only the master of the slave; he does not belong to him, whereas the slave is not only the slave of his master, but wholly belongs to him. Hence we see what is the nature and office of a slave. He who is by nature not his own but another’s man, is by nature a slave; and he may be said to be another’s man who, being a human being, is also a possession. And a possession may be defined as an instrument of action, separable from the possessor.


In Defense of Natural Slavery

1.5. Is anyone intended by nature to be a slave, and for whom such a condition is useful and right, or rather is not all slavery a violation of nature? There is no difficulty in answering this question, on grounds both of reason and of fact. For that some should rule and others be ruled is a thing not only necessary, but practical. From the hour of their birth, some are marked out for subjection, others for rule.

            There are many kinds of rulers and subjects. That rule is the better which is exercised over better subjects. For example, to rule over men is better than to rule over wild animals; for the work is better which is executed by better workmen. Where one man rules and another is ruled, they may be said to have a work. For in all things which form a composite whole and which are made up of parts, whether continuous or discrete, a distinction between the ruling and the subject element comes to light. Such a duality exists in living creatures, but not in them only; it originates in the constitution of the universe. Even in things which have no life there is a ruling principle, as in a musical mode.

            But we are wandering from the subject. We will therefore restrict ourselves to the living creature, which, in the first place, consists of soul and body: and of these two, the one is by nature the ruler, and the other the subject. But then we must look for the intentions of nature in things which retain their nature, and not in things which are corrupted. Therefore we must study the man who is in the most perfect state both of body and soul, for in him we will see the true relation of the two; although in bad or corrupted natures the body will often appear to rule over the soul, because they are in an evil and unnatural condition. In any event, we may firstly observe in living creatures both a despotic and a constitutional rule; for the soul rules the body with a despotic rule, whereas the intellect rules the appetites with a constitutional and royal rule. And it is clear that the rule of the soul over the body, and of the mind and the rational element over the passionate, is natural and useful; whereas the equality of the two or the rule of the inferior is always hurtful. The same holds good of animals in relation to men; for tame animals have a better nature than wild, and all tame animals are better off when they are ruled by man; for then they are preserved. Again, the male is by nature superior, and the female inferior; and the one rules, and the other is ruled; this principle, of necessity, extends to all mankind.

            Where then there is such a difference as that between soul and body, or between men and animals (as in the case of those whose business is to use their body, and who can do nothing better), the lower sort are by nature slaves, and it is better for them as for all inferiors that they should be under the rule of a master. For he who can be, and therefore is, another’s and he who participates in rational principle enough to apprehend, but not to have, such a principle, is a slave by nature. Whereas the lower animals cannot even apprehend a principle; they obey their instincts. And indeed the use made of slaves and of tame animals is not very different; for both with their bodies minister to the needs of life.

            Nature would like to distinguish between the bodies of freemen and slaves, making the one strong for servile labor, the other upright, and although useless for such services, useful for political life in the arts both of war and peace. But the opposite often happensthat some have the souls and others have the bodies of freemen. And doubtless if men differed from one another in the mere forms of their bodies as much as the statues of the Gods do from men, all would acknowledge that the inferior class should be slaves of the superior. And if this is true of the body, how much more just that a similar distinction should exist in the soul? But the beauty of the body is seen, whereas the beauty of the soul is not seen. It is clear, then, that some men are by nature free, and others slaves, and that for these latter slavery is both practical and right.


Against Slavery by Law

1.6. But it may easily be seen that those who take the opposite view have in a certain way right on their side. For the words slavery and slave are used in two senses. There is a slave or slavery by law as well as by nature. The law of which I speak is a sort of conventionthe law by which whatever is taken in war is supposed to belong to the victors. But this right many jurists challenge, as they would an orator who brought forward an unconstitutional measure. They detest the notion that, because one man has the power of doing violence and is superior in brute strength, another will be his slave and subject. Even among philosophers there is a difference of opinion. The origin of the dispute, and what makes the views invade each other’s territory, is as follows. In some sense virtue, when furnished with means, has actually the greatest power of exercising force. As superior power is only found where there is superior excellence of some kind, power seems to imply virtue, and the dispute to be simply one about justice. For it is due to one party identifying justice with goodwill while the other identifies it with the mere rule of the stronger. If these views are thus set out separately, the other views have no force or plausibility against the view that the superior in virtue ought to rule, or be master.

            Others, clinging, as they think, simply to a principle of justice (for law and custom are a sort of justice), assume that slavery in accordance with the custom of war is justified by law, but at the same moment they deny this. For what if the cause of the war is unjust? And again, no one would ever say he is a slave who is unworthy to be a slave. If this were the case, men of the highest rank would be slaves and the children of slaves if they or their parents were by chance taken captive and sold. Accordingly, the Greeks do not like to call enslaved Greek people “slaves,” but confine the term to “slavery” to barbarians. Yet, in using this language, they really mean the natural slave of whom we spoke at first. For it must be admitted that some are slaves everywhere, others nowhere. The same principle applies to nobility. Greeks regard themselves as noble everywhere, and not only in their own country, but they deem the barbarians noble only when at home, thereby implying that there are two sorts of nobility and freedom, the one absolute, the other relative. Theodectes the Greek says: “Who would presume to call me servant who am on both sides sprung from the stem of the Gods?” What does this mean but that they distinguish freedom and slavery, noble and humble birth, by the two principles of good and evil? They think that as men and animals beget men and animals, so from good men a good man springs. But this is what nature, though she may intend it, cannot always accomplish.

            We see then that there is some foundation for this difference of opinion, and that all are not either slaves by nature or freemen by nature, and also that there is in some cases a marked distinction between the two classes, making it useful and right for the one to be slaves and the others to be masters: the one practicing obedience, the others exercising the authority and lordship which nature intended them to have. The abuse of this authority is injurious to both. For the interests of part and whole, of body and soul, are the same, and the slave is a part of the master, a living but separated part of his bodily frame. Hence, where the relation of master and slave between them is natural they are friends and have a common interest, but where it rests merely on law and force the reverse is true.


The Skill of Slavery

1.7. The previous remarks are quite enough to show that the rule of a master is not a constitutional rule, and that all the different kinds of rule are not, as some affirm, the same with each other. For there is one rule exercised over subjects who are by nature free, another over subjects who are by nature slaves. The rule of a household is a monarchy, for every house is under one head: whereas constitutional rule is a government of freemen and equals. The master is not called a master because he has science, but because he is of a certain character, and the same remark applies to the slave and the freeman. Still there may be a science for the master and science for the slave. The science of the slave would be such as the man of Syracuse taught, who made money by instructing slaves in their ordinary duties. And such a knowledge may be carried further, so as to include cookery and similar menial arts. For some duties are more necessary, others of the more honorable sort; as the proverb says, “slave before slave, master before master.” But all such branches of knowledge are servile. There is likewise a science of the master, which teaches the use of slaves; for the master as such is concerned, not with the acquisition, but with the use of them. Yet this so-called science is not anything great or wonderful; for the master need only know how to order that which the slave must know how to execute. Hence those who are in a position which places them above toil have stewards who attend to their households while they occupy themselves with philosophy or with politics. But the art of acquiring slaves, I mean of justly acquiring them, differs both from the art of the master and the art of the slave, being a species of hunting or war. Enough of the distinction between master and slave. . . .




Royal Rule vs. Constitutional Rule

1.12. Of household management we have seen that there are three partsone is the rule of a master over slaves, which has been discussed already, another of a father, and the third of a husband. A husband and father, we saw, rules over wife and children, both free, but the rule differs, the rule over his children being a royal rule, over his wife a constitutional rule. For although there may be exceptions to the order of nature, the male is by nature fitter for command than the female, just as the elder and full-grown is superior to the younger and more immature. But in most constitutional states the citizens rule and are ruled by turns, for the idea of a constitutional state implies that the natures of the citizens are equal, and do not differ at all. Nevertheless, when one rules and the other is ruled we try to create a difference of outward forms and names and titles of respect, which may be illustrated by the saying of Amasis about his foot-pan [i.e., a king who made a religious idol out of a lowly footpan]. The relation of the male to the female is of this kind, but there the inequality is permanent. The rule of a father over his children is royal, for he rules by virtue both of love and of the respect due to age, exercising a kind of royal power. And therefore Homer has appropriately called Zeus “father of Gods and men,” because he is the king of them all. For a king is the natural superior of his subjects, but he should be of the same kin or kind with them, and such is the relation of elder and younger, of father and son.


Different Virtues for Rulers and Subjects

1.13. Thus it is clear that household management attends more to men than to the acquisition of inanimate things, and to human excellence more than to the excellence of property (which we call wealth), and to the virtue of freemen more than to the virtue of slaves. A question may indeed be raised, whether there is any excellence at all in a slave beyond and higher than merely instrumental and ministerial qualitieswhether he can have the virtues of temperance, courage, justice, and the like; or whether slaves possess only bodily and instrumental qualities. And, whichever way we answer the question, a difficulty arises. For, if they have virtue, in what will they differ from freemen? On the other hand, since they are men and share in rational principle, it seems absurd to say that they have no virtue. A similar question may be raised about women and children, whether they too have virtues. Ought a woman to be temperate and brave and just, and is a child to be called temperate, and intemperate, or not.

            So in general we may ask about the natural ruler, and the natural subject, whether they have the same or different virtues. For if a noble nature is equally required in both, why should one of them always rule, and the other always be ruled? Nor can we say that this is a question of degree, for the difference between ruler and subject is a difference in kind, which the difference of more and less never is. Yet how strange is the supposition that the one ought, and that the other ought not, to have virtue. For if the ruler is intemperate and unjust, how can he rule well? If the subject, how can he obey well? If he is unrestrained and cowardly, he will certainly not do his duty. It is evident, therefore, that both of them must have a share of virtue, but varying as natural subjects also vary among themselves. Here the very constitution of the soul has shown us the way; in it one part naturally rules, and the other is subject, and the virtue of the ruler we in maintain to be different from that of the subject; the one being the virtue of the rational, and the other of the irrational part. Now, it is obvious that the same principle applies generally, and therefore almost all things rule and are ruled according to nature. But the kind of rule differs. The freeman rules over the slave after another manner from that in which the male rules over the female, or the man over the child; although the parts of the soul are present in an of them, they are present in different degrees. For the slave has no deliberative faculty at all. The woman has the deliberative faculty, but it is without authority, and the child has, but it is immature.

            So it must necessarily be supposed to be with the moral virtues also. All should partake of them, but only in such manner and degree as is required by each for the fulfillment of his duty. Hence the ruler ought to have moral virtue in perfection, for his function, taken absolutely, demands a master artificer, and rational principle is such an artificer; the subjects, on the other hand, require only that measure of virtue which is proper to each of them. Clearly, then, moral virtue belongs to all of them. But the temperance of a man and of a woman, or the courage and justice of a man and of a woman, are not, as Socrates maintained, the same. The courage of a man is shown in commanding, of a woman in obeying. And this holds of all other virtues, as will be more clearly seen if we look at them in detail. For those who say generally that virtue consists in a good disposition of the soul, or in doing rightly, or the like, only deceive themselves. Far better than such general definitions is their manner of speaking, who, like Gorgias, enumerate the specific virtues. All classes must be deemed to have their special attributes. As the poet says of women, “Silence is a woman’s glory,” but this is not equally the glory of man. The child is imperfect, and therefore obviously his virtue is not relative to himself alone, but to the perfect man and to his teacher, and in like manner the virtue of the slave is relative to a master.

            Now we determined that a slave is useful for the wants of life, and therefore he will obviously require only so much virtue as will prevent him from failing in his duty through cowardice or lack of self-control. Someone will ask whether, if what we are saying is true, virtue will not be required also in the artisans, for they often fail in their work through the lack of self-control? But is there not a great difference in the two cases? For the slave shares in his master’s life; the artisan is less closely connected with him, and only attains excellence in proportion as he becomes a slave. The inferior sort of mechanic has a special and separate slavery; and whereas the slave exists by nature, not so the shoemaker or other artisan. It is evident, then, that the master ought to be the source of such excellence in the slave, and not a mere possessor of the art of mastership which trains the slave in his duties. Accordingly, they are mistaken who forbid us to converse with slaves and say that we should employ command only, for slaves stand even more in need of correction than children. . . .




Ruling for the Good of the Governed

3.6. Having determined these questions, we have next to consider whether there is only one form of government or many, and if many, what they are, and how many, and what are the differences between them.

            A constitution is the arrangement of magistracies in a state, especially of the highest of all. The government is everywhere sovereign in the state, and the constitution is in fact the government. For example, in democracies the people are supreme, but in oligarchies, the few; and, therefore, we say that these two forms of government also are different: and so in other cases.

            First, let us consider what is the purpose of a state, and how many forms of government there are by which human society is regulated. We have already said, in the first part of this treatise, when discussing household management and the rule of a master, that man is by nature a political animal. Therefore, men, even when they do not require one another's help, desire to live together; although they are also brought together by their common interests in proportion as they severally attain to any measure of the good life. The good life is certainly the chief end, both of individuals and of states. Also for the sake of mere life (in which there is possibly some valuable element in merely living, so long as the evils of existence do not greatly overbalance the good) mankind meet together and maintain the political community. We all see that men cling to life even at the cost of enduring great misfortune, seeming to find in life a natural sweetness and happiness. . . .

            The governing of a wife and children and of a household, which we have called household management, is exercised in the first instance for the good of the governed or for the common good of both parties, but essentially for the good of the governed. . . . The conclusion is evident: that governments which have a regard to the common interest are constituted in accordance with strict principles of justice, and are therefore true forms. But those which regard only the interest of the rulers are all defective and perverted forms, for they are despotic, whereas a state is a community of freemen.


Rule of One, Few, or Many

3.7. Having determined these points, we have next to consider how many forms of government there are, and what they are; and in the first place what are the true forms. For when they are determined the perversions of them will at once be apparent. The words constitution and government have the same meaning, and the government, which is the supreme authority in states, must be in the hands of one, or of a few, or of the many. The true forms of government, therefore, are those in which the one, or the few, or the many, govern with a view to the common interest. But governments which rule with a view to the private interest, whether of the one or of the few, or of the many, are perversions. For the members of a state, if they are truly citizens, ought to participate in its advantages. Of forms of government in which one rules, we call that which regards the common interests, kingship or royalty. That in which more than one, but not many, rule, is an aristocracy. It is called this either because the rulers are the best men, or because they have at heart the best interests of the state and of the citizens. But when the multitude administer the state for the common interest, it is called by the general name of all governments, which is “constitutional government.” There is a reason for this use of language. One man or a few may excel in virtue, but as the number increases it becomes more difficult for them to attain perfection in every kind of virtue—although they may in military virtue, for this is found in the masses. Hence in a constitutional government the fighting-men have the supreme power, and those who possess arms are the citizens.

            Of the above-mentioned forms, the perversions are as follows: of royalty it is tyranny; of aristocracy it is oligarchy; of constitutional government it is democracy. For tyranny is a kind of monarchy which has in view the interest of the monarch only; oligarchy has in view the interest of the wealthy; democracy, of the poor. None of them have in view the common good of all.


Justice as Equality

3.12. In all sciences and arts the end is a good, and the greatest good and in the highest degree a good in the most authoritative of all—this is the political science of which the good is justice, in other words, the common interest. All men think justice to be a sort of equality; and to a certain extent they agree in the philosophical distinctions which have been laid down by us about Ethics. For they admit that justice is a thing and has a relation to persons, and that equals ought to have equality. But there still remains a question: equality or inequality of what? Here is a difficulty which calls for political speculation. For very likely some persons will say that offices of state ought to be unequally distributed according to superior excellence, in whatever respect, of the citizen, although there is no other difference between him and the rest of the community; for that those who differ in any one respect have different rights and claims. But, surely, if this is true, the complexion or height of a man, or any other advantage, will be a reason for his obtaining a greater share of political rights. The error here lies upon the surface, and may be illustrated from the other arts and sciences. When a number of flute players are equal in their art, there is no reason why those of them who are better born should have better flutes given to them; for they will not play any better on the flute, and the superior instrument should be reserved for him who is the superior artist. . . .

