Essay – The Republic by Plato

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The Republic by Plato (427-347 B.C.) is a basically an examination of the “Good Life,” or the harmony achieved by applying pure reason and justice. As a typical Plato piece, the book itself is a series of arguments between Socrates, Plato’s mentor, and several other theorists. They argue issues concerning the social conditions of an ideal republic, which is chiefly Plato’s vision projected through the book’s words into our minds’ eye. The book contains many ideas that really made sense to me and that surprised me because you could apply these standards to any group of people, of any race, and any economic background anywhere in the world. Even more surprising is that this was written so long ago and yet still today we are reading Plato’s theories, but I don’t think we’re really paying attention, looking at all the chaos in the world today.

In the story, Socrates is returning to Athens from a festival when he meets Polemarchos on the road. Polemarchos insists that Socrates accompany him home where they greet his father and start right into a discussion of old age. Socrates says, “It seems right to enquire of them [meaning the elderly men], as if they traversed a long journey which perhaps we will have to traverse.” This makes sense to me, as I can relate to it personally. I have long email discussions with my grandfather in California, with whom I am very close. He is writing a book on our Irish ancestry and I am to continue it. With each email he writes, he encloses little bits and pieces of his beliefs, which I find very interesting and save in a folder which I am planning to use to write a book about his life to be passed on from generation to generation of Curleys in the future. According to my grandfather, I still have a lot to learn. And I believe it.

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The next topic of discussion with Socrates concerns justice or “doing the right thing.” Socrates believes that “right living” is basically dutiful service to others and doing that which is “appropriate” to the person and situation are the prerequisites to individual happiness and prerequisites for avoiding chaos within a republic. Thrasymachos, another theorist, offered his definition of justice in the argument as being “nothing but the advantage of the stronger.” This reminds me of my fiancée’s view on life and also of the Darwinian theory of survival of the fittest that could easily be applied to a republic.

Still another voice, Glaucon, whose name reminds me of glaucoma, presents his view of Socrates’ justice is a virtue and injustice a vice with his opinion that justice did not possess any intrinsic value. Socrates says that people gathered together in cities in order that each individual might perform the task best suited to his or her nature. He says that rulers must be trained and educated in the proper way in order to rule justly. He goes on to weigh the numerous types of education and experience demanded of a good ruler, and divided education into two main areas: music (all the arts) and gymnastics (athletics). Socrates believes that our children should hear only the best and most ideal versions of the gods because they are so easily molded by what they hear from their teachers (adults, including parents). He discusses the issue of censorship over fablemakers, from whom our children hear guidance and even over artists and their creations. Socrates discusses censorship in even more depth and urges a delicate balance between gymnastic and “musical” education. I personally believe in a balance in all parts of our lives, especially in my education. I expect myself to study hard, work hard, and play hard. This may be due to my tendency to be a perfectionist, but I remember my dad’s lessons in life to include balance also and moderation in all things in order to achieve a happy and successful life. I wonder if he ever read Plato and Socrates, being an engineer.

In another discussion, Socrates addresses which people would be good rulers and which would not. Of the three classes of citizens, he places the merchant class lowest, the high-spirited soldier class second, and the high-minded, more human-minded philosopher class highest. He believes the philosopher would make the best ruler because he/she would act most just and civil and show the most ideal “harmony” in ruling over the passions and appetites of the other two classes. This reminds me of my philosophy studies of the id, ego, and superego and also how there must be that balance between all three in order for an individual to function at his/her best. Socrates believes that the ruler should live at a common level with his/her people and that the city should supply all of its needs, rather than have the ruler conduct “dealings with gold or silver.”

Socrates applies another topic of balance to the entire population of the city: there should neither be great wealth nor great poverty; both extremes breed evil in men. He discusses next the elements that make a city-state virtuous. When asked of the possibility of an ideal republic, he states that it lies in the hands of the philosophers who become “kings,” making the transformation into the ideal ruler which he has previously described. Until that happens, Socrates sees no possibility of greatness ever being achieved.

The rest of the story, I must summarize. Like the Epic of Gilgamesh, Plato’s book sets out to teach a lesson. Socrates goes on to discuss additional key elements of an ideal society: the ruler must seek truth for an entire lifetime; “truth” can only be seen through eyes of “understanding;” the truth may be difficult and blinding at first, but then the individual will be set free; the highest pleasure is only reached by the philosopher (the lover of wisdom); a “greed for wealth” causes democracies to turn to tyranny; poets are “imitators,” and he ends his discussions urging his colleagues to go out and follow his advice, employing reason to achieve justice and wisdom. By doing these instructions, we avoid chaos and create the ideal republic, as envisioned by Plato.


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