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
Rating:
ISBN:0140449140
Edition Language:English
Format Type:Paperback
Number of Pages:416 pages

The Republic Reviews

  • Brendan
    Sep 25, 2007

    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.

  • Jason Pettus
    Apr 04, 2008

    (Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com]. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted here illegally.)

    In which I read a hundred so-called "classic" books for the first time, then write reports on whether or not I think they deserve the label

    Essay #11:

    , by Plato (~360 BC)

    For those who don't know, the last 2,500 years of Western civilization can be rou

    (Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com]. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted here illegally.)

    In which I read a hundred so-called "classic" books for the first time, then write reports on whether or not I think they deserve the label

    Essay #11:

    , by Plato (~360 BC)

    For those who don't know, the last 2,500 years of Western civilization can be roughly broken down into three eras, or "Ages;" the one we're in the middle of right now, the "Modern Age," actually began around the year 1400 or so with what we now call the "Renaissance," in which humanity slowly rediscovered the ideas and philosophies of ancient Greece and other so-called "enlightened societies" from the dawn of written history. (The era of those societies, then, is known as the "Classical Age;" the years between these two eras is known as the "Middle Age" or "Dark Age," in that these were the years such information was lost and forgotten in the first place.) Of all these thinkers and playwrights and architects and scientists of ancient Greece, then, perhaps none was more influential than a man named Socrates, who in our modern days we would call both an educator and philosopher; although he never actually wrote down any of his thoughts about life, his fanboy students did on a voracious basis, including a disciple named Plato who became the most famous of them during the Renaissance, because of so many of his original manuscripts making it through the chaotic times of the Dark Age*.

    , for example, which would be better translated in our modern language to

    , is one of the more important of the dozens of Plato's books to still exist; it is one of the first books in Western culture, in fact, to tackle the very question of what a society is, of how to best organize one, and how to lay the long-term plans to make such a "republic" stable and violence-free. For example, the whole first part of the book tackles nothing else but what Socrates saw as the fundamental question behind all societies, that of "justice;" of how we as an organized group of people determine what exactly is "fair," what exactly is "right" and "wrong," and how we go about not only formally defining that but also enforcing it on a society-wide basis. That then gets the group talking about the creation of laws, which gets into the subject of who in a society is best qualified to write and determine such laws; this gets the reader into what most consider part 2 of the book, an examination of what we today would call not only lawyers but also politicians, philosophers and educators. (Plato and his peers, in fact, believed that the enlightened citizen should be all of these things at once; it's only in our modern times that we split them into four different professions.) This then gets us into part 3 of

    , a detailed examination of four popular types of society that were around at the time; this is what gets us our modern definitions of timocracy, oligarchy, democracy and tyranny, and of course the dozens of other government types that have since been invented by later philosophers.

    And then finally, the way Socrates and his students actually discuss and arrive at these conclusions is through what is now known as the "Socratic Method," a fancy term for something most people will immediately understand; it's simply the process of teaching through talking and asking questions, guiding a student through a series of answers into discovering the wisdom of that topic on their own. Anytime a public school teacher discusses a subject out loud in a classroom, for example, then calls on a student to answer a question about the subject, that technically is the Socratic Method.

    Dude, it's a 2,200-year-old book that's still being read on a daily basis; if that's not the definition of a classic, fans say, then what is? Much more importantly than this, though,

    and other Classical books of philosophy virtually defined how nearly the entire western half of the planet currently conducts its business; all modern free-market representational democracies, after all, are fundamentally based on the ideas of the "Enlightenment" philosophers of the 1700s, and their ideas originally came from the ideas of Plato, Socrates, Aristotle and others. There's nothing like reading the actual source material, fans of Classical literature will tell you, if you want a deep understanding of the principles guiding all of Western culture; this one single book, for example, laid the groundwork for how over half the world's governments now operate, making it the very definition of a book you should read before you die.

