on 12 June 2013
If you are new to philosophy or Plato, or indeed a seasoned and erudite reader, then you really should read and own a copy of this book. Plato is a delight to read (far easier to read than Aristotle, for example), the book being a Socratic dialogue set out very much like the dialogue of a play. I found the ideas and ideologies presented within this book profound and breath-taking, especially given how long ago the original text was written. An absolutely essential read about justice, society and the self.
on 1 October 2012
Undoubtedly this must be one of the most beautiful books that have ever been written in the history of European literature. Pure philosophy without philosophising... if you know what I mean... The language is simple and straightforward. Concepts are laid out beautifully. Problems and questions are eternally valid and universal. All of them the truths of life. All about being, wanting to be and not giving up; only at some level the questions Plato asks are political questions.
If, once youve read the book, you are one of the lucky (unlucky?) ones for whom the Republic has become the life changing Monumentum then you will most likely be taken on a journey into the cave, deep and dark, and if among that darkness you see the light of Idea, as Plato imagined it, you will either come out of that cave as a different man or nover come out at all.
I read this book for the first time when I was 15 or 16 years old, probably much too early not to understand the power of Idea... my heart was still pure, mind naive, the Idea was irresistible and it had stolen my heart for ever... what it did to me cannot be described...
Read it! Read it! But read it to your Sons and Daughters!
on 12 June 2016
The Republic is Plato's famous fourth century BC description of the ultimate just society.
I loathed this book.
The Republic begins by asking how we can identify morality, and it is with the basic idea of morality that I can start to say why I disliked the Republic so much. Plato sees morality as a set of rules. He suggests putting individual desires second to general interests, fostering unity, and playing your part in a society where there is rigid specialisation of roles. Plato, however, has no conception that morality might have less to do with rules and more to do with empathy. Morality is actually an extension of the ability to understand how others are feeling, which tends to count against actions that are selfish or hurtful. We also call empathy "having a conscience". The thing is Plato shows no ability to understand what other people are feeling.
In the sections where he condemns poetry, for example, it is the sense of empathy that really irritates Plato. He finds appalling the idea that when people read Homer, or any other writer, they are made to feel the pain of others:
“When Homer or another tragedian represents the grief of one of the heroes, they have him deliver a lengthy speech of lamentation or even have him sing a dirge and beat his breast; and when we listen to all this, even the best of us, as I’m sure you’re aware, feels pleasure. We surrender ourselves, let ourselves be carried along, and share the hero’s pain; and then we enthuse about the skill of any poet who makes us feel particularly strong feelings ... However, you also appreciate that when we’re afflicted by trouble in our own lives, then we take pride in the opposite—in our ability to endure pain without being upset. We think that this is manly behaviour, and that only women behave in the way we were sanctioning earlier... So,’ I said, ‘instead of being repulsed by the sight of the kind of person we’d regret and deplore being ourselves, we enjoy the spectacle and sanction it. Is this a proper way to behave?”
This is typical of much of Plato’s criticism of literature, which he sees only in terms of false representation of the world, rather than in terms of communication between people.
It is from this basic lack of empathy that all the things I hated about The Republic derived. Plato is able to dismiss the little people in his society, lie to them about why exactly they have to accept their rigid role in life, let babies die if they are judged unworthy, let sick workers die for want of medical attention because if they are that sick they are better off dead. He can suggest that no woman keep her own child, or that people do not form stable marriages with each other. Plato had no idea how people would be feeling in all these situations, and therefore is immoral in the way he talks about them.
Some readers might say that at least Plato understood the pain of women, when he famously argues that women should play an equal role alongside men in society. But coming to this conclusion in no way involved Plato imagining himself as a woman, and feeling their frustration. Instead, Plato looks at female dogs, sees them making good guard dogs, and thinks that society would be more efficient if it were to treat human females in the same way.
Today we use the term sociopath to describe an individual who cannot feel empathy. These people are without conscience, live only to manipulate others, and are adept at hiding their nature. What better place for a sociopath to hide than in a book on morality, which describes all kinds of ways in which people can be manipulated in society, from breaking up any possibility of power based on families, to brainwashing from an early age, to creating myths to persuade them to accept their allotted role in life? The Republic could be a handbook for totalitarian regimes everywhere.
That’s why I loathed The Republic.
on 13 January 2014
Being Greek I was fortunate enough to be able to read, many years ago,"The republic" in the original text.
