Plato’s Republic: The Concept of Freedom

Subject: Philosophy
Pages: 5
Words: 1493
Reading time:
6 min
Study level: Master

Freedom has always been one of the greatest values ​​for people of different eras, religions and countries. The ancient philosophers were, perhaps, the most interested in the specific problem of the relationship between freedom and power. Since the era of antiquity, and throughout history, there has been no common understanding of these categories, and many philosophers did not set out to establish the connection between freedom and power. However, this connection is clearly visible in their works. Moreover, the current era has put the idea of a close relation between state and freedom especially high. Still, when exploring such concept in different cultures, one can see that it does not quite the same everywhere. Therefore, in order to clarify its adequate content, it is useful to see the formation of the definition of freedom, and for this, it is wise to turn to Plato and his famous work Republic. If the main declared principle of modern Western society is the idea of ​​personal freedom of the individual, then Plato in his Republic puts on the pedestal the idea of ​​justice.

The purpose of this essay is to determine the specific features of Plato’s concepts of freedom from Republic, as well as to reveal the main contexts of its use. To understand it, one must remember Plato’s understanding of “eidos” – the original bundle of meanings that unstoppably projects ideas into objective reality. Due to the expanded understanding of freedom, another reading of this problem by Plato in a socio-political context as a dialectic of freedom and justice is proposed.


An ancient Greece philosopher, Plato designated the quality of the soul, which was determined by virtue, as the criterion of human freedom. Subsequently, he derived the concept of duty from the essence of freedom. From there, he proposed that the power must be endowed with those who least of all strive for it, proclaiming a concept of an ideal state. However, Plato still gave higher priority to the law rather than to inner qualities of a ruler. In his opinion, an imminent death awaits a state without the force of law, governed only by an authority. He did mention freedom in his reasoning about the best form of government, as he defined the basis of democracy, but refused to accept it as fundamental to society. Moreover, an excessive freedom, from his point of view, always leads to tyranny, the main purpose of which is the seizure, retention and use of power. Aruzza (2018) adds that “absolute freedom from authority and laws should be read in its tight connection to a fantasy of unrestrained appetitive enjoyment” (p. 63). For Plato, freedom in itself, as a concept and a state of being, is quite problematic.

Understanding of the Concept of Freedom

The problem of freedom is truly philosophical – humanity has pondered is at all times. The category of freedom refers to the main categories in philosophy, as it allows one to characterize a person from the point of view of their essence and existence. Moreover, when speaking about freedom, it should be emphasized that this is a certain way of being a person. Freedom presupposes that a person has the ability to make certain decisions, consistent with their ideals, goals, and assessments.

It is majorly characterized by internal contradiction, ambivalence, and even antinomy, which indicate the forms freedom can take to actually exist in society. For example, freedom as choice or will plays the same role in social progress as the natural selection in biological evolution. This form of freedom makes a person more than just a passive object of evolution, but an active participant in social development. In turn, freedom in the form of chaos is fraught with the threat of the collapse of society, and thus, is unacceptable for it. Additionally, as history shows, the idea of freedom continuously undergoes various transformations such as qualitative changes and modifications.

Plato on the Idea of Freedom

Despite his complicated relationship with the concept, Plato has always argued that there is actual freedom in the human world. It is the freedom of self-determination, which involves choosing one’s own path. For example, in the mythical story or Era in Republic, he talks about the afterlife, where the souls of dead people themselves determine their further existence – and their choice may vary greatly.

A person has the opportunity to tie their future social position to the life of a rich or a poor, a king or a beggar, or, perhaps, to an animal life even. Moreover, souls can anchor their choice with the Moir, so that no one has the right to change their decision. After choosing their path, souls drink water from the river of oblivion and, remembering nothing about the past, are born into a new life they have chosen themselves. With this idea, the philosopher tries to reconcile conflicting teachings about fate and freedom. According to Plato, the final choice is made by the person themselves, and in this choice, they are free. However, Plato was also convinced that absolute freedom does not exist, since a person’s choice is still determined by their entire past life. At the same time, the quality of choice is determined by the presence of genuine knowledge and wisdom that they acquire throughout their life.

It should be noted that in Plato’s reasoning, one is faced with an obvious contradiction. On one hand, he proves that even if it is not absolute, freedom still exists. On the other hand, the analysis of the principles on which his “ideal state” is built shows that freedom is unambiguously eliminated by him from the life of society. Thus, in Plato’s Republic, the main goal of a person’s life is not to achieve freedom, but to serve the state. Even poets would be exiled from the Plato’s state, for with their lamentations, they weaken the citizens’ purposeful devotion to the state. As an example, Plato proposes to edit Homer’s poems in such a way as to leave only those episodes that bring up perseverance and endurance.

Developing the theme of freedom, Plato asks the question: does a person need freedom? If yes, then why and for what purposes does a person need it? For the first time in the history of philosophy, Plato established such a position on the problem of freedom – “a freedom for something”. It is a positive freedom, which means the orientation of human efforts towards the realization of their essential forces, towards creative creation, and, finally, towards the achievement of some higher goal.

Plato’s Republic

Nevertheless, the philosopher came to the conclusion that even positive freedom is dangerous for humans, and, ultimately, can harm them. It is in human nature to abuse freedom, and it can become a source of destructive forces – therefore, it would be better to treat freedom as a prerogative of the state. Plato (1998) claims “in a democracy, freedom is the glory of the State; therefore, in a democracy alone will the freeman of nature deign to dwell” (Book VIII, pp. 359). However, the republic created by Plato’s imagination exists only in his writings and nowhere else. Plato himself says that his state can be realized only in the eternal world of forms and ideas. Plato’s ideal state is nothing more than a pure idea, a metaphor, an image like the Christian City of Heaven.

Plato described a society devoid of internal conflicts and humiliation of man by man. He invented an ideal state so that, having achieved harmony, nothing in society would change in order to avoid cyclicality of the process of turning democracy into tyranny. Iveson (2019) states that “Plato argues that democracy inevitably results in tyranny because the democratic citizens become so sensitised to anything even remotely resembling control that ultimately they will refuse to abide by any laws” (p. 332). The philosopher saw with horror the inevitability of the mutation of contemporary society into an authoritarian system. The only logical consequence of this understanding was his need to analyze the democratic system and come with an idea of his own.


In the end, Plato did not abandon the systematic doctrine of freedom in the idea of a perfect state. The concept of freedom has changed in the course of history, and Plato’s interpretation of the issue would be incorrect without taking into account the whole context of his philosophical views. Soul, in his opinion, is already imprisoned in the body, therefore the freedom here, in this world, is quite problematic. The significance of the problem of freedom to him is due to the fact that its solution determines not only the peculiarities of a society, but also its further development. Moreover, the multidimensionality, ambiguity and inconsistency of the phenomenon of freedom were also objective prerequisites for numerous difficulties on the way of its comprehension and understanding. Democracy, according to Plato, is the kingdom of freedom, the consequence of which is lawlessness, followed by the disease of tyranny.


Cinzia, A. (2018). The Lion and the Wolf: The Tyrant’s Spirit in Plato’s Republic. Ancient Philosophy, 38(1), 47–67. doi:10.5840/ancientphil20183813

Iveson, R. (2019). Plato in the Belly of the Beast: Force-Feeding Servitude in the Republic. Culture, Theory and Critique, 60(3-4), 327–343, doi:10.1080/14735784.2019.1645609

Plato. (1998). Republic. The Project Gutenberg EBook, 1998.