The Republic Books Two and Three

Reply Sat 16 May, 2009 02:59 pm

As a summer project, I have taken it upon myself to work through all the works of philosophy I didn't finish up last summer. Currently I am working through Plato's Republic, and I'm hoping someone can help me understand something from Books 2-3.

In Book Two, Socrates sets out to create an imaginary society in which justice and injustice can be observed. Socrates, being the invisible God of this society, decides in Book three that most myths of old must be censored as they might give the warriors and youth of the new society the wrong ideas. Furthermore, all new stories and poems must be approved by censors before they're released to the public at large.

Socrates goes on to decide that all mention of Hades and the horrible afterlife of ancient Greece must be gotten rid of, lest warriors begin to fear death. My question is this: if the Socrates of Plato's works believes in the afterlife, in telling others that it does not exist, would he not be lying? And in lying, would he not be unjust? And if he is unjust, isn't he acting in a manner that is contradictory to the kind of society he's set out to create?

It occurred to me that perhaps Socrates really did not believe in Hades, but if that were the case, why could the members of Socrates' society not simply declare the old stories false or fanciful? Why would the legends need to be suppressed at all?

It's my hope that someone who is more well read and better understands Plato's writing can help me understand these things. If you have any help to offer, please respond.
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Reply Sat 16 May, 2009 03:15 pm
I want to point out one key passage to you in Book II found at 372d-e that is key to understanding the Republic. Socrates is talking to Glaucon and asks him what meals we should give them. Glaucon responds that "if they are going to eat in comfort, they should lie on couches, eat off tables, and have the cooked dishes and desserts which people have today."

Socrates then responds, "I see. So we are not just looking at the origins of a city, apparently. We are looking at the origin of a luxurious city. Maybe that's not such a bad idea. If we look at that sort of city too, we may perhaps see the point where justice and injustice come into existence in cities. I think the true city--the healthy version, as it were--is the one we have just described. But let's look also at the swollen and inflamed city, if that is what you prefer. We can easily do that. What's to stop us?"

And from that point and for the next books they go on a digression looking into where injustice comes into a city, basically holding up a model asking "what's wrong with this picture?" Most readers--and most philosophers--miss this key passage, and then carry on reading the Republic as if Plato and Socrates are promoting the Guardian State. This couldn't be further from the truth, and the book makes much more sense when your realize this fact.
Reply Sun 17 May, 2009 12:20 pm
My copy reads(with added punctuation):

"Why," he [Glaucon] said, "you should give them the ordinary conveniences of life. People who are to be comfortable are accustomed to lie on sofas, and dine off tables, and they should have sauces and sweets in the modern style."

"Yes," I [Socrates] said, "now I understand: the question which you would have me consider is, not only how a State, but how a luxurious State is created; and possibly there is no harm in this, for in such a State we shall be more likely to see how justice and injustice originate. In my opinion the true and healthy condition of the State is the one which I have described. But if you wish also to see a State at fever-heat, I have no objection. For I suspect that many will not be satisfied with the simpler way of life. They will be for adding sofas, and tables, and other furniture; also dainties, and perfumes, and incense, and courtesans, and cakes, all these not of one sort only, but in every variety; we must go beyond the necessaries [necessities] of which I was at first speaking, such as houses, and clothes, and shoes: the arts of the painter and the embroiderer will have to be set in motion, and gold and ivory and all sorts of materials must be procured."

Your interpretation, then, is that the society portrayed in The Republic is not the ideal society at all, but simply a society that Plato's Socrates conjured as a model to be picked apart?
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Reply Sun 17 May, 2009 05:54 pm
Can I ask which translation you are reading? As someone that has become familiar with a couple different translations, I highly recommend the one by Tom Griffith which is edited by G.R.F. Ferrari, and published by Cambridge University Press. They took the Greek text, and translated it into English with a conversational tone in mind. Rather than wallowing in obscurities like many translators of Plato, they focused on adapting it to English as best as they possibly can. I think I payed the minimal price with shipping that you can on Amazon for the text, and from what I have read of it (considering I study the ancient Greek language), it is the best translation out there. Literal Greek translations always run into meaning problems. These guys seemed to have figured it out.

Just so you know, this reading is not my original thought on Plato. I had read it in my Intro to Philo class, and pretty much agreed with the status quo on what it meant and stood for. Then my favorite philosophy professor, happened to enlighten me on what Plato is attempting to do in the Republic. Its been a while since I have read it so I cannot remember the exact point where they go back to the original argument, but if I remember correctly it is in book VI. Hopefully, by the time you get that far, I will have figured out the exact point, and we can discuss this further.

As far as I can tell, though, Plato never endorsed the Guardian state, but rather used it as a model to try to figure out where injustice enters into a society. I think when he starts talking about the philosopher king, and why they are best suited to rule, is about the time that they revisit what they had started in Book II. The Republic also then makes even more sense after reading the Theaetetus, the Sophist, and the Statesman when seen in this light. Otherwise, it almost seems like Plato was rather senile and had no clue as to what he was trying to get at. Whether or not anyone agrees with me, but I think he may have been a little senile by the time he wrote the Laws. But by that time, democracy had been overthrown in Greece, and Plato was probably rather bitter about the loss of his mentor, and the direction of Athens.
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