Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Political Economy


Thomas J. Lewis




This thesis is an examination of Plato's proposal for female guardians, which he introduces as the first wave in Book V of the Republic. The proposal for female guardians elicited attention in the early 1970s, because it contained a discussion of gender equality. The thesis specifically focused on the political implications and consequences of Plato's discussion of the idea of justice, the purpose of politics and a conception of gender. For the purpose of this examination, the thesis was divided into two main sections. First, the thesis systematically catalogued the current commentary on Plato's proposal for female guardians. To facilitate an understanding of this commentary, the thesis explored both the previous theoretical framework and the public issues that provided a context for the recent commentary on Book V. Second, it provided an independent examination of Book V. To more thoroughly understand the proposal, the thesis focused on three aspects often neglected in commentary, but relevant to interpretation: the relationship between oikos and polis in ancient Greece, the connection between the first wave and the argument of the Republic and an argument against a literal interpretation of Book V. The independent interpretation of Book V focused on the connection between the function an individual performed in the city and the foundation of politics. For Plato, this foundation was based on organizing the functions in the city according to the need each individual has for others. The proposal for female guardians bases the qualification for ruling and soldering on an understanding of an individual's physis or potential that is not connected to gender. This organization of the city by of non-gender specific functions is Plato's idea of justice. Each individual performs the one function which suits him or her in order to be the most useful to each other. The necessity of gender for reproduction complicates Plato's organization by non-gender specific functions. Thus, the proposal for female guardians is not possible, because during their childbearing years guardian women are most useful as bearers of children and primarily would not perform the function based on their physis. In addition, the attempt to make all aspects of human life, including one's emotions, gender, and family fulfill the requirement of usefulness questions whether the city in speech is the best city. Thus, an examination the first wave of Book V indicates that the city in speech is neither possible nor desirable. Instead of a literal political manifesto, Book V is revealed to be a discussion of the consequences of implementing an extreme idea of justice in a political regime.

McMaster University Library

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