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Plato on Equality of Women in Republic Book V

Plato was one of the most distinguished among the earliest philosophers who provided a philosophical argument on the issue of equality between men and women. His main argument on equality was presented in Book V of the Republic. The argument culminates with the claims that everything spoken about men should apply equally to their female counterparts in the sculpting of the rulers of the city known as Republic in 540 c (Allen, 2006). Plato’s argument is specific pointing that women were equal to men in serving as Guardians. In addition, scholars and philosophers who followed Plato engaged in an extended discussion in relation to the meaning of the argument. The scholar’s discussion included a vigorous debate on the modernity of feminist scholars and much attention given to philosophical basis upon which Plato made his case of equality. From the analog of Guard Dog in the Republic Book II, and Republic Book V discussing about the equality argument the scholar concluded that most of the Plato’s arguments were based on metaphysical concept of the soul.

Republic Book V on Women

The discussion in current book was initiated when Glaucon and Adeimantus prompted Socrates to provide an explanation of his passing remarks at 424a that in the guardians, ‘the having of wives, marriages and procreation’ should be made in accordance to the proverbs because all other things are as common as friends. Socrates and his panelists had already arrived to a decision that the kalipolis (guardians) were established for the purpose of the society and provided a reason that the polis had to include a full complement of the civic virtues. Socrates was prepared to be involved in any discussion about inclusion of women in the forces when he accepted the two in his panel. Book V presents an appearance of being orthogonal in regards to the discussion of the Republic (Spelman, 2001).

However, such appearance is misled due to two main reasons. First, it provides a proposal of kallipolis creation concerning philosophe’s rulers and their education of the nay poleis. But the kallipolis cannot be considered to be completed as of Book IV comes to an end despite the structural outline of the city being in place. Second, the discussion of women and procreation was considered in the foot notes to the main argument of the literature of Republic. Thus, due to such arguments, the fate of more than half of the city’s population was dependent on the discussion, which was a matter of gross importance. In addition, the discussion was centered on the involvement of women. Plato was convincing the authority to allow him expand and elucidate on some of the fundamental ideologies of the Republic, such as the requirement for specialization in occupations.

It is important to note that the main case for inclusion of women occupation by Plato in Book V took the form of an argument based on a separate sphere and the conception of men and women roles in the society. On a different sphere, Plato observed men and women to have naturally distinct and suited roles in the society. According to the views of distinct spheres it is recommended to the polis to ensure that women and men practiced non-overlapping specialties. However, when Plato produces the three distinct lines of argument in opposition to the sexually directed segregation, the proponents stated that none of the suggestions were conclusively established for women to guard and rule the kallipolis.

The substance of Plato’s Book V is a discussion on women. After some detailed preliminaries, the analysts receive what would be considered as an argument form the analogy for the sake of conclusion. It indicates that women should be included in the occupation class enjoyed by the Guardians in the views of Plato. The Auxiliaries and the Guardians were already likened to the troops who were supposed to guard the people who were majorly the city’s population and economically referred to be the producers. They included craftsmen, farmers, laborers, traders among others. The Guardians and the Auxiliaries were supposed to be equivalent to some sort of guard dogs not only in their social functions but also in natural character traits. These groups were chosen from children who were high spirited and capable of having gentleness and ferocity. Proper establishment and development of such characters in the individuals were considered to be important in establishment of the kallipolis on a good ground.

Therefore, if the guardians were considered to be analogous to guard dogs, then females were considered to be equivalent to males. But the question of the type of work that would be done by females of the same breed was inevitable. Thus, Socrates provided the following choices in explanation to such situation. He said that it will be either the females of the breed that should defend, share or hunt with the male guard dogs or the females that should stay indoors on the assumption that bearing and nursing of children would make them unable to guard and hunt alongside with the males.

In this case, the choice is between a sex-segregated and a sex-integrated view in regards to social responsibilities. The first option makes it obvious that the females will have to share all the same responsibilities with their males, although, it was not indicated to what extent and manner the roles should be shared. The second option is a sex-segregationist view that takes division of labor between males and females as the right option in the non-overlapping spheres of interest. While the males perform the public services, the females will have the duties of reproducing and raising the children and other family life duties in general.

