Tag Archives: 2021

On Reading Plato’s Republic

Index to this series

In adolescence, when I started visiting art museums in Washington for my own pleasure, I would visit also the museum shops, hoping to be able to take home a souvenir. Eventually, my own memories were enough to take home.

That is what I remember observing about myself, perhaps around the time when my body stopped growing taller. That time may be used to demarcate adulthood, although in kindergarten, it had made no sense to me that our bodies could ever stop growing.

Cycad with seeds
Cycads outside Selenium Twins
in the valley above Ihlamur Kasırları
on the way to Beşiktaş
December 27, 2021

I have not been to a museum since the advent of Covid-19, but I often want a souvenir when I am reading now. The souvenir may be in the form of pencil marks in a book, or pen marks in a magazine, or various interventions in an electronic file. To be able to make such interventions, I save webpages, usually with a browser’s print function or with Print Friendly.

I may also respond to what I read by writing blog posts. This is why I now have eighteen of those on Plato’s Republic: one for each of the fourteen parts in which the dialogue was divided for an online discussion, and four more for when I had an abundance of ideas.

Where has all of that left me?

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On Plato’s Republic, 14

Index to this series

In the tenth and final book of Plato’s Republic (Stephanus 595–621), with the help of Glaucon, Socrates does three things:

  1. Confirm and strengthen the ban on imitative poetry carried out in Book III.
  2. Prove the immortality of the soul.
  3. Tell the Myth of Er about how best to make use of that immortality.

Bernard Picart
Glaucus Turned into a Sea-God, 1731
“Just as those who catch sight of the sea Glaucus would no longer easily see his original nature because some of the old parts of his body have been broken off and the others have been ground down and thoroughly maimed by the waves at the same time as other things have grown on him – shells, seaweed, and rocks – so that he resembles any beast rather than what he was by nature, so, too, we see the soul in such a condition because of countless evils” – Republic 611d

Here is a finer analysis, as part of a general table of contents for this post.

  • Prologue
    • A Translation Issue. How you translate Book X depends on whether you believe Socrates has a theory that all art is imitation. I have gathered sixteen translations of a diagnostic passage that Collingwood highlights in The Principles of Art (1938).
    • Imitation Elsewhere – that is, in Books II, III, V, and VI, as well as in the Phaedrus.
  • Book X
    • Imitation
      • What It Is. It is at a third remove from reality.
      • Homer and the Tragic Poets – did you ever hear that they had
        • given a city its constitution,
        • led a successsful military campaign,
        • invented something useful,
        • been revered as private teachers, as Pythagoras was and sophists want to be?
      • The Three Arts involving a thing:
        1. Using it.
        2. Making it.
        3. Imitating it.
      • Parts of the Soul – the best part is the calculating part, which can avoid the confusions that imitations subject the worse parts to.
      • Imitation Is of the Worse – our worse aspects, not the good and decent ones.
      • Imitation Makes Us Worse by bringing out shameful feelings for others that we suppress for ourselves.
      • Philosophy and Poetry – they have an old quarrel, but philosophy is willing to listen to an argument on behalf of poetry.
    • Immortality – the soul must have this, because only its specific evils could kill it, and these are the opposites – injustice, license, cowardice, and ignorance – of the virtues identified in Book IV. They do not in fact kill the soul, at least not directly.
    • Myth of Er – a Pamphylian, son of Armenius, he died in battle, but rose again on the twelfth day, having learned that, unless condemned to hell, we are going to choose our next life, after a spell in heaven or purgatory, depending on how we have lived our current life; thus we had better be ready to choose wisely.

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On Plato’s Republic, 13

Index to this series

We reviewed the five kinds of polity and soul in Book VIII of Plato’s Republic, but we didn’t get to the tyrannical soul. We take that up now in Book IX (Stephanus 571–92). We also make three arguments for why the tyrant has the least pleasant life. Finally, in order to pursuade Thrasymachus that indeed injustice is never profitable, we introduce a new chimerical image of the soul.

Many-headed man and and another man hold a many-headed serpent
« Chaussée des géants »
Cambodge, Preah Khan, Angkor (province de Siem Reap)
fin du 12e siècle – début du 13e siècle
Musée Guimet, Paris
June 4, 2011

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When Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone came out in the UK on June 26, 1997, the author was almost thirty-two. I myself had been that age since March. The seventh Harry Potter book came out ten years later. Though I do not remember when I heard that the series had become a sensation, I know I wondered if one day I would see for myself what made the books so popular.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, on a cluttered table

Now I have read the first two books in the series, in part because their author has become popular as a figure of hatred for people who adored her books as children.

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On Plato’s Republic, 12

Index to this series

We have completed the long detour of the Three Waves. In Book VIII of Plato’s Republic (Stephanus 543–69c), we return to the degeneration of the polity and the soul.

Rooster facing the sun at the top of a stairway
Freely ranging rooster
Çetin Emeç Park, Beşiktaş, Ιstanbul
November 22, 2021
Born in 1935, journalist Çetin Emeç was assassinated in 1990

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This is about figs, because the opening of “The Sixth Elegy” of the Duino Elegies of Rainer Maria Rilke is about them, and I turn out to live among them.

Fig trees growing like weeds on Ayşecik Sokağı
Fulya, Şişli
November 15, 2021

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On Plato’s Republic, 11

Index to this series

  • In the fair city of Callipolis (527c), students who pass their exams will become philosophers at the age of fifty (540a).

  • Callipolis itself will come to be, once philosophers seize power in an existing city and throw out everybody over the age of ten (540e).

  • This is all said in play (536c), and play is what children must be allowed to do, since (536e)

    the free man ought not to learn any study slavishly. Forced labors performed by the body don’t make the body any worse, but no forced study abides in a soul.

Distorted images in a garden
Dan Graham (b. 1942)
For Gordon Bunshaft
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
Washington DC
July 17, 2013

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On Plato’s Republic, 10

Index to this series

In the first part of Book VII of Plato’s Republic, Stephanus 514a–21c, the subject is the Allegory of the Cave and an inference from this:

Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.

Actually that’s not what Socrates says, although such a saying is attributed to him. He says something close, at least if you think that

  • filling a pail is like putting sight into blind eyes, and
  • lighting a fire is like turning the soul to the light.

They are not that close.

A stairway up in a garden
The way up
Yıldız Parkı, October 25, 2021

Perhaps the actual message of Socrates is opposed to the misattributed saying. Here is what he tells Glaucon at 518b–d:

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The Divided Line

Index to this series

We are still in the latter part of Book VI of Plato’s Republic, where Socrates undertakes to explain the education of the philosopher kings (502c–d). They are not literally so called, as we noted last time. They are going to need to “be able to bear the greatest studies” (503e), and “the idea of the good is the greatest study” (505a). People are confused about what the good is: many say it is pleasure; a few, knowledge (505b). It rather makes it possible to have knowledge (508d), and perhaps even pleasure (509a), as the sun makes seeing possible (508b–d). We looked at that much last time.

Sun through the leaves of planes
Dünya Barış Parkı 2021.10.30

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On Plato’s Republic, 9

Index to this series

We reach now the Analogy of the Sun and the associated Divided Line.

Among pines, a palm tree with highest fronds lit by the setting sun
The highest fronds take the setting sun in Altınova
September 27, 2021

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