            It is evident that there is good reason why in politics men do not ground their claim to office on every sort of inequality any more than in the arts. For if some are slow, and others swift, that is no reason why the one should have little and the others much. It is in gymnastics contests that such excellence is rewarded. Whereas the rival claims of candidates for office can only be based on the possession of elements which enter into the composition of a state. Therefore the noble, or free-born, or rich, may with good reason claim office. For holders of offices must be freemen and taxpayers: a state can be no more composed entirely of poor men than entirely of slaves. But if wealth and freedom are necessary elements, justice and valor are equally so; for without the former qualities a state cannot exist at all, without the latter not well. . . .

            3.13. All these considerations appear to show that none of the principles on which men claim to rule and to hold all other men in subjection to them are strictly right. To those who claim to be masters of the government on the ground of their virtue or their wealth, the many might fairly answer that they themselves are often better and richer than the few (I do not say individually, but collectively). Another ingenious objection which is sometimes put forward may be met in a similar manner. Some persons doubt whether the legislator who desires to make the justest laws ought to legislate with a view to the good of the higher classes or of the many, when the case which we have mentioned occurs [i.e., when the many have superior wealth collectively]. Now what is just or right is to be interpreted in the sense of “what is equal”; and that which is right in the sense of being equal is to be considered with reference to the advantage of the state, and the common good of the citizens. And a citizen is one who shares in governing and being governed. He differs under different forms of government, but in the best state he is one who is able and willing to be governed and to govern with a view to the life of virtue.


Source: Aristotle, Politics, Books 1, 3. Tr. Benjamin Jowett.


Questions for Review

1. Explain the connection between families, villages and states.

2. In defense of natural slavery, Aristotle argues that there is a principle ruling within nature, in living and nonliving things, where the superior rules over the inferior. What examples does he provides of this ruling principle of nature?

3. What are some of the arguments against slavery by law (i.e., enslaving war captives)?

4. What are the various skills of slavery, both of the master and the slave?

5. What is the distinction between royal rule and constitutional rule, and how do they pertain to children and wives?

6. What are the three forms of government (based on the rule of one, a few and many), and what are the perversions of those three forms?


Questions for Analysis

1. One of the most famous quotes by Aristotle is this: “the state is a creation of nature, and man is by nature a political animal.” Explain this in the context of the paragraph in which it appears his Politics and evaluate his argument in defense of it.

2. Aristotle argues that if all weak-minded people had strong bodies, there would be no dispute about the natural basis of slavery. Defend or refute his position.

3. Aristotle argues that there is a principle in nature that the superior rules over the inferior, and this justifies superior-minded people ruling over inferior-minded people. Defend or refute this position.

4. Aristotle draws a distinction between royal rule and constitutional rule. One way of understanding this distinction is that royal rule involves authority over the governed for the benefit of the governed, but without resistance from the governed. Constitutional rule, by contrast, involves authority over the governed which includes a legally defined power of resistance. Explain and evaluate Aristotle’s view of how these two types of rules apply to children and women.

5. The critical mental faculty that determines whether a person is a ruler or subject is the ability of deliberation—that is, the capacity to determine which actions will achieve a desired goal. Explain this process of deliberation, and evaluate his position on how this applies to men, women, children and slaves.

6. A common contemporary definition of justice is that it consists of the absence of arbitrary inequalities. Aristotle also links the notion of justice with equality. However, he argues that people have unequal attributes, and, thus, justice would call for treating them differently. The critical issue for Aristotle is discovering which attributes of a person are relevant to justice. How does Aristotle’s conception of justice differ from the contemporary notion? That is, are the unequal attributes that are relevant to justice arbitrary?










Cicero (106–43 BCE) was an influential politician, lawyer and philosopher during the Roman Republic. One of his more important works in political philosophy is On the Commonwealth, which puts forth the vision of an ideal community. Most of the work was considered lost until 1822 when a copy of it, though still incomplete, was discovered in the Vatican Library. Selections below are from Book 3 of this work, which discusses the nature of justice. Composed in the form of a dialogue, the characters are famous generals and statesmen of the Roman Republic from a century prior to Cicero’s time, namely, Scipio, Laelius, Philus, and Mummius. In an introduction to the dialogue, Cicero notes how human intelligence, language and writing have advanced human civilization, and, in the area of politics, great politicians put into practice the theoretical principles established by philosophers. The dialogue opens with Philus attacking the notion of natural justice, particularly as expressed in the views of the ancient Greek skeptic Carneades. He argues that ideas of justice vary from place to place, which undermines any notion of a natural and universal justice. Further, our worldly wisdom of how society operates tells us that we benefit more when we are unjust, so long as we escape punishment. For example, home sellers conceal defects in their homes from potential buyers for the benefits of financial gain. Against this view, Scipio and Laelius defend the notion of natural justice which is universal, unchangeable, eternal, created and enforced by God. Those who follow the virtuous path of natural justice are consoled by their conscience, and this outweighs any possible gains from being unjust. The dialogue closes with the participants debating the relative merits of democratic, aristocratic and monarchical governments. They all agree that democratic rule is the worst since the populace would govern with a mob-like mentality, and do whatever they pleased, regardless of how barbarous their actions were.




Development of Society

Nature has treated man less like a real mother than a stepmother. She has cast him into mortal life with a body that is naked, fragile, and infirm; and with a mind agitated by troubles, depressed by fears, broken by labors, and exposed to passions. In this mind, however, there lies hidden, and in a sense buried, a certain divine spark of genius and intellect. Thus, the human soul should attribute much of its present infirmity to the dullness contracted from its earthly vehicle.

            Though man is born a frail and powerless being, nevertheless he is safe from all nonspeaking animals. At the same time, those other animals of greater strength, although they bravely endure the violence of weather, cannot be safe from man. The result is that reason does more for man than nature does for animals. For, in animals, neither the greatness of their strength nor the firmness of their bodies can save them from being oppressed by us, and made subject to our power.

            This intelligence had taught men to utter the elementary and confused sounds of unpolished expression, to articulate and distinguish them into their proper classes, and, as their appropriate signs, attached certain words to certain things. Through the beautiful bond of speech, the once divided races of men became associated together.

            Thanks to this same intelligence, the inflections of the voice, which appeared infinite, by the discovery of a few alphabetic characters, are all designated and expressed. By these we maintain conversation with our absent friends, and use them as symbols of our ideas and monuments of past events. Then came the use of numbers—a thing so necessary to human life, and singularly immutable and eternal. This science first urged us to penetrate into heaven, and not in vain to investigate the motions of the stars, and the distribution of days and nights.


Philosophers vs. Politicians

Then appeared the philosophers, whose minds took a higher flight, and conceived and executed designs worthy of the gifts of the gods. Thus those who have left us sublime writings on the conduct of human life must be regarded as great men, for indeed they are so. Such were these philosophers, these masters of truth and virtue.

            Among these we should especially honor the chief fathers of political wisdom, and the government of the people, as discovered by men familiar with all the acts of legislation, and as developed by philosophic truth-searchers in literary leisure. This political science often attains a wonderful perfection in first-rate minds, as we have frequently seen, and elicits an incredible and almost divine virtue. No one will refuse to acknowledge the superiority of political thinkers over all others, particularly when, to these high faculties of soul (received from nature and expanded by social institutions), a politician adds learning and extensive information concerning things in general. Cases in point are those famous people who conduct the dialogue in the present treatise.

            In fact, what can be more admirable than the study and practice of the grand affairs of state, united to a literary elegance and a familiarity with the liberal arts! What can we imagine more perfect than a Scipio, a Laelius, or a Philus, who, combining all the glorious qualities of the greatest men, joined to the examples of our ancestors and the traditions of our countrymen, the foreign philosophy of Socrates!

            It appears to me the very highest glory and honor is to study and attain two grand things: learning and experience. With these we may build securely on the universal consent of the philosophers of all nations, and the tried institutions of our native land. But suppose that we cannot combine both, and are compelled to select one of these two paths of wisdom. We may think that the tranquil life spent in the research of literature and arts is the most happy and appealing. However, undoubtedly the science of politics is more praiseworthy and memorable, for in this political field of exertion our greatest men have reaped their honors, like the incorruptible [Roman politician] Curius “Whom neither gold nor iron could tempt.”

            There exists this general difference between these two classes of great men, namely philosophers and politicians. As to the first, the development of the principles of nature is the subject of their study and eloquence. As to the second, national laws and institutions form their principal topics of investigation.

            In honor of our country of Rome, we may assert that she has produced within herself a great number of men (I will not call them “philosophers” since philosophy is so protective of that name) but of men worthy of the highest honor, because by them the precepts and discoveries of the philosophers have been carried out into actual practice.

            The number of these political legislators will appear very numerous if you consider that there have existed and still exist many great and glorious empires, and if you acknowledge that the noblest masterpiece of genius in the world is the establishment of a durable state and commonwealth. To be convinced of this, we have only to turn our eyes on Italy, Latium, the Sabines, the Volscians, the Samnites, the Etrurians, and then direct our attention to the Greeks, Assyrians, Persians, and Carthaginians.




Philus adopts the Arguments of Carneades

Narrator: Scipio and his friends having again assembled, Scipio began speaking.

            Scipio: In our last conversation I promised to prove that honesty is the best policy in all states and commonwealths whatsoever. But if I am to plead in favor of strict honesty and justice in all public affairs, no less than in private, I must request that Philus, or someone else, take up the advocacy of the other side. The truth will then become more obvious from the confrontation of opposite arguments, as we see every day exemplified in court proceedings.

            Philus: In all truth you have assigned me an excellent and admirable cause. So you wish me to argue for vice, do you?

            Laelius: Perhaps you are afraid, for fear that in reproducing the ordinary objections made to justice in politics, you should appear to express your own opinions. But this caution is ridiculous in you, Philus. You, who are so universally respected as an almost unique example of the ancient virtue and good faith. You, who are so familiar with the legal habit of disputing on both sides of a question, because you think this is the best way of getting at the truth.

            Philus: Very well, I will do as you say. Willfully with my eyes open, I will undertake this dirty business. Since those who seek for gold do not flinch at the sight of mud, we, who search for justice, which is far more precious than gold, must overcome all dainty scruples. I will therefore, make use of the antagonist arguments of a foreigner, and assume his character in using them. The arguments, therefore, that I will now deliver are those once used by the Greek [skeptical philosopher] Carneades, who commonly express whatever served his purpose. Let it be understood, though, that I by no means express my own opinions, but those of Carneades, in order that you may refute this philosopher, who often turnEd the best causes into joke, through the mere shamefulness of wit.

            Narrator: When Philus had thus spoken, he took a general review of the leading arguments that Carneades had offered to prove that justice was neither eternal, immutable, nor universal. Having put these sophistical arguments into their most misleading yet plausible form, he thus continued his clever pleadings.


Justice Varies from Place to Place

Philus: Aristotle has treated this question concerning justice, and filled four large volumes with it. As to the stoic philosopher Chrysippus, I expected nothing grand or magnificent in him, for, after his usual fashion, he examines everything by the meaning of words, rather than the reality of things. But it was surely worthy of those heroes of philosophy to ennoble by their genius a virtue so highly beneficent and liberal, which everywhere exalts the social interests above the selfish, and teaches to love others rather than ourselves. It was worthy of their genius, we say, to elevate this virtue to a divine throne, close to that of Wisdom. Certainly they did not lack the intention to accomplish this. What else could be the cause of their writing on the subject, or what could have been their design? Nor could they have lacked intelligence, in which they excelled all men. But the weakness of their cause was too great for their intention and their eloquence to make it popular. In fact, this justice on which we reason may be a legal right, but no natural one. For if it were natural and universal, then justice and injustice would be recognized similarly by all men, just as the elements of heat and cold, sweet and bitter.

            Now if anyone was carried in the chariot of winged serpents (of which the poet Pacuvius makes mention), and could fly over all nations and cities, and accurately observe their activities, he would see that the sense of justice and right varies in different regions. In the first place, he would observe among the unchangeable people of Egypt, which preserves in its archives the memory of so many ages and events, a bull adored as a deity, under the name of Apis, a multitude of other monsters, and all kinds of animals admitted by the natives into the number of the gods.

            The Persians, on the other hand, regard all these forms of idolatry as wicked, and it is affirmed that the sole motive of Xerxes for commanding the conflagration of the Athenian temples, was the belief that it was a superstitious sacrilege to keep confined within narrow walls the gods, whose proper home was the entire universe. Afterwards Philip in his hostile projects against the Persians, and Alexander in his expedition, argued that war was necessary to avenge the temples of Greece [which the Persians destroyed]. The Greeks thought it proper to never rebuild these temples, so that this monument of the impiety of the Persians might always remain before the eyes of their posterity.

            How many, such as the inhabitants of Taurica along the Euxine Sea (as the King of Egypt Busiris—as the Gauls and the Carthaginians) have thought it exceedingly devout and agreeable to the gods to sacrifice men. Besides these religious discrepancies, the rules of life are so contradictory that the Cretans and Ætolians regard robbery as honorable. And the Lacedaemonians say that their territory extends to all places which they can touch with a lance. The Athenians had a custom of swearing by a public proclamation, that all the lands which produced olives and corn were their own. The Gauls consider it a fundamental occupation to raise corn by agricultural labor, and go with arms in their hands, and mow down the harvests of neighboring peoples. And our Romans, the most evenhanded of all nations, in order to raise the value of our vines and olives, do not permit the races beyond the Alps to cultivate either vineyards or olive yards. In this respect, it is said, we act with forethought, but not with justice. You see then that wisdom and policy are not always the same as equity. Lycurgus, the inventor of a most admirable jurisprudence, and most wholesome laws, gave the lands of the rich to be cultivated by the common people, who were reduced to slavery.

            If I were to describe the diverse kinds of laws, institutions, manners, and customs, not only as they vary in the numerous nations, but as they vary likewise in single cities, as Rome for example, I should prove that they have had a thousand revolutions. Take, for instance, Malilius, that famous expositor of our laws who sits in the present company. If you were to consult him regarding the inheritances of women, he would tell you that the present law is quite different from that which he was accustomed to follow in his youth (that is, before the Voconian enactment came into force, an edict which was passed in favor of the interests of the men, but which is evidently full of injustice with regard to women.) For why should a woman be disabled from inheriting property? Why can a vestal virgin [i.e., priestess of the goddess Vesta] become an heir, while her mother cannot? And why, admitting that it is necessary to set some limit to the wealth of women, should the daughter of [the wealthy Roman general] Crassus, if she is his only child, inherit thousands without offending the law, while my daughter can only receive a small share in an inheritance?

            If this justice were natural, innate, and universal, all men would recognize the same law and right, and the same men would not enact different laws at different times. If a just man and a virtuous man is bound to obey the laws, I ask what laws do you mean? Do you have in mind all the laws indifferently? Virtue does not permit this inconsistency in moral obligation. Such a variation is not compatible with natural conscience. Therefore, the laws are not based on our sense of justice, but on our fear of punishment. There is, accordingly, no natural justice, and hence it follows that men cannot be just by nature.

            Suppose that you grant that variation indeed exists among the laws, but that men who are virtuous through natural conscience follow that which is really justice, and not a mere appearance and disguise. You suppose that it is the distinguishing characteristic of the truly just and virtuous man to give everyone his due rights. I should, then, ask you this question, what then should we do to animals, and what are the rights of animals? For not only men of more moderate abilities, but even first-rate sages and philosophers, as Pythagoras and Empedocles, declare that all kinds of living creatures have a right to the same justice. They declare that rigid penalties happen to those who have done violence to any animal whatsoever. It is, therefore, a crime to injure an animal, and the perpetrator of such crime must bear his punishment.


