2

From this link, I've found this

“all these women shall be wives in common to all the men, and not one of them shall live privately with any man; the children too should be held in common so that no parent shall know which is his own offspring, and no child shall know his parent.” This belief is associated with a need for eugenics, as “the best men must cohabit with the best women in as many cases as possible and the worst with the worst in the fewest, and that the offspring of the one must be reared and that of the other not, if the flock is to be as perfect as possible.” More pernicious still is his prescription for infanticide: “The offspring of the inferior, and any of those of the other sort who are born defective, they will properly dispose of in secret, so that no one will know what has become of them. That is the condition of preserving the purity of the guardians’ breed.”

Does this block appear in The Republic? Did Plato criticize or reject institution of marriage?

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    Yes, this is from The Republic, 423e–424a. Why would he "believe" in it? The idea was to suppress private motivations that obscure the common good, and transfer family loyalties to the state. This is, however, Plato's utopia, possibility of which is in question, in the current condition marriage may have to be tolerated. After all, his chosen voice, Socrates, stayed married to Xanthippe for many years. – Conifold Sep 23 '18 at 21:12
  • The 'institution' of marriage has been defined in different ways in different cultures at different times. Even in the present day, what is meant by ''institution of marriage' has different meanings in different societies. You should define what you mean by the 'institution' in your question. – Swami Vishwananda Sep 24 '18 at 4:50
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    See Understanding Marriage: Historical Orientation : "In his depiction of the ideal state, Plato described a form of marriage contrasting greatly with actual marriage practices of his time. He argued that, just as male and female watchdogs perform the same duties, men and women should work together, and, among Guardians, ‘wives and children [should be held] in common’ (Republic, 423e–424a). Aristotle sharply criticized this proposal as unworkable. (Politics, 1264b)." – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Sep 24 '18 at 8:07
  • I quoted the Republic below and came to the conclusion myself that what Plato meant by having wives "in common" had one meaning, but his actual proposal included a ban on "licentiousness" and the mandate to make matrimony "sacred in the highest degree". What's left for the common control by the Republic's leaders, then, is the selection of couples and the application of resources toward the best couples having the most children, and vice-versa as well. – elliot svensson Sep 24 '18 at 19:20
  • Hm, strange the theory of evolution is associated with Darwin if he's not the first. At least, eugenics would be impossible without any idea of evolution. But why not count this for a polygamy? – rus9384 Sep 26 '18 at 8:57
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Conifold provides the reference, Republic, III.423e-424a. The rationale of Plato's proposals regarding marriage and the family is set out briefly by Julia Annas :

Plato is not interested in the rights of women, nor in freeing women (or men) from the bonds of the family. What he is passionately interested in is the prospect of a unified and stable state in which some at least of the citizens work solely for the state's good. The proposals about women and the family are means to that end' (Julia Annas, 'Plato's "Republic" and Feminism', Philosophy, Vol. 51, No. 197 (Jul., 1976), pp. 307-321 :320-1).

The 'some at least of the citizens work [who] solely for the state's good' are the Guardians or rulers (phulakes). It should be noted that it is only for this group that Plato abolishes marriage and the family. The other classes - the military Auxiliaries and the Economic class of ordinary citizens - can marry and reproduce in private families with Plato's blessing.

This is clear from Rep. V.457c-d :

...these women, all of them, should belong in common to all these men, and ... none of the women should cohabit exclusively with any one man; the children, too, should be held in common, so that neither will any father know his own offspring, nor any child his father. (Plato, Republic, tr. Christopher Rowe, London : Penguin, 2012 : 170. All quotes from now on are from this translation.)

'These women' and 'these men' are explicitly and solely members of the Guardian class. The entirely discussion at this point in the Republic is about the Guardians. Just read the text, which makes clear also that it is permanent monogamous unions that are denied to the Guardians. This is Plato's point. The sexual arrangement by which one woman may procreate with many men and one man with many women can be termed whatever social anthropologists choose to call it. None of this affects the substance of Plato's denial of permanent monogamous unions to the Guardians. This is his principal precept for the sexual arrangement for the Guardians.

Reply 1

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The passage about making marriage 'a sacred matter, to the very best of our ability' (Rep.V.459e) has been brought forward to refute my answer. It does not do so, as can readily be shown. Marriage is sanctioned, valued and controlled for the other two classes of society - not for the Guardians. It is only for 'the majority of the population' (Rep. V.458d). Mating cannot be allowed to take place without regulation for these two classes, particularly the third - the Economic Class. The Guardians cannot permit 'unregulated coupling' (Rep. V.458d-e). One way in which regulation is best served is precisely by making marriage for the two inferior classes - the Auxiliaries and the Economic Class - 'a sacred matter, to the very best of our ability'.

