Philosophy Notes > University Of Oxford Philosophy Notes > Plato's Republic Notes

Republic Lectures Notes

This is a sample of our (approximately) 70 page long Republic Lectures notes, which we sell as part of the Plato's Republic Notes collection, a 2.1 package written at University Of Oxford in 2016 that contains (approximately) 141 pages of notes across 6 different documents.

Learn more about our Plato's Republic Notes

Republic Lectures Revision

The following is a plain text extract of the PDF sample above, taken from our Plato's Republic Notes. This text version has had its formatting removed so pay attention to its contents alone rather than its presentation. The version you download will have its original formatting intact and so will be much prettier to look at.

Hilary Term 2016

Lecture 1 : The Place of the Republic in Plato's Philosophy I. The Theme and Scope of Republic 'The Republic is the first great work of Western political philosophy' (G.Ferrari) - comes with the implication of importance which is also compatible with great disapproval : This is shown by Karl Popper, who views it as a great reason for totalitarianism, which he rejected. He saw Plato as a big negative contribution to the history of Western Thought.

• Is it right to think of Plato as a totalitarianism? What about his other traditions / are there criticisms in there that we can still useful reflect on. Title 'politeia'. Origin not Platonic. English: Republic from Latin res publica,

• One way it often gets translated (also) is as the constitution - the politeia is the make up of laws in the city.

• When we talk about Aristotle's ideal rule, his answer to Plato's ideal rule in the Republic, this gets translated as constitution.

• This is, however, too narrow a take : It is more - it is about how people live together in a city, how they marry, how they day, what they believe in - it is a whole culture that operates in a city and ties people together as citizens. Different takes on Politeia: a) An account of the city-state (polis), specifically, the proper arrangements of its offices, laws, and constitution. b) M.Schofield : Core meaning of politeia is 'citizenship', cf. Xenophon, Zeno of Citium where arrangements for marriage and children, education and upbringing are central. Plato. Political Philosophy Oxford 2006.

• This seems true of the Republic as we have it. Sub-Title of Republic : About Justice - These titles were given by a much later editor : Thrasyllus subtitle 'peri dikaiou', (to dikaion or dikaiosune).

• Explicit theme is justice - It starts with a conversation about what Justice is , and the rest of the Republic follows with a conversation about how justice can be woven into every day life and how it works - and this, it could be said, is expanded into a Political Argument :

• The soul-city analogy - politics is studied to elucidate individual morality : The justice in the individual can be seen on a larger level.

• Should we think of justice as an abstract term, or as a personal virtue - Seems to be the latter that comes out in the Republic, it is about what it is for a person to be just or for a city to be just. One of the reasons that it is important to us still is because it poses an important question for moral philosophy - Why be good?
II. Relationship to Plato's other works Standard chronology: Early, Middle, Late. Republic falls into the middle period. Criterion partly philosophical: early dialogues dealing with characterised by Socratic elenchus ending in aporia. The Apology foundational story. Euthyphro or Meno, Early : Plato writes shorter dialogues where Socrates is the main character on certain moral topics - they are limited discussions of key ethical concepts. What happens typically is that Socrates meets an individual who thinks they have an answer to this, and Socrates cross-examines the person and generally finds that that person does not have the knowledge that they normally claim to have. They normally end in eporia - in a sense we do not feel we know better, but we do realise that we do not know what we originally thought we might have known. This is a huge generalisation - but this is what goes into this kind of thinking about the periodisation of the work. What is the change? We still have Socrates later , but what are the differences between the Republic and earlier dialogues?
1 of 70

Hilary Term 2016 The Republic is so big : We have Book I which seems almost like one of the smaller dialogues - but this is expanded. But why ?
One answer is that he now changes to a constructive rather than critical or destructive mode. He is not doing away with knowledge claims but tries to convey knowledge. But why?
Perhaps he feels that he now does have an answer - Plato feels that he has knowledge and this can be expressed through Socrates. This is particularly to do with the way that he approaches justice now. Justice is a very comprehensive phenomenon - it is a certain kind of structure that you can find in both the individual soul and in the city. In order to articulate this you need to have an account of the soul and the city and how justice fits into it. Furthermore, you need to talk about the nature of justice itself. What happens in the Republic is, in order to explain what justice is, we have to explain the nature of the forms, metaphysics and what it is to know these forms.

