I have finally done it! With the exception of textbooks and religious texts, this is the longest it has ever taken me to read a book. I started trying to read the Republic before I started this blog!
The republic is Plato’s longest work, and is centred around the idea of Justice- what it is in a society and in a person, and whether Justice is beneficial to an individual. It is written as a dialogue between Socrates and various people at a gathering who have varying skills in debate and philosophy.
My first roadblock was the introduction. My version has an introduction, explanation of ‘the argument’ and of ‘the characters’, before the ten ‘books’ of Plato’s writing. Three whole chapters of introduction, which I found was too long, and not very interesting when I didn’t know what it was referring to. It took me about 4-5 attempts to simply get through the introduction chapters. I wonder if the introduction may have been better read after the book.
When I made it to the main work, I felt a sense of relief- the writing style was much easier to read and was a bit more interesting. There are at times little jokes between the characters, and the simplest line can say volumes about the quirks and character of the person.
But unfortunately my joy was not to last, because the thesis is also very long, and there were many passages I just didn’t care about. Sometimes there would be a diversion off into a small side point, that really shouldn’t have taken 20 minutes, that we could have done without. Often there were whole arguments that were based on a premise I couldn’t agree with, and thus the next 20 minutes were invalid in my mind. Other times, the over easy acquiescence to every point made by Socrates was just annoying. Throughout the book, Socrates would put forward a point or argument, ask the others if they agreed or would argue against it, and invariably they would agree that Socrates point was clearly true, when frequently the point was tenuous or only one possible option among other equally possible options. The first point would then be used to base further, prolonged, arguments upon.
One key example, is the main point that he build the whole ‘perfect society’ on: he argues that in order for each person to do the best job they can do, and create the best society, they should do the one thing they are good at doing, and nothing else. It assumes that the greatest number of people will be happy, if society is as efficient as it can be by this method.
“Human nature is not twofold or manifold”
Firstly I would argue that human nature is indeed manifold- no person is just one thing. We are both children and parents/sisters/brothers/teachers/mentors. We all have an analytical side and a creative side. Most people have several interests. Most people are a mixed bag of contradictions, and I think that is a key part of being human. I would also argue, that invention and innovation happens best at the junction between different skills/areas- that working on more than one area of skill or your personality improves your ability to contribute to society. (For a good discussion of this idea see the Ted talk by Emilie Wapnick).
There are many other examples, but I will leave it there today. Stay tuned for upcoming posts about other problematic ideas, and things I liked about it.