The Republic by Plato

March 6, 2012

Summary (from the publisher): Ostensibly a discussion of the nature of justice, The Republic presents Plato’s vision of the ideal state, covering a wide range of topics: social, educational, psychological, moral, and philosophical. It also includes some of Plato’s most important writing on the nature of reality and the theory of the “forms.”

Reaction:
The Republic isn’t a book that lends itself to the Likes/Dislikes format that I usually employ here, so I’m just going to give my reaction instead. This was a book that I was assigned to read during freshman year of college, but I never got past Book IV because it was so boring. But ever since then, it’s been kind of a personal goal of mine to finish the book from start to end. And although I can’t say that my mind didn’t wander during some of Socrates’ longer tangents, I FINALLY accomplished my goal!

To find out what The Republic is actually about, there are many other online sources to check; I wouldn’t presume to declare any kind of deep understanding of this book. But the most memorable parts to me were:

  • Socrates’ smackdown of Thrasymachus (and, by extension, all Sophists)
  • The myth of the Ring of Gyges, and how ALL men would act unjustly if no one were looking
  • The description of the “just” city, led by philosopher-kings
  • The “noble lie” (meant to ensure specialization) wherein all citizens are made of either bronze, silver, or gold
  • Plato’s emphasis on mathematics and dialectic as the most important subjects for the philosopher-kings to study
  • How the citizens in the “just” city share wives and children
  • The allegory of the cave, in which Plato expounds on how education brings souls into the light
  • The sun as representative of the Form of the Good
  • The tripartite soul consisting of the base appetites, the spirit, and reason
  • Plato’s assertion that democracy is one of the worst forms of government, ranking just above tyranny
  • How Plato’s description of the divide between the wealthy and poor in a democratic society (Book VIII) sounds EXACTLY like the Occupy movements that have been going on for a while now. Plato basically said that a few people would rise to the top and thrive, while the rest would be poor. Then the poor would sit around idly, despising the rich and plotting revolution. Sound familiar???

Rating:
Since this is the book that basically spawned all of Western philosophy, how could it rate anything other than 5 stars out of 5? On a personal level, it wasn’t exactly a fun read for me but I certainly feel a sense of accomplishment for having gotten through it after all this time!

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