Plato, one of the greatest philosophers to ever walk the earth. He was the first to introduce a real system of philosophy and his book the Republic is his main work. Now for someone interesting in reading philosophy books or ancient works by great writers, is this a good book to read? Is it still applicable today? Or is it just complete bullshit? I hope I can give you an answer in this review.
The Republic is the main book of the corpus of Plato. It gives a representation of the ideal state. The state ruled by philosopher-kings, guarded by auxiliaries and where the citizens work in harmony. These three classes of the state correspond with the three states of the mind, which Plato also talks about in this book. The Republic introduces the famous allegory of the cave. The book also attacks poetry, but it is mostly a weird chapter in the book, which was probably added later after the Republic was finished.
It is weird to criticize this book in the most obvious way. Plato’s ideal state is a repressive authoritarian regime which is ruled by one or more philosopher kings. They act as dictators of the people, in the sense that they dictate what is right and wrong because they have the ideal knowledge of morality. Plato distinguishes between a dictator who doesn’t know what right and wrong is and a philosopher-king who does. Other than that, the line is pretty vague.
But I believe it wasn’t really written to represent a real ideal state that would ever be realized. It is more a representation for the tripartite (meaning three-part) mind or soul. The whole vision for the state and the three classes are representations and allegories for the individual’s quest to obtain morality. It is Plato shows that what is best for the state, is good for you, because the state is an allegory for you as person. Whatever is good for each of the classes is good for the part of the mind the classes corresponds with. The philosopher-kings represent your rational mind. The auxiliaries represent your temper of the mind and the normal citizens represent your desires of the mind. Most of all, I believe that the whole book is actually a book on how to achieve morality. This is presented the most in the allegory of the cave, which I might write about later.
Now is this book readable? It certainly is, but the arguments are sometimes hard to follow. The version I had was the Oxford Press version which had many notes for explanation in the back, referring back to other arguments whenever it is needed or whenever Plato alludes to a previous argument. This makes the book comfortable to read and enjoyable for everyone. I would recommend reading earlier dialogues of Plato first, since they are shorter and more concise. You will better get the feel of the Socratic Dialogues and the way that Plato writes. They are easier to follow and aren’t as long as the Republic.
But the Republic is definitely a must read for every lover of knowledge out there. It is written elegantly, tries to keep the reader engaged in the argument and leaves many ways for interpretation. Like I said, I see it is an allegorical work on how to be moral, but you can interpret it as a manifesto for an authoritarian regime. Both are fine and discussable and that’s the whole point of reading Plato. Going into discussion.