Plato’s “Republic” is perhaps one of the most intriguing books for me on our reading list. While it isn’t my favorite, it is one of the ones which after reading a few paragraphs, I’ll have to stop and think about them for a while and then probably reread them. The book is densely packed with ideas, ranging from the definition of justice to building the perfect city. While there are plenty of important philosophical ideas which helped shape philosophy as we know it today, there are some ideas which I really dislike. Probably part of the reason for that is the character of Socrates, and how incessant and irritating he becomes throughout the book. He is never satisfied, always asking for clarifications and questions, ultimately he just becomes annoying.
Probably the most interesting part of “Republic” to me is the way Plato/Socrates builds his perfect city. His idea that the philosophers are the ruling class is definitely an interesting one, yet it seems obvious that Plato was looking out for himself when he decided that. Sure, maybe if we were forced to choose from philosophers, warriors, and workers, the best class to rule would be indeed the philosophers. Yet it seems like Plato makes out the philosophers to be a way nicer bunch than they probably are. The way he envisions their reign seems a little too positive, and I think that while the philosophers are great individuals, even they can become corrupt by having the power to rule a city. Yet this isn’t what really bothers me about Plato/Socrates’s perfect city, what really bothers me is how Plato/Socrates decide how people are placed into classes.
The fact that they do not take into consideration someone’s personal happiness is what annoys me. While the philosophers have the “burden” of ruling, everyone else is doing their jobs which were assigned to them. The idea that in the perfect city an individual doesn’t even have the right to try what and be what they want to be is ludicrous. Plato/Socrates’s method of assigning classes would only work if the perfect city was inhabited by robots. It just doesn’t work with humans because we’re selfish animals, we strive to do what makes us happy. While you could say that it should make us happy that we’re contributing to the greater good of the city, I just don’t think that’s enough to satisfy someone who is forced to be a worker, when they dream of fighting on the battlefields.
That’s my main gripe with the “Republic”, and overall it’s not that big of an issue considering all the other thought-provoking ideas that Plato writes about. Probably the idea I find most interesting is the allegory of the cave, and how innovative it must have been especially in the times “Republic” was written. The way it applies to a lot of modern day aspects such as advertising is really interesting, and is what makes it such an important philosophical milestone. Ultimately, Plato’s “Republic” is a classic of western literature because of how many different interesting and innovative ideas it had, and while I had a few gripes with it, overall it was definitely worth reading.
Reading Republic, by Plato, was interesting. The text opens up with a debate on what is justice, which is branched out from Socrates and Cephalus discussing old age. The first chapter took a while to get through; however, as I read on the reading became easier. The form the text is constructed is an interesting take, as Plato uses dialogue to form his arguments to persuade people to see what he believes to be justice. Through the form of discussion and logical reasoning, Plato is able to swiftly tackle any counter arguments and a chorus of others who, after logic reasoning and deduction, come to the same conclusion as Plato and agree with him.
The ideal kalipolis is soon introduced and we learn what Plato believes to be the best form of government. The kalipolis he creates is interesting in itself. The people will have limited education, selected by the ruling class who have been tested for the position, and will work for the greater good of the community, which will reward them in happiness. What Plato finds as happiness is very interesting. In his ideal city people will be happy just serving their community with the best of their abilities tested into one certain lifestyle. The hierarchy system is also what I thought to be interesting. Plato prides his ideal city to be harmonious, which to function every citizen would have to give up any sense of individual and have to step back to look at the greater picture. He believes there will be happiness in his city with no rifts between the classes. His justification is that if those were educated the way he believes should be. People would be okay as they belong to the state and every person is necessary and therefore okay with the hierarchy of people. His reasoning is logical and idealistic in the thought that a perfect city is to be able to function by being one big machine looking after each other, rather than people who share a space and tend to their own carnal desires. I liked seeing how his city was structured as well as other details of education and how it all played out in the larger picture. I’m not sure that I agree it is the best city, but I do see how he can shed a light on how democracy is flawed.