    Of course, let's not forget the price of reading a 2,200-year-old book of philosophy, which is that much of it is out-of-date by now; in fact, there's an entire litany of terms in

    that a reader must put air quotes around each time they come across, with "democracy" for example not meaning nearly the same thing to Plato that it means to us, nor "republic," nor "equality," nor "freedom." Two thousand years is a long time to be able to tweak and build on a certain set of specific ideas, let's not forget; in fact, most of the incremental improvements we make to government anymore are based on principles from merely a half-century or so ago, which themselves were the product of the 75th or 80th generation of small improvements that have now been made over the centuries to Plato and Socrates' original ideas. Because of all this, critics say, a book like

    is certainly historically important, certainly a must-read for anyone devoting their life or career to philosophy or government or education, but not necessarily a book that the general populace should feel a need to read themselves.

    So let me admit right off the bat what a p-ssy I am, and that in actuality I only read something like the first hundred pages of this book; because let's face it, we live in a much more sophisticated age than Plato did, with most of us for example deeply comfortable with the Socratic Method even by the time we're done with elementary school.

    itself is written in the same pace one would use when explaining something to a five-year-old child, which of course Plato and his co-horts had to do back then; it was a society that was barely literate, that had never tackled these subjects before, who hadn't even invented such words as "philosophy" yet or such concepts as universities. To tell you the truth, the most interesting thing about the book was in fact the modern 50-page introduction by Desmond Lee (I read the Penguin Classics version); like many other synopses that now exist, it does a much better job than the manuscript itself at explaining the historical context that informed these ideas, as well as the outdated terminology and the words that would be better used today. Although it was definitely a fascinating book to explore and learn more about, I can't say in all honesty that I would recommend tackling the actual manuscript; much better I think to read one of the modern analyses instead, and learn more about how the book has shaped society in the two thousand years since.

    Yes, but skip it anyway

    *And in fact, the majority of the Classical Canon would be gone forever if had been up to the Westerners themselves, who were too busy slaughtering and raping and burning down each others' cities during the Medieval period to give much of a crap about a bunch of dusty ol' books; it was mostly the scholars of the Middle East who saved the majority of these manuscripts, by translating them into Arabic and incorporating them into their own great libraries at Alexandria (in modern Egypt), Babylon (in modern Iraq), and more. Bitter irony, I know, considering the way the majority of Middle East states have been treated by the majority of Western nations over the last couple of hundred years.

  • Everyman
    May 21, 2008

    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.

  • Emily May
    Mar 08, 2011

    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?

  • William1
    Mar 24, 2011

    Halfway through now and the ability to see the book as a metaphor for civic and personal moral development becomes difficult. The book is only useful if you are tracking the history of ideas, which I am not. The state Plato describes here is one that is highly prohibitive in almost every aspect. Arts and culture are severely controlled for propaganda purposes. There is a complete inability to view open, transparent government as an option. The guardians must be lied to and deceived constantly if

    Halfway through now and the ability to see the book as a metaphor for civic and personal moral development becomes difficult. The book is only useful if you are tracking the history of ideas, which I am not. The state Plato describes here is one that is highly prohibitive in almost every aspect. Arts and culture are severely controlled for propaganda purposes. There is a complete inability to view open, transparent government as an option. The guardians must be lied to and deceived constantly if they are to develop correctly. Moreover, to establish what we might call a footing for his premises, there is an overwhelming amount of presumption on the part of the author. Much of the reasoning seems specious. It strikes this reader how Plato did not have a long and detailed historical record to call on as we do. There are many assumptions, for instance, with respect to the education of the guardians, that shows a weak grasp of human psychology. The guardians should, in effect, be shielded from badness and wrongdoing if they are to develop the appropriate appreciation for virtue. Well, if they're not exposed to badness, how will they know it when they see it? Other aspects of guardian nurturing and education, too, are severe if not totalitarian by today's standards. First, the very sick are to be left to die. This was of course a sign of the times. Medicine was primitive. But there is not an iota of compassion about those left to die. This, indeed, would connote "softness," something not wanted in our guardians, who are to be simultaneously brave and happy, not unlike the family dog. Plato actually says that. The overwhelming import of the reading so far has been to show me how very far we as a culture (western) have come in the more than 2,400 years since

    's composition. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, and I paraphrase, the arc of history is long but it bends toward justice. I stopped on p. 134, unable to finish. To use a line from

    , "the book fell from my hands."