Justice Inconsistent with Worldly Wisdom

When Alexander asked a pirate by what right he dared to infest the sea with his little ship, he replied, “By the same right which is your justification for conquering the world.” This pirate was indeed something of a philosopher in his way, for worldly wisdom and practicality instructs us to increase our power, riches, and estates in any way we can. This same Alexander, this mighty general, who extended his empire over all Asia, how could he, without violating the property of other men, acquire such universal dominion, enjoy so many pleasures, and reign without bound or limit?

            Justice, as you assert, commands us to have mercy upon all; to exercise universal philanthropy; to consult the interests of the whole human race; to give everyone his due, and to injure no sacred, public, or foreign rights. But if this is so, how can we reconcile this vast and all-embracing justice with worldly wisdom and policy, which teach us how to gain wealth, power, riches, honors, provinces, and kingdoms from all classes, peoples, and nations?

            However, as we are discussing the interests of the state, let us notice a few memorable examples of justice and policy, presented by the history of our own Commonwealth. And since the question between justice and policy applies equally to private and public affairs, I will speak of the policy of the more public kind. I will not, however, mention other nations, but come immediately to our own Roman people, whom Scipio in his discourse yesterday traced from the cradle, and whose empire now embraces the whole world. And concerning these Romans, I frankly ask whether it was most by justice or practical policy that they have attained such unbounded domination?

            Now we think that policy will be found to have been our leading principle, though our political characters have always tried to dignify it by the name of justice. Thus all those who have usurped the right of life and death over the people are in fact tyrants; but they prefer being called by the title of king, which best belongs to Jupiter the Beneficent. When certain men, by favor of wealth, birth, or any other means, get possession of the entire government, it is a faction; but they choose to call themselves an aristocracy. If the people get the upper-hand, and rule everything after its capricious will, they call it liberty, but it is in fact excessive freedom. And when every man is on guard his against neighbor, and every class is on guard against every other class, then because each demands the aid of the rest, a kind of contract is formed between the great folk and the little folk. From this arises that mixed kind of government which Scipio has been commending. Thus justice, according to these facts, is not the daughter of nature or conscience, but of human weakness. Consider these three scenarios: either to do wrong without punishment, or to do wrong with punishment, or to do no wrong at all. If we must choose between them, it is best to do wrong with no consideration of punishment. Next we should neither do wrong, nor suffer for it. But nothing is worse than to struggle incessantly between the wrong we inflict and that we receive.

            If we were to examine the conduct of states by the test of justice, as you propose, we should probably make this astounding discovery, that very few nations, if they restored what they have seized, would possess any country at all. The exceptions, perhaps, would be the Arcadians and Athenians, who, I presume, dreading that this great act of punishment might one day arrive, pretend that they sprung from the earth like so many of our field mice.


Summary of Carneades’ position

In summary, this is Carneades’ argument: that men had established laws among themselves from considerations of advantage, varying them according to their different customs, and altering them often so as to adapt them to the times; but that there was no such thing as natural law; that all men and all other animals are led to their own advantage by the guidance of nature; that there is no such thing as justice, or, if there is, that it is extreme foolishness, since a man would injure himself while consulting the interests of others. And he added these arguments, that all nations who were flourishing and dominant, and even the Romans themselves, who were the masters of the whole world, if they wished to be just—that is to say, if they restored all that belonged to others—would have to return to their cottages, and to lie down in poverty and misery.




Benefits of Injustice Outweighed by the Disbenefits of Remorse

Scipio: In reply to these statements, the following arguments are often offered by those who are skilful in discussions, and who, in this question, have all the greater weight of authority. For, when we inquire, “Who is a good man?” (understanding by that term a frank and single-minded man), we have little need of picky arguers, quibblers, and slanderers. For those men assert that the wise man does not seek virtue because of the personal gratification, which the practice of justice and beneficence gives him, but rather because the life of the good man is free from fear, care, worry, and peril. On the other hand, however, the wicked always feel in their souls a certain suspicion, and always see before their eyes images of judgment and punishment. Do you not think, therefore, that there is any benefit, or that there is any advantage which can be obtained by injustice that is precious enough to counterbalance the constant pressure of remorse, and the haunting consciousness that punishment awaits the wrongdoer, and hangs over his head?

            Our philosophers, therefore, put forward a case which is worth reporting. Suppose, they say, there are two men. The first is an excellent and admirable person, of high honor and remarkable integrity; the latter is distinguished by nothing but his vice and disrespect. Suppose that their city has so mistaken their characters, as to imagine the good man a scandalous and wicked imposter, and to consider the wicked man, on the contrary, as a pattern of goodness and trustworthiness. On account of this error of their fellow-citizens, the good man is arrested and tormented, his hands are cut off, his eyes are plucked out, he is condemned, bound, burnt, and exterminated, and to the last appears, in the best judgment of the people, the most miserable of men. On the other hand, the reprehensible wretch is exalted, worshipped, loved by all, and honors, offices, riches, and payments, are all conferred on him, and he will be thought by his fellow-citizens the best and worthiest of mortals, and in the highest degree worthy of all manner of prosperity. Yet for all this, who is so mad, as to doubt which of these two men he would rather be?


Benefits of Injustice Confirmed by Human Practice

Philus: I allow that you have quoted a strong case in your favor, but still I assert that policy receives greater confirmation by the actual conduct and practice of men than your justice can boast of. This is so both among individuals and among nations. What state is so absurd and ridiculous, as not to prefer unjust dominion to just subordination? I need not go far for examples. During my own consulship, when you were my fellow-counselors, we consulted respecting the treaty of Numantia. No one was ignorant that Pompey had signed this treaty, and that Mancinus had done the same. Mancinus, a virtuous man, supported the proposition which I laid before the people, after the decree of the senate. Pompey, on the other side, opposed it vehemently. If modesty, integrity, or faith had been regarded, Mancinus would have carried his point; but in reason, counsel and practicality, Pompey surpassed him.

            If a gentleman should have a faithless slave, or a disease-filled house, with whose defect he alone was acquainted, and he advertised them for sale, would he state the fact that his servant was infected with dishonesty, and his house with malaria, or would he conceal these objections from the buyer? If he stated those facts, he would be honest, no doubt, because he would deceive nobody. But still he would be thought a fool, because he would get either little or nothing for his property. By concealing these defects, on the other hand, he will be called a shrewd and discreet man. But he will be dishonest notwithstanding, because he deceives his neighbors. Again, let us suppose that a man meets someone who sells gold and silver, but mistakenly thinks them to be copper or lead. Should the buyer keep quiet so that he may make a major profit, or correct the mistake and purchase it at a fair rate? He would clearly be a fool in the world’s opinion if he preferred the latter.

            Without a doubt, it is justice to neither commit murder nor robbery. What then would your just man do, if in a case of shipwreck he saw a weaker man than himself get possession of a plank? Would he push him off, get hold of the timber himself, and escape by his exertions, especially as no human witness could be present in the mid-sea. If he acted like a wise man of the world, he would certainly do so; for to act in any other way would cost him his life. If on the other hand he prefers death to inflicting unjustifiable injury on his neighbor, he will be an eminently honorable and just man, but not the less a fool, because he saved another’s life at the expense of his own. Again, if in case of a defeat and disorderly flight, when the enemy were pressing in the rear, this just man should find a wounded comrade mounted on a horse, should he respect his right, at the chance of being killed himself, or should be fling him from the horse in order to preserve his own life from the pursuers? If he does so, he is a worldly wise man, but not the less dishonorable. If he does not, he is admirably just, but very stupid.



Scipio: I might reply at great length to these sophistical objections of Philus, if it were not, my friend Laelius, that all our friends are no less anxious than myself to hear you take a leading part in this debate. You promised yesterday that you would plead at large on my side of the argument. If you cannot spare time for this, at any rate do not desert us,—we all ask this of you.


Natural Justice and Virtue

Laelius: This Carneades ought not to be even listened to by our young men. I think all the while I hear him, that he must be a very immoral person. If he is not, as I would prefer to believe, his teachings are no less dangerous.

            There is a true law, a right reason, conformable to nature, universal, unchangeable, eternal, whose commands urge us to duty, and whose prohibitions restrain us from evil. Whether it requires or forbids, good people respect its commands, and the wicked treat them with indifference. This law cannot be contradicted by any other law, and cannot be detracted from or abolished. Neither the senate nor the people can give us any exemption for not obeying this universal law of justice. It needs no other expositor and interpreter than our own conscience. It is not one thing at Rome and another at Athens; one thing today and another tomorrow; but in all times and nations this universal law must forever reign, eternal and imperishable. It is the sovereign master and emperor of all beings. God himself is its author, its proclaimer, its enforcer. He who does not obey it flies from himself, and does violence to the very nature of man. For his crime he must endure the severest penalties hereafter, even if he avoids the usual misfortunes of the present life.

            The virtue which obeys this law [of justice], nobly aspires to glory, which is virtue’s sure and appropriate reward. It is a prize she can accept without disrespect, or give up without regret. When a man is inspired by virtue such as this, what bribes can you offer him? What treasures, what thrones, what empires? He considers these but mortal goods, and considers his own, divine. And if the ingratitude of the people, and the envy of his competitors, or the violence of powerful enemies, rob his virtue of its earthly reward, he still enjoys a thousand consolations through the approval of his conscience, and sustains himself by contemplating the beauty of moral rightness.

            This virtue, in order to be true, must be universal. [Roman politician] Tiberius Gracchus was faithful to his fellow-citizens, but he violated the rights and treaties guaranteed to our allies and the Latin nations. This habit of arbitrary violence may extend and unify our authority, not with equity, but force, so that those who had voluntarily obeyed us, are only restrained by fear. If this is so, then, although we may escape peril right now, yet I am worried about the safety of our future, and the immortality of the Commonwealth itself. Certainly, it might become unending and unconquerable, if our people would maintain their ancient institutions and manners.


Justice the Foundation of Lawful Government

Narrator: When Laelius had stopped speaking, all those that were present expressed the extreme pleasure they found in his discourse. But Scipio, more affected than the rest, and ravished with the delight of sympathy, exclaimed.

            Scipio: You have pleaded, Laelius, many causes with an eloquence superior to that of Servius Galba, our colleague, whom during his life, you used to prefer to all others, even to the Attic orators. Never did I hear you speak with more energy than today, while pleading the cause of justice.

            This justice is the very foundation of lawful government in political constitutions. Can we call the province of Agrigento a Commonwealth, where all men are oppressed by the cruelty of a single tyrant, and where there is no universal bond of right, nor social consent and fellowship, which should belong to every people, properly so named? It is the same in Syracuse, that famous city which Timaeus calls the greatest of the Grecian towns. It was indeed a most beautiful city. Its admirable citadel, its canals distributed through all its districts, its broad streets, its porticoes, its temples, and its walls, gave Syracuse the appearance of a most flourishing state. But while Dionysus its tyrant reigned there, nothing of all its wealth belonged to the people, and the people were nothing better than the slaves of a wicked despot. Thus wherever I see a tyrant, I know that the social constitution must be, not merely immoral and corrupt, as I stated yesterday, but in strict truth, no social constitution at all.

            Laelius: You have spoken admirably, Scipio, and I see the point of your observations.

            Scipio: You grant, then, that a state which is entirely in the power of a faction, cannot justly be called a political community.

            Laelius: That is evident to us all.

            Scipio: You judge most correctly. For what was the state of Athens when, during the great Peloponnesian war, she fell under the unjust domination of the thirty tyrants? Consider the antique glory of that city, the imposing aspect of its edifices, its theatre, its gymnasium, its porticos, its temples, its citadel, the admirable sculptures of Phidias, and the magnificent harbor of Piraeus. Did they constitute it a commonwealth?

            Laelius: Certainly not, because these did not constitute the real welfare of the community.

            Scipio: And at Rome, when the Ten Men ruled without appeal from their decisions in the third year of their power, had not liberty lost all its securities and all its blessings?

            Laelius: Yes, the welfare of the community was no longer consulted, and the people soon roused themselves, and recovered their appropriate rights.




Against Democracies

Scipio: I now come to the democratic form of government. This presents a considerable difficulty because all things are there said to lie at the tendency of the people, and are carried into execution just as they please. Here the populace inflict punishments at their pleasure, and act, and seize, and keep possession, and distribute property, without restraint or hindrance. Can you deny, Laelius, that this is a fair definition of a democracy, where the people are all in all, and where the people constitute the state?

            Laelius: There is no political constitution to which I more absolutely deny the name of a Commonwealth, than that in which all things lie in the power of the multitude. A Commonwealth implies the welfare of the entire community. It could not exist in Agrigento, Syracuse, or Athens, when tyrants reigned over them; it could not exist in Rome, when under the oligarchy of the Ten Men. If it could not in these cases, neither do I see how this sacred name of Commonwealth can be applied to a democracy, and the sway of the mob.

            In this statement, Scipio, I build on your own admirable definition, that there can be no community, properly so called, unless it be regulated by a combination of rights. And by this definition it appears that a multitude of men may be just as tyrannical as a single despot. Indeed this is the most horrible of all tyrannies, since no monster can be more barbarous than the mob, which assumes the name and mask of the people. The laws place the property of madmen in the hands of their sane relations; it is thus unreasonable that we should do the very reverse in politics, and throw the property of the sane into the hands of the mad multitude.

            It is far more rational to assert that a wise and virtuous aristocratic government deserves the title of a Commonwealth, as it approaches to the nature of a kingdom.


Aristocracy vs. Monarchy

Mummius: In my opinion, an aristocratic government, properly so called, is entitled to our just approval. The unity of power often exposes a king to become a despot. But when an aristocracy, consisting of many virtuous men, exercise power, it is a most fortunate circumstance for any state. However this may be, I much prefer royalty to democracy; and I think, my Scipio, you have something more to add with respect to this most cruel of all political governments.

            Scipio: I am well acquainted, Mummius, with your strong opposition to the democratic system. And, although we may speak of it with rather more indulgence than you are accustomed to accord it, I must certainly agree with you, that of all the three particular forms of government, none is less admirable than democracy.

            I do not agree with you, however, when you would imply that aristocracy is preferable to royalty. If you suppose that wisdom governs the state, is it not as well that this wisdom should reside in one monarch, as in many nobles?

            But a sophistry of words and terms is likely to abuse our understanding in a discussion like this. When we pronounce the word “aristocracy,” which, in Greek, signifies the government of the best men, imagination, leaning rather to etymology than fact, we can hardly conceive anything more excellent. For what can be thought better than the best? When, on the other hand, the title, king, is mentioned, owing to the hallucination of our imagination, we Romans begin to imagine a tyrant, as if a king must be necessarily unjust. For my part, I always think of a just king, and not a shameless despot, when I examine the true nature of royal authority. To this name of “king”, I associate the idea of a Romulus, a Numa, a Tullus, and perhaps you will be less severe to the monarchical form of constitution.

            Mummius: Have you then no praise at all for any kind of democratic government?

            Scipio: Why, I think some democratic forms are less objectionable than others. By way of illustration, I will ask you what you thought of the government in the Isle of Rhodes, where we were lately together. Did it appear to you a legitimate and rational constitution?

            Mummius: It did, and not much liable to abuse.

            Scipio: You say truly. But if you recollect, it was a very extraordinary experiment. All the inhabitants were alternately senators and citizens. Some months they spent in their senatorial functions, and some months they spent in their civil employments. In both they exercised judicial powers; and in the theatre and the court, the same men judged all causes, capital and not capital. So much for democracies.


Mixed form of Government the Best (Book 1.35)

Laelius: But you have not told us, Scipio, which of these three forms of government you yourself most approve.

