May 30, 2006

How I spent my summer vacation II

Plato, Republic, books I-V

The first half of Plato's most famous Socratic dialogue is primarily concerned with sketching the ideal, just city-state as an allegory for the ideal, just human being. This turns into a direct analysis with the four virtues -- wisdom, courage, moderation, and justice -- which are explicitly identified in both the city and the person. Justice is the most central of the four, and is defined as harmony within the polis or the governance of one's soul -- the rational aspect legislates and controls the animalistic appetites with the help of the emotions or 'spirit'. Like Hobbes will do millennia later, Plato solves the problem of guaranteeing civil order through a rather totalitarian civil order, including the infamous 'noble lie' (the ruling class have been divinely appointed) and incredibly thoroughgoing censorship.

Two other notable passages in this text are the Ring of Gyges (359d), where the power to become invisible illustrates the temptation of vice, and an amusing debate between Socrates and the Ayn Randian bully Thrasymachus in the first book. The theory of the Forms also make their first appearance in the last few pages of book V.

Interesting philosophical link: Salon interview with a historian of religion.

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