• Books V - VII : Very metaphysical nature politeia : Citizenship - not understood narrowly, but broadly and taking into account all the things that make you a citizen. In Greece, an important aspect that ties together as Greeks (or any other culture) is Poetry. It gives a moral outlook, information about the Gods, and gives a common standard. The stories of poetry shape the soul as if it were a piece of wax - it shapes it before we are even in a position to think about it, later on our emotional dispositions etc have been predetermined to thin or feel in a certain way : Thus education is key. Book 1 : Polemarchus refers to the Poets when speaking about Justice Book 2 : Adeimantus challenges Socrates by reference to the Poets, and what the Poets make us think about justice that is, it is great to appear to be just, but being just in and of itself is an unpleasant duty.

- What Socrates takes on is to show about how that view is wrong - but also what kind of education has to be put in place to educate new citizens. There seems to be a whole counter culture that Plato seems to be developing in order to replace the current culture. Constructive Character of the Republic : Some people have thought of it as Plato's experiment, that he does not really believe in. Others have even thought of it as a joke - he has even spoken about how Women can be rulers, that there shouldn't be any families etc : Very radical ideas, and some are taken to claim that these views are so radical that Plato could not have even thought them.

• Radical points : Highlights: a) city only good if ruled by philosophers; b) female rulers; c) community of women and children, and property; d) critique of democracy as second to tyranny; e) banishment of poets.

- Perhaps Plato's ideal city is not really his own ideal city. He systematically builds it up, with a couple of guiding principles - specialisation of jobs, and only bringing in jobs that are needed. He then looks at the type of people we want in the city. But this is then claimed to be the city of pigs - there is nothing in it that makes worth living, there is no poetry or good food.

- That is, the luxurious city is a different thing from the city that is mentioned on the original principles. Perhaps, actually, Plato's city that he unfolds is not his ideal city - it is the city of Pigs. This does seem a bit extreme. Elenchus We should not assume that whatever Socrates sets out to do is refute people. He is testing to see if it is true what they are saying, and it could be true and the exercise could be successfully performed. Testing Method : He makes them present a general understanding or definition. In the earlier works Socrates work seemed primarily to test the views of others with the result of refuting them (the socalled elenchus is meant to test not refute as such, but refutation seems to be the general outcome.)

2 of 70

Hilary Term 2016 Famous example in the Meno : The elenchus is part of the process whereby the slave boy gains first true belief and then knowledge of geometry. The Republic version of this idea comes through when we consider the relationship of Book I to the rest of the Republic. It seems that Book I presents certain ideas about justice which are not yet rooted in a definitional understanding of it, yet do reflect genuine features of justice. But Book I also ends in the realisation that we don't yet know what justice is. Has Plato's conception of philosophy changed in the Republic? There are signs that Socrates means to integrate the elenchus in the Republic, in the description of dialectic of Book VII we are told that the ability to withstand elenchus is an essential part of the philosopher's education. Perhaps it was always envisaged that the elenchus would be part of positive theory making.

- He still engages in interrogation and still asking critical questions. The conversation does not proceed unless he has opposition. Ultimately, the whole work is a rejection of Thrasymachus's proposition.

- When he comes to presenting his own view of what philosophy is (Dialectic in Book 6). He integrates Elenchus in this - that you will only be able to have knowledge of a Form if you pass through a variety of different tests and testing. Meno : Elenchus is positive - it is a necessary part of a positive constructive enquiry. Even in the early works it is not clear that plato simply thought o the Elenchus as a deconstructive method, and nor is he fully distancing himself from what went on earlier. III. Structure of the Republic If you wanted to draw a map of the Republic - we seem to get something like ring composition. Book I introduces Justice : Cephalus having reached old age is naturally worried about whether his justice ensures a happy afterlife - Socrates asks him what about it is that being rich makes a good / just life. Book II-III introduces Education : Within educations, music and poetry is important. Book X : Before the Myth of Er - we have an account of poetry. Myth of Er : The man who died and came back to life, but got a proper view of what happens in the afterlife - the just are being rewarded and the unjust are being punished. This is clearly a return to the original discussion Book IV : We have an account of justice, and what the just soul looks like and its partition. The answer about justice is in terms of the well functioning soul that corresponds to the city. Book VIII + IX : We get the types of individuals / souls that are correspond to various kinds of constitution. We get a mirroring with Book IV. Book V - VII : We have an account of knowledge, and metaphysics with the theory of forms with the three famous images. In a way this is the centre piece for the entire work - it is were all those truths come from that will find expression in psychology / politics - these are the basic metaphysical principles that underly our talk about the world. There seems to be a real composition with layers, with a theory at the centre of the book with the forms. The composition does not simply repeat what happens at the beginning, rather you get something that is resonant with what happens earlier. We get revisitation to earlier themes, in light of the metaphysical theory. In Book X he revisits poetry, because the critique can be done in a new way, given the access to the theory of forms.