This book reminded me of many dystopian novels and short stories I have enjoyed. The idea of community, what is private and public, was a theme that caught me as well as choice. By limiting education and selecting certain stories to be portrayed in one light is something we find to be limiting rather than liberating. It is cool to be able to contrast Plato’s perfect city and today’s global society, especially how it would work today. In this way it reminded me of Kurt Vonnegut’s Harrison Bergeron were the government controls everything making sure everything is equal, just as Plato’s guardians make sure there is no strife in the community.
As Plato continues in his search for justice and a perfect just society, it becomes increasingly clear that, though the text is set up as a series of revealing points and counterpoints, in the end, it represents a very monocular and narrow minded viewpoint, which is Plato’s viewpoint. As one of his fellow philosophers points out, Plato is a master of words and a skilled debater. He spins his opponents round in circles and by the time he’s done he’s made his opponents contradict themselves in some way and claims victory for himself. By pointing out the fact that his opponent is wrong, he rationalizes that he must be right. Plato’s inability to take into account the viewpoints of others, in my opinion, is the reason his arguments aren’t widely accepted. Furthermore it’s the reason he can’t see the inherent flaws in his own thought experiment.
The Allegory of the cave is an instant in which plato follows his train of thought so far that he can’t see anything but his own ideas. Plato establishes, at one point in the book, that one thing cannot perform contradictory actions at the same time and in the same way. He later uses this logic to describe the idea that something cannot be both knowledge and ignorance at the same time. Rather, he described this state of flux between knowledge and ignorance as “opinion”. In the allegory of the cave, the halfway point between the truth (the sun) and the ignorance (the shadows), is the puppeteers and their instruments. The puppeteers used various artifacts and objects to create a false sense of reality for the observers in the cave. The truth, in Plato’s OPINION, can only be reached if someone of knowledge and rationality pulls you out. Plato’s monocular vision of reality comes into play at this point because he believes he’s somehow saving people from the shackles of ignorance and showing them reality. He fails to take into account the idea that reality is not some objective “thing”. Many would say reality isn’t “out there” it’s not something that is existing somewhere that can be found. Rather and argument can be made that reality is just a shared subjective construct of our surroundings and our senses. The people who see images on the wall in the cave live in their own reality which is a construct of what they see and hear. They believe the shadows on the wall are living things because they see them and they can hear them. They create a completely rational idea of what life is given their context. Their idea of life is no more false than Plato’s. They both reached conclusions on what reality is, based on their rational connections between what they were surrounded by, and who’s to say Plato won’t be dragged reluctantly from his reality and shown the “real” reality. Plato’s ideas, just like all others, are flickering shadows on the wall, and he’s just another puppeteer floating between knowledge and ignorance.
Continuing to read Plato, was an interesting experience. For one, his arguments are very well-founded and hard to refute. So on some occasions I agreed with him and when I firmly disagreed with him, I couldn’t really argue with his logic.
There are a number of ideas and suggestions that Plato makes that I firmly agree with. The idea of women ruling with men being one of them. It may be one of the more redeeming qualities of Plato that he sees no difference between men and women. However, the concept which I find myself most intrigued by is the allegory in the cave, in which humans are the ones continuously grasping at the shadows to try and seek the truth, when they can’t. I wouldn’t say Plato has found the truth in his representation of the perfect kalliopis, but I have to say that his allegory of a cave is a very accurate representation of how we are striving to identify the shadows which seem to change and flicker.
My thoughts on Plato’s suggestions of a bad city state were mixed. They were all… bad, but historical examples made me question Plato’s argument. If one looks at the Roman Empire/Republic… there is a parallel to Plato’s argument in there. There was a republic, that descended into a tyranny. Yet, if one looks again at the Roman empire, some of the most successful inventions were during the Tyranny. So… what Plato suggested is that the Roman Empire was a bad city-state… in a sense, it was, but in a sense it wasn’t since it did last for such a long period of time. Still, I had to admire how Plato described the decay of the city-states as they were later proven by historical examples.
As for the philosopher kings, the auxiliaries and their training? Well… In theory, they seemed to make sense. In all practicality… humans don’t obey logic and have desires. Plato knows that and he tries to address that ‘problem’ with censorship, conditioning and creating a societal role that would make it difficult, for the desires. However, while I cannot say he’s wrong, I think that Plato is only trying to at the most, set aside the problem of human desire and not addressing the source. All his limits, censorship and role-molding that he forces upon the philosopher kings would work… but without any sort of true passion for their jobs, the philospher kings would be in effect, screwed because their job is rather thankless.
