If you have not been following along thus far, I recommend going back to parts one and two.
To summarize the foregoing, the Athenian has continued his metaphor of the family at war to show his point, that the purpose of the state is not for warfare, but warfare is one of the necessary functions of a proper state. Nor is courage in battle the highest virtue, but one of many virtues that are necessary for the flourishing (τὸ ἄριστον) of a polity. He illustrates this by an analysis of a poem by the Spartan Tyrtaeus, praising veterans of foreign wars. Courage and valor may be exercised on the civic field, but it is not praised as it is in foreign conflicts – this indicates that warfare, and its matching virtue courage, are not the summum bonum, but may be put on a gradient, depending on where they are exercised. He then extrapolates this outward to all virtues, the individual man, the lawgiver, and the state. Now, back to the action.
631a-632c: The Athenian recapitulates his argument against the Cretan’s claims, to wit, that war is the foundation of the good state, and tells him how he ought to have begun his statement:
1. The foundation of a good state is in a foundation looking towards the highest good of its subjects (identical with Klinias’ earlier idea)
2. Goods are bifurcated into greater (divine) and lesser (human) goods, ranked in order of first to least below. Human are (naturally) subordinate to divine goods
Divine: wisdom (φρόνησις), rational temperance of soul (νοῦ σώφρων ψυχῆς ἕξις), justice (δικαιοσύνη), courage (ἄνδρεια). The word for wisdom, transliterated phronesis, is the sort of quality that far-thinking and capable administrators must posess, so that Themistocles had phronesis in building a fleet of ships to combat the Persians by sea, avoiding their dominance by land. My translation uses “rational temperance of soul” for Plato’s term, but a more literal meaning is “A state (ἕξις) holding to the soundness of mind (νοῦ σώφρων) of the soul (ψυχῆς).
Human: health, beauty, strength, wealth
3. In implicit relation to the metaphor of the family previously described, the lawgiver must lay down these goods for his people, and then he must instruct them thoroughly in their use, as a father would ensure his children know how to brush their teeth and say their prayers after he has taught them: “he must observe and watch their pains and pleasures and desires and intense passions, and distribute praise and blame directly in accordance with the laws themselves.” This extends to almost all the important affairs of the citizenry, from marriage rituals, to the burying of the dead, to the rearing of children, and so on and so on.
4. Having set a firm foundation of good behavior for the people, he must then ensure that they follow his dictates, especially when it comes to money and the formation and dissolution of their mutual bonds.
5. Finally, having laid all this down, he must abdicate, and give power to others (φύλακεις, or “guards”), who will rule with wisdom (φρόνησις) and true opinions/beliefs (ἀληθοῦς δοξῆς ἰόντας), without recourse to the sins of greed or ambition.
632e-633c: Thus the Athenian lays plain what Klinias ought to have said. It seems our enquiry is over, for the state and its proper goods have all been described in full. However, this served merely as an outline, and not as a definitive exposition of the proper laws for a good state. Indeed, we now only have sharpened the focus of the enquiry, from looking at the notion of the good itself, to now transitioning to specific goods. It may be useful here to rehash a bit about what the good, “τὸ ἄριστον,” really is. The good, as revealed in the etymology of the word itself, is excellence, the best, dominance, nobility, flourishing, greatness. Based on the prevailing dialogue, the good is the proper flourishing of a thing, what makes it the most successful in its actions and its dealings with others. Specifically for a polity and the ethny it serves, the good is the proper relations between the parts, the individuals and the groups, as the Athenian related in 627c-628a. For when parts are in conflict, then there is no benefit, only calumny. When the parts are in harmony, then the individual good is maximized, thereby allowing the communal good to flourish as well, in a self-fulfilling cycle of virtue.
The parallelism between human and divine continues throughout, and in fact brings up an almost paradoxical idea: the most salutary of laws come from the gods, and indeed the goods can be divided into divine and human according to the Athenian, but they nonetheless come about through the lawgiver, who is a human being. This introduces a tension in the dialogue that may not be readily apparent, and reflects a bit of the Socratic irony that is not entirely absent, even if Socrates himself does not appear as a character: the object of the dialogue has, it seems, been the establishment of what a good state should be, yet everyone has agreed from the outset, that the fundamentals of a good state are bequeathed by the gods alone! It seems to vitiate the entire point of the enquiry at all. I am unsure how Plato will bring it together in the end, so I will refrain from commenting on this interesting dimension more here, save to mention a blog post I read a few days ago, which I am now reminded of. Not sure yet whether it applies here.
