The book is a dialogue among the students. The dialogue explores two central questions:
The first question is “what is justice?” Socrates addresses this question both in terms of political communities and in terms of the individual person or soul.
He does this to address the second and driving question of the dialogue: “is the just person happier than the unjust person?” or “what is the relation of justice to happiness?”
Given the two central questions of the discussion, Plato’s philosophical concerns in the dialogue are ethical and political.
The Republic is said to be one of Plato’s masterworks and one of the most influential and widely read books in the history of philosophy.
I found it to be devilishly difficult to truly understand. However there are some very good nuggets in the book.
There are any number of reasons for this, but one of them is the sheer breadth of topics and issues that Plato introduces over the course of the dialogue.
As you read, you must make sense not only of those issues in their own right but must also understand them in relation to the larger themes and arguments of the work. This is, to be sure, a daunting task, particularly for those who are approaching the dialogue for the first time.
So basically here is the plot, Socrates and Plato’s brother, Glaucon, are traveling home from a festival when they come upon another brother of Plato, named Adeimantus, who was also traveling with a rich Athenian named Polemarchus.
Polemarchus invites everyone to his home where they meet his elderly father, Cephalus.
As the men banter, they begin to discuss the meaning of justice, and what it means to be just, like being honest and following the law.
Socrates takes each idea apart and this sets the theme for the rest of the book.
The primary questions the men try to answer are what justice is, and does it make someone happier if they are just?
Plato’s ideas are bold and controversial and very much relevant even today. Whether you agree with Plato or not, he is a phenomenal writer and thinker.
It’s an easy read but some of the concepts and thoughts are not easy to grasp on first read.
Reading Plato should be easy, but understanding Plato can be difficult.
Struggled to read the entire book, got to half-way. May or may not come back to finish it. If the book’s thoughts haunt me enough, I will come back to finish it, if not, then won’t.
- “The heaviest penalty for declining to rule is to be ruled by someone inferior to yourself.”
- “I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing.”
- “Have you ever sensed that our soul is immortal and never dies?”
- “That’s what education should be,” I said, “the art of orientation. Educators should devise the simplest and most effective methods of turning minds around. It shouldn’t be the art of implanting sight in the organ, but should proceed on the understanding that the organ already has the capacity, but is improperly aligned and isn’t facing the right way.”
- “You know that the beginning is the most important part of any work, especially in the case of a young and tender thing; for that is the time at which the character is being formed and the desired impression is more readily taken….Shall we just carelessly allow children to hear any casual tales which may be devised by casual persons, and to receive into their minds ideas for the most part the very opposite of those which we should wish them to have when they are grown up?We cannot….Anything received into the mind at that age is likely to become indelible and unalterable; and therefore it is most important that the tales which the young first hear should be models of virtuous thoughts….”
- “Those who don’t know must learn from those who do.”
- “Old age has a great sense of calm and freedom when the passions relax their hold, then, as Sophocles says, we are free from the grasp, not of one mad master only, but of many.”
- “..Do we have not choice but to agree that in each of us are found the same elements and characteristics as are found in the city? After all, where else could the city have got them from?”
- “Because a freeman ought not to be a slave in the acquisition of knowledge of any kind. Bodily exercise, when compulsory, does no harm to the body; but knowledge which is acquired under compulsion obtains no hold on the mind.”
- “There can be no doubt that the love of wealth and the spirit of moderation cannot exist together in citizens of the same state to any considerable extent; one or the other will be disregarded.”
- “There is in every one of us, even those who seem to be most moderate, a type of desire that is terrible, wild, and lawless.”