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Throughout his political works, Plato takes the aim of politics to be the virtue and happiness of the citizens and the unity of the city. This paper examines the roles played by law in promoting individual virtue and civic unity in the Republic, Statesman, and Laws. Section 1 argues that in the Republic, laws regulate important institutions, such as education, property, and family, and thereby creating a way of life that conduces to virtue and unity. Section 2 argues that in the Statesman, the political expert determines the mean between extremes and communicates it to citizens through laws that guide their judgment and conduct, so that they become virtuous themselves and the city is unified; this account of the role of law suggest how even non-expert legislation can contribute to virtue and unity. Section 3 argues that the Laws affirms and develops the idea that citizens should know and accept the laws to become virtuous themselves and to unify the city, and explains how the persuasive preludes and the sanction for violation attached to laws contribute to citizen virtue and civic unity.
Plato’s dialoguesespecially the Republiclead us to wonder what the objects of mathematics are. For Plato, no perceptible three is unqualifiedly three, a necessary condition for being an object of knowledge. Aristotle controversially ascribes to Plato the view that mathematical objects are “intermediates,” between perceptibles and Forms: multiple but also eternal, lacking change, and separate from perceptibles. The hunt for or against intermediates in Plato’s dialogues has depended on two ways of understanding Plato on scientific claims, a Form-centric approach and a subject-centric (semantic) approach. Although Socrates does not present intermediates in the Republic, it is difficult to see how the units of the expert arithmetician or motions of the real astronomer could be simply Forms or perceptibles. The standard over-reading of the Divided Line, where the middle sections are equal, further obscures our understanding. The Phaedo and the Timaeus provide candidates for mathematical objects, although these have only some of the attributes ascribed to intermediates. We are left with no clear answer, but exploring options may be exactly what Plato wants.
There is one fundamental argument in the Republic for the conclusion that justice is the greatest good. It begins in Book II; although adumbrated in Book IV, it is not completed until Book IX; and it draws essentially on material in Books VI and VII about Platonic forms, knowledge, and philosophical training. Justice consists in the rule of reason over spirit and appetite, but to understand the value of this state fully we must see how it is instantiated in the philosopher. Goodness consists in order, and by cognizing and loving forms (the most orderly objects there are) the philosopher possesses the highest goods. A fully just person is a creator and lover of orderly relationships among human beings. This condition exists to some degree in all just individuals, but it is most fully present in those who understand what justice is – philosophers.
This chapter investigates Plato’s thoughts on poetic creativity by tracing a path from a traditional divine inspiration view to a new kind of inspiration, which transforms the poet into a philosopher. The path begins with divine inspiration in the Ion, then turns to the power of public poetry in the Gorgias. Next is the beginning of a new conception of poetic creativity in the Symposium. By considering poetry as a kind of communication between a lover and the beloved, Plato views poetry as a basis for a philosophical ascent to the Form of Beauty. In the Republic, Plato emphasizes further the power of poetry by classifying traditional poetry as a degraded kind of imitation. He highlights its power to corrupt the listener by strengthening irrational emotions. In the Phaedrus, Plato extends his notion of poetic creativity to linguistic communication in general, thereby developing further his notion of philosophical communication as a creative force generated by love. In the end, Plato pulls together both his denunciation of traditional poetry and his new conception of poetic creativity by offering a new type of public poetry in the Laws, consisting ultimately of his own body of laws.
The first edition of the Cambridge Companion to Plato (1992), edited by Richard Kraut, shaped scholarly research and guided new students for thirty years. This new edition introduces students to fresh approaches to Platonic dialogues while advancing the next generation of research. Of its seventeen chapters, nine are entirely new, written by a new generation of scholars. Six others have been thoroughly revised and updated by their original authors. The volume covers the full range of Plato's interests, including ethics, political philosophy, epistemology, metaphysics, aesthetics, religion, mathematics, and psychology. Plato's dialogues are approached as unified works and considered within their intellectual context, and the revised introduction suggests a way of reading the dialogues that attends to the differences between them while also tracing their interrelations. The result is a rich and wide-ranging volume which will be valuable for all students and scholars of Plato.
Does Plato in the Republic restrict to philosophers alone the possibility of achieving happiness in this life and the next? It is often thought so. But if that were the case, the dialogue would fail on its own terms, in its task of persuading the interlocutors Glaucon and Adeimantus that they should cultivate justice, not (as Thrasymachus argues) injustice. They are not philosophers, nor envisaged as likely to achieve the level of rational understanding that is the precondition of happiness. In truth, however, there is plentiful, if scattered, evidence that an approximation to perfect happiness is available for various categories of people figuring in the Republic who have not attained what the dialogue counts as knowledge, ranging from Socrates himself, to trainee philosophers and warriors, to farmers and craftsmen. The requirement to be satisfied is the habit of respect for the law, not from fear of its punitive powers, but internalised as the way to lead a life of justice.