In my original answer I said : In my Answer I explicitly said : 'The other classes - the military Auxiliaries and the Economic class of ordinary citizens - can marry and reproduce in private families with Plato's blessing'.

Reply 2

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Another criticism has been made :

I quoted the Republic ... and came to the conclusion myself that what Plato meant by having wives "in common" had one meaning, but his actual proposal included a ban on "licentiousness" and the mandate to make matrimony "sacred in the highest degree". What's left for the common control by the Republic's leaders, then, is the selection of couples and the application of resources toward the best couples having the most children, and vice-versa as well.

The idea is or appears to be that Plato first projects proposals concerning 'women in common' and the denial of permanent monogamous unions for the Guardians in the kallipolis, the ideal polis, but then comes down to earth with a different set of ('actual') proposals in which the Guardians settle for controlling licentiousness by means of conferring a sacred status on marriage.

The trouble is that 'Socrates' talks about all these matters under the rubric : 'I want to put off for later discussion whether the things I'm proposing are possible - for now I'm going to assume they are possible' (Rep.V.458b). So the account concerning 'women in common' and the denial of permanent monogamous unions for the Guardians as well as the proposals for controlling licentiousness by means of conferring a sacred status on marriage, all belong to the narrative of the kallipolis. Plato is describing throughout the arrangements for the ideal polis. He has deliberately and explicitly suspended the question of practicability.

Within that narrative for the ideal polis, the Guardians will not enter into permanent monogamous unions, women will be in common in the sense of one woman/ many men, one man/ many women in the Guardian class whose children will not know their parents just as parents will not know their children. Marriage is an arrangement in the kallipolis but only for the two lower classes - the Auxiliaries and the Economic Class. In order to prevent 'unregulated coupling' (Rep. V.458e) in these classes, the Guardians will confer sacredness on marriage as far as they are able - and they will, as elliot svensson points out, pair off best with best among these classes ('mating will be arranged in the most beneficial way', Rep. V.459a).

Reply 3

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I am glad to deal with a further criticism :

My esteemed collaborators here on philosophy.stackexchange have said that the above-quoted rules and principles upholding marriage were not meant for the guardian class. I can't find this principle anywhere in the text, though. On the contrary, childbearing women in the guardian class are called "wives of the guardians", which would be meaningless if there was not marriage. The mechanism by which children would not be known to be related to their parents was a scheme of common infant-rearing, not the natural outcome of multiple sexual partners.

In the first place, Plato tells us that among the Guardians 'none of the women should cohabit exclusively with any one man' (Rep. V.457d) and that among the Guardians all women should belong to all men' (Rep. V.457c-d). It that fits your idea of marriage, it doesn't fit mine - and doesn't fit Socrates'. It is the abolition for marriage for the Guardians that is Socrates' 'third wave' (Rep. V.457d).

Secondly, I should be interested to know where in the Greek text a term for 'wives' occurs in describing the relations between male and female Guardians.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – user2953 Sep 27 '18 at 17:42
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Plato espoused equality in nature between men and women, but not for just deserts with regards to human rights... for the benefit of society:

...may we not further say that our guardians are the best of our citizens? ... Then let the wives of our guardians ... share in the toils of war and the defence of their country; only in the distribution of labours the lighter are to be assigned to the women, who are the weaker natures, but in other respects their duties are to be the same.

http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/republic.6.v.html

Regarding eugenics: it is quite clear to me that Plato was advocating a eugenics-like virtue in using the structure of government to attempt to make the next generation better through selective human reproduction, but that he was not about to attempt to overthrow monogamy among his guardian class. Read this:

[Equality with regard to work and sport], then, is one difficulty in our law about women, which we may say that we have now escaped; the wave has not swallowed us up alive for enacting that the guardians of either sex should have all their pursuits in common; to the utility and also to the possibility of this arrangement the consistency of the argument with itself bears witness.

Yes, that was a mighty wave which you have escaped. Yes, I said, but a greater is coming; you will of this when you see the next.

Go on; let me see.

*The law, I said, 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.' *

Yes, he said, that is a much greater wave than the other; and the possibility as well as the utility of such a law are far more questionable.

I do not think, I said, that there can be any dispute about the very great utility of having wives and children in common; the possibility is quite another matter, and will be very much disputed.

I think that a good many doubts may be raised about both.

You imply that the two questions must be combined, I replied. Now I meant that you should admit the utility; and in this way, as I thought; I should escape from one of them, and then there would remain only the possibility.

But that little attempt is detected, and therefore you will please to give a defence of both.

