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Is the Polity at Fault When a Citizen Becomes a Criminal?

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Philosophy
Wordcount: 3201 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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The polity is at fault when a citizen becomes a criminal, and this shown in two ways: the first is when its education system fails to educate its citizens in the best way possible and when it becomes unsuccessful in controlling the tripartite soul. The second is based on the polity in which citizens live in which creates criminals. The circumstances of a particular polity would generate a remarkable chance of citizens committing unjust acts, and to that extent, it is the polity’s fault.Plato, who argues through the character ‘Socrates’ in his famous book, The Republic, defines what constitutes a polity, a citizen, and a criminal. He speaks of how justice is “doing one’s own work and not meddling with what is not one’s own”[1]. He talks about how the state and the souls of an individual play a big part in maintaining the happiness and the stability of his ideal, just state. This means that in order for society and the individual to live together harmoniously, they must fulfil their proper roles that apply to them both. To maintain the idea that citizens do not stray from the idea of a just life, Socrates argues that the polity is actively involved with the idea of a common or collective good of all of society: “injustice causes factions, hatreds and quarrels among them, while justice brings friendships, and a sense of common purpose”[2]. As a result, a state that is unjust will fail to succeed in performing its role within the state.

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Socrates’ idea of a polity was based on the context of the problems that Athens was facing at the time[3]. By using the word ‘polity’ within The Republic, Plato was talking about a society of flawlessness – an ideal, or just state. To come about this city, as explained and described through Socrates, certain characteristics would be needed for the polity: such as who would have the right to govern, what education system would be put in place and how the just state will be formed. Socrates explains that three major classes are within the ideal, just state: the producers (who are the farmers), the auxiliaries (who are the warriors) and the guardians (who are the rulers/philosophers)[4]. These three classes, in accordance with the four virtues of wisdom, courage, temperance and justice[5], will come to achieving absolute egality, socially and politically. In the  just state, every person has the responsibility of accomplishing a role that he is most appropriately fitted to do by nature. Socrates believed that there was something that exceeded beyond just the physical body of a person, but instead, he said that every human had a soul [6] which was divided into three parts, ultimately being called the tripartite soul [7].  The tripartite soul, consisting of the reasoning, spirited/courageous, as well as the appetitive parts, goes hand in hand with the three classes in the just polity. The just state involves people who are just, therefore, Socrates holds the idea that the tripartite soul, and the state, must all live in checks and balances for there to be harmony within the polity, as well as the individuals[8]. The ideal state cannot do without each other, so both need a mutually beneficial and dependent relationship for an individual to live a just life in the just state. A citizen, defined by the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, refers to “a member of a political community who enjoys the rights and assumes the duties of membership.”[9]. This means that there is some component of devotion and loyalty to the just state through the participation of its civil and political life. By barring no one, each citizen had the duties to carry out the roles that he is most excellently suited for by essence. A citizen in the polity were those who were organized into clear and separate classes, in respect to the role they have in contributing to the common good of society. A criminal, according to Socrates, is someone who has desires that would be considered lawless, and so he links this type of behaviour to a tyrannical man[10]. This therefore makes the individual unjust as he goes against what is just. Socrates claims that there are lawless desires in everyone, and everyone has the potential to become savage and bestial[11]. However, only the tyrannical man, or a man who behaves like one, would let these inclinations build up in him due to the rational/reasoning part of the soul not being on alert[12].  Someone who is not a criminal would live in checks and balances with the parts of their soul, such as the appetites that are linked with reason[13]. A tyrannical man, who would then be considered an unjust man, would be 729 times unhappier than the just man, such a philosopher[14].

The Republicwas Plato’s utopian society as this creation of his just state was to get rid of all the things he saw as a problem within the society he was living in at the time. Therefore, he invented a solution: to create the just state. This just state relied heavily on the importance of justice and knowledge within the state and society. An individual is just when there is a balance in the soul, meaning that each part of the soul carries out its function, conducted in the absence of meddling with each other[15]. The reason and spirit/courageous part of the soul have to make sure that they control the appetitive part of the soul, which has the tendency to perhaps dominate the rest of the soul. Plato states that these appetites should not be permitted to take over any other parts of the soul, because that would lead one to ultimately enslave themselves[16]. When citizens have an imbalance in their tri-partite soul, it makes them become unjust, and that is when the polity has failed to hold up to its duties, causing society to fall apart and destroy itself. In the book, Socrates heavily emphasizes education as one of the major needs of every human[17], stating that it is the polity’s responsibility to make sure people grow up to live a just life in accordance with the just state. Similarly, the development of knowledge should educate the three distinguished classes to keep a balance with the virtues that were outlined. For example, wisdom within the ideal state is established in its philosophers, who are the rulers, and the education that they receive makes them best fit to rule the just city in way that it flourishes[18] and the auxiliaries, who are the warriors, should focus on virtues such as courage [19]. Therefore, virtue depends on knowledge and education, and conversely, education and knowledge depend on virtue as well. It is a dependent relationship.