            Scipio: You are right to form your question, which of the three I most approve, for there is not one of them which I approve at all by itself, since, as I told you, I prefer that government which is mixed and composed of all these forms, to any one of them taken separately. But if I must confine myself to one of these particular forms simply and exclusively, I must confess I prefer the royal one, and praise that as the first and best. In this, which I here choose to call the primitive form of government, I find the title of father attached to that of king, to express that he watches over the citizens as over his children, and endeavors rather to preserve them in freedom than reduce them to slavery. So that it is more advantageous for those who are insignificant in property and capacity to be supported by the care of one excellent and eminently powerful man. The nobles here present themselves, who profess that they can do all this in much better style; for they say that there is much more wisdom in many than in one, and at least as much faith and equity. And, last of all, come the people, who cry with a loud voice that they will render obedience neither to the one nor the few; that even to brute beasts nothing is so dear as liberty; and that all men who serve either kings or nobles are deprived of it. Thus, the kings attract us by affection, the nobles by talent, the people by liberty; and in the comparison it is hard to choose the best.


Source: Cicero, On the Commonwealth, Book 3, tr. C.D. Yonge,


Questions for Review

1. In his argument against natural justice, Philus maintains that justice varies from place to place. What are his examples of this?

2. In the section on true justice vs. practical benefit, Scipio presents an example of two people, one just and the other unjust. What are their respective situations, and which does Scipio think that we would prefer?

3. In the same section, Philus argues that human practice confirms the benefit of injustice. What are his examples of this?

4. In Laelius’s defense of natural justice, how does he describe natural law and natural justice, and how does this affect the person who has the virtue of natural justice?

5. What are Scipio’s main arguments against democracies?


Questions for Analysis

1. In his criticism of natural justice, Philus argues that justice varies from place to place. Is this a good criticism of natural justice? Explain.

2. In his criticism of natural justice, Philus argues that justice is inconsistent with worldly wisdom, such as how we are taught to gain wealth and power. Is this a good criticism of natural justice? Explain.

3. In his criticism of natural justice, Philus argues that justice is not the result of conscience, but of human weakness and the need to band together for protection. Explain the social contract argument that he presents there and say whether you agree with it.

4. In the section on true justice vs. practical benefit, Scipio argues that the benefits of injustice are outweighed by the disbenefits of remorse. Explain his argument and say whether you agree.

5. Scipio argues that commonwealths are best comprised of wise and virtuous aristocratic governments. Explain why he holds this view and what might be wrong with it.









Augustine (354–430) was Bishop of the North African city of Hippo, and is among the most influential early Christian theologians and philosophers. He lived at a time when the Roman Empire was being invaded by barbarian tribes, and this experience helped shape his political philosophy, which he expressed in his great book The City of God. In the selections below from this, Augustine contrasts the value system of what he calls the “two cities”. The earthly city is driven by only human interests and love of self, and it strives after only earthly peace. The heavenly city, by contrast, consists of those who love God and strive after eternal peace. Believers in God are members of the heavenly city, but, while detained here on earth, they are like travelers—or resident aliens—who temporarily live within the earthly city. The peace of both cities, Augustine argues, is grounded in God’s eternal law, the chief principles of which are loving God and loving one’s neighbor. Eternal law also mandates civil harmony through harming no one and doing good to others; it mandates domestic harmony by having husbands rule their wives, parents their children, and masters their servants. The heavenly city travelers live in harmony within the earthly city, and benefit from the bodily security that it offers. In international matters, Augustine believes that human affairs would be happier if all kingdoms were small and lived in neighborly harmony. Empires like that of the Romans, though, expand their territory through brutal wars and try to unify conquered nations by imposing a single language on them. Ultimately, though, these wars of unity require great bloodshed and bring on long term misery of social and civil unrest. Another work by Augustine, titled Contra Faustum, defends God’s role in wars, particularly those waged by Moses in the Old Testament, which critics have depicted as especially brutal and unjust. According to Augustine, God commands wars with an aim towards just retribution, not cruelty, and wars are justified when done in obedience to God. God has his own conceptions of justice that are unknowable to us, and he judges us from a timeless perspective. Thus, wars ordained by God are aimed at punishing injustice, even if we cannot understand exactly why the enemies are unjust and deserve punishment.




Differences between the Two Cities (CG 14.1)

We have already stated in the preceding books that God desired that the human race might be able by their similarity of nature to associate with one another. He also desired that they might be bound together in harmony and peace by the ties of relationship. Accordingly, he happily created all people from one individual, and gave humans such a nature that the members of the race should not have died, had not the two first (of whom the one was created out of nothing, and the other out of him) deserved this by their disobedience. For they committed such a great sin that human nature was altered by it for the worse, and this was passed on to their offspring, namely, the capacity to sin and to die. The kingdom of death reigned so much over people that the deserved penalty of sin would have hurled all headlong even into a second and eternal death, if it had not been for the undeserved grace of God which saved some people from it. It has come about that there are very many and great nations all over the earth, whose rituals, customs, speech, and dress, are distinguished by clear differences. Nevertheless, there are no more than two kinds of human societies, which we may justly call two cities, according to the language of our Scriptures. The one consists of those who wish to live after the body, the other of those who wish to live after the spirit. When they respectively achieve what they wish, they live in peace, each after their kind.


Two Cities formed by Two Loves (CG 14.28)

Accordingly, two cities have been formed by two loves: the earthly by the love of self (even to the point of contempt for God); the heavenly by the love of God (even to the point of contempt for self). The former, in a word, praises itself, the latter the Lord. The one seeks praise from men, but the other seeks the greatest praise which is from God, the witness of conscience. The one lifts up its head in its own glory; the other says to God, "You are my glory, and the lifter up of my head." In the one, the princes and the nations it subdues are ruled by the love of ruling; in the other, the princes and the subjects serve one another in love, the latter obeying, while the former show consideration for all. The one delights in its own strength, represented in the persons of its rulers; the other says to its God, "I will love You, Lord, my strength." Therefore the wise men of the one city, living according to man, have sought for profit to their own bodies or souls, or both. Those of them who had once known God "did not glorify him as God; they were unthankful, became proud in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened as they professed themselves to be wise." That is, praising their own wisdom, and being possessed with pride—"they became fools, and exchanged the praise of the immortal God for images made like mortal man, birds, animals, and reptiles." For they were either leaders or followers of the people in worshiping images, "and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed forever" (Romans 1:21-25). But in the other city there is no human wisdom, but only godliness, which offers proper worship of the true God, and looks for its reward in the society of the saints, of holy angels as well as holy men, "that God may be all in all."


Peace through the Eternal Law (CG 19.14)

The whole use of temporal things has a reference to the result of earthly peace in the earthly community. In the city of God, though, it is connected with eternal peace. . . . So long as man is in this mortal body, he is a stranger to God, he walks by faith, not by sight. He therefore refers all peace, bodily or spiritual or both, to that peace which mortal man has with the immortal God, so that he exhibits the well-ordered obedience of faith to eternal law. This divine Master instills in us two precepts: the love of God and the love of our neighbor. In these precepts a man finds three things he has to love: God, himself, and his neighbor. Thus, he who loves God loves himself. Consequently, he must try to get his neighbor to love God, since he is ordered to love his neighbor as himself. He ought to make this effort on behalf of his wife, his children, his household, all within his reach, even as he would wish his neighbor to do the same for him if he needed it. Consequently, he will be at peace, or in well-ordered harmony, with all men, as far as he can. This is the order of this harmony: first, that a man injure no one, and, second, to do good to everyone he can reach. Primarily, therefore, his own household is his care, since the law of nature and of society gives him immediate access to them and greater opportunity of serving them. Hence the apostle says, "If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever" (1 Timothy 5:8). This is the origin of domestic peace, or the well-ordered harmony of those in the family who rule and those who obey. For they who care for the rest rule. The husband rules the wife, the parents the children, the masters the servants. Those who are cared for obey: women their husbands, children their parents, servants their masters. But in the family of the just man who lives by faith and is like a traveler journeying on to the heavenly city, even those who rule serve those whom they seem to command. For they do not rule from a love of power, but from a sense of the duty they owe to others. It is not because they are proud of authority, but because they love mercy.


Servitude Introduced by Sin (CG 19.15)

This is prescribed by the order of nature: it is thus that God has created man. For "let them," he says, "have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every creeping thing which creeps on the earth" (Genesis 1.26). He did not intend that his rational creature, who was made in his image, should have dominion over anything but the irrational creation—not man over man, but man over the animals. Hence the righteous men in ancient times were made shepherds of cattle rather than kings of men, God intending thus to teach us what the relative position of the creatures is, and what the desert of sin; for it is with justice, we believe, that the condition of slavery is the result of sin. This is why we do not find the word "slave" in any part of Scripture until righteous Noah branded the sin of his son with this name. It is a name, therefore, introduced by sin and not by nature. . . .


Domestic Peace (CG 19.16)

Although our righteous fathers had slaves, and administered their domestic affairs so as to distinguish between the condition of slaves and the heirship of sons in regard to the blessings of this life, yet in regard to the worship of God, in whom we hope for eternal blessings, they took an equally loving oversight of all the members of their household. This is so much in accordance with the natural order, that the head of the household was called paterfamilias. . . . If any member of the family interrupts domestic peace by disobedience, he is corrected either with words or by striking, or some kind of just and legitimate punishment which society permits. By doing so he may himself be the better for it, and be readjusted to the family harmony from which he had dislocated himself. Just as it is not benevolent to give a man help at the expense of some greater benefit he might receive, so too it is not right to spare a man at the risk of his falling into graver sin. To be morally innocent, we must not only do harm to no man, but also restrain him from sin or punish his sin. By doing so, either the man himself who is punished may profit by his experience, or others may be deterred by his example. The house ought to be the beginning or component of the city. Now, every beginning bears reference to some end of its own kind, and every component to the integrity of the whole of which it is a component. It plainly follows that domestic peace has a relation to civic peace. In other words, the well-ordered harmony of domestic obedience and domestic rule has a relation to the well-ordered harmony of civic obedience and civic rule. Therefore, the father of the family ought to frame his domestic rule in accordance with the law of the city, so that the household may be in harmony with the civic order.


Peace and Discord between the Two Cities (CG 19.17)

But the families which do not live by faith seek their peace in the earthly advantages of this life. By contrast, the families that live by faith look for those eternal blessings which are promised. As travelers, they do not use those advantages of time and place that preoccupy them or divert them from God. Rather, they use those that aid them to endure with greater ease, and to keep down the number of those burdens of the mortal body that weigh upon the soul. Thus the things necessary for this mortal life are used by both kinds of men and families alike, but each has its own peculiar and widely different aim in using them. The earthly city, which does not live by faith, seeks an earthly peace. The end it proposes, in the well-ordered harmony of civic obedience and rule, is the combination of men's wills to attain the things which are helpful to this life. The heavenly city, or rather the part of it which travels on earth and lives by faith, makes use of this peace only because it must, until this mortal condition which necessitates it will pass away. Consequently, so long as it lives like a captive and a stranger in the earthly city, (though it has already received the promise of redemption, and the gift of the Spirit as the earnest of it) it makes no scruple to obey the laws of the earthly city, whereby the things necessary for the maintenance of this mortal life are administered. Thus, as this life is common to both cities, so there is a harmony between them in regard to what belongs to it.

            But, the earthly city has had some [polytheistic] philosophers whose doctrine is condemned by divine teaching. They are deceived either by their own conjectures or by demons. . . . The heavenly city, on the other hand, knew that one God only was to be worshipped, and that to him alone was due that service which the Greeks call adoration (latreia λατρεία), and which can be given only to a god. Consequently, the two cities could not have common laws of religion. The heavenly city has been compelled to dissent in this matter, and to become hated by those who think differently, and to stand the brunt of their anger and hatred and persecutions. The minds of some of their enemies, though, have been alarmed by the multitude of the Christians, and suppressed by the evident protection of God given to them. This heavenly city, then, while it travels on earth, calls citizens out of all nations, and gathers together a society of travelers of all languages. They do not scruple about differences in the customs, laws, and institutions whereby earthly peace is secured and maintained. Rather, they recognize that, however different these are, they all tend to one and the same end of earthly peace. It therefore is so far from revoking and abolishing these diversities, that it even preserves and adopts them, so long only as no hindrance to the worship of the one supreme and true God is thus introduced.

            Even the heavenly city, therefore, while in its state of travel, takes advantage of the peace of earth. So far as it can without injuring faith and godliness, it desires and maintains a common agreement among men regarding the acquisition of the necessities of life, and makes this earthly peace bear upon the peace of heaven. For this alone can be truly called and properly judged to be the peace of the reasonable creatures, consisting as it does in the perfectly ordered and harmonious enjoyment of God and of one another in God. When we will have reached that peace, this mortal life will give place to one that is eternal, and our body will be no more this animal body which by its corruption weighs down the soul. Instead, it will be a spiritual body feeling no wants, and in all its members subjected to the will. In its travelling state, the heavenly city possesses this peace by faith. By this faith it lives righteously when it looks towards the attainment of that peace for every good action towards God and man. For the life of the city is a social life.




The Liabilities of Acquiring too Much (CG 4.3)

. . . I should like to briefly inquire what reason and good judgment there is in wishing to glory in the greatness and extent of the empire. You cannot point out the happiness of men who are always rolling, with dark fear and cruel lust, in warlike slaughters and in blood. Whether shed in civil or foreign war, it is still human blood. Thus, their joy may be compared to glass in its fragile splendor, of which one is horribly afraid that it should be suddenly broken in pieces. That this may be more easily understood, let us not be uselessly carried away with empty boasting, or blunt the edge of our attention by loud-sounding names of things, when we hear of nations, kingdoms, provinces. But let us suppose a case of two men. Each individual man, like one letter in a language, is as it were the element of a city or kingdom, however far-spreading in its occupation of the earth. Of these two men let us suppose that one is poor, or rather of moderate wealth; the other very rich. But the rich man is anxious with fears, longing with discontent, burning with desire, never secure, always uneasy, breathless from perpetual strife with his enemies. To a great degree, these miseries supplement his wealth and pile up the bitterest worries. But the other man of moderate wealth is content with a small and contained estate, that most dear to his own family, enjoying the sweetest peace with his relatives, neighbors and friends, religiously upright, gentle in mind, healthy in body, frugal in life, simple in manners, and sincere in conscience. I do not know anyone who could be such a fool, that he’d dare hesitate which to prefer. As, therefore, in the case of these two men, so in two families, in two nations, in two kingdoms, this test of tranquility holds good. . . . To the just, all the evils imposed on them by unjust rulers are not the punishment of crime, but the test of virtue. Therefore the good man, although he is a slave, is free. But the bad man, even if he reigns, is a slave, and that not of one man, but, what is far more grievous, of as many masters as he has vices. Of these vices the divine Scripture says, "a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him" (2 Peter 2:19).


Kingdoms without Justice are like Robberies (CG 4.4)

When justice is removed, what are kingdoms but great robberies? For what are robberies themselves, but little kingdoms? The group itself is made up of men; it is ruled by the authority of a prince, it is knit together by the pact of the confederacy; the booty is divided by the agreed upon law. If, by involving unjust men, this evil increases to such a degree that it captures places, claim dwellings, takes possession of cities, and subdues nations, it assumes the more plainly the name of a kingdom. For, the reality is now clearly present with it, not by the removal of greed, but by being exempt from punishment. Indeed, that was an appropriate and true reply which was given to Alexander the Great by a pirate who had been captured. For when Alexander had asked the man why he took hostile possession of the sea, he answered with bold pride, "Why do you seizing the whole earth? Because I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, while because you do it with a great fleet are called emperor."