This book,which conveys all of Plato's concepts and ideas in an impeccable way to the English speaking reader,deserves every praise.
on 30 April 2012
I read this translation originally, but I lost my copy and decided to replace it with a nicer-looking hardback copy (The Republic: The Influential Classic (Capstone Classics)). I didn't know what all the fuss was about over different translations... but I quickly found out! The hardback I bought was a translation by Tom Butler-Bowdon and I hated it. I would read a paragraph and then wonder what on earth I'd just read. Somehow, the words just felt unnatural and it was difficult to take in. At first I thought it was because I was tired, but then I realised it was the translation.
This paperback version (translated by Desmond Lee) is, by contrast, wonderful So smooth and easy to take in. After a few days of frustration with the hardback, I ditched it and bought the Lee translation again. I love this book. It has been a favorite of mine for years. I'm so glad to have my old friendly version back again. It turns out the translation makes all the difference.
It's a shame about the hardback. I really liked the way it looked on my shelf, but the old cliché is true: you can't judge a book by its cover!
on 27 August 2015
Well, what else can you say about The Republic? This book had a much bigger impact on me than I thought it would. I write my reviews as a general reader, not from an academic point of view, so if you are reading for personal reasons, then this review may help you.
I think one of the mistakes you can make with The Republic is to think it is all about politics. It is far from that. It is as much concerned about the individual leading a happy and just life. It is obvious that there are many parallels drawn during the book on the state and the individual, but I think there is an even bigger allegory at play concerning the state as the individual, that perhaps Plato was using behind the whole framework.
The politics is undeniable though. Plato himself was from an aristocratic Athenian background, and he writes at length (through Socrates) of the different types of societies in place, and why The Republic that he has created (in thought) is the best possible system that could exist. It is perhaps a cliché to say that it couldn’t work, but it really wouldn’t. The most frightening aspects of The Republic seem to have been a precursor to the totalitarian governments such as the Nazi regime, that would appear two and half thousand years later. It appears that the people cannot be trusted with their own thoughts, and their minds must be carefully crafted to avoid being educated with anything the rulers disagree with, particularly the dramatic Greek poets.
In its most chilling passage, The Republic would “quietly and secretly dispose” of children conceived by ‘inferior guardians’. There are books written in defence of Plato regarding this aspect, some suggesting that he may not have meant to imply to kill infants but it is hard to agree with those thoughts when you read the following passage -“We shall first order them to make every effort to prevent any conception which takes place in these unions [close family members] from seeing the light at all, and if they fail to prevent its birth, to dispose of it as a creature that must not be reared”. I think that’s pretty clear.
The notes of this Penguin Classics version state that there would be nothing very shocking to Greek sentiment regarding infanticide. It seems that the practice took place in Sparta and Athens, so perhaps one can read further into The Republic bearing this in mind, but it is still nothing short of shocking to read these passages, and again, it is another example of how the terrible aspects of this ideal state have been part of later tyrannical governments.
Where the book redeems itself is how the individual can lead a just and happy life. I can’t even number the amount of passages I have underlined. There is some wonderful literature and poetry mixed in with the philosophy. The Simile of the Cave in Book VII is particularly brilliant. You will find it fascinating to read this section, as it metaphorically describes how the vast majority of people live their lives within a cave, thinking that their own shadows are reality, when in fact the true life has to be found outside the cave. Only those who can bear the adjustment of facing the bright light will make it out of the cave. As Plato would have it, they must return to the cave to teach people of the true life.
The essence of The Republic is on leading a just life, and the discussion regarding the ideal state begins because Socrates is arguing why it pays better to live a just life. At first his opponents believe that it is the unjust who live the happier and better lives, and it takes Socrates the majority of the book to demonstrate why living a just life is better for the individual.
Is it easy to read? There are indeed some difficult sections, and the similes are quite tricky to understand at first. In general though, I think if you stick at it and read plenty a day, the book will engross you, and by the end of it, you will definitely find the pay offs. The last section in particular, is one of my favourite passages, and even the final paragraph has magic within it. As with many of the classic books, it will require several readings to fully understand it, but even then I’m sure people will question if you really can achieve that. It is enlightening, uplifting, confusing and horrifying, but there is a reason it is regarded as one of the finest pieces of philosophy ever written. Students will read it if it is part of their course anyway, but for anyone else, let this historical masterpiece draw you in and give you some reasons to live a just and happy life.
on 4 March 2011
This book has a very modern feel despite the text being around 2500 years old. I like the translation, the choice of words feel more correct, I think it corresponds more to our modern time. I especially like the introduction, outlining every point in the book. There are notes and elaborations along the way, explaining and guiding you through the sometimes difficult arguments. The book itself is not very large, you can easily read it comfortably in one hand. I love the layout and picture on the front of the book.
on 2 March 2011
The republic is my top recommendation for anyone getting to grips with politics, within these weighty pages we find a Socratic dialogue that offers more sense to how to run our country politically than the three main leaders of our political parties combined can bring together.