Since the arguments that Plato provides in the Republic for the thesis that the human soul consists of three parts (reason, spirit, appetite) are notoriously problematic, I propose other reasons for accepting tripartition: reasons that we too could endorse, or at least entertain with some sympathy. To wit, (a) the appetitive part of Plato’s divided soul houses desires and tendencies we have because we are animal bodies programmed to survive (as individuals and as a species) in disequilibrium with a variegated, often varying environment, (b) the spirited middle part houses status concerns that belong to us as social animals, while (c) what makes us rational animals is a faculty of reason, conceived in strikingly non-Humean terms, which determines what is best all things considered. Other psychic tendencies may then be explained in terms of the education and mutual interaction of the three parts we are ‘programmed’ for from birth.
Book X of the Republic does not ban more mimesis than Book III, nor operate with a different concept of mimesis, two claims often made. It surveys the same territory from a higher, more philosophical perspective, illuminating it particularly by reference to the theory of Forms and the psychology of soul parts that were introduced in sections of the Republic subsequent to Book III. Indeed, its arguments are directed to the philosopher, or someone sympathetic to Plato’s philosophy, not to any and every potential reader. Where they go beyond Book III in scope of what is banned is in pronouncing an anathema upon any poetry oriented towards pleasure rather than to what is beneficial, or upon what Socrates refers to as ‘the honeyed Muse’ – leaving only hymns to the gods and encomia of exemplary, heroic citizens. We endanger our souls and our grip on truth if, in watching tragic drama, we allow ourselves to enjoy grieving over suffering, and to some extent to believe, against our better judgment, that ups and downs of fortune are much more significant than they really are. Book X speaks to us from the viewpoint of eternity, from a position of deep spiritual elitism.
A discussion of the role of character in Plato, initially focused on Thrasymachus in the Republic, and on arguing that his person is less important to Plato than his view of politics as domination of the weak by the strong. The Socrates of that and other dialogues is certainly one of the most vividly characterised figures in world literature. Nonetheless, when this unique individual speaks of philosophy and the philosopher, he directs our attention away from individuals towards a realm of abstract generalities. Once the magnetism of Socrates has established the legitimacy of philosophy (under that name), Plato has reason to make philosophy independent of his idiosyncratic central figure. Accordingly, in some later writings he relegates Socrates to the margins, and brings on stage a nameless, generic philosopher – a visitor from Elea – to discuss the paradoxes of not-being in the Sophist and political expertise in the Statesman.
A wide-ranging study of Plato’s treatment in the Republic of the forms and institutions of a society’s culture (anthropologically understood), and the way culture shapes character through its operation, often gradual and imperceptible, upon the soul. Topics discussed in detail include Book X’s account of the structures within the human soul that Plato identifies in describing and explaining the way culture impacts upon it; Book II’s account of the first ‘economic’ city and its successor, the city of luxury, with special attention to the use of couches in the ancient Greek’s conception and practice of the key cultural practice of civilised feasting; the puppets and the puppeteers in the Cave analogy of Book VII, interpreted as symbolising the role of cultural products and their creators in shaping human susceptibility to cultural formation; and Book X’s discussion of the ontological status both of cultural products as indirect imitations of Forms, and of those Forms themselves, particularly considered as the paradigms upon which a more soundly based culture might be modelled.
This short book review discusses the philosophical appropriation by Plato and Aristotle of the Greek institution, at once social, political, and religious, of theoria, ‘spectating’. Pythagoras was alleged to have classified those who travelled to the Olympic Games as competitors, traders, or spectators: symbolising the pursuit in human life of honour, economic gain, and wisdom. Plato and Aristotle are often taken accordingly to be committed to what is sometimes labelled ‘the spectator theory of knowledge’, with knowledge of ultimate principles construed as non-discursive intuition or ‘instant ocularity’. But the vision they have in mind is actually the ‘seeing’ constituted by grasp of an explanation of how a whole complex of things hangs together, achieved only after much preparatory, exploratory thought.
It is often said that in the Republic Plato proposes to ban art and poetry from his ideal society. The truth is that poetry – the right sort of poetry – will be a pervasive presence in the life of the warrior class whose upbringing and education are discussed in Books 2 and 3 of the Republic. What Plato develops here is a systematic anti-democratic programme for reforming music, i.e. musical poetry, incorporating dance as well as song. There are four stages in the programme: first, purging poetic content; second, placing severe restrictions on the manner of performance and on those permitted to engage in it, and particularly on the extent of mimesis or impersonation deemed allowable in performance, on account of its influence on character; third, placing similarly severe restrictions on musical technique, particular on the musical modes composers are allowed to employ in constructing melodies; and fourth, ensuring that the material and social settings in which musical poetry is performed are also designed with a gracefulness and beauty that will work their appropriate effect on the performers, providing the ideal conditions for them to fall in love, homoerotically conceived.