Good People should not Wish to Rule more Widely (CG 4.15)

Let us ask whether it is appropriate for good men to admire empires that are vastly extended. For, the growth of a kingdom is justified by just wars against evil aggressors. Such expansion would certainly have been small if the peace and justice of neighbors had not been upset by some injustice that provoked a war against them. Human affairs would be more happy if all kingdoms would have been small, enjoying in neighborly harmony. There then would have been very many kingdoms of nations in the world, just as there are very many houses of citizens in a city. Thus, to carry on war and extend a kingdom over entirely subdued nations seems to give enjoyment to bad men, while to good men it is only a necessity [for protection]. But because it would be worse for harmful people to rule over those who are more righteous, even that is not unsuitably called enjoyment. But without doubt there is greater enjoyment to be at peace with a good neighbor, than to conquer a bad one by making war. Your intentions are bad when you desire that someone you hate or fear should be in a situation where you can conquer him. Suppose that the Romans acquired their great empire only by carrying on wars that were just, and not wicked or unrighteous. Should they not, then, worship as a goddess [i.e., appreciate] the injustice of foreigners? For we see that this has greatly assisted them in extending their empire, that is, by making foreigners so unjust that they became people with whom just wars might be carried on, and the empire increased. . . .




Language Diversity, Wars of Unity, and the Tragedy of even Just Wars (CG 19.7)

After the state or city comes the world, the third circle of human society—the first being the house, and the second the city. The world is fuller of dangers since it is larger, just as the larger sea is the more dangerous. Here, first of all, man is separated from man by the difference of languages. Suppose that two men, each without knowledge of the other's language, meet and are not compelled to pass, but instead remain in each other’s company. Dumb animals, even of different species, would more easily have communication than they, even though they are human beings. For, their common nature is no help to friendliness when they are prevented by diversity of language from conveying their thoughts to one another. Thus, a man would more readily hold conversation with his dog than with a foreigner. But the imperial city has endeavored to impose on subject nations not only her yoke, but her language, as a bond of peace. Thus, interpreters, far from being scarce, are numberless. This is true. But how many great wars, how much slaughter and bloodshed, have provided this unity! Though these are past, the end of these miseries has not yet come. There have never been lacking, nor are yet lacking, hostile nations beyond the empire, against whom wars have been and are waged. Suppose, though, that there were no hostile nations. The very extent of the empire itself has produced wars of a more obnoxious description: social and civil wars. With these the whole race has been worried because of either actual conflict or the fear of a renewed outbreak.

            If I attempted to give an adequate description of these many disasters, these stern and lasting necessities, though I am quite unequal to the task, what limit could I set? But, they say, the wise man will wage just wars. As if he would not all the more lament the necessity of just wars, if he remembers that he is a man. For if they were not just he would not wage them, and would therefore be delivered from all wars. For it is the wrongdoing of the opposing party which compels the wise man to wage just wars. This wrong-doing, even though it gave rise to no war, would still be matter of grief to man because it is man's wrong-doing. Let everyone, then, who thinks with pain on all these great evils, so horrible, so ruthless, acknowledge that this is misery. If anyone either endures or thinks of them without mental pain, this is a more miserable predicament still, for he thinks himself happy because he has lost human feeling.


All Wars Aim at Peace (CG 19.12-13)

Peace is such a great good, that even in this earthly and mortal life there is no word we hear with such pleasure, nothing we desire with such enthusiasm, or find to be more thoroughly gratifying. . . . Whoever gives even moderate attention to human affairs and to our common nature, will recognize that if there is no man who does not wish to be joyful, neither is there anyone who does not wish to have peace. For even they who make war desire nothing but victory—that is to say, desire to attain to peace with glory. For what else is victory than the conquest of those who resist us? And when this is done there is peace. It is therefore with the desire for peace that wars are waged, even by those who take pleasure in exercising their warlike nature in command and battle. Hence it is obvious that peace is the end sought for by war. For every man seeks peace by waging war, but no man seeks war by making peace. For even they who intentionally interrupt the peace in which they are living have no hatred of peace, but only wish it changed into a peace that suits them better. They do not, therefore, wish to have no peace, but only an added peace to their mind. . . . As, then, there may be life without pain, while there cannot be pain without some kind of life, so there may be peace without war, but there cannot be war without some kind of peace, because war supposes the existence of some natures to wage it, and these natures cannot exist without peace of one kind or other.




God Commands Wars with Just Retribution, not Cruelty (CF 22.74)

. . . The account of the wars of Moses should not excite surprise or abhorrence. For in wars carried on by divine command, he did not show cruelty but obedience. God in giving the command, acted not in cruelty, but in just retribution, giving to all what they deserved, and warning those who needed warning. What is the evil in war? Is it the death of some who will soon die in any case, that others may live in peaceful subjection? This is mere cowardly dislike, not any religious feeling. The real evils in war are love of violence, revengeful cruelty, fierce and merciless hostility, extreme resistance, and the lust for power, and such like. It is generally to punish these things, when force is required to inflict the punishment, that, in obedience to God or some lawful authority, good men undertake wars. They find themselves in such a position as regards the conduct of human affairs, that right conduct requires them to act, or to make others act in this way. . . .


Wars Justified when in Obedience to God (CF 22.75)

A great deal depends on the causes for which men undertake wars, and on the authority they have for doing so. For the natural order which seeks the peace of mankind, ordains that the monarch should have the power of undertaking war if he thinks it advisable, and that the soldiers should perform their military duties in behalf of the peace and safety of the community. When war is undertaken in obedience to God (who would reprimand, humble, or crush the pride of man), it must be allowed to be a just war. For even the wars which arise from human passion cannot harm the eternal well-being of God, nor even hurt his saints. For in the trial of their patience, and the chastening of their spirit, and in bearing fatherly correction, they are rather benefited than injured. No one can have any power against them but what is given him from above. “For there is no power except what God establishes” (Romans 13:1) who either orders or permits. A righteous man, who might serve under an ungodly king, may perform the duty belonging to his position in the State in fighting by the order of his sovereign. For in some cases it is plainly the will of God that he should fight, and in others, where this is not so plain, it may be an unrighteous command on the part of the king, while the soldier is innocent, because his position makes obedience a duty. How much more must the man be blameless who carries on war on the authority of God, of whom everyone who serves him knows that he can never require what is wrong?


Turning the Other Cheek is Consistent with Divinely Ordained Wars (CF 22.76)

Some may suppose that God could not command warfare, because in later times it was said by the Lord Jesus Christ, “But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matthew 5:39). In response, what is here required is not a bodily action, but an inward disposition. The sacred seat of virtue is the heart, and such were the hearts of our fathers, the righteous men of old. But order required such a regulation of events, and such a distinction of times, as to show first of all that even earthly blessings are entirely under the control and at the disposal of the one true God. For temporal kingdoms and victory over enemies are considered to be earthly blessings, and these are the things which the community of the ungodly all over the world are continually begging from idols and devils. . . .


Old Testament does not Contradict New Testament (CF 22.77)

Our foolish opponents may be surprised at the difference between the rules given by God to the ministers of the Old Testament (at a time when the grace of the New was still undisclosed), and those given to the preachers of the New Testament (now that the obscurity of the Old is removed). But they will also find Christ himself saying one thing at one time, and another at another. . . . [For example,] at one time Jesus says, "I sent you without bag, or purse, or shoes, and you lacked nothing;" at another, "Now let him that has a scrip take it, and also a purse; and he that has a tunic, let him sell it and buy a sword" (Luke 22:35-36). But does not this show how, without any inconsistency, precepts and counsels and permissions may be changed, as different times require different arrangements? Some may say that there was a symbolic meaning in the command to take a bag and purse, and to buy a sword. But why, then, may there not be a symbolic meaning in the fact, that one and the same God commanded the prophets in old times to make war, and forbade the apostles? . . .


God’s Reasons for Justice are Unknowable (CF 22.78)

It is therefore mere groundless misrepresentation to charge Moses with making war. For there would have been less harm by agreeing with God and making war, than in not doing it when God commanded him. From the perspective of divine providence, which pervades all things from the highest to the lowest, time can neither add anything nor take away. Thus, to dare to find fault with God himself for giving such a command, or not to believe it possible that a just and good God did so, shows, to say the least, an inability to consider this [timeless] aspect of divine providence. But all things come or go or remain according to the order of nature or what is deserved in each separate case. Within men, a right will is in union with the divine law, and ungoverned passion is restrained by the order of divine law. Consequently, a good man wills only what is commanded, and a bad man can do only what he is permitted, while at the same time he is punished for what he wills to do unjustly. Thus, in all the things which appear shocking and terrible to human feebleness, the real evil is the injustice; the rest is only the result of natural properties or of moral demerit. . . .

            The ignorance and infirmity which prevent a man from knowing his duty, or from doing all he wishes to do, belong to God's secret punishment arrangement, and to his unknowable judgments, for with him there is no injustice. This much we know. But the reasons for this distribution of divine judgment and mercy, why one is in this condition, and another in that, though just, are unknown. Still, we are sure that all these things are due either to the mercy or the judgment of God, while the measures and numbers and weights by which the Creator of all natural productions arranges all things are concealed from our view. While God is not the author of sin, he is the controller of it. Thus, sinful actions, which are sinful because they are against nature, are judged and controlled, and assigned to their proper place and condition, in order that they may not bring discord and disgrace on universal nature. The judgments of God and the movements of man's will contain the hidden reason why the same prosperous circumstances which some make a right use of are the ruin of others, and the same afflictions under which some give way are profitable to others, and the whole mortal life of man upon earth is a trial (Job 7:4). This being the case, who can tell whether it may be good or bad in any particular case—in time of peace, to reign or to serve, or to be at ease or to die—or in time of war, to command or to fight, or to conquer or to be killed? At the same time, it remains true, that whatever is good is so by the divine blessing, and whatever is bad is so by the divine judgment.


Source: Augustine, City of God, Books 4, 14, and 19, tr. Marcus Dods; Contra Faustum, Book 22, tr. Richard Stothert.


Questions for Review

1. What are the primary differences between the two cities, and how is there both harmony and discord between them?

2. In the discussion of extending one’s empire, Augustine examines a case of two men. Describe these two men and which we would prefer to be.

3. In the section on peace through the eternal law, what are the two main precepts, the three loves, and the principles of civic and domestic harmony?

4. For Augustine, the origin of servitude and slavery was sin. What was God’s intention in this regard in the garden of Eden and before the time of Noah?

5. In the section on God and War, what are some of Augustine’s arguments in defense of Moses?


Questions for Analysis


1. Explain Augustine’s view of domestic peace and whether you agree with it.

2. For Augustine, the main point of discord between the heavenly and earthly cities is their respective advocacy of monotheism vs. polytheism. Are their ways of resolving this discord? Explain.

3. Augustine argues that a soldier who fights in an unjust war is blameless and simply follows his duty as he is ordered. Why might Augustine hold that position, and what if anything is wrong with it?

4. Augustine argues that wars justified when in obedience to God, even if we do not understand God’s conception of justice. Is anything wrong with this view? Explain.

5. Augustine argues that Jesus’ command for us to turn the other cheek requires an inward disposition, not a bodily action. Thus, this command of Jesus is consistent with God telling us to go to war. Explain this position and say whether you agree with it.








Thomas Aquinas


Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) was born in what is now central Italy, and spent his life as a priest and scholar in the Roman Catholic Church. His most famous work is the voluminous Summa Theologica, in which he presents what is probably the most influential account on natural law, a theory that is foundational in both moral and political philosophy. Most simply, the theory is that God embeds various values within our natural instincts, which we discover through reason; these provide the substance of both our morals and laws. For Aquinas, there are four kinds of law. Eternal law is God’s unchanging laws of the universe. Natural law is a subset eternal law, which God implants in human instincts and we discover through reflection. These include general rules, such as “don’t harm others.” Human law is an effort by humans to take the general principles of natural law and deduce specific applications from them, such as “don’t write bad checks.” Finally, divine law, as contained in the Bible, reinforces the principles of natural law and adds special religious ones. Concerning natural law, Aquinas argues that there is one highest principle from which all others are derived: “Good is to be done and evil is to be avoided.” We determine what is “good” for us by looking at our human inclinations, and he lists six relevant ones: self-preservation, sexual intercourse, educating our offspring, rationality, knowledge of God, and living in society. From these we infer six primary principles of natural law: (1) preserve human life, (2) procreate, (3) educate your children, (4) shun ignorance, (5) worship God, and (6) be sociable and do not harm others. Each of these primary principles encompasses more specific or secondary principles. For example, the primary principle “do not harm others” implies the secondary principles “don’t steal” and “don’t kill.” These, in turn, imply even more specific or tertiary principles, such as “don’t write bad checks.” As the principles become more specific, they leave the domain of natural law and enter that of human law. When considering whether natural law is the same in all people, Aquinas argues that the primary principles are common to everyone, such as “do not harm others.” However, more particular tertiary derivations of human law are not necessarily common to all societies. He argues that human law carry the force of natural law if they are derived correctly; however, “if in any point it diverges from the law of nature, it is no longer a law but a perversion of law.”

            Aquinas next considers whether people were initially designed in the state of innocence (i.e., the Garden of Eden) to rule over others. He argues that there is indeed a natural inequality among people; there is thus a natural master-subject relation, but no master-slave relation. In selections from another work titled On the Governance of Rulers, Aquinas explains the nature and responsibility of kings. People naturally need a ruler to be guided to their proper end, since we were not naturally designed to survive alone. The King’s main three obligations are to establish the good life for his subjects, preserve that good life, and improve upon it. In a final selection from Summa Theologica, Aquinas articulates three necessary criteria for any war to be morally just. First, it must be declared by the proper authority; private individuals cannot declare war or summon people to fight. Second, there must be a just cause, such as to address some fault or make amends for some wrong done by a rival country. Third, it must proceed from rightful intention, particularly the advancement of good, or the avoidance of evil.





Whether there is an Eternal Law (ST 1a2ae.91.1)

A law is nothing else but a dictate of practical reason originating from the ruler who governs a perfect community. Now it is evident, granted that the world is ruled by Divine Providence, … that the whole community of the universe is governed by Divine Reason. For this reason the very Idea of the government of things in God the Ruler of the universe, has the nature of a law. And since the Divine Reason’s conception of things is not subject to time but is eternal, according to Proverbs 8:23, therefore it is that this kind of law must be called eternal.


Whether there is in us a Natural Law (ST 1a2ae.91.2)

Law, being a rule and measure, can be in a person in two ways: in one way, as in him that rules and measures; in another way, as in that which is ruled and measured, since a thing is ruled and measured, in so far as it partakes of the rule or measure. For this reason, since all things subject to Divine providence are ruled and measured by the eternal law, as was stated above. It is evident that all things partake somewhat of the eternal law, in so far as, namely, from its being imprinted on them, they derive their respective inclinations to their proper acts and ends. Now among all others, the rational creature is subject to Divine providence in the most excellent way, in so far as it partakes of a share of providence, by being provident both for itself and for others. For this reason it has a share of the Eternal Reason, whereby it has a natural inclination to its proper act and end. This participation of the eternal law in the rational creature is called the natural law. Hence the Psalmist after saying (Palms 4:6): “Offer up the sacrifice of justice,” as though someone asked what the works of justice are, adds: “Many say, Who showeth us good things?” in answer to which question he says: “The light of Thy countenance, O Lord, is signed upon us”: thus implying that the light of natural reason, whereby we discern what is good and what is evil, which is the function of the natural law, is nothing else than an imprint on us of the Divine light. It is therefore evident that the natural law is nothing else than the rational creature’s participation in the eternal law.


Whether there is Human Law (ST 1a2ae.91.3)

A law is a dictate of the practical reason. Now it is to be observed that the same procedure takes place in the practical and in the speculative reason. For each proceeds from principles to conclusions, as stated above. In the speculative reason, from naturally known indemonstrable principles, we draw the conclusions of the various sciences, the knowledge of which is not imparted to us by nature, but acquired by the efforts of reason. So too it is from the precepts of the natural law, as from general and indemonstrable principles, that the human reason needs to proceed to the more particular determination of certain matters. These particular determinations, devised by human reason, are called human laws, provided the other essential conditions of law be observed . . . . For this reason Cicero says in his Rhetoric that “justice has its source in nature; from this certain things came into custom by reason of their utility; afterwards these things which originated from nature and were approved by custom, were sanctioned by fear and reverence for the law.”


