Dec 28 2014

The Republic by Plato

Plato covers a range of subjects in this rambling work, but the chief one is the problem of what constitutes the best society. Naturally, Plato thinks that in any ideal society, the philosophers will be in charge. His Republic resembles Thomas More’s Utopia in that it would be a place where the citizens were incomparably virtuous; it would also be a pretty boring place where all fun was outlawed. He proceeds by rather implausible arguments to establish that the virtuous life is the happiest life, and therefore the virtuous society is the happiest society; I myself have serious doubts about this. He dislikes democracy as a disorderly society in which base people are allowed to indulge their whims and appetites to excess and in which the masses are easily led astray by demagogues; he has little faith that ordinary people left to themselves will accomplish anything good. Art is seen as having little value, but strangely even manual labor is disdained even though it is recognized as necessary; Plato is a true gentleman who sniffs at those who work with their hands. Finally, Plato argues that the soul is immortal and that good and evil meet their just reward in the afterlife; without this principle one might well wonder what the point of a strenuously virtuous life really is. I am afraid I do not find any of Plato’s arguments very convincing; the interlocutors which he places in Socrates’ audience are basically yes men who are far too quick to agree with all of his propositions without offering any serious criticism. Like all philosophers of his type he is too quick to assume that all serious philosophers will naturally arrive at the same conclusions that he has arrived at; he does not foresee that ten different philosophers are likely to arrive at ten different philosophies. Yet he deserves credit for taking on such an important issue and giving it serious thought, even if like Marx he recognizes the problem while proposing a solution that is even worse.

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