Plato's "Republic"­, Books 1-5

Continuing our study of Plato, we will concentrate in the next two months on his most important dialogue, The Republic. In it Socrates attempts to answer the question, “What is Justice?” Thrasymachus, one of several characters challenging Socrates,  asserts that Justice is whatever the strong say it is: the strong always act in their self interest, as exemplified by the wealth they acquire and the laws they enact; so would all people, adds Glaucon, if they could be assured of anonymity. Socrates disputes this, countering that a just ruler serves the needs of the people and is happier than the unjust for doing so.

To illustrate what he thinks a just society would look like, Socrates imagines a utopian city. Named Kallipolis, it is a paragon of social engineering, highly stratified, with the population divided into two groups of guardians (rulers and soldiers) and one of workers. Like Chinese society, everyone stays within their designated group and is judged according to how well they perform. To avoid material temptations, the guardians practice a rudimentary communism, distributing basic resources equally to each person. Economic equality is complemented by gender equality--women can compete with men for the same jobs, regardless of what group they were born into. But because guardians are entrusted with governing, it is critical that they be intellectually superior and well educated. Socrates uses an analogy, the Ship of State, to make his point: on a ship, whom would you want as navigator, a common sailor or someone trained in navigation? So too with governance you would want someone educated in the skills necessary for governance. Most important of all, you would want someone who can distinguish truth from falsehood, which is why philosophical training is critical. It is at this juncture that Socrates introduces his theory of Forms, arguing that knowledge of the Forms–eternal, unchangeable truths–is essential for a ruler to be successful. The form that demands special attention is Goodness, for without an understanding of Goodness a ruler cannot dispense justice. Having established that philosophers are the only ones having this knowledge, Socrates concludes they are the only ones fit for kingship.

Like Confucius, Plato believes that the best education for a ruler is cultural exposure. The curriculum emphasizes poetry, music, and physical education, the latter’s role to harmonize mind and body. But poetry is a two-edged sword: it is useful only if it shows gods and heroes acting virtuously, with courage, temperance, and wisdom; too often the opposite is portrayed, characters in literature deceiving and warring against each other, in extreme cases resulting in patricide or treason. For these reasons Plato believes rulers must enforce censorship. This follows logically from the theory of Forms: if only Forms embody Truth, then distortions of that truth (to say literature is a fiction is tautologous) must be prohibited. The only role literature would seem to have is indoctrination.

An interesting question to address is whether Kallipolis is more dystopia than utopia. Seeing first hand the dictatorships of the twentieth century, Karl Popper and Bertrand Russell thought Plato’s city a precursor of those regimes. In addition to censorship the guardians practiced eugenics, with the intent of pairing gifted men with gifted women, the offspring destined to become rulers themselves. Yet as mentioned, Kallipolis was two millennia ahead of other cultures, championing the equality of women and providing basic resources for all its members. As for restricting governance to intellectuals, modern France has instituted an analogous system: the most promising students are admitted to elite schools, the grandes écoles, where they take a battery of courses preparing them for the top managerial and political positions in government.

Editions

Any edition of Plato's works is acceptable. If you are only interested in reading The Republic and not other dialogues, an excellent edition is Plato: Republic. Translated by G. M. A. Grube. Revised by C. D. C. Reeve. 2nd ed. Hackett Publishing Company, 1992. New copies are available from amazon.com for $8.99 and from 3 cents used. If you think you'll want to continue reading more of Plato and are not deterred by the price, the standard English edition of Plato is now Plato: Complete Works. Edited by John M. Cooper and D. S. Hutchinson. Hackett Publishing Company, 1997 (available from amazon.com for $47.44 new and from $34.66 used). Also respected is The Collected Dialogues of Plato Including the Letters. Ed. Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns. Princeton University Press, 1961. (available from amazon.com for $37.98 new and from $13.76 used). For those who prefer a free public domain copy of The Republic, click here

The following resources provide analyses, bibliographies, lecture notes,  and videos

Wikipedia: “Plato”“Theory of Forms”, "Problem of Universals", The Republic (Plato)”, "Form of the Good", “Allegory of the Cave,” “Analogy of The Divided Line”, “Analogy of the Sun”, "Ship of State""Myth of Er", "Ring of Gyges", "Philosopher King", "Plato's Tripartite Theory of Soul", "Plato's Five Regimes", "Laws (Dialogue)", "List of Speakers in Plato’s Dialogues”

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: "Plato", “Plato’s Myths”, “Plato’s Ethics and Politics in The Republic”, “The Laws' Relation to the Republic", “Callicles and Thrasymachus”

Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy:  “Plato”, "Plato: 'The Republic''',"Thrasymachus", “Plato: Political Philosophy”

Plato Quotes from Goodreads and Wikiquote

"Introduction" to The Republic  by Plato", trans. by Benjamin Jowett.

Stanley Rosen. “Introduction” in Plato’s Republic: A Study.” Yale University Press, 2005: 1-6.

Jyl Gensler. “How to Know the Good: The Moral Epistemology of Plato’s Republic.” The Philosophical Review 114.4 (October 2005), pp. 471-496.

