Dan's Reviews > The Republic

The Republic by Plato
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's review
Feb 04, 2008

did not like it

I'm not sure why people read this. For those interested in the history of philosophy it's undoubtedly important. For everyone else... meh. A lot of people comment that Plato deals seriously with all the big issues. Well, he brings them up, but never seriously engages with them.
Maybe the problem is that I'm reading this at 25 after spending a couple years seriously reading philosophy. Maybe Popper inoculated me. I might have felt differently if I started reading The Republic with a less critical eye. I honestly found myself giggling at some of Plato's arguments, due to their specious, and often obviously false nature. Plato's rhetorical style is also laughable.

The format for much of the book is this: a topic is introduced, "rules for allowable art" for example. Next, Plato makes a dishonest but true-on-the-surface argument. Listener agrees wholeheartedly. Plato uses that simple argument to argue for some ridiculous position like actors not being allowed to play bad men or women or children because they might become like bad men, women, or children.

My big criticism is that for most of the book, the listeners do nothing but agree. They are at least interesting in the first book, but by the second have been reduced to a sycophantic chorus.

This is a representative snippet of Plato proving that an unjust person is not clever or good.

“And about knowledge and ignorance in general; see whether
you think that any man who has knowledge ever would wish to
have the choice of saying or doing more than another man who
has knowledge. Would he not rather say or do the same as his
like in the same case?

That, I suppose, can hardly be denied.

And what of the ignorant? would he not desire to have more
than either the knowing or the ignorant?”

His reasoning goes: a knowledgeable man never tries to outdo or be different from another knowledgeable man, and knowledge is good. An unjust man tries to outdo other unjust men, so is not good. There's more to the argument than that, but no one ever challenges this (arguably false) assumption that competition and difference are inherently unwise and ungood. If Plato doesn't bother to think about that, why should I bother to think about Plato. There's a dozen better Greek texts, and a rereading of The Orestia will teach you a lot more about life. If you want to think about justice pick up some Rawls. Seriously, this should have been buried with Sparta.
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07/22/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by Chris (new)

Chris The arguments he writes about education were interesting when I was taking the History of Ed. course back as an undergraduate. I was just thinking of this book the other day when talking to someone about physical education in the high schools.

Alyoshka I think you are vastly oversimplifying his arguments. Firsty, you cannot quote Plato out of context because he purposefully leads the reader through twists and turns in order to arrive at a complex and developed point. Also, his surface argument are of course often absurd and seemingly silly. Plato is hugely layered and allegorical, even with the most simple arguments. For this, he does not read very much like modern philosophers. The work must be read as a whole and through the various layers in order to grasp even a fraction of its immense genius and beauty. I am not saying that I have any particular expertise on the book whatsoever, I certainly do not. but I cam merely saying that the book cannot be simply dismissed as ridiculous and unimportant. His grand ideas were the foundation for all of western thought and continue to stand alone as hugely instructive and wise. This work is an utter masterpiece.

Tyler The problem with Plato is that, since his time, philosophy has advanced so far that his dialogs look amateurish. It's hard for the modern reader to see that Plato had very little to go on, whereas we have a vast store of ready-made philosophy already worked out for our benefit.

The ancients used repetition to teach, and Plato's similes, the line, the sun, the cave, restate the same point. This repetition goes on and on throughout the dialog, and it puts off modern readers.

It's true that Plato uses the dialogs merely to lead the reader to his point. It's true that the stories are layered, allegorical, and textured. But you cannot read this book "as a whole" because there is no overarching thesis. "Genuis" and "beauty" are no substitutes for good philosophy, and we moderns have been spoiled by good, precise philosophy in a way Plato never was.

The question is what direction to approach The Republic from. Considering what Plato had to work with, it's excellent. But must you read it only from Plato's perspective, or might you read it rather from a modern standpoint? There is no right answer to this, but whatever choice you make will lead you to a different conclusion about the value of the book.

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