    (AC says I should not be reading this translation at all but G.M.A. Grube's. So I will.)

    .

  • Henry Avila
    Jul 07, 2011

    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
    Sep 24, 2011

    ~ 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:

  • Roy Lotz
    Jun 17, 2013

    I’ve gotten into the habit of dividing up the books I’ve read by whether I read them before or after Plato’s

    . Before

    , reading was a disorganized activity—much the same as wading through a sea of jumbled thoughts and opinions. I had no basis from which to select books, except by how much they appealed to my naïve tastes. But after reading

    , it was as if the entire intellectual landscape was put into perspective. Reading became a focused activity, meant to engage

    I’ve gotten into the habit of dividing up the books I’ve read by whether I read them before or after Plato’s

    . Before

    , reading was a disorganized activity—much the same as wading through a sea of jumbled thoughts and opinions. I had no basis from which to select books, except by how much they appealed to my naïve tastes. But after reading

    , it was as if the entire intellectual landscape was put into perspective. Reading became a focused activity, meant to engage with certain questions.

    “Question” is the key word here because, in the end, that’s what Plato is all about: asking the right questions, the important questions. All academic disciplines are organized around a few basic questions—“what is the nature of human cognition?” “what are the fundamental laws of the universe?”—and in

    , Plato touches on almost every one of them. That’s why shelving the book in the philosophy section doesn’t quite do it justice. An exhaustive list of the disciplines touched upon in this dialogue would be massive—epistemology, metaphysics, psychology, eschatology, political science, economics, art, literature, music. In fact, it would be easier naming disciplines that

    touched upon.

    That’s how Plato lit up the intellectual landscape for me. By posing these questions in their most basic forms, and attempting answers, he makes it clear which questions are the important ones in life, and how difficult they are to answer. And that’s why Plato’s

    is the quintessential classic. It has everything a classic should have—a unique perspective, brilliant ideas, engagement with perennial issues, and a charming writing style. It is the greatest book of perhaps the Western tradition’s greatest thinker. I don’t care who you are—you should read it.

    Nevertheless, there are some perplexing and frustrating things about Plato. For one, it is extraordinarily difficult to figure out where Plato stands in relation to his work. Unlike almost every later philosopher, Plato didn’t write didactic works. He puts his ideas—sometimes conflicting ideas—into the mouths of the people of his day. The result is a kind of double confusion. To what extent are the ideas expressed by Socrates actually Socrates’s? To what extent are they Plato’s? To what extent are they anyone’s? Perhaps Plato was just fond of playing intellectual games and creating philosophical pocket dramas.

    Added to this is a kind of subtle irony that creeps up in several of his dialogues. In

    Plato has Socrates complain about the evils of writing; yet Plato obviously loved to write. One of Plato’s most influential ideas is his theory of forms; yet one of the most influential arguments

    the theory was put forward by Plato himself. In

    , as well as elsewhere, Plato repeatedly equates knowledge with goodness, and falsity with evil; yet he proposes to found his entire utopia on a massive lie. And again, in this book Plato puts forward one of the most famous arguments in history against poetry and the arts; yet Plato was one of the most artistic of all writers. Plato proposes to banish the myths of Homer and Hesiod; then Plato ends his

    with his own myth. You see these contradictions again and again, which leads you to wonder: how many of his arguments are meant to be taken seriously?

    What’s more, some of the arguments put forward in his dialogues are—it must be said—frustratingly stupid, relying on false analogies and several other types of fallacies. This would be no mystery if he was a halfwit. But the quality of his writing and the originality of his ideas make it clear that he was a genius. This again makes you wonder if he is putting forth his ideas in earnest.

