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It poses one question after another that might well have been drawn from the headlines and debates of our nation's recent history:
What sort of person should rule the state? Is it ever permissible for a ruler to lie to the citizens? Should women be given the same political opportunities as men? What is the role of education in politics?
Should citizens be allowed full freedom when it comes to sexual relationships and private property?
Are all citizens equal before the law?
Is censorship of music and literature ever justifiable?
Should everyone have equal access to health care?
And these questions, no matter how vital they may be on their own, are only intellectual stepping stones along the pathway of Plato's greater inquiry-the question of defining justice itself and the reasons why a man or woman would choose a life aligned with that virtue.
In Plato's Republic, Professor David Roochnik leads you through the brilliant dialogue Plato crafted both to define and examine the issues with which political philosophy still grapples.
Chapter by chapter-what the Republic presents as "books"-Professor Roochnik introduces you to Plato's literary recasting of his own great teacher, Socrates, and the dialogue through which Socrates and the Republic's other characters create the hypothetical ideal city. It is by dissecting life in this presumably just city-the "Republic" of Plato's title-that the nature of justice itself can be examined.
Explore Justice through the Socratic Method
Socrates presents question after question, refuting each in a manner that leads to still another question, as Socrates's-and Plato's-ideas about the nature of justice and the society necessary for justice's emergence gradually unfold.
Many of those ideas will startle contemporary readers, who may recognize in them the foreshadowing of some of humankind's darkest moments.
Plato, for instance, has Socrates present what has come to be known, notoriously, as the "noble lie," the assertion that human beings are not born of their parents but of the city itself. Moreover, those men and women are born into three predetermined social classes-with souls containing gold, silver, or bronze-that must never mingle.
Preserving that purity of class-very similar to a caste system-also means the careful supervision of reproduction. If a bronze-souled child, for example, is born to a gold-souled woman, it is taken away to be raised by citizens of like soul.
If this sounds suspiciously like what we have come to know as the eugenics once offered as a route to racial purity, making you uncomfortable and suggesting why some have called the Republic the "great-great-grandfather of all totalitarian experiments," then Professor Roochnik would be far from disappointed.
Indeed, that discomfort with one of the great names in philosophy-literary character or not-is something he believes is a very good thing.
"Socrates's proposals will cause readers to object. They will find, however, that even if they disagree with what Socrates recommends, developing arguments against his proposals is a most valuable exercise," he says.
"They will be forced to think through basic assumptions concerning politics. For example, almost all of us believe political freedom is a good thing, and that all citizens should be counted as equal before the law. But why? Plato will encourage us to defend our most cherished beliefs."
Repeatedly, Plato puts those beliefs to the test.
00. Prof. Intro
01. Plato's Life and Times
02. Book I The Title and the Setting
03. Book I Socrates versus Thrasymachus
04. Book II The City-Soul Analogy
05. Books II and III Censorship
06. Book III The Noble Lie
07. Book III Socrates's Medical Ethics
08. Book IV Justice in the City and Soul
09. Book V Feminism
10. Book V Who Is the Philosopher?
11. Book VI The Ship of State
12. Book VI The Idea of the Good
13. Book VI The Divided Line
14. Book VII The Parable of the Cave
15. Book VII The Education of the Guardians
16. Book VIII The Perfectly Just City Fails
17. Books VIII and IX The Mistaken Regimes
18. Book VIII Socrates's Critique of Democracy
19. Books VIII and IX The Critique of Tyranny
20. Book IX The Superiority of Justice
21. Book X Philosophy versus Poetry
22. Book X The Myth of Er
23. Summary and Overview
24. The Legacy of Plato's Republic