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Plato’s Republic

The first “utopia” in our tradition, Plato’s Republic imagines a city-state in psycho-social alignment with ideal reality. It includes the most extensive account of “the theory of forms” with its famous Allegory of the Cave.

This course now extends across two 6-week terms so that we can read the entire work. The first part mostly addresses social and political themes, while the second part dives deep into Platonic philosophy.

Reading Plato’s Republic requires some considerable preparation and commitment. This course is not designed for beginners. We recommend first taking Reading Plato or Gorgias.

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Access to the text

Plato’s Republic is readily available in various translations new, secondhand and online. Any translation will be sufficient for the course, only we recommend the translation by Desmond Lee for the short summaries inserted in the text. Online, we recommend the translation by David Horan. If you like to follow the original Greek then try the LOEB Greek/English editions in print or download Bk 1 to V | Bk VI to X.

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REPUBLIC PART ONE | THE JUST SOCIETY

  • Six weekly small-group sessions reading the Republic Books 1-5, 8 and 9
  • Read a set passage before the evening talk and discussion
  • Not for beginners— take Reading Plato or Gorgias first (or at the same time).

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Course Outline for Part 1

Session 1.1 | What is justice? | page 327 to page 336a

We start with an introduction to Plato’s Republic and with its opening investigation into the nature of justice.

Session 1.2 | Justice as a social construct | 336b – 367e

Thrasymachus attacks Socrates for his method and his findings. Justice is only an ideology serving the interests of the powerful. Throw off convention morality for a better life. Any benefits arising from being virtuous might also accrue through merely appearing virtuous.

Session 1.3 | Education and the Arts in the Just Society | 368a – 412a & Bk 10, 595 – 608b

Socrates explains his ideal of justice by showing how it would be expressed in an ideal society. Thus so, the republic starts to build as a society of individuals bound together through the mutual dependence of specialised trades. The problem of education comes to the fore with criticism of the way poetry is used in Greek cultural education. This topic is revisited in Book 10.

Session 1.4 | The Guardians of the Good and the tripartite soul | 412a – 445e

The ruling warrior-philosophers are introduced with the question of what brings happiness for the individual and society. An exploration of psycho-social harmony introduces the three modalities of the soul.

Session 1.5 | Dissolving the family | 449a – 471c

Women are treated no differently from men except around childbirth. Girls are selected for the guardian training program. The family is abolished as a social and political institution, at least in the barracks-style community of guardians.

Session 1.6 | The devolution of polity towards tyranny | 543a (Bk 8) – 592b

Stepping away from the ideal, real political ills are discussed in terms of the various forms of government and their tendency to degenerate into a democracy where popularism devolves into tyranny.

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REPUBLIC PART TWO | THE ESSENCE OF REALITY

  • Six weekly small-group sessions reading the Republic books 6, 7 and 10
  • Read a set passage before the evening talk and discussion
  • Completion of Part I is not required for this course, however, it is not for beginners—take Reading Plato or Gorgias before doing this course.

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Course outline for Part 2

Session 2.1 | Why philosophers are not valued | 471 – 502c

Society can move towards the ideal by placing philosophers in charge, for it is only philosophers who seek the absolute reality beyond mere appearances. Switching into allegorical mode, Plato explains why those most competent to govern would not bother to compete for power, and how those born with the potential to become philosopher-rulers are corrupted by conventional society.

Session 2.2 | The analogy of light and the Divided Line | 502c – 511e

The ultimate object of the philosophers’ educations is coyly introduced as beyond being and knowing. While we cannot speak of it directly, allegory can help point to its “first offspring.” The analogy of sight and sunlight is introduced and then used in a hierarchy of reality laid out along a divided line.

Session 2.3 | Enlightenment in the Allegory of the Cave | 514 – 521c

The journey towards enlightenment is depicted in the Allegory of the Cave where the mind’s eye is turned around and towards the formal reality that defines all sensual experience.

Session 2.4 | The philosophical education: mathematics | 521c – 531c

The education program for the philosopher-rulers follows the emanation of the mathematical sciences out of arithmetic’s essential one. It ends with geometry in the 4th degree, which is the mathematics for moving solids used in the science of astronomy and music.

Session 2.5 | The philosophical education: dialectic | 531d – 541b

The extensive mathematical education turns out to be only a prelude to the teaching of the higher science of “dialectic.” What what does Plato mean by dialectic?

Session 2.6 | The immortality of the soul and the myth of Er | 608c – 621d

Arguments for the immortality of the soul end with a marvellous “near-death-experience” story of the afterlife. This includes the psycho-cosmic imagery that is the Spinal of Necessity.

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