Eric Brown. “The Unity of the Soul in Plato’s Republic.” In Plato and the Divided Self. Ed. By Rachel Barney et al. Cambridge University Press, 2004: 53-74.

Stephen Halliwell. "The Life-and-Death-Journey of the Soul: Interpreting the Myth of Er." In Cambridge Companions Online. Ed. by G. R. F. Ferrari. Cambridge University Press, 2013, pp. 445-473.

Jeffery Zavadil. "Medical Metaphors in Plato's Political Philosophy." (chapter in doctoral dissertation written by one of our members)

Rachana Kamtekar. “Ethics and Politics in Socrates’ Defense of Justice.” In Plato’s Republic: A Critical Guide. Ed. Mark L. McPherran. Cambridge University Press, 2013,  pp. 65-82.

Rachana Kamtekar. "Social Justice and Happiness in The Republic: Plato's Two Principles." History of Political Thought 22.2 (Summer 2001), pp. 189-220.

Sheldon Wein. "Plato's Moral Psychology." The Paideia Project On-Line: Twentieth World Congress of Philosophy Boston, Massachusetts U.S.A.
10-15 August 1998.

Robert Heinaman. "Why Justice Does Not Pay in Plato's Republic." The Classical Quarterly 54.2 (2004), pp. 379-393.

H. P. P. Lotter. "The Significance of Poverty and Wealth in Plato's Republic." South African Journal of Philosophy 22.3 (2003), pp. 189-206.

Ralp Wedgwood. "The Coherence of Thrasymachus." (author is Professor of Philosophy, University of Southern California).

Theodore Scaltsas. "The Ontology of Knowledge and Belief in Republic V." Edinburgh Research Archive (30 August 2007).

Teja Srinivas. “The Relationship of Philosophy and Art in Plato’s Republic. Hey Zeus: The Yale Undergraduate Journal of Classics 5 (Spring 2004), pp. 36-43.

Bruce Aune. "Plato's Objection to Mimetic Art." (author is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, University of Massachusetts at Amherst)

David Sachs. “A Fallacy in Plato’s Republic.” The Philosophical Review 72.2 (April 1963), pp. 141-158.

Thom Brooks. "Is Plato's Political Philosophy Anti-Democratic?" In Anti-Democratic Thought. Edited by Erich Kofmel. Imprint Academic, 2008: 17-34.

Melissa Lane. “Comparing Greek and Chinese Political Thought: The Case of Plato’s Republic." Journal of Chinese Philosophy 36:4 (December 2009), pp. 585–601.

Lecture Notes

"Plato Study Guide" and "Plato Guide: Republic" by Professor M. Gregory Oakes, Dept. of Philosophy, Winthrop University (latter guide provides key questions about each book).

"Plato’s Republic" by Professor Philip A. Pecorino, Dept. of Social Sciences, Queensborough Community College.

“Plato’s Republic” by Professor G. J. Mattey, Dept. of Philosophy, University of Calfornia at Davis.

“Plato’s Republic: Some of the Main Arguments and Issues” by Professor Brandon C. Look, Dept. of Philosophy, University of Kentucky.

"Plato and the Form of the Good" by Professor Phillip McReynolds, Dept. of Philosophy, Gonzaga University.

"The Form of the Good" (a handout provided by Routledge Publishing).

"Plato: The Failure of Democracy" (author unknown; appears on a philosophy forum administered by Frostburg State University).

Videos and Podcast

“Bertrand Russell on Plato’s Republic” (audiobook recording of Bertrand Russell's chapter on Plato's Republic, contained within his History of Western Philosophy (1945).

"Plato, Thrasymachus' Definition of Justice" by Professor Gregory B. Sadler, Dept. of Philosophy, Marist College

"Plato Versus the Sophists 1"; "Plato Versus the Sophists 2" by Professor David Roochnik, Dept. of Philosophy, Boston University.

"The Well-Ordered Soul: Happiness and Harmony" by Professor Tamar Gendler, Dept. of Philosophy, Yale University.

"Plato's Republic" by Professor Mark Navin, Dept. of Philosophy, Oakland University.

Join or login to comment.

  • montserrat l.

    Excellent

    May 17, 2014

  • Luming

    Sorry for being late. Subway train out of service. Hope to be there soon

    May 17, 2014

  • Luming

    Sorry for being late. Subway train out of service. Hope to be there soon

    May 17, 2014

  • Robert

    Unfortunately, it now looks like I'll be out of town this time. I hope you all have a great discussion, and I look forward to next month's meeting.

    May 12, 2014

  • Scott

    I would like to recommend a new article I have added to our Plato resources on this page: "Medical Metaphors in Plato's Political Philosophy." Written by one of our members, Jeffery Zavadil, it was a chapter in his doctoral dissertation. Jeff will be attending our meeting and can speak to the significance of these metaphors as they pertain to "The Republic."

    1 · May 3, 2014

  • Kevin t.

    I forgot I have a prior engagement for May 17. Not sure how meet up updates people on openings, but grab it while you can.

    April 20, 2014

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