The Republic

The Republic

Presented in the form of a dialogue between Socrates and three different interlocutors, this classic text is an enquiry into the notion of a perfect community and the ideal individual within it. During the conversation, other questions are raised: what is goodness?; what is reality?; and what is knowledge? The Republic also addresses the purpose of education and the role o...

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Title:The Republic
Author:Plato
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Edition Language:English

The Republic Reviews

  • Everyman

    All the criticisms of Plato are valid. He raises straw arguments. He manipulates discussions unfairly. He doesn't offer realistic solutions. And so on.

    But he is still, and for very good reason, the most influential philosopher in Western civilization. He makes people think. Most authors we read today are trying to persuade us to agree with their point of view. Plato, not so. He wants you to disagree with him. He wants you to argue with him. He wants you to identify the fallacies in his arguments

    All the criticisms of Plato are valid. He raises straw arguments. He manipulates discussions unfairly. He doesn't offer realistic solutions. And so on.

    But he is still, and for very good reason, the most influential philosopher in Western civilization. He makes people think. Most authors we read today are trying to persuade us to agree with their point of view. Plato, not so. He wants you to disagree with him. He wants you to argue with him. He wants you to identify the fallacies in his arguments (and some are deliberately fallacious). In short, he wants you to do the most difficult intellectual exercise there is. He wants you to think, and to think deeply.

    The other thing to realize about Plato is that he is an exquisite poet and craftsman. There is nothing accidental about what he writes; there is nothing superfluous. Even the most minute seeming points are there for good reason. Part of the joy of reading Plato for the third, fourth, fifth time is to see each time a bit more about what he is doing and why he is doing it, to come closer to appreciating his extraordinary genius and encountering ever more deeply this incredible mind.

  • Henry Avila

    Plato's "The Republic", is a great but flawed masterpiece of western literature, yes it makes sense, mostly, some of it. "I am the wisest man in the world because I know one thing, that I know nothing", said the smart man ... Socrates. Plato is writing for Socrates, his friend and teacher. Late teacher, since being forced to commit suicide by the uncomfortable citizens of Athens ( the famous poisoned cup of hemlock), for corrupting the minds of youth. Socrates didn't believe books were as effect

    Plato's "The Republic", is a great but flawed masterpiece of western literature, yes it makes sense, mostly, some of it. "I am the wisest man in the world because I know one thing, that I know nothing", said the smart man ... Socrates. Plato is writing for Socrates, his friend and teacher. Late teacher, since being forced to commit suicide by the uncomfortable citizens of Athens ( the famous poisoned cup of hemlock), for corrupting the minds of youth. Socrates didn't believe books were as effective as lectures, big mistake. Socrates advocates complete state control of everything, land, schools , businesses, homes, and even children to be taken away from their parents and raised by the state. In other words, an early form of communism. Plato agreed but Aristotle didn't , he knew only parents would love their children , which kids need. Most of the book is dialogues between various men as how to establish a perfect state. Socrates / Plato wanted Greece ruled by philosopher kings. With a professional army to back them up. An unreachable goal, as 24 centuries later, has shown. Greed is the primary motivation of the human race, but people keep on trying to reach the elusive "Utopia", and failing forever? Socrates the wise man, was correct.

  • Riku Sayuj

    ~ Alfred North Whitehead

    'The Republic' is either reverenced, reviled or just plain ignored. Though it keeps resurfacing, it has been pushed back often, being accused of bigotry, racism, elitism, casteism, anti-democratic nature, the list is endless. But it is beyond doubt, one of the preeminent philosophical works and has been quoted, referenced or adapted by almost all of the major thinkers since.

    The ideas of Socrates have had an afterlife that is as long and varied as the thousand year journey envisioned for souls in the famous

    . It is impossible to catalogue the full list of impacts but Whitehead's quote (introductory to this review) gives adequate flavor. The practical influence of Republic is more difficult to gauge than its impact on the theorizing of later thinkers - over the centuries, individuals have discovered in Plato’s works the inspiration for undertaking political or social or educational reform and have used it as the springboard for much revolutionary thought, and deeds.