- Now if we look back from the end of the work, it is clear that Book X in the myth of Er revisits the question of the fear of the afterlife (first brought up by Thrasymachus), while the discussion of poetry takes up the subject of Book II; Books VIII-IX responds to the IV on the forms of the soul and cities. At the core we have Books V-VII, sometimes referred to as the metaphysical books. One lesson that follows from this is that Plato seems to want show how certain basic moral and political questions can only be understood once you have a metaphysical theory in place: that is why Socrates has to go back to the question of the nature of justice and happiness and education. Particularly the form of the Good is the metaphysical principle from which all the various political, ethical and aesthetic recommendations follow. See R.Barney 'Platonic Ring-Composition and Republic 10' in M.McPherran (ed.), Plato's Republic. A Critical Guide, Cambridge 2010, 32-51.

3 of 70

Hilary Term 2016 Constructive character : Now this points to a related second difference between the Rep. and so-called earlier works. The Republic is a much more constructive attempt to provide positive answers to the sort of questions we met in the early works : What is courage? What is piety? What is friendship?

• This difference from the earlier work seems to be deliberately marked by Plato • At the end of Book 1 we get Socrates declaring his discontent with his refutation of Thrasymachus: and at the beginning of Book 2, we get Glaucon turning the tables on Socrates: now he asks the questions Socrates answers. Glaucon gives us quite a sophisticated distinction between three kinds of goods, and Socrates has to present his position on justice in terms of this distinction and justify his answer to his interlocutors.

• This feature is carried through to the end of the work. It's been argued by those who want to stress the consistency between the Rep and earlier dialogues that Socrates is reluctant in this enterprise.

• One point is particularly mentioned: when Socrates first describes the ideal city, it is a simple one, but his interlocutors think it's too simple and call it a city for pigs, not humans. Socrates then goes on to describe an ideal city that he calls fevered, that is not healthy. For some (e.g Christopher Rowe, first chapter, Blackwell companion) this means that everything that follows is premised on something Socrates doesn't really subscribe to. Others take this to be a sign of the less authoritative but exploratory Socrates (See G.Ferrari, 'Socrates in the Republic' in McPherran op.cit.). But even so, there is a distinction between forced to confess and being forced to confess falsely, and there is nothing to suggest that Socrates doesn't believe in the extensive political arrangements he describes. IV. The Theory of Forms Piety : He wants something that is a unique and universal feature of pious actions, but also what makes them be pious the latter is a further and somewhat stronger claim.

- All human beings have the ability to laugh, it is unique characteristic, but it is not the defining characteristic. Refers to characteristics of Forms : He believes that these exist independently or separately from the particular thing that they are forms of. We do not just have particular men, but the form of man, that exists independently from man, but it is the thing that makes us all human beings by existing in it, or taking part in it in a certain way. We participate in the form.

- This is different from the early dialogues that is trying to find the common characteristic - but this has a separate one which we have to participate in as human being.

- Anscombe : The theory of Forms is the great rock of offence in Republic - it is intellectually offensive that there are things that are more real than this world. Aristotle's Reconstruction :

• 'For, having in his youth first become familiar with Cratylus and with the Heraclitean doctrines (that all sensible things are ever in a state of flux and there is no knowledge about them), these views he held even in later years.Socrates, however, was busying himself about ethical matters and neglecting the world of nature as a whole but seeking the universal in these ethical matters, and fixed thought for the first time on definitions; Plato accepted his teaching, but held that the problem applied not to sensible things but to entities of another kind-for this reason, that the common definition could not be a definition of any sensible thing, as they were always changing. Things of this other sort, then, he called Ideas, and sensible things, he said, were all named after these, and in virtue of a relation to these; for the many existed by participation in the Ideas that have the same name as they.'