Still, Plato’s attempt to grasp at the truth of a perfect government, is an attempt and a good attempt at trying to define the shadow of perfect government.
I feel like Plato just led me on a very extensive tour of his ouwn paradise. Although I don’t think I’ll be looking for a place there any time soon, he was a fascinating guide and I’m glad I didn’t miss out on the tour. …Clearly i didn’t quite pick up Plato’s way with words through reading this book. Ah well.
I found book VIII particularly interesting, in how Socrates describes the way the perfect state may transform to a timarchy, an oligarchy, a democracy, and finally a tyranny. Wealth, he claims, plays a major role in this decent from perfection, and has an inverse relationship with virtue. When reading this I found myself reminded of when I was a child, and how I naïvely thought that all problems would be solved if there was no such thing as money. It seemed so logical at the time, everyone would be able to have whatever they wanted. Not that I’m comparing Plato to a child, I just feel as though it must be something that’s crossed everyone’s mind at one point or another. Both in a naïve sense in youth and again in a more analytical and reflective way as a young adult. His opinion on that matter is probably shared by many others, and i wonder what his thoughts on modern capitalism would be.
This may seem insignificant, but I found it interesting that Plato believed dreams revealed hidden desires. Socrates says “Our dreams make it clear that there is a dangerous, wild, and lawless form of desire in everyone” on page 242. Although I’m not sure if it’s our dreams that reveal this, I do agree that everyone has a side to them that’s kept hidden, and possibly not ever revealed. What I mean is, put under the right circumstances, I think anyone could be “evil” or monstrous as I suppose I should say. I disagree with him in his reaction to the existence of this ‘dark side’ of human nature, however.
I really enjoyed reading the allegory of the cave, although I’m still a little bit unsure of my understanding of ‘forms’. I’m very much looking forward to hearing what Jill Fellows has to say about it in the lecture, as I’m sure there are parts that went straight over my head, despite my efforts. I have to say, I hadn’t actually heard of the allegory of the cave before this year, except for a sign on my old principal’s door that said ‘Plato’s Cave’. Glad to finally understand what that was all about.
The worst read so far in arts one has finally come to an end. I have never had to concentrate so hard on a book. The dialogue was as repetitive as I could fathom as character after character succumbed to Socrates’ “perfect” logic. Each character appeared to be intelligent and individualistic, but eventually, they all turned into yes man. The book reached a point of sending the idea of how the phrase “yes, you care correct” could be replicated in as many ways as possible. If the book succeeded in one thing, it would have to be that. However, what t did not succeed in doing is convincing me of the Utopia of what The Republic could be. Plato appears to rule out very important parts of humanity in creating this government. He clearly fails to present an individuals right to choose. This ignores the basis of what one is best at doing. It goes outside of what someone’s highest skill is, what they are most efficient at doing. Plato removes this possibility from the individual leaving them with nothing but a Brave New World rendition in which class is dictated systematically, disregarding what the individual may hope to do, simply replacing it by what the individual is made to do.
I also have a problem with philosophers being the leaders and deciders of society. This is not because I have any problem with philosophy (other than understanding these far-reaching ideas), it is that I do not like Plato dictating this. This is due to that fact that Plato is a philosopher himself. He is completely biased in his ordering and structuring of how he wants society to be arranged. By conveniently placing himself as top dog, the lawmaker and ruler, I do not trust him. I do not believe he is seeking out any sort of revolutionary idea. What would have made me think on a more philosophical level would be Plato arguing for the most intelligent to have the least say in government. This sounds ridiculous perhaps, but knowing Plato, he would have been able to talk his zombie yes-men into believing just about anything.
It’s not that I don’t like Plato, it’s that he is arrogance hidden as naivety. He attempts to make himself sound less intelligent and more of a seeker of knowledge by throwing rhetorical question after rhetorical question at the reader/listener. In reality, Plato has a clear vision of what he believes things should be like. Not only this, but he also believes that things are only to be viewed in a certain way, and he of course, has found this singular way of viewing.