    Republic has inspired in addition to all the expository analysis, also countless creative interpretations, which have shaped our vision of future possibilities, limits and of extremities. Many depictions of both utopian societies and their dystopian counterparts, ranging from Thomas More’s

    to Jonathan Swift’s

    to Aldous Huxley’s

    to George Orwell’s

    , have their roots in the ideal city brought to life by Socrates, Glaucon, and Adeimantus. Contemporary films such as

    and

    may not owe direct inspiration to Republic, but they participate in a long tradition of artistic works that ultimately trace their concerns back to the political, social, and metaphysical issues raised in Republic.

    But in spite of all this, the original work retains a reputation for being difficult and hard to penetrate. This has meant that the scholars have more or less appropriated this brilliantly composed treatise, and that is a pity. There is great suspense in every page as you eagerly try to work your way through Socrates’ arguments… anticipating now, guessing now, failing now, but always on the edge of your seats at the sparkle of his wit and wisdom. The dialogues are constructed with an almost unbelievable care and subtlety. The drama is breathtaking and all-pervading, even in the stock responses to theoretical or rhetorical questions. One is never allowed to sit and absorb passively, but is forced to constantly interact with the dialogue. It is as much fun to read as a Shakespearean drama.

    Now, to examine some of the reasons why The Republic offends modern sensibilities:

    Much of the contemporary discomfort with Plato’s state arises from his countenancing of censorship, a rigid caste system, etc. But these are in a way unfortunate misunderstandings. A close reading of the text would make clear that these catch-all descriptions of Plato’s state are not as representative as they are made out to be. For example, the caste system that is first to get blamed is hardly a rigid hereditary system, but a strict meritocratic system that is much more equal than anything that we have seen till date. It involves a strict battery of tests (similar to the aptitude tests of today) based on which every individual is to be judged (and opponents of IQ tests may relax - these are meant to be much more practical examinations).

    Also, the popular rendering of the title as “

    ” itself is unfortunate, giving it an obvious political and ideological overtone. In the manuscripts and ancient citations, the title of Republic is given as

    (“Constitution”) or

    (“Constitutions”);

    (literally, “concerning that which is just”) is sometimes listed as an alternative title.

    I had planned on giving a blow by blow defense of the most reviled aspects of The Republic, but that is not the point I wish to make here. The primary mistake in criticizing The Republic is to assume that it was meant to be a political treatise in the first place. It is not. The whole argument begins from a question of identifying what ‘Justice’ is and whether it is beneficial to live a

    . This is the crux. ‘

    ’ and ‘

    ’ to be Just and ‘

    is this “Justice’ anyway? That is what Socrates wants to explore. He takes detours in this exploration. He uses metaphors - of State (as larger manifestation), of Caves, etc. But they all lead us back to the same basic question.

    To identify this basic concern, we need only look at the complex structure of the dialogue itself. Republic’s “narrative” is structured in an almost circular pattern. This circular pattern is complex, evoking the narrative patterns of epic poems such as

    and

    . Most basically, the dialogue’s two main concerns (defining justice and ascertaining its relationship to happiness) are treated in two corresponding sections (books 2-4 and books 8-9) that are interrupted by what is nominally a series of digressions in books 5-7, and 10. These nominal digressions, of course, create the dialogue’s most memorable metaphors, but they are meant to be digressions that add to the core. Not the other way around.

    At its most basic level, Republic is an effort to forge a consistent and meaningful redefinition of “Justice”. The

    that is explored lies in nothing outward, but rests solely in the mature reason and regard for what is beneficial to the soul. Not all the details in these allegories stand up to logical analysis, but they are not meant to.

    This is made clear by the fact that The Republic’s interlocutors repeatedly draw attention to the incomplete, provisional, and at times unsatisfactory nature of their treatment of justice, happiness, the ideal political community, the theory of the ideas, the cognitive faculties of human beings, etc. The inadequacy of

    is acknowledged at 4.435c-d, at 6.504b-d and in many other places.