Back to the present. As the dialogue began with a discussion of the state at war, and the virtue of warfare is courage, the Athenian decides that it will be proper to interrogate what the virtue of courage actually is, as it is the fourth of the divine virtues he considers necessary for a good individual and a good state. This time Megillos, the Lakedaimonian, ventures to describe the practices of his people for the fostering of courage, the chief virtue in war:
1. The gymnasia
2. The common messes
4. The Krypteia, an initiation ritual for young Lakedaimonian men. Purportedly, it involved living by guile and rapine, alone on the land. Any slaves, known as helots, that were encountered out of doors after nightfall could be killed.
5. Various athletic practices
633e-635e: The Athenian then notes the principle at work behind these practices: to harden the individual to struggle. He then asks: Is it struggle of the individual solely against pains, or against other evils, such as desire as well? Megillos answers in the affirmative, that it is struggle as such, struggle against any obstacle, that the rituals exist to teach, for the virtue of courage would be incomplete if a man could master his fear of pain, but not his indulgence in bodily pleasure. Indeed, pleasure is counted as a far more grievous thing to fall to, than is pain, for the adversity of pain does not corrupt a man and turn him from the paths of virtue, but pleasure most certainly does. Thus, out of all the human goods that the Athenian listed previously, not one except wealth can be accounted a pleasure – and that itself is subordinate to the far more important divine virtues of wisdom, temperance, justice, and courage.
Despite heartily agreeing to this, both Klinias and Megillos cannot name a single important law or institution of theirs that acts to inoculate the people against the insidious aspects of pleasure. Rather than attacking their institutions, the Athenian then stipulates that the laws, even if they are deficient, should never be openly criticized, and instead should be treated as if they were given by the gods: “One of the most beautiful [καλός] of the laws would be that which forbids the youth from seeking which of them are beautiful or not beautiful, but with one voice and from one mouth, to declare together that all are laid down beautifully by the gods, and if one says differently, they shall listen to him not at all: and if some old man reflects on them to you, he shall do so to an archon and to one of his own age, but he shall not speak a word of it to the young,” or “εἷς τῶν καλλίστων ἂν εἴη νόμων μὴ ζητεῖν τῶν νέων μηδένα ἐᾶν ποῖα καλῶς αὐτῶν ἢ μὴ καλῶς ἔχει, μιᾷ δὲ φωνῇ καὶ ἐξ ἑνὸς στόματος πάντας συμφωνεῖν ὡς πάντα καλῶς κεῖται θέντων θεῶν, καὶ ἐάν τις ἄλλως λέγῃ, μὴ ἀνέχεσθαι τὸ παράπαν ἀκούοντας: γέρων δὲ εἴ τίς τι συννοεῖ τῶν παρ’ ὑμῖν, πρὸς ἄρχοντά τε καὶ πρὸς ἡλικιώτην μηδενὸς ἐναντίον νέου ποιεῖσθαι τοὺς τοιούτους λόγους.”
This ties into what I commented on earlier, namely that to speak of a divine lawgiver is to undermine a rational discourse on the law, because if the laws were truly given by the gods, they would be infallible, and to even debate them would be a waste of time – it would be akin to debating the laws of gravitation, and then proposing that there could be better laws, like that things should continue to move upwards when ones throws them into the air. However, Plato crucially limits this self-censorship to the young, and permits the old to speak freely amongst themselves, as the three characters in this dialogue do. It may be asked, though: if free thinking is discouraged in the youth, but the old are allowed it, how can the young expect to enjoy the privileges of their forebears when they, too, take up the grey mantel and ascend to old age? This law seems more designed to reduce dissent and ossify the system of laws as they stand. Yet, the guardians are to rule with wisdom and temperance, but how can such guardians be drawn from the population, if the population is denied the ability to exercise any form of ruling reason? It seems we descend into the same paradox, and instead of drawing us out, Plato is drawing us further in. It remains to be seen what his object in this is.
As the final part of his enquiry into courage, the Athenian continues to drive home his assertion that true courage exists in the mastery of both pleasure and pain. To master pain but not pleasure results in a hardened body but a weakened mind, which may be enslaved by vice. To master pleasure but not pain will result in a body impervious to vice, but weak and susceptible to those who are stronger. Both types of men are partially free and partially enslaved in different ways, as both of them have failed to attain mastery over themselves. This self-mastery in all things is the definition of courage for the Athenian, though Klinias and Megillos hold off on their assent for a later time.