Plato and The Republic

Plato was born around the year 428 BCE into an established Athenian household with a history of political connections — including distant relations to both Solon and Pisistratus. Plato’s parents were Ariston and Perictone, his older brothers were Adeimantus and Glaucon, and his younger sister was Potone. In keeping with his family heritage, Plato was destined for the political life. But the Peloponnesian War, which began a couple of years before he was born and continued until well after he was twenty, led to the decline of the Athenian Empire.

The war was followed by religious movement that led to the execution of Plato’s mentor, Socrates. Together these events forever altered the course of Plato’s life. Plato studied in many forms of poetry as a young man, only later turning to philosophy. Aristotle tells us that sometime during Plato’s youth the philosopher-to-be became acquainted with the doctrines of Cratylus, a student of Heraclitus, who, along with other Presocratic thinkers such as Pythagoras and Parmenides, provided Plato with the basis of his teachings.

Upon meeting Socrates, however, Plato directed his thoughts toward the question of virtue. The formation of a noble character was to be before all else. Indeed, it is a mark of Plato’s brilliance that he was to find in metaphysics and epistemology a host of moral and political implications. How we think and what we take to be real have an important role in how we act. Thus, Plato came to believe that a philosophical approach toward life would lead one to being just and, ultimately, happy.

It is difficult to determine the precise chain of events that led Plato to the intricate web of beliefs that unify metaphysics, epistemology, ethics and politics into a single inquiry. We can be certain, however, that the establishment of a government by Sparta (after the chaos of Athens’ final defeat in 404), and the events that followed, dramatically affected the direction of his thinking. Two of Plato’s relatives, Critias (his mother’s uncle) and Charmides (his mother’s brother) played roles in politics.

Critias was identified as one of the more extreme members and chief advocate of the government, while Charmides played a smaller role as one of the Eleven, a customs/police force which oversaw the Piraeus. The government made a practice of confiscating the estates of wealthy Athenians and resident aliens and of putting many individuals to death. In an effort to implicate Socrates in their actions, the government ordered him to arrest Leon of Salamis. Socrates, however, resisted and was spared punishment only because a civil war eventually replaced the corrupt government with a new and most radical democracy.

A general amnesty, the first in history, was issued absolving those who participated in the reign of terror and other crimes committed during the war. But because many of Socrates’ associates were involved with the corrupt government, public sentiment had turned against him, and he now had the reputation of being anti-democratic. In what appears to be a matter of guilt-by-association, a general prejudice was ultimately responsible for bringing Socrates to trial in 399 on the charges of corrupting the youth, introducing new gods into the city, atheism, and engaging in unusual religious practices.

During his trial, which is documented in Plato’s Apology, Socrates explained that he had no interest to engage in politics, because a certain divine sign told him that he was to foster a just and noble lifestyle within the young men of Athens. This he did in casual conversations with whomever he happened to meet on the streets. When Socrates told the court that if set free, he would not stop this practice, claiming that he must follow the voice of his god over the dictates of the state, the court found him guilty (though by a narrow margin), and he was executed one month later.

This final sequence of events must have weighed heavily on Plato, who then turned away from politics, somewhat jaded by the unjust behavior of the government, disappointed by the acts of the democracy, and forever affected by the execution of Socrates. Whether or not Plato began to write philosophical dialogues prior to Socrates’ execution is a matter of debate. But most scholars agree that shortly after 399 Plato began to write more frequently. Although the order in which his dialogues were written is a matter of debate. This divides Plato’s writings into three broad groups.

The first group, generally known as the “Socratic” dialogues, was probably written between the years 399 and 387. These texts are called “Socratic” because here Plato appears to remain relatively close to what the historical Socrates thought and taught. One of these, the Apology, was probably written shortly after the death of Socrates. The Crito, Laches, Lysis, Charmides, Euthyphro, Hippias Minor and Major, Protagoras, Gorgias and Ion, were probably written throughout this twelve year period as well, some of them, like the Protagoras and Gorgias, most likely at its end.

Plato was forty the first time he visited Italy. Shortly thereafter, he returned to Athens and founded the Academy, located nearly a mile outside the city walls and named after the hero Academus. The Academy included a nice grove of trees, gardens, a gymnasium and many shrines — including one dedicated to Athena herself, the goddess of the city. Plato created his own cult association, setting aside a portion of the Academy for his purposes and dedicating his cult to the Muses.

Soon this ‘school’ became rather well-known on account of its common meals and easy lifestyle, modified, of course, to suit a new agenda. Indeed, Plato’s Academy was famed for its moderate eating and talk as well as all the appropriate sacrifices and religious observences. Overshadowing all of that was its philosophical activity. It seems that over the next twenty six years Plato’s philosophical speculation became more profound and his dramatic talents more refined. During this period Plato could have written the Meno, Euthydemus, Menexenus, Cratylus, Republic, Phaedrus, Symposium and Phaedo.