    The Perfect State sketched out (which is the stub of almost all criticism) is only an approximation devised to arrive at the Perfect Man, and that is why the so called bad aspects can be deemed acceptable. The mistake, as stated already, is to see it as a purely political treatise while it is in fact a treatise on justice and how to live the perfect life - the ‘Constitution’ of a perfect life.

    In the end, the state is not fleshed out enough to really form a complete constitution for any state that can exist in reality (and not just as an idea). But the psychological part (it is curious how this part has generated so much less criticism, in comparison) is - we return in the end (and all the way in between) to the original question of how an individual should order his life - what his virtues should be. It is a political critique piggy-backing on a  personal enquiry and hence any commentary of it cannot treat them differently. Censorship, slaves, aristocracy are all wonderful aspects in an individual but not palatable in a state (to modern eyes). Hence, we can only criticize that the greater to smaller equality is not well realized (i.e. from state => individual). But then Socrates, as above, is always eager to make the point about the provisional nature of his metaphor which is only meant to incite thinking and not as an answer - that is just not the way to deal with true lovers of truth, with true philosophers.

    [Cheeky counterproposal by the reviewer's alter-ego: “

    ”]

    Indeed, the more we approach certain aspects of the text from analytic and conceptual standpoints, the more we find that Socrates and his companions make innumerable assumptions and leaps of logic that is not satisfactory or fully justified. Each of these can be fairly scrutinized and contested, and have been. We may raise any number of questions about its relevance to our experiences and value systems. Much of Republic, especially its political philosophy, argument for Censorship and Social structuring, is at odds with modern ideals; some readers will doubtless be dissatisfied with, among other things, its unapologetic elitism and naive (almost laughable) confidence in the integrity of “philosopher-rulers.” Some, however, may find that its critique of ancient Athenian society opens the door to meaningful questions about contemporary cultural practices and priorities. And even more meaningful questions on how to organize our inner impulses and constitution.

    We need to understand that the Platonic Dialogues, in principle, are not meant to represent a simple doctrine that can be followed, they instead are meant to prepare the way for philosophizing. They are not easy guide books to follow. They require work from the reader, above and beyond the ideas presented. That is one of the reasons for the dialogue nature in which they are structured. Plato’s overarching purpose in writing the Republic was to effect a change in his readers similar to the change that Glaucon and Adeimantus undergo at Socrates’ hands in the fictional world of the dialogue. This purpose can be summed up in the word

    , from the Greek

    , which means “turn (someone) forward,” hence “propel,” “urge on,” “exhort.” Plato uses literary art, which in his case includes but is not limited to philosophical argument, to move his reader toward a greater readiness to adopt a just way of life.

    The dialogues are thus intended to perform the function of a living teacher who makes his students think. One must philosophize to understand them. One must look at the microcosm of the dialogues as well as the macrocosm of the world that we inhabit simultaneously to understand them. It is in this process that the dialogues assist, insist and themselves provide a training in.

    We can only conclude by asking questions, in the true spirit of the dialectic method:

  • Emily May

    My re-reading of this for my university course has led me to the same conclusions I found when I first read it a couple of years back, except this time I am fortunate enough to have understood it better than last time. My conclusions being that Plato, and through him Socrates, was very intelligent, believed he was more intelligent than everyone else (no matter how many times he declared himself unwise) and very much loved to talk. Socrates, in particular, must have been very fond of the sound of

    My re-reading of this for my university course has led me to the same conclusions I found when I first read it a couple of years back, except this time I am fortunate enough to have understood it better than last time. My conclusions being that Plato, and through him Socrates, was very intelligent, believed he was more intelligent than everyone else (no matter how many times he declared himself unwise) and very much loved to talk. Socrates, in particular, must have been very fond of the sound of his own voice.