    There are many complaints commonly lodged at Plato (and his pupil Aristotle). Liberals criticize his hatred of democracy and freedom. Moralists complain that he embraced slavery. (A friend of mine once told me that his philosophy professor called Aristotle the “father of racism.”) Scientists—such as Carl Sagan—disparage Plato’s anti-empirical and mystical tendencies. Nietzsche and his followers condemn Plato for dividing up the world into self-evident good and bad. The list of complaints can be extended almost endlessly. And, it should be said, there is some justice in all of these criticisms. (But just you try and found an entire intellectual tradition spanning thousands of years, and see if you do any better!)

    In Plato, I find something so valuable that it could outweigh every one of those criticisms: Plato's celebration of thinking for its own sake—argument for the sake of argument, debate for the sake of debate. Too often, we consider intellectual activity as merely a means to some desirable end; how rarely we consider that thinking is its own reward. Vigorous thought is one the keenest joys in life. And that is why Plato is so valuable, why he still has so much to offer our world—perhaps now more than ever.

    [

    Even though Plato spills much ink in trying to prove that justice is more desirable than injustice, I think the real solution is in Glaucon’s speech in Book 2, where Plato manages to hit upon the solution provided by game theory. It’s worth quoting at length.

    This view—purportedly the common view of justice—is game theory in a nutshell. Cheating your neighbor is (for you) the biggest positive, since you get their resources without having to work. But being cheated is the biggest negative, since you lose both your resources and the work you invested in procuring them. Creating laws to abolish cheating is a sort of compromise—avoiding the pain of being cheated at the expense of the gain from cheating. That, to me, seems like the most logical explanation of justice.

    This is just one example of why it's rewarding to read Plato, because even when he's wrong, he's right.]

  • peiman-mir5 rezakhani
    Dec 15, 2015

    دوستانِ گرانقدر، با وجودِ شناختی که از «افلاطون» به وسیلۀ مطالعه در تاریخ و رویدادهایِ زمانِ او، بدست می آوریم، بدونِ تردید افلاطون موجودی مغرور و مخالفِ دانش و هنر بوده است، و اگر حرفِ درست و مثالِ زیبایی، در این کتاب آمده باشد نیز، از نوشتنِ سخنانِ استادِ بزرگوار « سقراط» بدست آمده است، چراکه « افلاطون»، که با پیشرفتِ دانش و اندیشمندانی چون « دمکریت» مخالف بود و نظریه هایِ علمی مثلِ « هیچ چیز از هیچ حادث نمیشود» و یا نظریۀ « اتمی» دمکریت را شیطانی و مخالفِ دین و مذهب و فسادِ بشر، قلمداد میکرد،

    دوستانِ گرانقدر، با وجودِ شناختی که از «افلاطون» به وسیلۀ مطالعه در تاریخ و رویدادهایِ زمانِ او، بدست می آوریم، بدونِ تردید افلاطون موجودی مغرور و مخالفِ دانش و هنر بوده است، و اگر حرفِ درست و مثالِ زیبایی، در این کتاب آمده باشد نیز، از نوشتنِ سخنانِ استادِ بزرگوار « سقراط» بدست آمده است، چراکه « افلاطون»، که با پیشرفتِ دانش و اندیشمندانی چون « دمکریت» مخالف بود و نظریه هایِ علمی مثلِ « هیچ چیز از هیچ حادث نمیشود» و یا نظریۀ « اتمی» دمکریت را شیطانی و مخالفِ دین و مذهب و فسادِ بشر، قلمداد میکرد، نمیتواند دارایِ سخنانِ اندیشمندانه باشد، زیرا در عمل چیزِ دیگر انجام داده بود

    بهر حال دوستانِ عزیز، سخنی از این کتاب انتخاب کردم که برایِ درکِ بهترِ شما، آن را به زبانِ ساده و با اندک تغییراتی در زیر نوشتم و به حال و روزِ برخی از مردمِ عرب پرستِ ایران نیز شباهت دارد که از کودکی احکامِ غیرِ اخلاقی و غیر عقلانیِ اسلام را از پدر و مادر به ارث برده و همچون موجوداتِ بیخرد و مقلّد، شعارها و اعمالِ عرب هایِ نادان را تکرار میکنند و از انجام ندادنِ آن اعمال بیم و هراس دارند، انگار هیچ وقت نمی خواهند آگاه شده و از این باتلاقِ عمیق خارج شوند