These texts differ from the earlier in that they tend toward the grand speculation that provides us with many hallmarks of Platonism, such as the method of hypothesis, the recollection theory and, of course, the theory of ideas, or forms, as they are sometimes called. We know little of the remaining thirteen years in Plato’s life. Probably sick of his wanderings and misfortunes in Sicily, Plato returned to the philosophical life of the Academy and, most likely, lived out his days conversing and writing.

During this period, Plato could have written the so-called “later” dialogues, the Parmenides, Theatetus, Sophist, Statesman, Timaeus, Critias, Philebus and Laws, in which Socrates plays a relatively minor role. Plato died in 347, leaving the Academy to Speusippus, his sister’s son. The Academy served as the model for institutions of higher learning until it was closed by the Emperor Justinian in 529 CE, almost one thousand years later. The Republic of Plato is the longest of his works with the exception of the Laws, and is certainly the greatest of them. There are nearer approaches to modern metaphysics in the Philebus and in the Sophist.

The institutions of the state are more clearly laid out in the Laws; as works of art, the Symposium and the Protagoras are of higher excellence. But no other dialogue of Plato has the same view and the same style; no other shows an equal knowledge of the world, or contains more of those thoughts which are new as well as old. Nowhere in Plato is there more use of imagery, or dramatic power. None of his works connect politics with philosophy as well as The Republic. The Republic is the center around which the other Dialogues may be grouped; here philosophy reaches the highest point to which ancient thinkers had attained.

Plato was the first who conceived a method of knowledge. The sciences of logic and psychology, which have supplied so many instruments of thought to after-ages, are based upon the analyses of Socrates and Plato. The Republic is the third part of a still larger work which was to have included an ideal history of Athens, as well as a political and physical philosophy. The fragment of the Critias has given birth to a world-famous fiction, second only in importance to the tale of Troy and the legend of Arthur.

This mythical tale, of which the subject was a history of the wars of the Athenians against the Island of Atlantis, is supposed to be founded upon an unfinished poem of Solon, to which it would have stood in the same relation to the poems of Homer. It would have told of a struggle for freedom, intended to represent the conflict of Persia and Hellas. We can only guess why the great design was abandoned, maybe because he had lost his interest in it, or because advancing years hindered the completion of it. In this section of the paper I will discuss the relation of certain texts of Plato’s writing, The Republic, to Christian teachings.

Plato believed the individual possessed three virtues: wisdom, courage, and justice. Also, if each man did their own work they would have no problem being just. A temperate man is a man at harmony that rules with reason. Plato asks the question,” Is justice to an individual the same as justice to the state? If the case is put to us, must we not admit that the just State, or the man who is trained in the principles of such a State, will be less likely than the unjust to make away with a deposit of gold or silver? “* This passage makes a small reference to the commandment, thou shall not steal.

This next passage makes a reference to three of our commandments. “A just man will never be guilty of sacrilege, theft, or treachery either to his friends or to his country. No one will be less likely to commit adultery, or to dishonor his father and mother, or fail to follow religious duties. ” This reference to the commandments proves that our beliefs that are held by many people, even in the old world. Justice is an important virtue, it is needed to run yourself and a country properly, Plato believed this also. It is no secret to any person that being just is a proper way to live your life.

Many of the passages in The Republic discribe justice as an important virtue, justice is one of the virtues that Catholics are called to follow, too. Plato describes justice as being concerned with the inward man and not the outward, we must not let the appearance of a person block our judgement of right and wrong. A person cannot let their feelings for a person or object hinder their judgement either. It isn’t just a Catholic belief that we should look to the inside to judge a person’s character, humans are taught that from their parents early on in life.

A just man sets in order his own life, and is his own master and his own law. ” I agree with Plato on this point because before you can believe in anything you have to believe in yourself. Plato describes injustice as: ” strife which rises up against the three principles, it is like a rising up of the soul against the whole, an assertion of unlawful authority, which is made by a rebellious subject against a true prince. ” Another teaching is that the soul cannot be satisfied with the material goods of the world, but it needs just acts to feel “whole” or complete.

This is also something the church teaches, nothing can take the place of God in your life, you won’t feel whole unless you fill the void in your soul with faith and not the material things. According to Plato, justice is the beauty and well being of the soul and vice the disease and weakness of the soul, this is very similar to the teaching that sin is tainted on the soul, something like a virus or a smudge on a mirror. If we act justly we can strengthen our soul to ward off temptation.

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