The Republic (dialogue of Plato)

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The Republic is a Socratic dialogue by the Greek philosopher Plato, where Socrates conducts a discussion as to the nature of justice, which is illustrated with reference to an imaginary city State - the Republic of the title. The Republic is one of a number of texts which allow us to see Plato's ethical and political positions, albeit through the figure of Socrates.

The dialogue starts with Socrates discussing the matter of justice with Cephalus. He is eventually challenged by Thrasymachus, who suggests that there is no link between the good life and justice.

"City in speech"

The imaginary "city in speech", or the perfectly just city, is depicted in the work through Book Two to Book Seven, as an authoritarian state where the government regulates every aspect of life including reproduction, music (flute is banned), and literature, to ensure citizens are propertly brought up and form an united, cohesive "community of pain and pleasure". The interpretation of this image is controversial, as some modern thinkers, such as Karl Popper, a prominent philosopher from the Analytical school, view it as an actual advocacy of such an autocratic form of government and criticize Plato as anti-democratic. Others, such as Alan Bloom, believe Plato did not think such an ideal city could exist in practice, and the city in speech was merely a thought process to seek the truth.

Definition of philosophy, theory of forms, and dialectic

In Book Six and Seven, the nature of philosophy is explored, and the book concludes that a philsopher is someone who sees concepts beyond its outer manifestations (such as knowing the meaning of beauty beyond seeing beautiful things. Plato emphasized the value of "dialectic", or the art of separating knowledge from the senses, and the "theory of forms" in which he conjectured the existence of "forms", conceptual ideals free from human sensations. He uses the allegory of the cave, where prisoners chained in a cave can only see shadows of things on the cave wall rather than things themselves, illustrating the limitation of senses. His student, Aristotle, however, disagreed with him on this stance and advocated for the use of senses to attain scientific truth.

Analysis of existing political regimes

After delineating the "city in speech", which Plato had named it as an aristocracy, The Republic proceeds to provide critiques to existing political regimes at that time, in Book Eight to Nine. According to Plato, factions would war against each other in the aristocracy and military glory would become a primary concern for leaders, brining about the system of timocracy, or timarchy. Then the ruling elites would turn towards procuring monetary gains to strengthen their political power as well as to partake in leisurely indulgence, leading to oligarchy, or plutocracy. After the oligarchy continues to become corrupt and oppressive, the poor would rise up to rebel and establish democracy, a system according to Plato to emphasize on diversity and liberty. Eventually however, a demogogue would use rhetoric to win over the masses and grip absolute power, leading to the regime Plato considered to be the worst -- tyranny, the political system of ultimate perversion and depravity.

Criticism of poetry

In Book Ten, Plato systematically gave a critique of poetry (at that time the term include tragic plays such as ones by Aeschylus). He derided poetry as "imitation", an art that captures the crude human emotions instead of seeking the truth (as philosophy). He also specifically named Homer as the classic example of poets, and criticized Homer for writing about warfares while himself not an expert in military affairs. In the "city in speech" every craft is highly specialized, and according to Plato, the poets try to imitate people of many professions yet are not experts in any, making them unproductive and even harmful. Curiously, however, the Republic itself utilizes imagery ("imitation"), so some argue that the critique of poetry was intentionally written to contradict previous points, with deeper meanings behind the contradiction.

Myth of Er

In the end of Book Ten, a supernatural depiction of afterlife is presented, in which the good is rewarded and the wicked is punished. All souls will again choose their path (in a form of reincarnation. In the story, the fate of several historial figures is shown. One of them, Odysseus, the Greek hero of the Trojan War, chose a life of a common private citizen who avoided warfare and strifes and lived a peaceful life onwards.