Plato’s Sex-Segregationist Argument

Plato did not take the argument from the analogy as defined; he considers a detailed level of argument considering the occupational inclusion of women in the workforce. From the analogy, the argument assumes that there will be women who have the least abilities required in performing the Guardian asks, although, it was bound to be a contentious issue. Plato takes from the argument an analogy that shows that the inclusion of women cannot just be dismissed out of hand even if the assumption is offensive to modern customs. In countering those people who would possibly ridicule his considerations regarding the maximally just political movement, Plato suggests that they would move to account for only those possible for the best. So, the activities that should be assigned to women should be conducive to the polis justice (Grana, 2002). Thus, the proposal of having women perform the Guardian duties will only be possible if women are accorded the requisite natural capacities and abilities to perform the tasks.

Thus, the main question to be answered is whether it is possible for the feminine nature to share work with their masculine counterparts or not, especially concerning the military issues. It is important to understand that such discussion leads to a more theoretical possibility than what Plato had proposed in his literature. Such arguments from the analogies consider two main exclusive options. The first one is that women should either share all of their duties and responsibilities with the Guardian men or they should have distinct opt concerning responsibilities within their private sphere. Secondly, Plato considered a notion of segregationist in responsibilities based on the gender of the individual within the society.

The panelists have opted to adopt the principle of specialization as the main principle in organizing the polis. According to such principle, individuals should enhance job specialization focusing on the professions they are capable to cope with. In this case, the sex segregationists use the Plato’s principles to support the conclusion that women should have totally distinct roles from men at any circumstances. According to Plato’s argument, people with similar natural characteristics should focus their specialization in the same occupation, while the people with unlike qualities specialize on activities they are good at.

Since men and women have diverse natures, sex segregationists suggest that they should have different and non-overlapping areas of activities within their polis. The division in such case would ultimately reflect the conventional labor divisions based on gender where childcare and domestic chores would count more as women’s job. Finally, sex segregationists also suggest that Plato was committed to the same principle by his own rights by accepting PS as the main organization principle in kallipolis (Sterba, 2003).

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In a normal situation, sex segregationist argument works best in a condition where there is a natural difference between men and women that can be used to delimit two ultimately distinct spheres of activities. Socrates described the natural difference between men and women to comprise of an occupational difference. Therefore, even if the argument is not essential, there is a slight natural difference between men and women and it is not necessary that the difference follows any established occupational difference between them. Plato, however, did not give a precise account of what entails a natural difference between genders. In the context of Book V, it is seen that any observable difference between men and women, whether biological or physical, plays its role. The differences in nature include such factors as a difference in sex species, ability and proclivity (Spelman, 2001). Natural distinctions in proclivity and ability do not only serve to separate individuals from the main occupational classes in addition to serving as a differentiator between individuals in the same occupational class structure.

Natural differences also served as a distinguisher for people within the same occupation specialties. An example of two cobblers was used by Socrates. To illustrate his point in the example he describes two men one of whom was bald-headed, while the other was long-haired. The panelists accept that there existed a natural difference between the two men despite both being similar in respect to their professional practices. Thus, it appears that the biological and natural differences are significant factors that may constitute a difference in the nature of purpose between individuals. However, not all differences in nature will entail an aspect of occupational differences and not every occupational difference will comprise of a difference in nature (Sterba, 2003).

Plato clearly stated that the natural differences are an important determinant in occupational specialty. As a result, a more robust concept in developing the natural differences is required, compared to the concepts assumed by segregation on the basis of sex. In this context, the philosophers make a free reference to the psychological, emotive, cognitive, psycho-physical and desiderative features of a person. In other words, every person would be suited to a certain occupation specialty in case they have a specific complex set of desires tendency, cognitive traits, emotional proclivities and psycho-social features.

The most important point to note in such argument is that mere physical and biological differences alone may not be sufficient enough to assign an individual a role in any occupational specialty. Plato’s views on the argument of sex segregationists make an erroneous assumption that a mere physical or biological difference will be sufficient. In this case, therefore, sex segregationists will try to resolve any ideal occupational difference that require a mere biological difference to perform.

