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The Republic

The Republic, by Plato (Author), Robin Waterfield (Translator), the focal work of one of the West’s most prominent savants, The Republic of Plato is a perfect work of art of understanding and feeling, the best of the Socratic exchanges, and one of the incredible books of Western culture. This new interpretation catches the sensational authenticity, wonderful magnificence, scholarly essentials, and enthusiastic intensity of Plato at his forces’ stature. Deftly meshing three principal strands of contention into a masterful entire – the moral and political, the tasteful and supernatural, and the otherworldly – Plato investigates in The Republic the components of the perfect network, where profound quality can be accomplished in an equalization of intelligence, boldness, and restriction.

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the republic by plato
the republic by Plato

Titles: hence Republic. However, the book is not by any stretch of the imagination a treatise on republicanism or Republicanism. Nevertheless, the title is immovable.

In this translation, Republic is about morality what it is and
how they fulfill one’s life as a human being. Some readers, however, may have encountered translations which make it a treatise on ‘justice.’ Still, Aristotle says (Nicomachean Ethics 1129 b —113a) that dikaiosune the Greek word involved—refers to something which encompasses all the various virtues and is almost synonymous with ‘virtue’ in general; my own experience of the relevant Greek words confirms that Aristotle is not indulging in special pleading to make some philosophical point. To most people, ‘justice’ means (roughly) ‘acting fairly and impartially towards others’: this is a part, but not the whole, of dikaiosune. There were times when the translation ‘justice’ would have sat better in the text, but I found it preferable to use a single equivalent throughout not to mislead a Greekless reader.

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Plato’s Life in its Contemporary Political Setting

Plato was born in Athens in 427 BC and died there in 347. Although the sources for details of his life are unreliable, the story that he considered a political career is not implausible since many high-born young men like him did just that. His formative political experiences, however, soon put him off. He grew up during the Peloponnesian War (431 —404), in which Athens took on her long-standing rival Sparta and lost. This was a ‘world war’ in the sense that—what with Athens’ and Sparta’s allies and subjects—it involved almost all the known civilized world, and it was a war in which Plato’s native city excelled in the kinds of stupidities and atrocities that are usual in war. For most of the conflict, Athens was a democracy. If a modern liberal were to accuse Plato of betraying signs of contempt for the masses and their power-hungry leaders, Plato would respond that he knew what they were capable of. Reading Thucydides’ account of the war, one is occasionally reminded of the French Revolution’s worst excesses or Pol Pot’s regime.

Of course, Plato also saw democracies enact sensible laws. Still, he knew that the system was capable of terrible abuse, and he knew the instability of a system where decrees could be repealed almost as soon as they were made. There is a joke about a distressed would-be philanthropist who found that although he loved humanity, he loathed people. In Plato’s case, the tale might be inverted: although it is clear that he disliked the masses as a mass, there is little evidence that he felt the same about individuals just because of their class. In a famous episode in Meno, he demonstrates that Meno’s slave is the equal of Meno in intellectual capacity.

In Britain, in the 1930s, political opinions became highly polarized between fairly extreme right-wing and left-wing thought versions. Many people—including Philby, Burgess, Maclean, and Blunt—felt that they had to side with one extreme or the other. In the Athens of Plato’s time, it was equally difficult to be neutral: the choice lay between democracy and Athens on the one hand, oligarchy and Sparta on the other by birth and upbringing, Plato would have been inclined towards oligarchy. Oligarchy twice had an opportunity to show its colors in Athens during Plato’s youth. In 411, a moderate oligarchy was established but was overthrown just as it was drifting towards
extremism and before too many allies seized the chance to secede. More importantly, in 404, immediately following Athens’s downfall in the war, a government of thirty leaders took control, who counted among their number several relatives and many friends of Plato’s family. However, the Thirty embarked upon a reign of terror until they were overthrown the following year in a democratic counter-revolution.

Sometime in the dying years of the fifth century, Plato joined the circle of followers of Socrates, and Socrates became the decisive philosophical influence on Plato’s life and thinking. The details and extent of that influence cannot be gone into here; there are, in any case, several goods and available accounts of Socratic thought and Plato’s intellectual development. In the present context, suffice it to say that Plato loved and admired Socrates above all others—and that in 399, the restored democracy of Athens put Socrates to death on charges of irreligion and corrupting the minds of the city’s youth. Plato’s disillusionment with politics was now complete, and he devoted the rest of his life to philosophy. He began—along with others from Socrates’ circle—to write dialogues with Socrates as
the protagonist. To what extent the historical Socrates is accurately reflected in these works is a matter of endless and fascinating debate. It is certain, however, that by the time he wrote Republic, Plato had already gone beyond history and was using ‘Socrates’ to voice views that were increasingly taking on a distinctive Platonic hue.

This carries us ahead of our story, however. During the 390s, Plato’s reputation as a writer and thinker was spreading through the Greek world. In those days, powerful ‘tyrants’ (the word did not necessarily mean that they ruled unpopularly and by force) liked to embellish their own and their state’s prestige by inviting famous artists to live in their territory under their patronage. In 388, Plato accepted such an invitation from Dionysius I of Syracuse in Sicily. We do not know the details of the sojourn, which was short and bitter. Did he hope to use philosophy to influence politics? His friend, the Pythagorean philosopher Archytas was a powerful political figure in southern Italy and may have been a model.

Sometime after returning from Sicily, Plato established a philosophical community in Athens, which came to be called the Academy since it occupied a grove sacred to the local hero Academus. Philosophers and budding philosophers from all over the Greek world came and lived here, sometimes for much of their life. In modern terms, it was a part research university, part religious community.

As near as we can estimate, Republic was written in the 370s when Plato had already completed getting on for twenty shorter works. Republic was to be far more ambitious in scope and length. Subsequent visits to Syracuse in 367 and 361, to tutor the new young king Dionysius II, may have briefly kindled some hopes that the book’s other-worldly political ideas might be partially realizable; but if so, such hopes were soon dashed. Plato’s interest in real politics resurfaced in later works such as Statesman and Laws. Still, it is arguable that he was thoroughly disillusioned with real politics at the time of writing Republic.

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