At the beginning of the Republic, Socrates piques the interest of the group of young men he is speaking with, suggesting that to know justice is to know the only way of living that is worthwhile. However, as he begins to build what he says will be the most just city, none of the answers he gives satisfy the desires of the young men to whom he is speaking. Neither the division of labour that Socrates describes wherein individuals are tasked with only doing the particular job they are particularly suited to, nor the education, which consists of depictions of good people doing good things seems particularly interesting or worthwhile. Indeed, Adeimantus asks him how he will defend himself when charged with not making any of these citizens very happy (419a). You see, the lives Socrates describes seem like nothing when compared to the heroic adventures that Homer depicts and to which these young men have presumably aspired their entire lives.
Like many in the contemporary world who are dissatisfied by the lack of depth in civil and political society, at the start of Book Five, these young men turn their attention to their private lives, hoping that they might find something there that sustains their yearning for meaning and happiness. They thus interrupt Socrates and ask him to describe the marriages and families of his imagined citizens. They ask him to speak about love.
Yet again, however, Socrates seems to remove the possibility of individual satisfaction. No one will have a particular family that they love and which loves them in turn. Instead, there will be one family, that of the city itself. No one in the city will be allowed to love one particular person more than any other. Any such attachment, you see, might be a cause for strife and disagreement, and the city we are creating is one of perfect and constant justice.
Exasperated perhaps by the shallowness of the image, Glaucon pushes Socrates to stop talking merely theoretically and show how this city could be made real; he wants the city to be brought to life, to be born as though it were a child. To do so, Socrates introduces a strange character, the philosopher, who loves not merely beautiful things but the beautiful in and of itself. Only a true love of beauty, a harbinger of the good, he suggests, can provide the depth of experience that enlivens the soul and the city.
We, like Adeimantus, might not be initially satisfied. It seems that once again Socrates has continued to speak of mere dreams, side-stepping his friends’ particular desires and focusing instead on some abstract idea. All the way along, however, Socrates has only been responding to their questions. They after all tasked him with showing them justice as though it might exist in and of itself and apart from the sometimes messy world in which they live. As a result, they get a sterile city, cleansed of the “imperfections” of an actual life. In Book 5, however, they shift their attention. They interrupt demanding that he talk about love, and, as a result, Socrates introduces its most obvious end, the beautiful.
In the process something interesting happens. Having been asked about actual human relationships, about how the city will deal with the nature of love and desire, Socrates hesitates. For, as he says, it is difficult to talk to one’s most “beloved” of friends about the most important and “beloved” of things (451c). Having then by tasked with making his account of love live, Glaucon tells him not to be afraid, for he won’t desert him, but, with his own love, will defend Socrates in any way that he can (474a).
Rather than sidestepping their particular desires, Socrates reveals his own, those of a philosopher who desires only beauty and goodness, Where he had previously been asked to defend himself, the revelation of innermost desires, moves his friends to now defend him. The revelation of his particular desires moves them to actual justice. The shallow city is, at least momentarily, left behind and Socrates takes them to the depths that they have been seeking. At the beginning of Book 5, he described them as diving into a deep pool and being overcome by waves. Now he has taken them to very bottom of that pool, and, it seems, they emerge at its surface – a place we all visit when our love for particular the beauty of our friends, families and even citizens inspires us to defend and seek their goodness.