Covering a vast range of topics via dialogue, Plato's favored writing style, if studied, absorbed and followed, you would put yourself on a sure footing with regards to running a country and fulfilling the needs of the people.
It is a reminder that politicians and Governments are there to serve the constituency, not to serve themselves massive paypackets, expenses and pensions! Plato through the mouth piece of Socrates had Government bang on when he made these claims. He also believed that we should be Governed by philosopher kings. Meaning either a philosopher should enter politics and rule us or that say one of our current leaders, perhaps Cameron, should study the arts of Philosophy so he can do a better job of running the country; it could do little harm I believe.
In fact Aristotle, Platos' student, actually wrote a treatise of Government in two parts, the first his Ethics, the second his Politics. Aristotle believed both Ethics and Politics were intertwined, something which concurs with the Republic.
An excellent read for anyone studying political philosophy or anyone heaven forbid wishing to enter politics as a profession, we need more philosopher kings!
on 7 August 2015
Written in the 4th century BC, "The Republic" by Plato is probably the most famous book by the greatest philosopher ever. After 2,500 years of study, scholarly reviews, text analyses and debates, I have nothing new to add other than that I liked reading "The Republic" as much as I did reading about the book.
After looking into topics, ranging from the Theory of Forms, Socrates, Neo-Platonism and the Athenian democracy, to Philosopher Kings, the Hellenistic schools of thought, the Cave-allegory, Plotinus’ attempt to build a new city next to Rome based on Plato’s Republic”, and of course Plato himself, I understand a little bit better why "the Republic" is considered as one of the corner stones of Western Culture.
“The Republic” requires concentrated reading, but Plato’s beautiful prose, the excellent explanatory notes and summaries, and writing my own annotations in the margins made it a joy to read. Inevitably, there are some outdated and strange ideas addressed in the book, but overall I was impressed by how modern and recognisable most of the ideas and topics feel. Inspired by Peter Adamson’s podcast and books Classical Philosophy: A history of philosophy without any gaps, Volume 1, I have decided to try reading the sources of philosophy. What better place to start than Plato’s “The Republic”.
on 1 October 2013
Plato's text is easy to read, but difficult to understand, which is why this edition is so good. I have a hard copy and Kindle version of Waterfield's translation which was also used by Simon Blackburn in his own book on the Republic.
Here's my take on the book after multiple readings of this and other translations.
There are two ideas of the 'good' at play in the Republic.
Firstly, the idea of the 'good' as doing the right thing; what we call ethics or justice, this is the traditional idea of the Good presented by Glaucon in the Republic. Plato shows this to be inadequate at the beginning of the dialogue. The other, is the idea of the 'good' as something constituted, in such a way, that it can fulfil a particular purpose; this something, might be a household implement, an individual human being, or a community of human beings. The function of a knife is to cut, while the function of human beings, is to live and prosper. In order to cut, the knife must be sharp, and easily handled; in order to live and prosper, human beings must be healthy, and well provided for. Plato goes on to show, that this idea on its own, is also inadequate, and that the two types of 'good' are integral to something, much broader and deeper, than just ethics or function. This broader and deeper conception of the Good is Plato's imaginative project in the Republic; but before he can present his ideas, he looks to understand, how human beings are constituted, and how ethics or justice, have been formulated, to facilitate life and prosperity.
Justice is the 'business of everyone performing their task ... the principle that each single individual is to perform his own task without troubling himself about the tasks of others'. Morality is how we treat others; if we respect the fact that each person has a different task to perform, we will also respect, the resources they have at their disposal, in order to complete these tasks. How are human beings constituted? According to Plato, the mind or soul, is made up of three faculties forming a pyramid structure, with rationality at the apex, a passionate nature forming the middle, and a desiring appetite the base. 'The desirous part, is the major constituent of an individual's mind and is naturally insatiably greedy for things', 'the rational part is wise and looks out for the whole of the mind', and should rule, with the passionate part as its subordinate ally. 'The rational part will do the planning, and the passionate part the fighting'. Plato argues that communities reflect this tripartite structure of the human mind. When the human being or community is well-regulated it is able to sustain life and prosperity.
In this way, morality is both ethical and functional. The most rational part of the human mind, and the most rational part of a community, must rule in order for mankind to fulfil its particular purpose. Plato's broader and deeper conception of the Good, draws on these ideas, but at the same time relegates, life and prosperity, to the status of a common concern. It is the task of the philosopher to move beyond these concerns and search for the ideal form of the Good.