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    عزیزانم، تصور کنید غاری وجود دارد که از سوراخِ غار نور به درونِ غار میتابد، در این غار افرادی از زمانِ خردسالی زندانی هستند و دست و پا و گردنِ آنها را با زنجیر بسته اند، طوری که نمیتوانند به اطراف نگاه کنند، و تنها میتوانند دیوارِ روبه‌رویِ خود را مشاهده کنند... در بالا و پشتِ سرِ زندانیان آتشی فروزان است که نورِ درونِ غار از آن تأمین میشود، بینِ زندانیان و آن آتش، راهی وجود دارد و در امتدادِ آن، دیوارِ کوتاهی کشیده اند که بی شباهت به پردۀ خیمه شب بازی نیست

    مردم از کنارِ آن دیوار گذر میکنند و انواعِ گوناگونِ اشیاء و مجسمه هایِ انسان و حیوان را با خودشان حمل میکنند، برخی از آن افراد که اشیاء را در دست دارند با یکدیگر صحبت میکنند و بعضی دیگر ساکت هستند

    هنگامی که این افراد با اشیاء در دستشان از کنارِ آن دیوارِ موردِ نظر عبور میکنند، سایۀ اشیایی که همراهِ خود دارند به رویِ دیوارِ غار و روبرویِ صورتِ زندانیان بازتاب پیدا میکند و وقتی برخی از آن افرادِ رهگذر با هم صحبت میکنند، زندانیانِ بیچاره تصور میکنند که هر یک از این صداها متعلق به شیئی میباشد که روبرویِ آنها و در رویِ دیوار نمایان شده است

    حال اگر برخی از این زندانی ها، آزاد شوند و به دهانۀ غار برسند، به محضِ دیدنِ نورِ خورشید، چشمانشان به دلیلِ عادت نداشتن به روشنایی اذیت میشود و اصلاً نمیتوانند آن اشیایی که قبلاً میدیدند را ببینند، به همین دلیل از ترس سریع برمیگردند به داخلِ غار و باز در همان جهل و نادانی باقی میمانند و همچنان به سایۀ اشیاء نگاه میکنند... ولی در این میان عده ای از آن زندانیانی که رها شده بودند به غار برنمیگردند و آنقدر تحمل میکنند تا چشمانشان به نور عادت میکند و سپس متوجهِ حقیقت شده و میفهمند که تا به حال فقط سایۀ اشیاء را مشاهده میکردند، نه خودِ حقیقیِ آنها را... و صداها نیز متعلق به انسان ها بوده است... درست است که ابتدا ممکن است که دچار سرگردانی شوند، ولی بالاخره با حقیقت روبرو شده و آگاه میگردند

    سپس آن افرادِ آگاه شده به غار باز میگردند و حقیقت را برایِ کسانی که در غار هستند بازگو میکنند، ولی آن احمق ها و ترسوهایی که در غار ماندند به آنها میخندند و آنها را مسخره میکنند و میگویند: در بیرونِ غار نور به چشمانِ شما تابیده و چشمانِ شما فاسد شده است، خوب شد ما بیرون از غار نماندیم، وگرنه همچون شما دیوانه میشدیم

    در این میان ممکن است کسانی که آگاه شده باشند بخواهند زنجیرِ بقیۀ زندانی ها را باز کنند و آنها را نجات دهند، ولی همان ترسوهایِ احمق و نادان با آنها مبارزه کرده و به اسمِ گناهگار کمر به ریختن خونِ آنها و کشتنِ آن انسانهایِ آگاه شده، میبندند

    دوستانِ خردگرا، امیدوارم با بیانِ این مثال جرقه ای در ذهن عده ای زده باشم که به مانندِ کسانی هستند که از بندِ زنجیر رها شده اند، ولی میترسند که از غار و تاریکی و جهالتِ دین و مذهب خارج شوند

    <پیروز باشید و ایرانی>

  • Bettie☯
    Jan 27, 2017

    Strange days indeed, when we are sent back to re-visit the very roots of philosophy within the ancient world.