    You can't give a book that revolutionised philosophy any less than 3 stars, even if about 70% of it features many generalisations, jumping to bizarre conclusions, and claims without good reason. And yes, Plato and Socrates had some brilliant ideas - all the more brilliant because they came up with them first - but they don't measure up to today's version of "rational thinking". Good, but outdated. I suppose the best thing about their ideas was that they laid the foundations for the next 2000 years of Western philosophy and politics.

    And, though hardly feminists, Socrates and Plato were some of the first to publicly suggest that education should be equal to both genders (apart from military training) and that women should have as large a political role as men, seeing as they make up half of society. Go early Greek gender equality!! Though I suppose the line "whining and crying as if they were but women" (or something to that effect) kind of pisses on that feminist bonfire. Oh well...

    So here's some of the reasons why

    fails. Firstly, Socrates (the character) assumes that because one example demonstrates a certain type of relationship, then this idea can be applied to all. When he is arguing with Thrasymachus about justice, Thrasymachus says that justice is whatever the rulers decide it to be and that they use this power for their own good and the weaker (i.e. the subjects) get screwed over. Socrates then uses the example of a physician who is stronger than his patients but his agenda is only to help them. Well:

    1) Even if a physician selflessly helps his patients, this does not prove that rulers have the best interests of their citizens in mind. There is not a naturally occurring relationship between the two.

    2) As Thrasymachus goes on to point out, the physician is doing it for his own benefit because he is paid to do the job.

    So then Socrates starts with the bullshit that doesn't get refuted because the author is on his side, of course. He says that the physician is divided into two roles: that of physician and that of moneymaker (yep). So, basically the two are separate and have nothing to do with each other... um, I beg to differ. You see? Some of the arguments are ridiculous. He also goes on to contradict himself later by stating that rulers do get a reward for ruling: money! If he had maintained his previous argument, then they should have done it anyway for the simple benefit of their subjects and moneymaking should be a separate thing entirely.

    Plato and Socrates talked a great deal about justice being an agent virtue and not just an act virtue. They believed that it wasn't good enough to act justly, you had to have a good soul as well. Makes sense until you get to where you judge people based on them having a good soul or not - and just how do you do that?

    Person A: do you have a just soul?

    Person B: oh yes.

    Person A: Phew, let's be friends.

    ????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

    And they have a very warped view of what makes a person good/just. "A just man values wisdom above all else"... does he? I imagine a person who likes to make friends with the super-smart individuals and disregard the rest to be a bit of an ass. Don't you?

  • Brendan

    Let me explain why I'd recommend this book to everyone: Plato is stupid.

    Seriously.

    And it's important that you all understand that Western society is based on the fallacy-ridden ramblings of an idiot. Read this, understand that

    , and understand that Plato is well and truly fucked in the head.

    Every single one of his works goes like this:

    SOCRATES: "Hello, I will now prove this theory!"

    STRAWMAN: "Surely you are wrong!"

    SOCRATES: "Nonsense. Listen, Strawman: can we agree to the follow

    Let me explain why I'd recommend this book to everyone: Plato is stupid.

    Seriously.

    And it's important that you all understand that Western society is based on the fallacy-ridden ramblings of an idiot. Read this, understand that

    , and understand that Plato is well and truly fucked in the head.

    Every single one of his works goes like this:

    SOCRATES: "Hello, I will now prove this theory!"

    STRAWMAN: "Surely you are wrong!"

    SOCRATES: "Nonsense. Listen, Strawman: can we agree to the following

    ?"

    STRAWMAN: "Yes, of course, that is obvious."

    SOCRATES: "Good! Now that we have conveniently skipped over all of the logically-necessary debate, because my off-the-wall crazy ideas surely wouldn't stand up to any real scrutiny, let me tell you an intolerably long hypothetical story."

    STRAWMAN: "My God, Socrates! You have completely won me over! That is brilliant! Your woefully simplistic theories should become the basis for future Western civilization! That would be great!"

    SOCRATES: "Ha ha! My simple rhetorical device has duped them all! I will now go celebrate by drinking hemlock and scoring a cameo in

    !"

    The moral of the story is: Plato is stupid.

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