Socrates does not stress enough the idea of how important education is when it comes to the youth. As he states, “…it looks as though the start of someone’s education determines what follows”[20]. Starting from that period of young age, education must be taught in order for children to really understand how to behave in the polis, implying that learning from a young age will teach children the things they need to know going forward with life, ultimately building their character to become just people. Education, assuming that it starts at a very young age, would commence with physical training and musical training for the soul, and under the category of musical training, stories would be told[21]. He says that as parents and guardians of the polity, we must make sure that the stories that are being told are good stories, because if they aren’t, then we must ensure that such stories are not allowed to be told. Only appropriate stories should be told, as good stories will “shape their [ a child’s] soul” [22]. Because children are young, innocent and vulnerable, “the beliefs they absorb at that age are difficult to erase and tend to become unalterable” [23]. From listening to such stories that may not be true, the youth cannot identify from what is fictional (in a story, painting or poem) and what is not. Furthermore, the censoring and banning of poetry was crucial to a child’s education, as it may provoke the soul into error on the basis that poets can produce “false stories”[24].  Education in the polity is important for the collective good of society as a whole, and as indicated clearly, the main objective of the polity to make the entire polis as “outstandingly happy” as possible[25]. Humans need education to live a just life, because without education, one has the potential to become corrupted[26].  Education is also the basis of informal learning, meaning that it is necessary for humans to learn to live with people who are living a just life as well. Education conclusively works with checks and balances with the soul and the virtues. A lack of education, which leads one to commit unjust acts through the polity not being responsible for the education of its young citizens from the start, or the lack of education in the sense that it fails to control the parts of the soul (more so the appetitive), can also produce individuals who commit unjust acts. Therefore, anyone who would deviate from education and from living the just life would become a criminal, ultimately causing the polity to fail in its duties of educating its own citizens from what is just and unjust.

As previously stated, the conditions in which certain polities rule can increase the likelihood of a citizen committing a crime, or an unjust act. Socrates discusses four unjust regimes[27] within the polity: a timocracy, an oligarchy, a democracy and a tyranny[28]. He states that the polities fall apart because of a lack of unanimity amongst those who rule[29]. For the purpose of this essay, only two of the unjust regimes will be discussed: democracy and tyranny. Democracy, as defined by Socrates, arises when there is a big division between the rich and the lowest class of people, the poor[30]. This ultimately leads to a rise up against the rich by the poor to revolt – “killing or expelling” the rich[31]. The main purpose of this regime is to achieve maximum freedom[32]. When a citizen gets a taste of what it is like to go after an array of desires, that is what makes him democratic [33]. This means that the dominant, appetitive part of the soul takes over the body, ruling the soul. Uneven distribution of power can also be seen within a democracy, mainly because democracy affiliates itself with extreme freedom, so everyone in the polity is regarded to be equals with the ability to rule [34]. This opens up to the idea that democracy has the potential to corrupt citizens who have no care for the common good, but rather, for personal fulfilment and benefit. In this case, no one is doing the roles that are most suited to them. Citizens will be pushed to let their desires get the best of them, which will lead to disharmony. Therefore, the just person is no longer just and acts in unjust ways, committing unjust acts. Furthermore, democracy will eventually slip into the creation of a tyranny, or of a tyrannical government. “Tyranny does not evolve from any constitution other than democracy” [35]. A tyrant is made when he becomes a “popular leader” [36], and in order to possess power, he must perform various acts to win power, such as “shedding fellow citizen’s blood” [37]. Driven by this lust for power, the tyrant will kill those who are “brave, wise, or rich” [38] because he perceives them as enemies – people who would pose a major threat to his dominance, authority, and power. [39]. The tyrannical government is then the most unjust regime out of all four described in The Republic.  With a tyrannical state, there will be a mix up of the soul, resulting in citizens to become unjust. The citizens will have nothing but a longing for power, resulting in them resorting to criminal ways in order to achieve what they desire.