During the second part of Republic, I always had the Nietzche quote in the back of my mind, the one that says Plato is scared of the human reality and therefore hides behind is mathematical logic. I think Nietzche was on to something. Although I still find Platos arguments as unagreeable as when I read the first half, there are a few new things that i’ve noticed, and things that stuck with me. There were times it seemed Plato was slipping up. There were even certain things I found myself agreeing with.
I’ll begin with the things I don’t agree with. I earmarked page 134 as a “dangerous” page. Here Plato brings together his ideas on selective breeding. What is really curious to me is this: Plato previously states that he wants his citizens educated, and to be knowledgable about how the city works. The idea is once they understand the philosophy, they’ll see why things have to be done and they’ll accept that it is for the greater good. And yet, Socrates/Plato proposes to keep the selective breeding secret from the people. So does Plato not have faith in his own philosophy? Sometimes his class system seems to go against his idea of a whole harmonious entity.On the same page he also condones infanticide, and that tends to send up some red flags as well. He goes on to critizise the education system, and I think some of his criticisms are valid. At one point, however, he states that education isn’t about giving a person sight, but instead directing where they look. This is interesting and I think most people today, in our society at least, would believe the opposite.
When it comes to Plato’s criticism of democracy, I actually found myself agreeing with a lot of it. Although HIS doctrine is just as likely to fail, the flaws he points out are legitimate, I think. He predicts huge gaps between the rich and poor. Todays society is proof that this can occur. It seems that in his system, one gets to the “top one percent” through wisdom, skill, and physical competence. That sounds better right? Hmm…. Well, the wisdom and skill part is fair enough I suppose, but at the same time that was the idea behind the free 1st world democracies, and I don’t think Plato would like those.
The definition of a tyrant was interesting because it was very human. Tyranny is associated with flattering others to get something or hanging out with people who flatter you. Someone with a tyrannical nature “lives his whole life as either a master to one man or a slave to another, never getting a taste of true freedom or friendship.” I’m sometimes guilty of hanging out with people because they tell me i’m great, and i’ve also been very kind to people who I thought could get me somewhere. But i still think this statement is one of Socrates wiser ones.
There is one other thing Plato and I can agree on. I believe that if mankind didn’t have as many choices to make they would probably be happier.
See you tomorrow!
After finishing Plato’s Republic, I still was left unconvinced as to the benefits of the philosopher’s utopia.
I found the metaphor of the three beds to be particularly interesting. With regards to the truth, it truly shed light upon the Plato’s idea of uniformity. Throughout the work, Plato makes it well known that there may only be one form of reality, and that all others are mere imitations. These replicas arise out of ignorance and opinion, and have no real basis in intelligent thinking. To an extent, I agree with this belief, as there are no other means by which certain components of the universe operate, such as with regards to the Earth’s spherical shape. Although I agree, though, I also have strong opinions concerning the matter as well. When Plato dismissed art as being completely insignificant, and a mere lie about reality, I almost wanted to slap him. To be so confident and unmoving in one’s own belief of truth to completely ignore the other perceptions of life presented through art demonstrates a lack of knowledge. The entire point of art is that it provides various other means and perspectives by which we experience and see the world. Simply because it opposes or questions the idea of a uniform truth does not mean that it must be thrown out the window. When an artist paints a blacksmith, he does not claim to be fully knowledgeable about the subject’s worth, but rather presents it through another lens. Art may offer different opinions and perspectives on truth, but that does not by any means signify that it possesses no realities about life.
Aside from my rant on Plato and art, I found the idea of tyranny restricting the soul to be very intriguing. Normally, I would agree with those who say that the tyrannical are completely content in their reign, but to see Plato’s opinion changed my perspective slightly. When the philosopher describes the tyrant as needing to constantly be in control, and is perpetual in fear of losing it, it definitely painted the picture of a man trapped by his own greed. In trying to obtain liberation to control a society where all one’s whims are obeyed, the individual truly loses sight of humanity and becomes a slave to desire.
Although I was not the biggest fan of Plato’s work, upon completing it I have become slightly persuaded by a few of his ideas, but not many.
