Socrates and the Political Community

An Ancient Debate

By Mary P. Nichols

Subjects: Political Theory
Series: SUNY series in Political Theory: Contemporary Issues
Paperback : 9780887063961, 248 pages, July 1987
Hardcover : 9780887063954, 248 pages, July 1987

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Table of contents


Part I. Aristophanes' Laugher (The Clouds)
Strepsiades' Problem
Strepsiades' Introduction to the Thinkery
The Parabasis: The Clouds' Address to the Audience
Socrates' Instruction of the Strepsiades
The Contest Presented before Phidippides
Its Aftermath
The Standpoint of Comedy

Part II. Political Philosophy: Plat's Response (The Republic)
Chapter 1. Plato's Introduction to Political Philosophy (Book I of the Republic)
The Setting of the Dialogue
Socrates' Meeting with Cephalus
Socrates' and Polemarchus' Search for a Definition of Justice
Socrates' Quarrel with Thrasymachus
The Task of Political Philosophy
Chapter 2. Justice in the City and the Soul (Books II-IV of the Republic)
Glaucon and Adeimantus
The City of Pigs and Its Deficiencies
The Nature of the Guardians
The Guardians' Education in Music: The Public Tales
The Guardians' Education in Music: Further Considerations
The Gymnastic Education of the Guardians
The Unity of the City: Its Noble Lie and Communism of Property
Locating Justice in the City
Drawing a Parallel to the Soul
The Republic's Defense of Justice and Aristophanes' Clouds
Chapter 3. Communism and Philosophy (Books V-VII of the Republic)
Socrates' Reluctance to Speak
Common Natures, Common Jobs
Communism of Women and Children
The Philosopher-Kings
The Dangers of Politics
Chapter 4. A return to the Socratic Perspective (Books VIII-X of the Republic)
The Degeneration of Regimes and Human Beings
The contest between Justice and INjustice
Socrates' New Criticism of Poetry
Poetry and the Reconciliation of the Republic's Dichotomies
The Unresolved Quarrel between Aristophanes and Plato

Part III. Political Science: Aristotle's Achievement (Book II of the Politics) Introduction
Aristotle's Criticism of Socrates and Plato
The Other Regimes in Speech
The List of Legislators
Aristotle's Political Science as a Repose to Plato

Afterword: Ancients and Moderns: Another Debate
Selected Bibliography


This book takes a fresh look at Socrates as he appeared to three ancient writers: Aristophanes, who attacked him for his theoretical studies; Plato, who immortalized him in his dialogues; and Aristotle, who criticized his political views. It addresses the questions of the interrelation of politics and philosophy by looking at Aristophanes' Clouds, Plato's Republic, and Book II of Aristotle's Politics—three sides of a debate on the value of Socrates' philosophic life.

Mary Nichols first discusses the relation between Aristophanes and Plato, showing that the city as Socrates' place of activity in the Republic resembles the philosophic thinktank mocked in Aristophanes' Clouds. By representing the extremes of the Republic's city, Plato shows that the dangers attributed by Aristophanes to the city are actually inherent in political life itself. They were to be moderated by Socratic political philosophy rather than Aristophanean comedy.

Nichols concludes by showing how Aristotle addressed the question at issue between Plato and Aristophanes when he founded his political science. Judging Plato's and Aristophanes' positions as partial, Nichols argues that Aristotle based his political science on the necessity to philosophy of political involvement and the necessity to politics of philosophical thought.

Mary P. Nichols is Visiting Scholar for Honors Education at the University of Delaware.