Plato and Feminism

It is a discussion of Plato’s view in regards to how the society perceives women, especially in the ancient philosophy. When considering ancient literature on philosophers, there is a recurrent question that requires answer. The question seeks to understand whether Plato was himself a feminist. The most ancient literature focusing on feminism points out how poor Aristotle represented women. For example, Elizabeth Spelman (2001) does not consider the idea that Ariistotle was a feminist at all because he considered women to be physically, biologically and intellectually inferior to men. In contrast to the discussion of women in Plato’s view, Spelman suggest that Plato gives a certain level of equality to some women, especially those who are exceptionally and potentially manly. Spelman is an adept example that represents how Plato and Aristotle’s views in regards to equality in women differed. Their differences lead to question why the two philosophers reigning in the same period and time would hold extremely diverse views on women. Even after drawing a definite distinction between the two, there exist a number of views on women equality as illustrated by the ancient philosophers.

Feminist Characteristics in Plato

After looking on a number of interpretations on Plato’s theories in reference to women, there is no explicit indication that explains how Plato’s thinking was in regards to women. In his writing, Plato puts slurs about women and at the same time he proposes to the society to allow some women to rule in the city-states. If he was a feminist, the analysis would have explained the slurs and, on the other hand, if he doesn’t respect women, there would be an open explanation why he requested their approval into the guardian class. The most common and evident views about Plato’s perception on women is that his understanding fall somewhere in the middle by only respecting women of certain characteristics. Plato’s appropriated such characteristics to the male philosophers and consequently provided a more important theory than the one existed when it was only associated with women.

The best example of Plato’s appropriation can be illustrated by Diotima’s speech as expressed in ‘the symposium’. In his speech, the writer describes how a person can find a real beauty and love. The writer uses a female metaphor to illustrate the form of beauty and love by a male philosopher. According to Sterba (2003), the writer of the speech uses a woman’s body metaphorically to present an understanding of the nature of love as manifested in humanity. While such account is very positive on women, the consequential results are that the men were given what Plato considered to be a better characteristic of the women.

In the speech discussion, Diotima says that the idea of reproduction is an important factor that brings immortality and happiness in people but he argues that women are not the only one who becomes pregnant. She argues that when one conceives with the seeds of wisdom within his souls in an early age, he will be certain to seek beauty in which he will eventually beget. Thus, such explanation states that men will always become pregnant with ideas that will produce wisdom and it is the reference to newborn wisdom.

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From such illustrations, it became obvious that Plato liked and admired the ability of women to be reproductive and create something new. Plato takes such idea and applies it to his philosophical teachings, giving male philosophers a challenge and the ability to give birth to knowledge and wisdom. However, it is more obvious that despite Plato being feminist he does not like the other female characters apart from the ones described. For instance, in Book III, he clearly sees women as overly-emotional and suggests that the Guardians only imitate people who are courageous, pious, self-controlled and free. Therefore, in accommodating feminism in the society, they should not imitate either an elderly or a young woman or those abusing their husbands, bragging about themselves or quarrelling with the gods or even those who are in love, ill or in labor. In other words, females have a tendency of lacking courage, self-control, pious and freedom as most situations describe. According to Sterba (2003), Plato also makes additional comments in his literature that seeks to suggest that women are more emotional or reported to have weaker character traits that may not be acceptable in the society.


Republic V comprises of two revolutionary proposals that guide the social organization of an ideal description of state. The proposals are the main reasons behind the consequences of fundamental political and moral principles. The effect of such principles to the Guardians of both genders is deprivation of private life because the concerns of such life would tend to be distractive from the total dedication of community affairs with the roles assigned to various social groups. The Athenian society by the given period was confined to a private sphere and the female guardians were not in the normal sense of being the housewives of their male counterparts. Rather, Plato offered an option of turning the womenfolk to equal partners who share social responsibilities, including temporary sexual liaisons, a function which was a sole perpetuation of the guardian class. Plato’s attitude towards emancipation of women is property understandable in the context of a political and moral theory, in which the system is embedded.

From Book V, it was seen that Plato was very particular while insisting on the principles of justice. Justice implied an exclusive specialization and hierarchy and Plato realized that it was the nature that dictated hierarchy. Given all the above facts, Plato appears to challenge all manners of exclusive specialization and hierarchy in the forms which were acceptable in the Greek society as represented in the Republic (Cantarella, 1987). In his argument, Plato is appealing to the entire Athenian society to change their notion in regards to providing equality of opportunities to both men and women and specialization to be determined on merits. He was not interested in freeing women from the manacles of traditional restraints that the society put them into but competed on seeking to allow them have equal opportunities in order to achieve self-realization. Nevertheless, Plato does not challenge the non-existence of gender tolerance directly as one of the most deeply entrenched hierarchical practices in the Greek kollipolis.

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