Whether there was any Need for a Divine Law (ST 1a2ae.91.4)

Besides the natural and the human law it was necessary for the directing of human conduct to have a Divine law. And this for four reasons. First, because it is by law that man is directed how to perform his proper acts in view of his last end. Indeed if man were ordained to no other end than that which is proportionate to his natural faculty, there would be no need for man to have any further direction of the part of his reason, besides the natural law and human law which is derived from it. But since man is ordained to an end of eternal happiness which is disproportionate to man’s natural faculty … therefore it was necessary that, besides the natural and the human law, man should be directed to his end by a law given by God. Secondly, because, on account of the uncertainty of human judgment, especially on contingent and particular matters, different people form different judgments on human acts. From this different and contrary laws also result. In order, therefore, that man may know without any doubt what he ought to do and what he ought to avoid, it was necessary for man to be directed in his proper acts by a law given by God, for it is certain that such a law cannot err.

            Thirdly, because man can make laws in those matters of which he is competent to judge. But man is not competent to judge of internal movements, that are hidden, but only of external acts which appear: and yet for the perfection of virtue it is necessary for man to conduct himself aright in both kinds of acts. Consequently human law could not sufficiently curb and direct internal acts; and it was necessary for this purpose that a Divine law should also come about. Fourthly, because, as Augustine says, human law cannot punish or forbid all evil deeds. Since while aiming at doing away with all evils, it would do away with many good things, and would hinder the advance of the common good, which is necessary for human intercourse. In order, therefore, that no evil might remain unforbidden and unpunished, it was necessary for the Divine law to supervene, whereby all sins are forbidden.

            These four causes are touched upon in Palms. 118:8, where it is said: “The law of the Lord is unspotted,” i.e. allowing no foulness of sin; “converting souls,” because it directs not only external, but also internal acts; “the testimony of the Lord is faithful,” because of the certainty of what is true and right; “giving wisdom to little ones,” by directing man to an end supernatural and Divine.




Whether the Natural Law contains Several Precepts, or Only One (ST 1a2ae.94.2)

As stated above (91.3), the precepts of the natural law are to the practical reason, what the first principles of demonstrations are to the speculative reason; because both are self-evident principles. Now a thing is said to be self-evident in two ways: first, in itself; secondly, in relation to us. Any proposition is said to be self-evident in itself, if its predicate is contained in the notion of the subject. Although, to one who does not know the definition of the subject, it happens that such a proposition is not self-evident. For instance, this proposition, “Man is a rational being,” is, in its very nature, self-evident, since who says “man,” says “a rational being”: and yet to one who knows not what a man is, this proposition is not self-evident. Hence it is that, as Boethius says (De Hebdom.), certain axioms or propositions are universally self-evident to all; and such are those propositions whose terms are known to all, as, “Every whole is greater than its part,” and, “Things equal to one and the same are equal to one another.” But some propositions are self-evident only to the wise, who understand the meaning of the terms of such propositions: thus to one who understands that an angel is not a body, it is self-evident that an angel is not circumscriptively in a place: but this is not evident to the unlearned, for they cannot grasp it.

            Now a certain order is to be found in those things that are apprehended universally. For that which, before anything else, falls under apprehension, is “being,” the notion of which is included in all things whatsoever a man apprehends. Thus, the first indemonstrable principle is that “the same thing cannot be affirmed and denied at the same time,” which is based on the notion of “being” and “not-being”: and on this principle all others are based, as is stated in [Aristotle’s] Metaphysics 4.9. Now as “being” is the first thing that falls under the apprehension simply, so “good” is the first thing that falls under the apprehension of the practical reason, which is directed to action: since every agent acts for an end under the aspect of good. Consequently the first principle of practical reason is one founded on the notion of good, viz. that “good is that which all things seek after.” Hence this is the first precept of law, that “good is to be done and pursued, and evil is to be avoided.” All other precepts of the natural law are based upon this: so that whatever the practical reason naturally apprehends as man’s good (or evil) belongs to the precepts of the natural law as something to be done or avoided.

            Since, however, good has the nature of an end, and evil, the nature of a contrary, hence it is that all those things to which man has a natural inclination, are naturally apprehended by reason as being good. Consequently these are objects of pursuit, and their contraries are evil, and objects of avoidance. Thus, according to the order of natural inclinations is the order of the precepts of the natural law. First of all, there is in man an inclination to good in accordance with the nature which he has in common with all substances, to the extent that every substance seeks the preservation of its own being, according to its nature. By reason of this inclination, whatever is a means of preserving human life, and of warding off its obstacles, belongs to the natural law. Secondly, there is in man an inclination to things that pertain to him more specially, according to that nature which he has in common with other animals. In virtue of this inclination, those things are said to belong to the natural law, “which nature has taught to all animals,” such as sexual intercourse, education of offspring and so forth. Thirdly, there is in man an inclination to good, according to the nature of his reason, which nature is proper to him. Thus man has a natural inclination to know the truth about God, and to live in society. In this respect, whatever pertains to this inclination belongs to the natural law; for instance, to shun ignorance, to avoid offending those among whom one has to live, and other such things regarding the above inclination.


Whether the Natural Law is the Same in All Men (ST 1a2ae.94.4)

To the natural law belongs those things to which a man is inclined naturally. Among these it is proper to man to be inclined to act according to reason. Now the process of reason is from the common to the proper, as stated in [Aristotle’s] Physics 1. The speculative reason, however, is differently situated in this matter, from the practical reason. For, since the speculative reason is busied chiefly with the necessary things, which cannot be otherwise than they are, its proper conclusions, like the universal principles, contain the truth without fail. The practical reason, on the other hand, is busied with contingent matters, about which human actions are concerned. Consequently, although there is necessity in the general principles, the more we descend to matters of detail, the more frequently we encounter defects. Accordingly, in speculative matters truth is the same in all men, both as to principles and as to conclusions. However, the truth is not known to all as regards the conclusions, but only as regards the principles which are called common notions. But in matters of action, truth or practical rightness is not the same for all, as to matters of detail, but only as to the general principles: and where there is the same rightness in matters of detail, it is not equally known to all.

            It is therefore evident that, as regards the general principles whether of speculative or of practical reason, truth or rightness is the same for all, and is equally known by all. As to the proper conclusions of the speculative reason, the truth is the same for all, but is not equally known to all. Thus it is true for all that the three angles of a triangle are together equal to two right angles, although it is not known to all. But as to the proper conclusions of the practical reason, neither is the truth or rightness the same for all, nor, where it is the same, is it equally known by all. Thus it is right and true for all to act according to reason. From this principle it follows as a proper conclusion, that goods entrusted to another should be restored to their owner. Now this is true for the majority of cases. But it may happen in a particular case that it would be injurious, and therefore unreasonable, to restore goods held in trust; for instance, if they are claimed for the purpose of fighting against one’s country. And this principle will be found to fail the more, according as we descend further into detail. This is so, for example, if one were to say that goods held in trust should be restored with such and such a guarantee, or in such and such a way. For, the greater the number of conditions added, the greater the number of ways in which the principle may fail, so that it be not right to restore or not to restore.

            Consequently we must say that the natural law, as to general principles, is the same for all, both as to rightness and as to knowledge. But as to certain matters of detail, which are conclusions, as it were, of those general principles, it is the same for all in the majority of cases, both as to rightness and as to knowledge. Yet in some few cases it may fail, both as to rightness, by reason of certain obstacles. This is just as natures subject to generation and corruption fail in some few cases on account of some obstacle. As to knowledge, some people’s reason is perverted by passion, evil habit, or an evil disposition of nature. Thus formerly, theft, although it is expressly contrary to the natural law, was not considered wrong among the Germans, as Julius Caesar relates.


Whether every Human Law is Derived from the Natural Law (ST 1a2ae.95.2)

As Augustine says (On Free Choice 1.5) “that which is not just seems to be no law at all.” Thus the force of a law depends on the extent of its justice. Now in human affairs a thing is said to be just, from being right, according to the rule of reason. But the first rule of reason is the law of nature, as is clear from what has been stated above (91.2). Consequently every human law has just so much of the nature of law, as it is derived from the law of nature. But if in any point it deflects from the law of nature, it is no longer a law but a perversion of law.

            But it must be noted that something may be derived from the natural law in two ways: first, as a conclusion from premises, secondly, by way of determination of certain generalities. The first way is like to that by which, in sciences, demonstrated conclusions are drawn from the principles. The second way is likened to that whereby, in the arts, general forms are particularized as to details: thus the craftsman needs to determine the general form of a house to some particular shape. Some things are therefore derived from the general principles of the natural law, by way of conclusions. For example, that “one must not kill” may be derived as a conclusion from the principle that “one should do harm to no man.” But some are derived from them by way of determination. For example, the law of nature has it that the evil-doer should be punished; but that he be punished in this or that way, is a determination of the law of nature.

            Accordingly, both types of derivation are found in the human law. But those things which are derived in the first way, are contained in human law not as originating from them exclusively, but have some force from the natural law also. But those things which are derived in the second way, have no other force than that of human law . . . . The general principles of the natural law cannot be applied to all men in the same way on account of the great variety of human affairs. Hence arises the diversity of positive laws among various people.




Human Inequality in the State of Innocence (ST 1a.96.3)

We must admit that in the primitive state there would have been some inequality, at least as regards sex, because generation depends upon diversity of sex: and likewise as regards age. For some would have been born of others; nor would sexual union have been sterile. Moreover, as regards the soul, there would have been inequality as to righteousness and knowledge. For man worked not of necessity, but of his own free-will, by virtue of which man can apply himself, more or less, to action, desire, or knowledge. Hence some would have made a greater advance in virtue and knowledge than others. There might also have been bodily disparity. For the human body was not entirely exempt from the laws of nature, so as not to receive from external sources more or less advantage and help. For, indeed it was dependent on food with which it would sustain life. So we may say that, according to the climate, or the movement of the stars, some would have been born more robust in body than others, and also greater, and more beautiful, and all ways better disposed. However, in those who were thus surpassed, there would have been no defect or fault either in soul or body.


Man Mastering over Man in the State of Innocence (ST 1a.96.4)

Mastership has two meanings. First, as opposed to slavery, in which sense a master means one to whom another is subject as a slave. In another sense mastership is referred in a general sense to any kind of subject. In this sense even he who has the office of governing and directing free men, can be called a master. In the state of innocence man could have been a master of men, not in the former but in the latter sense. This distinction is founded on the reason that a slave differs from a free man in that the latter has the disposal of himself, as is stated in the beginning of [Aristotle’s] Metaphysics, whereas a slave is ordered to another. So that one man is master of another as his slave when he refers the one whose master he is, to his own--namely the master's use. And since every man's proper good is desirable to himself, and consequently it is a grievous matter to anyone to yield to another what ought to be one's own, therefore such dominion implies of necessity a pain inflicted on the subject. Consequently in the state of innocence such a mastership could not have existed between man and man. But a man is the master of a free subject, by directing him either towards his proper welfare, or to the common good. Such a kind of mastership would have existed in the state of innocence between man and man, for two reasons.

            First, because man is naturally a social being, and so in the state of innocence he would have led a social life. Now a social life cannot exist among a number of people unless under the presidency of one to look after the common good; for many, as such, seek many things, whereas one attends only to one. Accordingly, the Philosopher [Aristotle] says, in the beginning of the Politics, that wherever many things are directed to one, we will always find one at the head directing them.

            Secondly, if one man surpassed another in knowledge and virtue, this would not have been fitting unless these gifts contributed to the benefit of others. According to 1 Peter 4:10, "Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others." Accordingly, Augustine says (The City of God, 19.14): "Just men command not by the love of domineering, but by the service of counsel." And (The City of God, 19.15): "The natural order of things requires this; and thus did God make man."




What is Meant by the Name, King (GR 1)

Our plan must begin with an explanation of what is to be understood by the word "king." In all pursuits which are directed toward some end and in which it is possible to proceed in more than one way, there is need of some controlling force by which one may arrive by a straight course at the appointed goal. A ship, driven in various directions by the impulse of varying winds, would never reach her destination were she not guided to the port by the diligence of the helmsman. But for a man there is an end toward which his whole life and action are directed. For he acts by virtue of the intellect, whose property is to act purposefully. Moreover, it happens that men proceed through various ways toward the proper destination of mankind; this is revealed in the diversity of human interests and actions. Man, therefore, needs something to guide him toward his goal. There dwells naturally within every man the light of reason, by which he in his actions is directed toward his proposed end. If it suited man to live singly, as many animals do, he would need no one else to guide him to his end. Every man would be his own king, under God—the supreme king; by the light of reason, divinely given, he would direct himself in all his acts. But it is the nature of man to be a social and political animal, living in a multitude,—more so than other animals, as natural necessity makes clear. For other animals nature has prepared food, coverings of hair, and means of defense—such as teeth, horns, and claws; or, at least, they have speed for flight. Man was created with none of these things prepared for him by nature. In place of them all reason was given him by which he might provide them for himself with the work of his hands. But to obtain such things one man is not sufficient. For one man alone could not live an adequate life. It is, therefore, natural to man to live in the society of many.

            Furthermore, in other animals there exists a natural instinct with regard to all things which are beneficial or harmful to them. For example, the sheep naturally considers the wolf his enemy. Animals also by natural instinct know that some herbs are necessary to their lives and that others are medicinal. But only in a community does man have natural knowledge of those things which are necessary to his life, as if having power through reason to obtain from general principles the knowledge of the simple things which are necessary to human life. It is not possible, however, for one man by his own reason to accomplish all of this. It is, therefore, necessary for men to live in multitudes, so that one may be helped by another and different ones may be occupied in discovering different things, through reason. Thus one is engaged in medicine, another in this pursuit, another in that. This system is made very clear in the fact that it is a characteristic of man to use speech, by means of which he is able to set completely forth his conceptions to his fellows. Other animals express their passions to each other in various ways, as dogs indicate their anger by barking. But man is more disposed to communication than any other gregarious animal, such as the crane, the ant, or the bee. Regarding this matter Solomon says (Eccl. iv. 9), “Two are better than one, because they have the reward of mutual society.” . . .

            If an unjust government should be established by one man who in governing seeks his own benefit, and not that of the multitude committed to him, such a ruler is called a tyrant, a name derived from might, because he coerces with force, instead of ruling with justice. Thus among the ancients some powerful persons were called tyrants. When an unjust government is founded, not by one, but by a few, it is called an oligarchy, which is the rule of a few who, for the sake of riches, oppress the people; it differs from a tyranny only in number. If the evil government is conducted by the many, it is called a democracy, which is the rule of the common people who through force of numbers overwhelm the wealthy. The whole people here are as one tyrant. Just governments should be distinguished in the same manner. If just government is controlled by a multitude it is called by the general name of polity, as when a multitude of warriors rule within a state or province. If it is conducted by a few who are virtuous, it is called an aristocracy—which is the best dominion, or the government of the best, who are thus called optimates. If the just power belongs to one alone, he is properly called king. Accordingly, the Lord says (Ezek. 37.24), Daniel my servant will be king over them; and they all will have one shepherd. Thus it is clear that from the nature of a king he is one who is set above, and that he should be a shepherd seeking the common good of the multitude and not his own.

            Since it is fitting for man to live in a multitude because he is not sufficient by himself with regard to the necessities of life, the society of the multitude ought to be as much more perfect than life in isolation as it is in itself more sufficient in the necessities of life. There is indeed a certain sufficiency for life in the family of one household, as much, that is, as is needed for natural acts of nutrition, reproduction of offspring, and other similar purposes. There is a sufficiency in one village, so far as the things belonging to one craft go. But in a city, which is a perfect community, there is everything that is required for all the necessities of life; and still more sufficient is a province, when there is need for mutual assistance in fighting against common enemies. Therefore, the one who rules a perfect community— that is, a city or a province, is called by the title of king. The one who rules a house is called not king but paterfamilias; but he has a certain likeness to a king; so kings are sometimes called fathers of their people.

