Ramble. Focus. Ramble.

What is The Republic Really About?

Note from a month ago, on The Republic of Plato

Just read Bernard Williams account of the City/Soul analogy and an account of Ferrari’s reply to it. And I feel that they are picking out random paragraphs from the texts and showing that they are contradictory. The text is contradictory and to solve the problems of the contradiction we need to look at The Republic on the whole.

To look into the city/soul analogy we need to look into the bigger picture and discuss what The Republic is really about.

This takes us to the old Popper Vs. Strauss debate. Is The Republic to be understood literally or is this book particularly for the philosophers to decipher? The ‘aporia’ that Plato held so dear throughout his life had some meaning to him, what is that meaning? Is it fair to understand Plato through Aristotle or any other commentator?

More precisely, the question is what is The Republic about? Is it purely an endeavor towards the true meaning of justice (as my class thinks it is)? Or is justice an excuse to put forth the big metaphysical idea of the realm of forms? Or is The Republic, particularly, a work of political philosophy, in which case, the main purpose of Plato would be to put forth his ideal ruler, the Philosopher King? In other words, does Plato agree with he makes Socrates say in this book?

I would like to draw attention to the fact that Plato wrote a couple of books to establish the just city and he wasted a great deal of time deciding on the order of the city and the education of the guardians. But, in book 8, he destroys everything by calling his just city an aristocracy that is bound to deteriorate into the more vile forms of government. So if the aristocracy has to fail and the Philosopher King will come down at all costs, this cannot be the main purpose of the Republic.

Hence, the just city is not really the way he wants things to be, neither does he want to establish a meaning for justice. He just wanted to introduce his theory of forms and hope that the best of his readers would look between the irony and understand it.

The problem of ‘aporia’ is that any debate about The Republic (communal family, city/soul analogy, rejection of poets, etc.) will come down to the debate on what the Republic is really about. Before we can figure that out, we cannot move further.

Also, one of the greatest debates of all times is what Socrates is to Plato. Is Socrates Plato’s ideal philosopher? Orthodox conception of the Republic says he is but the viewpoint that I will be elaborating states he is probably not.




2 comments on “What is The Republic Really About?

  1. dmf
    January 17, 2014
  2. Saljooq
    November 18, 2016

    I agree that theory of Forms was possibly the main reason behind the Republic, but I would go on to posit that the theory of Forms was also pretty much the only possible addition Plato could put forth on his own after Socrates (who I think actually lived and debated). I think that after putting in writing Socrates’ thoughts (dialogues), Plato realised that to teach ordinary people, he can’t only take down whatever metaphysical/cosmic structures they have in place but he’ll be asked to replace them with something (possibly better) – which is probably how theory of forms came to life. What I really respect about Plato is that despite possible pretensions of arrogance in the Republic, he questioned even his own presumptions in his later works – I would recommend a quick read of Parminides to see his later day humility at work

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