Based on this book, I have to say that although Plato is a man with many legitimate arguments, he ultimately possesses misguided fundamentals coupled with even more misguided theories of application. His ideal of justice is nothing more than a state-regulated lifestyle of moderation and conformity, while his ideal state is nothing more than an assembly line with which to pump out the “just” masses and have them lead utterly uninteresting lives. Uninteresting to me, that is—as par one of Plato’s legitimate arguments, the pumped out masses would definitely be hard-wired to love their respective lifestyles. A foundation of society is, after all, to make the masses think they’re happy.
In any case, where Plato’s fundamentals go wrong is at the very start of his logic. The problem, however, is not that he only sees one answer to every question (every question does only have one answer in relation to it). The problem is that he sees only one answer to all questions, and subsequently only one path to the said answer. That answer, of course, is justice, and the path to it is a moderated and conformed lifestyle. Even the philosophers, who he sees as the highest class of citizen, must follow this established path every step of the way. The main issue with such two-dimensional thinking (aside from the fact that it’s nothing short of ignorance), is that it is fragile against anything that even has a semblance of being able to prove it wrong. It is a thin and brittle tower built from the ground up, and anyone with the slightest curiosity could just poke at it and cause the entire thing to crash right back down. In this case, the tower crashers are anyone beyond the ideal citizen that Plato described; he is well aware of this fact, which is why he explicitly stated that his state cannot let anyone who doesn’t conform to his standards enter the city. It is also why he says to censor the poems and the songs, and eliminate the greatest highs and the lowest lows. He is desperate to retain the illusion that his ideal is absolute, and has devised every method he is capable of conceptualizing to maintain that illusion, which of course won’t stop anyone from nuking the city of crazies if they by some miracle actually manage to survive that long. Thankfully, however, the man has enough sense to admit that creating such a state is virtually impossible. The closest you could probably get to it in reality is the state depicted in George Orwell’s 1984, and even then you’d be hard-pressed to maintain it. So, for all intents and purposes, Plato’s argument (or at least the state part) is realistically impossible as well as utterly unappealing to those who have lived outside of its illusion.
After working my way through the first half of the book, I found that reading the second half wasn’t as bad. Maybe it was because by then I’d gotten used to the dialogue in the book and the way Socrates made his arguments. The “Republic” became less of a headache and I even found myself liking the book (but, I’ll admit, not always!).
One thing that really interested me in the book was how Socrates argued that painters and craftsmen were imitators. First of all, when we think of painters, I, at least, think of them as people who create art that is original and authentic, something that reflects emotions or inner beliefs. Socrates make them out to be people who lack originality and “produces work that is inferior with respect to the truth.” Even though I totally disagree with Socrates that painters are imitators (which can be a nicer word for plagiarism), I find his views interesting. First of all, he says that the work painters produce is inferior to the truth, but perhaps his view towards truth is too platonic. Why should there be only one truth as to what the truth is? Why shouldn’t a painter’s work reflect the truth too?
Another argument that Plato made that really held my interest was towards the very end, where Socrates was describing a situation where many people chose to become animals for their next life. Odysseus, in this situation, chooses to be a “private individual who did his own work” and “other souls changed from animals into human beings.” Having come from the Odyssey lecture where Caroline Williams emphasized the importance of Odysseus having made the choice to be human rather than a god, Plato is emphasizing the opposite. I feel Plato has a feeling of hatred for humans and what makes humans… human. I get the impression from him that he’s trying to tell us how flawed human life is, with all its pains and shortcomings that are a part of human existence, and that’s why he wants to make the argument that many people choose to become animals in their next life. Animals have a much simpler life, after all. Socrates also states a number of times how humans are at the mercy of their own appetites, forever in pursuit of something…
Plato also has a lot to say about politics. He says a number of times how democracy is monstrous and that, ideally, a state should have only a philosopher-King. I feel that Plato’s “philosopher-king” is perhaps the modern equivalent of a Senate. Plato compares democracy as a many headed monster who is never fully satisfied. On the other hand, his philosopher-king seems to know how best to rule. His philosopher-king isn’t pressured by the public to make certain decisions the way a democratic ruler would. This was another bit that lingered in my mind (and trust me, I forgot a large part of the book after finishing it!).
Reading Plato’s arguments were hard. I’m not sure what this proves about us as readers. Are we too narrow-minded to accept Plato’s arguments? Is that why they are so difficult to read and retain? Who exactly is monstrous, us or Plato?