            It appears, then, from what has been said, that a king is one who rules the multitude of a city or province, and rules it for the public good. Accordingly, Solomon says (Eccl. v. 8), The king reigns over all the land subject to him.


That a Kingdom Ought to be Governed Primarily with a View to Creating Happiness (GR 15)

Since the end of the life which we live well at present is heavenly happiness, it pertains to the duty of the king to make the life of the multitude good, in accordance with what is suitable for that heavenly happiness. He must command those things which lead to heavenly happiness and forbid their opposites, as far as possible. The way to true happiness and the obstructions on the way are revealed in the divine law, the teaching of which is the duty of priests. . . . The king, having learned the divine law, ought to study especially how the multitude subject to him may live well. This study has three parts: first, how a king may institute a good life among the subject multitude; secondly, how he may preserve what has been instituted; thirdly, how he may advance what he has preserved to a better condition.

            For the good life of an individual two things are needed. One thing, which is fundamental, is action according to virtue (for virtue is that by which one lives well). The other, which is secondary and instrumental, is a sufficiency of material goods, the use of which is necessary to virtuous action. The unity of an individual man is produced by nature. The unity of a multitude, which is called peace, must be obtained through the efforts of the ruler. Therefore, to establish good life for a multitude three things are required: first, that the multitude should be brought into the unity of peace. Secondly, that the multitude, having been united by the bond of peace, should be directed to good action. For as a man can do nothing well unless the unity of his parts be first established, so a multitude of men, lacking the unity of peace and fighting itself, is prevented from acting well. Thirdly, that through the care of the ruler there should be provided a sufficient supply of the necessities for good living. When, therefore, good life is established in a multitude by the services of the king, he should next work for the conservation of that life.

            There are three things which prevent the public good from enduring. One of them comes from nature. For the good of the multitude ought to be established not for one time but for all time. But since men are mortal they cannot live forever. Nor while they live are they always equally vigorous, because human life is subject to variations and men are not fitted to perform the same duties throughout their lives. Another hindrance to the maintenance of the public good comes from within and depends upon the perversity of wills, which are either too weak to achieve those things which common welfare requires, or are hostile to the peace of the multitude and, despising justice, disturb the tranquility of others. The third impediment to the preservation of the state arises from without, when peace is upset by the encroachments of enemies which sometimes altogether destroy a kingdom or a city. A three-fold responsibility, therefore, rests upon the king. First, for the succession of men in the various offices, since by divine law in things corruptible they cannot always remain the same, he must see that others are born to take the places left vacant. Thus the integrity of the whole and the good of the subject multitude are preserved by the care of the king. Secondly, by his laws and commands he must keep his subjects from wickedness and lead them into works of virtue, taking his example from God, who has given laws to men and returns rewards to those who keep the laws, and punishments to those who transgress. Thirdly, it rests with the king to keep the multitude subject to him safe from enemies. For it would avail them nothing to escape the inner perils if they are not also defended from those without.

            Finally, for the good government of a multitude there remains a third thing which pertains to the duty of the king. It is that he take care for their advancement. This he does when in each of the matters mentioned above he corrects whatever is wrong, supplies whatever is lacking, and strives to perfect whatever can be improved. Accordingly, the Apostle warns the faithful always to covet earnestly the better gifts.

            These then are the things which pertain to the duty of a king. Each should be considered carefully and in detail.




Whether it is Always Sinful to Wage War (ST 2a2ae.40.1)

In order for a war to be just, three things are necessary. First, the authority of the sovereign by whose command the war is to be waged. For it is not the business of a private individual to declare war, because he can seek for redress of his rights from the tribunal of his superior. Moreover it is not the business of a private individual to summon together the people, which has to be done in wartime. And as the care of the public good is committed to those who are in authority, it is their business to watch over the public good of the city, kingdom or province subject to them. Just as it is lawful for them to have recourse to the sword in defending that public good against internal disturbances, when they punish evil-doers, according to the words of the Apostle: “He does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer” (Romans 13:4). So too, it is their business to have recourse to the sword of war in defending the public good against external enemies. Hence it is said to those who are in authority: “Rescue the poor: and deliver the needy out of the hand of the sinner” (Psalms, 81:4). For this reason Augustine says: “The natural order conducive to peace among mortals demands that the power to declare and counsel war should be in the hands of those who hold the supreme authority.”

            Secondly, a just cause is required, namely that those who are attacked, should be attacked because they deserve it on account of some fault. For this reason Augustine says “A just war is customarily to be described as one that avenges wrongs, when a nation or state has to be punished, for refusing to make amends for the wrongs inflicted by its subjects, or to restore what it has seized unjustly.”

            Thirdly, it is necessary that those making war should have a rightful intention, so that they intend the advancement of good, or the avoidance of evil. Hence Augustine says “True religion looks upon as peaceful those wars that are waged not for motives of aggrandizement, or cruelty, but with the object of securing peace, of punishing evil-doers, and of uplifting the good.” For it may happen that the war is declared by the legitimate authority, and for a just cause, and yet be rendered unlawful through a wicked intention. Hence Augustine says (Contra Faustum, 22.74): “The passion for inflicting harm, the cruel thirst for vengeance, non-peaceful and relentless spirit, the fever of revolt, the lust of power, and such like things, all these are rightly condemned in war.”


Source: Summa Theologica, tr. Laurence Shapcote. On the Governance of Rulers (De Regimine Principum), Bk. I, chs. 1, 15, tr. Francis Coker.


Questions for Review

1. What are Aquinas’s four reasons for why there is divine law?

2. In the section on “whether the natural law is the same in all men,” what are the three levels of principles of natural law regarding their rightness and our knowledge of them?

3. In the section on “whether every human law is derived from the natural law,” what are the two kinds of deduction from natural law?

4. In the section on “man mastering over man in the state of innocence,” what are the two reasons for why there is a master-subject relation?

5. In the section “what is meant by the name king,” what are the three forms of unjust governments, and the three forms of just governments?

6. In the section titled “That a kingdom ought to be governed primarily with a view to creating happiness,” what are the three things that hinder the continuance of the public good, and the three responsibilities of the king towards that end?


Questions for Analysis

1. Consider the six natural inclinations that Aquinas lists, and the six corresponding principles of natural law that they imply. Are there other natural inclinations that he should have listed, and are there other ways of devising natural laws from the six that he did list?

2. In the section titled “Whether every human law is derived from the natural law” Aquinas is addressing the problem raised by philosophers like Cicero that standards of justice vary greatly from one society to another. Does Aquinas adequately address this problem?

3. In the section on natural servitude, Aquinas is addressing an issue that was also discussed by Augustine. For Augustine, there was no servitude in the state of innocence and people conducted themselves freely as their own masters. Whose view of the subject seems more correct, and why?

4. Examine Aquinas’s discussion of unjust governments, and his critique of democracies. Are his worries about democracies justified?

5. In the section on just war, Aquinas argues that right motive for declaring wars include doing good and avoiding evil. Is this a practical or impractical guideline? Explain.








Dante Alighieri


Italian poet Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) was one of the great literary figures of the Middle Ages, and is best remembered for his epic poem The Divine Comedy. He studied philosophy for several years in his youth and became familiar with Aristotle’s writings. He was politically active later in life and, caught between ruling factions, was exiled from his home town of Florence. With his country in turmoil, he looked to German king Henry VII to unify the continent and return the Holy Roman Empire to its former glory. In this context, he wrote On Monarchy (1312) in which he argues for three points: (1) there should be a single monarch who rules the entire world, (2) the Roman empire justly had that claim, and (3) the authority of kings comes directly from God, and kings are not subservient to the church. The selections below address the first and third of these issues. Regarding a world monarch, Dante presents a dozen or so arguments for this position, many of which draw heavily from Aristotle’s metaphysical theories, the underlying theme of which is that the more unified a thing is, the better. For example, a world monarch is like the prime mover who orchestrates the motion of all celestial objects. Other arguments, though, draw on more natural intuitions, such as that a single ruler can best resolve conflicts between factions, or get things done more efficiently. His final argument reflects his inner conviction about the special status of the Roman Empire: the greatest peace on earth took place during Augustus’s rule, and it was during this time that God decided to become human through Jesus. Regarding the third issue, Dante argues that earthly kings receive their authority directly through God, and not from the Pope and the Church. Human nature as two ends: earthly paradise and heavenly paradise, and God specifically assigned earthly kings to help us achieve this first end, and the church the second.




Three Questions concerning Temporal Monarchy

1. . . . An understanding of temporal monarchy is very profitable but also very obscure. Yet it has been left unexplored by everyone because it is no immediate source of worldly gain. It is thus my purpose to draw it out from its hiding-places, so that I may exert my labor for the benefit of the world, but also so that I may be the first to win the prize of so great an achievement for my own glory. The work indeed is difficult, and I am attempting what is beyond my strength. I do not trust in my own powers, but, rather, in the light of that bountiful giver, “Who gives to all men generously, and does not reprimand.”

            2. First, we must see what it is that is called “temporal monarchy”, in its idea, so to speak, and according to its purpose. Temporal monarchy, or as people call it “the Empire,” is the government of one prince above all men in time, or in those things and over those things which are measured by time. Three great questions are asked concerning it. First, there is the question, is it necessary for the welfare of the world? Secondly, did the Roman people rightfully take to itself the office of monarchy? And thirdly, does the authority of monarchy come from God directly, or only from some other minister or intermediary of God?


Needed for Society to Achieve its End

5. . . . The first question is whether temporal monarchy is necessary for the welfare of the world. That it is necessary, I think, can be shown by the strongest and most evident arguments, for nothing either from reason or of authority opposes me. Let us first take the authority of Aristotle in his Politics. There, on his respected authority, it is said that where a number of things are arranged to attain an end, it is necessary for one of them to regulate or govern the others, and the others to submit. It is not only the authority of his famous name which makes this worthy of belief, but also reason, by citing examples.

            If we take the case of a single man, we will see the same rule evident in him. All his powers are ordered to gain happiness, but his understanding is what regulates and governs all the others; and otherwise he would never attain happiness. Again, take a single household: its end is to fit the members to live well; but there must be one to regulate and rule it, who is called the father of the family, or, it may be, one who holds his office. As Aristotle says: “Every house is ruled by the oldest.” As Homer says, it is his duty to make rules and laws for the rest. Hence the proverbial curse: “May you have an equal at home.” Take a single village: its end is the mutual assistance of people and goods, but one in it must be the ruler of the rest, either set over them by another, or with their consent, the head man among them. If it is not so, not only do its inhabitants fail of this mutual assistance, but the whole neighborhood is sometimes completely ruined by the ambition of many, who each of them wish to rule. If, again, we take a single city: its end is to secure a good and sufficient life for the citizens. But one man must be ruler in good forms of the state (as well is in imperfect forms). If it is otherwise, not only is the end of civil life lost, but the city too ceases to be what it was. Lastly, if we take any one kingdom, of which the end is the same as that of a city, only with greater security for its tranquility, there must be one king to rule and govern. If this is not so, not only do his subjects miss their end, but the kingdom itself falls to destruction, according to that word of the infallible truth: “Every kingdom that is divided against itself will fall to desolation.” If this holds true in these cases, and in each individual thing which is ordered to one certain end, then what we have established is true.

            Now it is plain that the whole human race is ordered to gain some end, as has been before shown. There must, therefore, be one to guide and govern, and the proper title for this office is monarch or Emperor. So it is plain that monarchy or the Empire is necessary for the welfare of the world. . . .


Reflects the Image of God

8. All is well and at its best which exists according to the will of the first agent, who is God. This is self-evident, except to those who deny that divine goodness achieves absolute perfection.

            It is the intention of God that all created things should represent the likeness of God, so far as their proper nature will admit. Therefore it was said: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” Although it could not be said that the lower part of creation was made in the image of God, yet all things may be said to be after his likeness, for what is the whole universe but the “footprint of the divine goodness.” Therefore, the human race is well, and in fact at its best state when, so far as can be, it is made like God. But the human race is most made like God when it is most as one; for the true principle of oneness is in him alone. Accordingly it is written: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God is one God.” But the race of man is most one when it is united wholly in one body, and it is evident that this cannot be, except when it is subject to one prince. Therefore in this domination mankind is most made like God, and, consequently, such a domination is in accord with the divine intention, and it is indeed well and best for man when this is so, as we showed at the beginning of this chapter.


Parallels the Prime Mover

9. Again, things are well and at their best with every son when he follows the footsteps of a perfect father, as far as he can by his proper nature. Mankind is the son of heaven, which is most perfect in all of its works; for it is “man and the sun which produce man,” according to Aristotle’s second book on Physics. The human race, therefore, is at its best when it imitates the movements of heaven, as far as human nature allows. Since the whole heaven is regulated with one motion, that is, that of the prime mover, and by one mover, who is God, in all its parts, movements, and movers (and human reason readily grasps this from science). Therefore, if our argument is correct, the human race is at its best state when (both in its movements, and in regard to those who move it) it is regulated by a single Prince, as by the single movement of heaven, and by one law, as by the single motion. Therefore it is necessary for the welfare of the world for there to be a monarchy, or single Princedom, which men call the Empire. Boethius suggested this when he said: “Oh happy race of men, if your hearts are ruled by the love which rules the heaven.”


Needed to resolve Controversies

10. Wherever there is controversy, there ought to be judgment. Otherwise there would be imperfection without its proper remedy, which is impossible since God and Nature, in necessary things, do not fail in their provisions. But it is clear that there may be controversy between any two princes, where the one is not subject to the other, either from the fault of themselves, or even of their subjects. Therefore between them there should be means of judgment. Since, when one is not subject to the other, he cannot be judged by the other (for there is no rule of equals over equals), there must be a third prince of wider jurisdiction, within the circle of whose laws both may come. Either he will or he will not be a monarch. If he is, we have what we sought. If not, then this one again will have an equal, who is not subject to his jurisdiction, and then again we have need of a third. And so we must either go on to infinity, which is impossible, or we must come to that judge who is first and highest; by whose judgment all controversies will be either directly or indirectly decided; and he will be monarch or Emperor. Monarchy is therefore necessary to the world, and Aristotle saw this when [quoting Homer]: “The world is not intended to be disposed in evil order; ‘in a multitude of rulers there is evil, therefore let there be one prince.’”


Allows the Most Freedom

12. Again, the human race is ordered best when it is most free. . . . It is therefore evident that this liberty, or this principle of all our liberty, is the greatest gift bestowed by God on mankind. By it alone we gain happiness as men; by it alone we gain happiness elsewhere as gods. But if this is so, who will say that human kind is not in its best state, when it can most use this principle. But he who lives under a monarchy is most free. Therefore let it be understood that he is free who exists not for another’s sake but for his own, as Aristotle said in his Metaphysics. For everything which exists for the sake of some other thing, is necessitated by that other thing, as a road has to run to its intended end. Only if a monarch rules will people exist for themselves, and not at the pleasure of others. For only then are the perverted forms of government set right—while democracies, oligarchies, and tyrannies, will drive mankind into slavery (as is obvious to any who is familiar with them all). Public power is in the hands of kings and aristocracies, which they call the rule of the best, and champions of popular liberty. Because the monarch loves his subjects much, as we have seen, he wishes all men to be good, which cannot be the case in perverted forms of government. Thus, Aristotle says in his Politics: “In the bad state the good man is a bad citizen, but in a good state the two coincide.” Good states in this way aim at liberty, so that in them men may live for themselves. The citizens exist not for the good of magistrates, nor the nation for the good of its king. But the magistrate exists for the good of the citizens, and the king for the good of his nation. For just as the laws are made to suit the state, and not the state to suit the laws, so too those who live under the laws are not ordered for the legislator, but he for them. Aristotle also holds this in what he has left us on the present subject. Hence, too, it is clear that although the king or the magistrate rule over the other citizens regarding the means of government, yet regarding the end of government they are the servants of the citizens, and especially the monarch, who, without doubt, must be held the servant of all. Thus it is clear that the monarch is bound by the end appointed to himself in making his laws. Therefore mankind is best off under a monarchy, and it follows that monarchy is necessary for the welfare of the world.