• What is that we know when we know things - if everything there is is always changing, there is nothing corresponding in reality to our knowledge. Since Plato accepted this view, he felt obliged to introduce some stead possibility of knowledge - this was his reason for introducing the forms. He understood the difference between the historical Socrates and Plato in terms of Plato's introduction of the forms and his view of the sensible world as being in flux. It is clear that the theory of forms is meant to lie in extension of the Socratic practice of definition: the form seems to be the thing that Socrates was trying to define.

4 of 70

Hilary Term 2016 There are also attributes of the forms that we would not expect from an object of definition : So we're told in dialogues such as the Symposium and the Phaedo that the forms are eternal and changeless and that they only have one character. They are thus it seems quite different in kind from the sorts of things that we see around us. Or at least this is so given the view of the visible world as subject to flux.

• Very roughly, Plato seems to have held that the objects of definition have to be different from the sensible things, given that sensible things are always changing and so cannot be known. Socrates stops short of saying that it is sufficient for practical knowledge (practice is required too for the philosopher), but it is the major necessary condition. Here Plato deliberately distances himself from contemporary political thinkers such as Isocrates, and opens himself to the criticism of Aristotle. If the Republic is a work of radical politics it is in large part because it is based on a knowledge of something radically different, in Plato's view, from everyday impressions.

- How can metaphysics inform and justify ethical and moral philosophy as he thinks it does?

5 of 70

Hilary Term 2016

6 of 70

Hilary Term 2016

Lecture 2 : Book I Setting and characters Setting: The first word of the Republic : Cateben - I walk down / I went down : This is a word that gets picked up again at a key moment in the Republic in Book VII, in the image of the Cave when the philosopher who has gained knowledge went down to the cave again - this is represented as a kind of descent into the underworld, perhaps similar to what Odysseus did when he went down into the underworld. Starting it this way - Socrates is descending into the underworld, to Piraeus - to the Port of Athens : This is an entry point to society, to new ideas etc.

• Piraeus, port of Athens. On harbours, see Laws 705d. Laws : A negative view of Ports are presented - breeds shifty and hostile attitudes in the mans soul, not only with themselves but with their external dealings - it is a place where new and possibly corrupting influences enter into society. The openness to new ideas and cultural institutions is very clear in Book I of the Republic - Socrates has come down, out of curiosity, to observe the new festival that is going on. The occasion is festival of Bendis, Thracian moon-goddess, new and 'foreign' deity. God's are central to Greek culture, and so if there are new Gods being introduced it is a very significant cultural event, yet is a beautiful spectacle anyway. Socrates, in Republic, brings an openness to new ideas, and this is represented in the setting of Republic. Socrates is committed to Athens - a small walk outside is treated as an extremely big deal. There is a sense, however, also that the new and odd surroundings go with a new and openness to ways about thinking and ways about doing Philosophy also. In the Phreudus when Socrates leaves the city, he becomes a new and open person to doing new things
- he is willing to trying out new ideas and constructing things that we are not used to seeing. Characters (apart from Socrates): He writes drama - not as that from a tragedian or comedian, but a type of intellectual drama in which the characters are used for convey ideas and contextualise arguments : They are made relatable to us, not just ideas but speaking of people who have certain ideas and live certain lives according to such ideas. Thrasymachus : Presents the argument that the best life is that is as who is unjust, and he also acts in such a way to illustrate this idea. Socrates : The good of ideas - but he also acts as someone who incorporates this into his life. The characters point us to the ideas - the ideas that are underlined dramatically in the ideas.

• Cephalus (old man - visiting foreigner - metic) and Polemarchus ('leader in war'), father and brother, respectively, of famous rhetorician Lysias, 'metics', manufacturers of arms. It is Polemarchus who engages with Socrates - Socrates is talking to foreigners, and thus suggestive of openness and a different kind of setting to Socrates walking around Athens speaking to rich young Athenians.

• Thrasymachus of Chalcedon : 'Sophist' and rhetorician. Name means 'bold in battle' - he is a very combative character. Sophists are a rich young group of people travelling around, instructing people in how to speak and how to be successful in life. Some of these Sophists would claim to be able to treat virtue understood as excellence. Thrasymachus is one of these characters, to whom Plato is generally critical.

• Glaucon and Adeimantus, sons of Ariston, i.e. Plato's brothers - complete change of characters in Book II, we are returned to a more well known kind of audience, but there is still an openness to entertain, speculate and think about ethics, society and philosophy. Argument of Book 1. 7 of 70

****************************End Of Sample*****************************

Buy the full version of these notes or essay plans and more in our Plato's Republic Notes.