Plato’s Republic (Digested)

The first in a series so occasional it barely merits the title series, in which philosophical classics are reduced to their elements as a service to students and scholars.

#1: Plato’s Republic

A funny thing happened on the way to the agora. I bumped into that Socrates. He was having a chat about justice with all and sundry.
“I bet you know all about that!” asked Polyasskiss.
“I know nothing at all,” replied Socrates. “Which actually makes me considerably cleverer than you.”
“Indeed.”
“Now, to justice. Do you think justice is simply the most powerful getting their way?”
“Of course.”
“You’re wrong.”
“Anything you say, Socrates.”
“You’re all wrong because you’re like monkeys brought up in a cave who don’t know the difference between reality and shadows.”
“I’m a monkey brought up in a cave who doesn’t know the difference between reality and shadows.”
“That’s why you should be ruled by philosophers.”
“But aren’t philosophers rubbish politicians who end up getting condemned to death?”
“How simple and foolish you are, my simian friend. The fact that philosophers get killed rather than crowned kings proves how suited they really are to rule.”
“Ahhhh! I get it! Actually, I don’t.”
“Well, think of it like this. Take a vertical line, divide it in two, one third of the way down, then divide each of the remaining parts further into two according to the same ratio. Call the top segment intelligence, the next one reason, the next one belief and the last one total cobblers. Is that clear?”
“Certainly Socrates.”
“Now, a just person is like a just state.”
“What do you mean?”
“I was just coming to that.”
“Sorry. I just wanted to keep the pretence of a dialogue going.”
“What I mean is, you can make all sorts of analogies between things and if you do it cleverly enough you can build a whole philosophy on dubious comparisons and no one will notice.”
“God, you’re wise.”
“I’m not God, my friend, but yes, I’m very, very wise, but also ignorant, so therefore supremely modest really.”
“Is this chat going to go on much longer? I’ve got some shopping to do.”
“Every person has an excellence and they should stick to doing what they do well. We’re men and no one talks crap better than us. So leave the shopping to wives and slaves.”
“I think that more or less sums it up, Socrates.”
“Now, come back tomorrow and I’ll explain why somewhere in the heavens there is a perfect form of the kebab.”

  1. Does this mean I can say I’ve read it? I did try but the constant interjections of “Yes, that’s quite right”, “Very true”, “You go, girl” etc were just too infuriating.

  2. Sean Anderson

    As I read that, I could see it being read by Mark Steel as part of a “lecture” on Plato :)

  3. Existentialism and humanism?

    Sartre: “So I’ve had some duff reviews lately –

    Christians: “Cheer up, it might never happen…”
    Marxists: “So what you do is what you are? Philosopher, eh? What’s the French for ‘to think’… Ponce.”

    Rubbish, I say God’s out of the picture so anything goes, so lets get down to it.

    If I can cop off with my students then don’t get all uppity about it, you know you would if you could get away with it. It’s like Abraham innit?

    One poor sod asked me what to do and I told him to be an inventor, but not to count on Virgin trains turning up on time, (if Mussolini were in charge that wouldn’t happen, but who’s to judge?)

    If you don’t agree you’re a fool and a liar.

    …Close?

  4. Oh, yeah and there was a whole fascist element, too wasn’t there, regarding the guardian class who decided who bred and who did what and what music and art the people of the society were allowed to experience?

  5. Sean Anderson

    Is this digested version part of a series being produced by The Philosophers’ Magazine or has it been liberated from another website? If it has, could a link be posted please so we can read the rest of the digested texts? :)
    I’d like to read the Mediations in plain English ;)

  6. I’m pink therefore I’m spam. ;)

  7. Sean: it’s an original TPM exclusive. The Meditations will follow in due course. The Mediations, however…

  8. You know, this makes me realize that Plato was the Thomas Friedman of his age.

  9. Well this was very amusing, but I think someone should have written somewhere that in addition to having funny elements it’s also very worth reading and is incredibly important in how it set the agenda for political philosophy even today. What’s more, one of the most brilliant things about the Republic is that you can read it like a straight-forward piece of drama and as a modern reader feel all smug, but if you read it modern cynicism aside and actually try to contextualize it (or even just do textual analysis, but at a purely logical level) you will see the debt we owe to Plato (for better or for worse) in our education system, in our view of what qualifies a person to lead (though this, only in rebellion), and a host of other important political questions.

    To Robin, the Fascist readings only really come with Karl Popper who did an overlysimplistic reading of Plato to the extreme. In fact, though the Guardians control the government and to some extent the education system, social life outside of the guardians is largely free even in the modern sense. It should also be stated that fascism presupposes a modern conception of the individual, whereas, the psychological assumptions Plato is working off of are much different. Indeed, if he were working with a modern conception of the individual, The Republic would be hugely different and probably a lot more liberal and pluralistic.

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