Is more Just and less Tempted by Desires

13. Further, he who can be best prepared to rule can best prepare others. . . . Hence it may be gathered that he who wishes to prepare others needs to be prepared for his work in the best way. But the monarch is the only one who can be prepared in the best possible way to govern. This is proved as follows: Each thing is the more easily and perfectly qualified for any habit, or actual work, the less there is in it of what is contrary to such a disposition. Therefore, they who have never even heard of philosophy, arrive at a habit of truth in philosophy more easily and completely than those who have listened to it at odd times, and are filled with false opinions. For this reason Galen well says: “Such as these require double time to acquire knowledge.” A monarch then has nothing to tempt appetite, or, at least, less than any other man, as we have shown before; whereas other princes have much; and appetite is the only corrupter of righteousness, and the only impediment to justice. A monarch therefore is wholly, or at least more than any other prince, disposed to govern well: for in him there may be judgment and justice more strongly than in any other. But these two things are the pre-eminent attributes of a maker of law, and of an executor of law, as that most holy king David testified when he asked of God the things which were befitting the king, and the king’s son, saying: “Give the king your judgment, O God, and your righteousness to the king’s son.”

            We were right then when we assumed that only the monarch can be best prepared to rule. Therefore only the monarch can in the best way prepare other men. Therefore it follows that monarchy is necessary for the best ordering of the world.


Does Things more Efficiently

14. . . . All that is superfluous is displeasing to God and Nature: and all that is displeasing to God and Nature is bad, as is evident. It therefore follows not only that it is better that a thing should be done by one than by many agents, if it is possible to produce the effect by one. Further, to produce the effect by one is good, and to produce it by many is simply bad. . . .

            But it must be carefully observed that when we say that mankind may be ruled by one supreme prince, we do not mean that the most trivial judgments for each particular town are to proceed immediately from him. For municipal laws sometimes fail, and need guidance, as Aristotle shows in the fifth book of his Ethics, when he praises fairness. For nations and kingdoms and states have, each of them, certain peculiarities which must be regulated by different laws. For law is the rule which directs life. Thus the Scythians need one rule, for they live beyond the seventh climate, and suffer from almost unbearable cold, from the great difference between their days and nights. But the Garamantes need a different law, for their country is equinoctial, and they cannot wear many clothes, from the excessive heat of the air, because the day is as long as the darkness of the night. But our meaning is that it is in those matters which are common to all men, that men should be ruled by one monarch, and be governed by a rule common to them all, with a view to their peace. And the individual princes must receive this rule of life or law from him. . . . It is not only possible for one man to act as we have described; it is necessary that it should proceed from one man only to avoid confusion in our first principles. Moses himself wrote in his law that he had acted this way. He took the elders of the tribes of the children of Israel, and left to them the lesser judgments, reserving to himself those that were more important, and wider in their scope. The elders then carried these wider ones to their tribes, according as they were applicable to each separate tribe.

            Therefore it is better for the human race to be ruled by one than by many, and thus there should be a monarch, who is a single prince. And if it is better, it is more acceptable to God, since God always wills what is best. Of these two ways of government, since the one is not only the better, but the best of all, it follows not only that this one is more acceptable to God as between one and many, but that it is the most acceptable. Therefore it is best for the human race to be governed by one man; and monarchy is necessary for the welfare of the world.


Harmonizes the Wills of Everyone

15. . . . It is plain that whatever is good, is good for this reason: that it consists in unity. Because harmony is a good thing in so far as it is harmony, it is evident that it consists in a certain unity, as its proper root, the nature of which will appear if we discover the real nature of harmony. Harmony is the uniform motion of many wills. Hence it appears that a unity of wills, by which is meant their uniform motion, is the root of harmony—indeed, it is harmony itself. We say that many clumps of earth are harmonious because that they all gravitate together towards the center, and that many flames are harmonious because they all ascend together towards the circumference. If they did this of their own free will, we say that many men are in harmony because they are all moved together. There is one quality formally in the clumps of earth, which is gravity, and one in the flame of fire, which is lightness. Similarly, regarding willing, there is one thing that is formally in everyone’s wills. For the force of willing is a certain power; but the quality of good which it captures is its form. This form, like others, being one, is multiplied in itself, according to the multiplication of the matters which receive it, as the soul, and numbers, and other forms which belong to what is compound.

            To explain our assumption as we proposed, let us argue in this way. All harmony depends on unity which is in wills. The human race, when it is at its best, is a kind of harmony—for as one man at his best is a kind of harmony (and as the same is true of the family, the city, and the kingdom), so is it of the whole human race. Therefore the human race at its best depends on the unity which is in will. But this cannot be unless there is one will to be the single mistress and regulating influence of all the rest. For the wills of men, on account of the temptations of youth, require one to direct them, as Aristotle shows in the tenth book of his Ethics. And this cannot be unless there is one prince over all, whose will shall be the mistress and regulating influence of all the others. But if all these conclusions are true, as they are, it is necessary for the highest welfare of the human race that there should be a monarch in the world. Thus, monarchy is necessary for the good of the world.


Confirmed by Augustus’s Peace of Rome

16. To all these reasons alleged above, a memorable experience adds its confirmation. I mean that period in human history which the Son of God waited for, when he was about to become human for the salvation of everyone, at the moment when he willed (or ordered at his will). If we reflect on the arrangement of the human race and the order of its times, from the fall of our first parents (which was the turning point at which all our going astray began), we will find that the world was never at peace everywhere except under the divine Augustus, who was sole ruler, and under whom a perfect monarchy existed. It is the testimony of all writers of history that the human race was happy in the tranquility of universal peace. This is the testimony of famous poets. This, too, the author of the story of the “meekness and gentleness of Christ” has thought proper to say. And last of all, Paul has called that most blessed circumstance “the fullness of the times.” For then, indeed, time was full, and all the things of time, since no function belonging to our happiness lacked its minister. But if we don’t see it with our own eyes, we may read in books how the world has progressed since that “seamless robe” has been torn apart by the claws of ambition. Oh, race of mankind! What storms must toss you, what losses must you endure, what shipwrecks must batter you, as long as you, a beast of many heads, strive after opposing things. You are sick in your faculties of understanding, and you are sick in your affections. Unanswerable reasons fail to heal your higher understanding. The very sight of experience does not convince your lower understanding. Not even the sweetness of divine persuasion charms your affections, when it breathes into you through the music of the Holy Ghost: “Observe how good and how pleasant a thing it is to dwell together in unity.”




Against the Sun-Moon Argument

1. At the beginning of this work I proposed to examine three questions, according as the subject matter would permit me. Concerning the two first questions, I think our inquiry has been sufficiently accomplished in the preceding books. It remains to treat of the third question. Perhaps it may arouse a certain amount of indignation against me, for the truth of it cannot appear without embarrassing certain men. . . . The present question, then, concerning which we have to inquire, is between two great luminaries, the Roman Pontiff and the Roman Prince: and the question is, does the authority of the Roman Monarch (who, as we have proved in the second book, is the monarch of the world) depend immediately on God, or on some minister or vicar of God; by whom I understand the successor of Peter, who truly has the keys of the kingdom of heaven? . . .

            4. Those men to whom all our subsequent reasoning is addressed, when they assert that the authority of the Empire depends on the authority of the Church, as the inferior workman depends on the architect, are moved to take this view by many arguments, some of which they draw from Holy Scripture, and some also from the acts of the Supreme Pontiff and of the Emperor himself. Moreover, they strive to have some proof from reason.

            For in the first place they say that God, according to the book of Genesis, made two great lights, the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night. This they understand to be an allegory, insofar as the lights are the two powers, the spiritual and the temporal. Then they maintain that as the moon, which is the lesser light, only has light so far as she receives it from the sun, so the temporal power only has authority as it receives authority from the spiritual power.

            To refute these and similar arguments, we must remember the words of [Aristotle] the Philosopher in his book on Sophistry, “the overthrow of an argument is the pointing out of the mistake.” . . . Having noted these things, to make it more clear how we destroy this and the further fallacies of our adversaries, we must remark that there are two ways in which error may arise concerning the mystical sense, either by seeking it where it is not, or by accepting it in a sense other than its real sense.

            On account of the first of these ways, Augustine says, in his work Of the City of God that we must not think that all things, of which we are told, have a special meaning. For it is on account of that which means something, that that also which means nothing is woven into a story. It is only with the ploughshare that we turn up the earth; but the other parts of the plough are also necessary.

            On account of the second way in which error touching the interpretation of mysteries may arise, Augustine, in his book "On Christian Doctrine," speaking of those who wish to find in Scripture something other than he who wrote the Scripture meant, says, that such "are misled in the same way as a man who leaves the straight path, and then arrives at the end of the path by a long circuit." . . .

            Having thus first noted these things, I will proceed, as I said above, to destroy the argument of those who say that the two great lights are representative of the two great powers on earth. For on this type rests the whole strength of their argument. It can be shown in two ways that this interpretation cannot be upheld. First, seeing that these two kinds of power are, in a sense, accidents of men, God would thus appear to have used a perverted order, by producing the accidents, before the essence to which they belong existed; and it is ridiculous to say this of God. For the two great lights were created on the fourth day, while man was not created till the sixth day, as is evident in the text of Scripture.

            Secondly, seeing that these two kinds of rule are to guide men to certain ends, as we will see, it follows that if man had remained in the state of innocence in which God created him, he would not have needed such means of guidance. These kinds of rule, then, are remedies against the weakness of sin. Since, then, man was not a sinner on the fourth day, for he did not then even exist, it would have been useless to make remedies for his sin, and this would be contrary to the goodness of God.

            Therefore I say that the temporal power does not receive its being from the spiritual power, nor its power which is its authority, nor its working considered in itself. . . .


No Possible Source of Church Authority over the King

14. Again, if the Church had power to give authority on the Roman Prince, she would have it either from God, or from herself, or from some Emperor, or from the universal consent of mankind, or at least of the majority of mankind. There is no other crevice by which this power could flow down to the Church. But she does not have it from any of these sources, therefore she does not have it at all.

            It is clear that she has it from none of these sources. For if she had received it from God, she would have received it either by the divine or by the natural law: because what is received from nature is received from God (though the converse of this is not true). But this power is not received by the natural law; for nature lays down no law, except for the effects of nature, for God cannot fail in power, where he brings anything into being without the aid of secondary agents. Since therefore the Church is not an effect of nature, but of God who said: "Upon this rock I will build my Church," and elsewhere: "I have finished the work which you gave me to do," it is clear that nature did not give the Church this law.

            Nor was this power bestowed by the divine law. For the whole of the divine law is contained in the bosom of the Old or of the New Testament, and I cannot find therein that any thought or care for worldly matters was commanded, either to the early or to the latter priesthood. . . .

            So it is quite plain that the Church did not receive this power from herself; for nothing can give what it has not. . . . But it is sufficiently clear from what we have previously made evident that the Church has not received this power from any Emperor.

            Further, who can doubt that she did not have it from the consent of all, or even of the greater part of mankind? This is particularly so since, not only all the inhabitants of Asia and Africa, but even the greater number of Europeans, hold the thought in abhorrence. It is mere weariness to adduce proofs in matters which are so plain. . . .


Separate Domains of Temporal and Spiritual Powers

16. It has been proved in the preceding chapter that the authority of the Empire does not have its cause in the authority of the Supreme Pontiff. For we have shown that this argument led to absurd results. Yet it has not been entirely shown that the authority of the Empire depends directly upon God, except as a result from our argument. For it is a consequence that, if the authority comes not from the vicar of God, it must come from God himself. Therefore, for the complete determination of the question proposed, we have to prove directly that the emperor or monarch of the world stands in an immediate relation to the King of the universe, who is God.

            For the better understanding of this, it must be recognized that man alone, of all created things, holds a position midway between mortal things and immortal things; and therefore philosophers rightly compare him to a dividing line between two hemispheres. For man consists of two essential parts, namely, the soul and the body. If he is considered in relation to his body only, he is mortal; but if he is considered in relation to his soul only, he is immortal. . . . Two ends, therefore, have been laid down by the ineffable providence of God for man to aim at. One is the happiness of this life, which consists in the exercise of his natural powers, and which is prefigured in the earthly Paradise. The other is the happiness of the life eternal, which consists in the fruition of the sight of God's countenance, and to which man by his own natural powers cannot rise, if he is not aided by the divine light. This happiness is understood by the heavenly Paradise.

            But to these different kinds of happiness, like different conclusions, we must come by different paths. For the first we may arrive at by the lessons of philosophy, if only we will follow them, by acting in accordance with the moral and intellectual virtues. But at the second we can only arrive by spiritual lessons, transcending human reason, so that we follow them in accordance with the theological virtues, faith, hope, and charity. The truth of the first of these conclusions and of these means is made clear by human reason, which by the philosophers has been all laid open to us. The other conclusions and means are made clear by the Holy Spirit, who by the mouth of the Prophets and holy writers, and by Jesus Christ, the co-eternal Son of God, and his disciples, has revealed to us supernatural truth of which we have great need. Nevertheless human passion would cast them all behind its back, if it were not that men, going astray like the beasts that perish, were restrained in their course by bit and bridle, like horses and mules.

            Therefore man had need of two guides for his life, as he had a twofold end in life. One is the Supreme Pontiff, to lead mankind to eternal life according to the things revealed to us. The other is the Emperor, to guide mankind to happiness in this world, in accordance with the teaching of philosophy. None, or only a few could arrive at this harbor of happiness (and even they with great difficulty) unless the waves and flatteries of human desires were set at rest, and the human race were free to live in peace and quiet. This therefore is the mark at which he who is to care for the world, and whom we call the Roman Prince, must most chiefly aim at. I mean, that in this little plot of earth belonging to mortal men, life may pass in freedom and with peace. The order of this world follows the order of the heavens, as they run their course, to the end that the learning which brings liberty and peace may be duly applied by this guardian of the world in proper time and place. Thus, it is necessary that this power should be dispensed by God who is ever present to behold the whole order of the heavens. It is God alone who has preordained this, that by it in His providence he might bind all things together, each in their own order.


Source: Dante Alighieri, On Monarchy (1312), 1, 3. Tr. F.J. Church.


Questions for Review

1. In the section on a single monarch being needed for society to achieve its end, what are the examples that Dante gives where a single authority figure is needed for something to achieve its end?

2. Summarize five of Dante’s arguments in support of a single ruler of the world

3. What are the four possible sourced of church authority over the king?

4. Give one of Dante’s two criticisms of the sun-moon argument.

5. In the section on separate domains of temporal and spiritual powers, what are the two parts, two ends, two paths, and two guides of human nature?


Questions for Analysis

1. Augustine argued that when a large empire forces smaller countries to join them, this leads to social and civil unrest, as was the case with the Roman Empire. Dante sees it differently. How might Dante respond to Augustine?

2. One of the more common arguments for a world government is efficiency: things can be done better with a single over-arching government than with many disunified governments. Criticize this argument.

3. What are some of the disadvantages to world government which Dante might not have considered?

4. Dante is advocating something like church-state separation by holding that the states do not get their authority from the church. Nevertheless, states still receive their authority from God. Discuss the implications of Dante’s view of the state’s authority, and whether it might lead to a theocracy.

5. Dante envisioned a world government that was modeled after the Roman Empire under Caesar Augustus. In modern times, what would be a more realistic model for a world government, and how would that differ from Dante’s conception?