Why does Plato in the Republic attach such importance to mathematics? Not for its practical utility, nor for the transferable skills acquired by the mathematician, nor because of the rigour of the formal procedures of mathematical proof. It is rather that the five mathematical sciences described and explained in Book VII convert the soul from merely human perspective, and tell us how things are objectively speaking. Their content is what counts. They convey knowledge or understanding of the context-invariant truth of unqualified reality. In contrast with modern conceptions of mathematics and its relation to reality, these sciences are conceived as themselves sciences of value. Above all, they enlarge ethical understanding. Crucial here is harmonics, which incorporates principles first studied through the first four sciences that Plato specifies. Mathematical proportion is what underpins the musical structures – the concords – that form the subject matter of harmonics. Such mathematical structures, when internalised by the philosopher, function as abstract schemata for applying their knowledge of the Good in the social world. Plato values them so highly because they create and sustain unity: unity is for him the highest value.
Plato’s treatment of justice in the individual in Book IV of the Republic has been heavily criticised. His radical proposal that it consists in an ordering of elements of the soul, parallel to justice in the city conceived as a social order maintained by specialisation of roles assigned to the three classes he specifies, is often seen as too remote from what anybody would recognise as ‘justice’. The criticism rests on two principal misconceptions: of the connection Plato is positing between psychic harmony and just behaviour, and of what he takes psychic harmony to consist in. First, he assumes law-abiding citizens behaving with what he like anybody else would count as justice. What harmony of the soul provides is the best explanation of their inner motivation for so behaving. Second, harmony is conceived as achieved when each element in the soul is focused as it should and will be, following good upbringing and education such as is described for the Guards in Books II and III.
This chapter offers an account of the inspiration for their active advocacy of political, social, and educational reform that three key figures of the British nineteenth century found in Plato: John Stuart Mill, George Grote (author of the classic three-volume study Plato of 1865), and Benjamin Jowett (whose translation of the entire Platonic corpus of 1871 was to be hugely influential). For both Mill and Grote, the importance of the probing Socratic method portrayed in the dialogues was paramount. Grote contrasted it with the tyranny exercised over the dissenting individual by the conformism of society at large: what he called King Nomos, with his eye particularly on the Great Speech Plato puts in Protagoras’s mouth in the Protagoras. To his mind, the Republic represented a sad betrayal of the Socratic spirit. It was Jowett who was chiefly responsible for making that dialogue’s moral idealism central to the education Oxford provided for the nation’s future elite, and whose endorsement of its radical proposals for equality for women in education and in politics is particularly notable.
In the face of current perplexity and debate about the nature of the republican tradition, this chapter recalls and more fully recovers the republican aspects of Cicero’s political philosophy. The creators of the American Republic, especially John Adams, and many others including contemporary scholars, have looked to Cicero as a major figure, if not the founder, of the republican tradition. Analysis of Cicero’s definition of res publica provides the basis for an interpretation that at its core is consent, not necessarily formal and explicit, implying liberty. To be fully human is to be free, and to be free is to be a consenting partner in a political community that is just and at liberty to set its own course. A dynamism toward equality coupled with the necessary wisdom and virtue and their implication of inequality are also essential to Cicero’s republicanism. These essentials are to inform institutions and practices. The practical wisdom in institutions includes the rule of law, indirect rather than direct popular government, and mixed government. Roman (and thus Ciceronian) republicanism can be differentiated in some respects from that very self-conscious and much-heralded form of republicanism that developed in the America of John Adams.
Plato is not only a key figure in the history of the aesthetics of deception; the focus of my study also permits us to reassess his criticism of poetry in the Republic. Chapter 4 examines how Plato takes seriously Gorgias’ playful entwinement of aesthetics with ethics and uses it to give new substance to the charges against poetry that Gorgias had deflated. For Plato, immersion is a central factor of the harm done by poets. After exploring his entanglement of aesthetic illusion with the corruption of the soul, I consider passages that seem to respond to Gorgias and help us capture the similarities and differences between the two thinkers. Finally, I contend that, while unanimously condemned by a broad alliance of scholars, Plato’s view of poetry is premised on an assessment of aesthetic experience that turns out to be valid when seen in the light of cognitive studies.
The Introduction outlines crucial intellectual contexts and frameworks for thinking about how Cicero's Brutus is a crucial intervention in the the civic crisis and the writing of literary history. It also surveys the scholarship to date and examines how Cicero's project reflects general trends in academic inquiry and civic government.
Caesar was no aspiring autocrat seeking to realize the imperial future but a republican political leader whose success was based on a combination of patrician pedigree with a popular persona built on an extraordinary record of military achievement. He was no anti-senatorial, populist revolutionary but followed in the tracks of Roman heroes of the past such as the Scipios. His astonishing success hardened his enemies' determination to stop him, even at the price of forcing a civil war. His assassination on the eve of his departure for a great war of vengeance against Parthia precluded whatever plans for consolidation he may have had, but also propelled the violence of civil war into the next phase of what would become a decisively destructive cycle. If Gruen was correct to emphasize that civil war destroyed the Republic, not its preexisting institutional weaknesses, then human choices, especially those that brought about the Civil War, provide the most satisfactory explanation for the collapse of the Republic.