Well, I said, I submit to my fate. Yet grant me a little favour: let me feast my mind with the dream as day dreamers are in the habit of feasting themselves when they are walking alone; for before they have discovered any means of effecting their wishes --that is a matter which never troubles them --they would rather not tire themselves by thinking about possibilities; but assuming that what they desire is already granted to them, they proceed with their plan, and delight in detailing what they mean to do when their wish has come true --that is a way which they have of not doing much good to a capacity which was never good for much. Now I myself am beginning to lose heart, and I should like, with your permission, to pass over the question of possibility at present. Assuming therefore the possibility of *the proposal, [of abolishing marriage among the guardians] * I shall now proceed to enquire how the rulers will carry out these arrangements, and I shall demonstrate that our plan, if executed, will be of the greatest benefit to the State and to the guardians. First of all, then, if you have no objection, I will endeavour with your help to consider the advantages of the measure; and hereafter the question of possibility.

I have no objection; proceed.

First, I think that if our rulers and their auxiliaries are to be worthy of the name which they bear, there must be willingness to obey in the one and the power of command in the other; 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.

That is right, he said.

You, I said, 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 intercourse with each other--necessity is not too strong a word, I think?

Yes, he said; --necessity, not geometrical, but another sort of necessity which lovers know, and which is far more convincing and constraining to the mass of mankind.

True, I said; and this, Glaucon, like all the rest, must proceed after an orderly fashion; in a city of the blessed, licentiousness is an unholy thing which the rulers will forbid.

Yes, he said, and it ought not to be permitted.

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

Exactly.

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 of the nobler sort of birds not a few. Now, I beseech you, do tell me, have you ever attended to their pairing and breeding?

In what particulars?

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

True.

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

From the best.

And do you take the oldest or the youngest, or only those of ripe age?

I choose only those of ripe age.

And if care was not taken in the breeding, your dogs and birds would greatly deteriorate?

Certainly.

And the same of horses and animals in general?

Undoubtedly.

Good heavens! my dear friend, I said, what consummate skill will our rulers need if the same principle holds of the human species!

Certainly, the same principle holds; but why does this involve any particular skill?

Because, I said, our rulers will often have to practise upon the body corporate with medicines. Now you know that when patients do not require medicines, but have only to be put under a regimen, the inferior sort of practitioner is deemed to be good enough; but when medicine has to be given, then the doctor should be more of a man.

That is quite true, he said; but to what are you alluding?

I mean, I replied, that our rulers will find 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.

And we were very right.

And this lawful use of them seems likely to be often needed in the regulations of marriages and births.

How so?

Why, I said, 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.

Very true.

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.

Certainly, he replied.

We shall have to invent some ingenious kind of lots 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.

http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/republic.6.v.html, emphasis added


Criticism - Reply (please note edit #1)

My esteemed collaborators here on philosophy.stackexchange have said that the above-quoted rules and principles upholding marriage were not meant for the guardian class. I can't find this principle defended anywhere in the text, though. The mechanism by which children would not be known to be related to their parents was a scheme of common infant-rearing, not the natural outcome of multiple sexual partners.

That marriage was specific to individuals was also affirmed by the patriarchy rule that children born to two individuals not paired by the by the ruler should not be reared. (461b)

Also, the thought that the wives of the guardians would be "common", as quoted by others here on philosophy.stackexchange, is treated in the Republic as a proposal which may have either utility or possibility, or both... and its possibility was at first called paradoxical and eventually denied... and in case of any further argument, that section of the Republic closes with this:

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

They will never know. The way will be this: --dating from the day of the hymeneal, the bridegroom who was then married will call all the male children who are born in the seventh and tenth month afterwards his sons, and the female children his daughters, and they will call him father, and he will call their children his grandchildren, and they will call the elder generation grandfathers and grandmothers. All who were begotten at the time when their fathers and mothers came together will be called their brothers and sisters, and these, as I was saying, will be forbidden to inter-marry. This, however, is not to be understood as an absolute prohibition of the marriage of brothers and sisters; if the lot favours them, and they receive the sanction of the Pythian oracle, the law will allow them.

Quite right, he replied.

Such is the scheme, Glaucon, according to which the guardians of our State are to have their wives and families in common. And now you would have the argument show that this community is consistent with the rest of our polity, and also that nothing can be better --would you not?

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    But what about having wives in common among all men? Wasn't that something Plato was describing in the Republic? No, I think it's pretty clear that he wasn't proposing anything other than government-selected monogamy. His big common-marriage proposal starts with "You, I said, who are their legislator, having selected the men, will now select the women and give them to them." I just don't see the polygamy anywhere. – elliot svensson Sep 24 '18 at 19:22
  • I agree. The idea that Plato did not abolish marriage for the Guardian class just does not stand up to textual examination. I have amended my answer to address this point. Thank you for your comment : GT – Geoffrey Thomas Sep 26 '18 at 9:22
  • Read above answer. Doesn't it contradict with yours? – Mr. Sigma. Sep 26 '18 at 12:24
  • @Rohith. Yes, quite clearly it conflicts with mine - and I have shown that the claim that 'he was not about to attempt to overthrow monogamy among his guardian class' collapses under textual scrutiny. I have given all necessary textual support to my answer. The mere fact that one answer or another conflicts with mine does nothing to throw my own textually fully supported answer in doubt. – Geoffrey Thomas Sep 26 '18 at 14:10
  • @GeoffreyThomas, I fully acknowledge your textual quotation. But when those words appeared, they appeared as a quotation in the original ( classics.mit.edu/Plato/republic.mb.txt ) which the debaters meant to analyze. Socrates then sheepishly acknowledges that while he won't deny the utility of this policy, he can't justify it due to its plain impossibility. Then he goes on briefly before saying, "...in a city of the blessed, licentiousness is an unholy thing which the rulers will forbid." – elliot svensson Sep 26 '18 at 14:22
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Preparatory remark:

If you allow I would take the liberty to recast the question because it grievously lacks rigour. The formulation “did Plato” is impossible. Plato seems to have deliberately written in the dialogue form, one can make a very strong case for that; he did not write in the form of essays or treatises. We have treatises from Aristotle; Plato could have written treatises, he didn’t. The treatise says: this is a propounding of the truth according to me. The dialogue is much more vague and more like a drama. One does not adduce Lady Macbeth’s “Is this a dagger I see before me?” and then say: Shakespeare was likely severely deranged . The dialogue includes pictures, i.e., the action of the dialogue, and the logos or spoken account, and in them both inconsistencies are produced. One can not speak of “Plato” in this sense uncritically and without sensing the danger in such a formulation for the quality of the interpretation. This way of speaking becomes legitimate only insofar as it is already thought through and then done by skilled interpreters.

The form “did Plato” might mean, if one is conciliatory: did the most likely mouthpiece of Plato, the character Socrates, hold this or that view? Is Socrates an avatar of Plato? Or, is Plato writing about the historical views of the Socrates who died in 399? Or, is this a drama of a different kind? All these questions have many ramifications which increase in complexity the more one is informed and correspondingly gains the necessary knowledge which allows for serious reading of even one line of text.

I would also dispute the cogency of the anachronistic term “eugenics”, which is a post-Darwinian term (even if, and more so because, the mere word existed in Plato's time: something parallel to this is true, for example, with the word economics). Plato knew of selective breeding, as of crops. That is rather far from the region of Darwin. Because in Darwin there is the notion of Evolution of the eidoi, if one translate Darwin's magnificent work into Greek it reads: genesis ton edoi, the origin of the ideas. The Athenians said that the Persians lived in too sultry a climate, which made for indolent men, and the Germans in too cold a clime, which produced an excess of ferocity. The theory of homini, of men, in this sense corresponds to asking about the climate in which a plum tree would produce the best fruit. The idea of the breeding is essentially agricultural, husbandmenship. Another word for that is: culture, in the old sense of cultivation.

A:

Plato lived in a time of radical experimentation of custom and law. It was recognized as part of daily gossip that Athens was a laboratory of regime types. The plays that are most famous from this period are said agst. cities ruled by families in the style of mafia rule. Any of the plays that sets Athens against Thebes shows this theme of anti corruption, including the Oedipus cycle. Families are the single largest source of corruption in human life. This is the ruling leitmotif tacit in the Politeia (the Republic or Regime). About a century before the death of Socrates the tyrannical Pisistratidae were deposed. The tyrants, as is almost the definition of tyrant, needed guardians, a sort of Praetorian Guard, who were called by the Athenians mercenaries. Socrates deliberately names the guardians by the word the tyrant used, and not the word the Athenians used. He then goes on to say, the were not paid. Understanding this requires some knowledge of daily life in Athens. The epikouoi were held in contempt, they were “gestapo”, if one likes, and the text deliberately plays on this. In the same way, the destruction or warping of the human bond of marriage, is said in the context of the general understanding of the mafia and blood feud style of the “families” that ruled in the worst times of Athens and the neighboring polises.

In other words, one must know a great deal to say anything worthwhile about this issue. We don’t know if, for example, Plato took the whole of the Politeia seriously in any straightforward sense. What one can ask more clearly, is how did this or that interpreter of plato construe his position. than one can, as with Popper, go on to say, here is an interpretation made without the knowledge requisite to say anything one can consider to take seriously. One who simply reads the text is hopeless. We did not live in Plato’s day, we can not easily say what he has meant. We can scarcely hear him, and those who can do so by talent and by long study which can never be demonstrated at a trice.

  • Re: "One who simply reads the text is hopeless." You mean, text like the words, "One who simply reads the text is hopeless"? – elliot svensson Sep 24 '18 at 21:08
  • No. Since "text" there refers to something written more than two thousand years ago, in a situation we have no direct access to. We can't go talk to Plato. PS This neophyte "criticism" was already answered by the content of the post. – user26700 Sep 24 '18 at 21:10

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