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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ancient and Modern
Alfred North Whitehead wrote, "the safest characterisation of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato". Simon Blackburn rejects Whitehead's claim arguing,"much of the European tradition in philosophy contains violent rejections of Plato". Plato has been cited as justifying a range of political opinion from liberalism to...
Published on 31 Mar. 2010 by Neutral

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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Blackburn is a philosophical trendy
When philosophy was obscure Blackburn was happy to remain obscure. Now philosophy is more popular Blackburn wants to be popular. He is philosophical flotsum.

Blackburn has written one of the worst books on philosophy "Spreading the word" . This book single-handedly put me off the philosophy of language.

Now he's turned his hand to Plato. His mind...
Published 22 months ago by Joe Sen


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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ancient and Modern, 31 Mar. 2010
By 
Neutral "Phil" (UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: Plato's "Republic": A Biography - A Book That Shook the World (Books That Shook the World) (Paperback)
Alfred North Whitehead wrote, "the safest characterisation of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato". Simon Blackburn rejects Whitehead's claim arguing,"much of the European tradition in philosophy contains violent rejections of Plato". Plato has been cited as justifying a range of political opinion from liberalism to authoritarianism and, more recently, American neo-conservatism. As The Republic was the first of the great texts on ethics and politics it is important to understand what Plato wrote as the issues he addressed have not changed. The fundamental issue is whether it is always better to be just than unjust. Plato argues justice is a virtue and one which should be pursued by individuals and societies as a whole.

According to Blackburn The Republic is "commonly regarded as the cumulative achievement of Plato as a philosopher and writer." It was written around 375 BC when Plato was in his early fifties with Socrates, who had been executed in 399 BC, as its leading character. The Republic consists of dialogues between Socrates and his pupils as to the nature of a just society. It addresses the question of whether power is the reality of politics and ethics an expression of the limitations of action by custom. Socrates argued that just as a disordered soul is bad for the individual so too is a disordered polis bad for society. Therefore it is in the interests of all that people should act justly. It was in the interests of the city-state that they should be ruled by enlightened philosopher-kings (guardians) who could understand and would apply principles of justice.

Plato's underlying premise is that materialism hides another realm of reality which can only be perceived and understood by guardians (philosopher-kings) who had the intellectual qualities to separate justice from expediency in the interests of the common good. Over the centuries many, including religious and political groups, have claimed to have those qualities and see a world hidden from those who do not possess their special knowledge. As such knowledge is metaphysical in nature who can verify truth from fiction? In addition, while the guardians would guard society who would guard the guardians. In practice the "guardians" - the ruling elite - assumed their right to rule.

Blackburn's background was in the philosophy of science and in examining Greek philosophy he sees Aristotle as an empiricist and Plato as a dreamer. Yet he acknowledges that Aristotle's empiricism does not provide vision and society needs both. In dealing with the question of "Might and Right"it is noted that the Athenians' treatment of the Melitians whom they punished severely for preferring neutrality to an alliance against Sparta was based on self-interest rather than justice. This is presented by Plato as resulting in a bad conscience for the Athenians and portrayed both favourably and unfavourably over the centuries according to the dominant philosophy in society.

Blackburn provides a broad brush approach to the issues raised by Plato including the subjects of knowledge and belief, the myth of the cave and the religious, poetic and scientific interpretations. Blackburn rightly contends that the ethical and political problems referred to in Plato remained unchanged, only the material circumstances have altered. Human nature remains the same and Plato was the first to address the consequences of human behaviour. For a philosopher not to have read The Republic is rather like a theologian studying Jesus without reading the Bible. It is indeed one of the "Books That Shook The World".

As an introduction to the ideas of The Republic Blackburn has provided an excellent overview but I would suggest that the book itself should be read both before and after reading Blackburn's interpretation. There are many books on Plato of which Benjamin Jowett's 1871 translation is still held in high regard. My undergraduate text was that of F M Cornford (which I still have) but I would not dissent from Blackburn's choice which is Robin Waterfield's World Classics edition which I have just added to my list of future purchases along with Blackburn's own book. Five stars.
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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent introduction to Plato's Republic, 30 Dec. 2009
By 
Red Virgil (Los Angeles, CA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Plato's "Republic": A Biography - A Book That Shook the World (Books That Shook the World) (Paperback)
An excellent introductory text that is easy to read. Perfect for someone who hasn't studied much Plato but equally enjoyable for the more advanced student. Succinct and well written. Very quotable, so extremely useful for essay writing!
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Blackburn is a philosophical trendy, 1 May 2013
This review is from: Plato's "Republic": A Biography - A Book That Shook the World (Books That Shook the World) (Paperback)
When philosophy was obscure Blackburn was happy to remain obscure. Now philosophy is more popular Blackburn wants to be popular. He is philosophical flotsum.

Blackburn has written one of the worst books on philosophy "Spreading the word" . This book single-handedly put me off the philosophy of language.

Now he's turned his hand to Plato. His mind is too dirty to read Plato.
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