As a final analysis, the polity is at fault when a citizen becomes a criminal. One can see that education is essential in the sense that it teaches one knowledge, and how a person should balance the three parts of their soul. It is crucial for a person to attain that knowledge in order to live a just life in accordance to society, as both the education of a person and society go hand in hand to achieve happiness and stability for the whole polity. Arts such as poetry would be banned from the education system, but arts that represent good and pleasant things would be allowed in order to shape a person’s good character [40], making citizens fall into the habit of following the reasoning part of their soul to become solely just people. The purpose of education is not only for the common good of the polis, but also to maintain happiness, harmony and stability within the people and society itself, making the state just. When society and citizens keep each other in check, the polity is at its best form, with the best citizens living in it. However, one of the arguments Socrates presented would be that crime and the bringing about of criminals is in fact the result of an inefficient or flawed education. With a lack of education, possibly through mistakes made by people in the polity, or through not being able to control the tri-partite soul of the citizen, the polity will fail in its own duties, and create unjust citizens who commit unjust acts. In addition, the polity that citizens reside in can tempt them to become a criminal or act unjust. Looking at democracy and tyranny, both are not desirable in the context that they cause a disorder in the tri-partite soul, where the appetitive dominates the rest of the other parts. With these two main reasons summed up, the polity is blamed for turning a citizen into a criminal.


  1. Leydet, Dominique. “Citizenship.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. July 17, 2017.

Accessed December 02, 2018. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/citizenship/.

  1. Morgan, Michael L., ed. Classics of Moral and Political Theory. 5th ed. Indianapolis,

Indiana: Hackett Publisher Company, 2011.

  1. VandeWetering, R 2018, Lectures 2 – 4: Plato, lecture notes, Introduction to Political Theory 2237, University of Western Ontario.

[1] Michael L. Morgan. Classics of Moral and Political Theory. (Indianapolis, Indiana: Hackett Publisher, 2011), p. 139, 433b.

[2] Michael L. Morgan. Classics of Moral and Political Theory, p. 91, 351d.

[3] VandeWetering, R 2018, Lecture 2: Plato, lecture notes, Introduction to Political Theory 2237, University of Western Ontario.

[4] VandeWetering, R 2018, Lecture 4: Plato, lecture notes, Introduction to Political Theory 2237, University of Western Ontario.

[5] Michael L. Morgan. Classics of Moral and Political Theory, p. 135, 427e.

[6] VandeWetering, R 2018, Lecture 2: Plato, lecture notes, Introduction to Political Theory 2237, University of Western Ontario.

[7] Ibid.,

[8] Ibid., Lecture 4: Plato

[9] Leydet, Dominique. “Citizenship.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. July 17, 2017.  Accessed December 02, 2018. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/citizenship/.

[10] Michael L. Morgan. Classics of Moral and Political Theory, p. 220 , 571a-571c.

[11] Ibid., p. 220, 572b.

[12] Ibid., p. 220-221, 571d-572b.

[13] Ibid., p. 220, 571c.

[14] Ibid., p. 231, 587e.

[15] Ibid., 146, 443d.

[16] VandeWetering, R 2018, Lecture 3: Plato, lecture notes, Introduction to Political Theory 2237, University of Western Ontario.

[17] VandeWetering, R 2018, Lecture 2: Plato, lecture notes, Introduction to Political Theory 2237, University of Western Ontario.

[18] Michael L. Morgan. Classics of Moral and Political Theory, p. 135-136 ,428b-d..

[19] Ibid., p. 136-137, 429a-430b.

[20] Ibid., p. 134, 425c.

[21] Ibid., p. 105, 376e.

[22] Ibid., p. 106, 377c.

[23] Ibid., p. 106. 378e.

[24] Ibid., p. 106, 377d.

[25] Ibid., p. 130, 420b.

[26] VandeWetering, R 2018, Lecture 3: Plato, lecture notes, Introduction to Political Theory 2237, University of Western Ontario

[27] Michael L. Morgan. Classics of Moral and Political Theory, p. 204, 544a.

[28] Ibid., p. 226, 580b.

[29] Ibid., p. 204, 545d.

[30] Ibid., p. 210, 555c.

[31] Ibid., p. 211, 557a.

[32] Ibid., p. 211, 557b.

[33] Ibid., p. 213, 559e.

[34] Ibid., p. 212. 558c.

[35] Ibid., p. 216, 564a.

[36] Ibid., p. 217, 565d.

[37] Ibid., p.  217, 565a.

[38] Ibid., p. 218, 567c.

[39] Ibid., p. 218, 567c.

[40] Ibid., p. 120, 401a.


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