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Plato's Republic (Books That Changed the World)

2.5 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0871139573
ISBN-10: 087113957X
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this critical but judicious study, Blackburn (Truth: A Guide) regards what's considered the greatest of Plato's Socratic dialogues as "the foodstuff of unintelligent fundamentalisms." Hitler, totalitarianism and neoconservatism can't be blamed solely on "time and circumstance, land, food, guns, and money, the economic and social forces," he argues, so it may be that Socrates' utopian republic, ruled by philosopher-kings, may also have influenced the world in the worst possible way. Blackburn explores the themes that support such an argument, from Socrates' defense of the right of armies to conquer and colonize, to his extolling the benefits of a caste system. Although Blackburn—a philosopher at the University of Cambridge who identifies more closely with Aristotle—admits that he "had never felt Plato to be a particularly congenial author," he presents a clear and sympathetic synthesis of approaches to the famous Myth of the Cave, and gives the Platonist defenders their due. He finishes by making the case that the most critical reading of the book may be the best defense against its insidious influences. Hardly a ringing endorsement, Blackburn's book is a provocative companion to an essential text. (July)
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From Booklist

A premier name in philosophy, Blackburn candidly expresses diffidence toward Plato's Republic. His objections are partly technical––Blackburn condemns its theory of knowledge as "a disaster"––but he acknowledges the work's staying power in the Western canon. His essay, an installment in the publisher's Books That Changed the World series, dispenses with The Republic's influence through history, instead directly tackling its main ideas. Reductively, they are about the origin and nature of morality and happiness, which Blackburn, unmoved by the dramatic dialogues in which they are examined, reduces to essentials. He traces how the Socrates in The Republic, challenged by foils who assert that morality arises from power and social convention, proceeds by analogy to compare the well-ordered person with an ideal well-ordered state. Blackburn's analytical breakdown of Plato's utopia, the transcendental and totalitarian overtones of which have annealed rapture and notoriety to The Republic, leads him to regard Plato as, if not always right, always asking the right questions about how to live. An animated and precise précis. Taylor, Gilbert
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Product Details

  • Series: Books That Changed the World
  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press (June 10, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 087113957X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0871139573
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 6.6 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 2.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,255,709 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By K. Kehler on March 3, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I'm a fan of Simon Blackburn's, having read his books on quasi-realism (a scholarly work), on ethics, and on truth (both of these being fairly popular works). I'm also an amateur Platologist (as a lark I almost wrote "Platonist"). This book was therefore one I looked forward to, not least because Plato is a remarkably potent dramatic writer, bequeathing themes and ideas that would inspire many later thinkers, from his student Aristotle through to those moderns who reject him (Kant, Nietzsche). Actually, almost all subsequent thinkers have disagreed -- often virulently -- with Plato; but isn't that a mark of a great thinker, namely that he must be considered? I think this is what Whitehead was driving at with his remark about Plato and "footnotes". (Blackburn, though, is determined to be pedantic regarding Whitehead's bon mot, charging that he (Whitehead) is literally mistaken.) Basically, this book isn't what I had hoped it would be: a smart, thoughtful, well-written book on Plato's Republic. (For that, you'll have to turn to Julie Annas' introduction to the Republic, or even better to Bernard Williams' wonderful little introduction to Plato, if you can find it.) Rather, this is Blackburn at his worst: grouchy, obsessive and sullen. You get the breezy tone of Blackburn's popular works of philosophy, but too few of the insights. He spends far too much time aggressively bashing Bush and the neo-cons, though without specifying their precise faults. (Woe to any student of Blackburn's that submitted such an essay. This is not to say that Blackburn is wrong; it is to say that he's intemperate.) As for Plato, he's rarely read charitably by Blackburn, who regularly accuses him leaving a legacy of totalitarianism. It's hard to grasp from Blackburn's book why the Republic has had such an influence, and why so many subsequent thinkers have felt the need to engage with it.
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Format: Hardcover
Simon Blackburn, professor of philosophy at the University of Cambridge, calls Plato's Republic "the greatest and most fertile single book of the Western philosophical canon." Plato has strongly influenced modern philosophers such as Kant, Schopenhauer, Bergson, and Wittgenstein, and his influence on the development of Christianity has been immeasurable. Nevertheless, Blackburn has strong objections to Plato.

The mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead wrote, "The safest general characteristic of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato. This famous quotation contains an element of truth.

In reply to Whitehead, however, Blackburn replies: "Whitehead's famous remark is wrong as it stands. Much of the European tradition in philosophy contains vehement rejections of Plato, rather than footnotes to him. We can scarcely hold that the great materialist and scientific philosophers, from Bacon and Hobbes through Locke, to Hume and Nietzsche simply write footnotes to the Plato they regarded as the fountain of error."

Plato's Republic: A Biography does not consist of the text of Plato's seminal work, but rather is a critique of Plato and his philosophy. On the penultimate page of the book, Blackburn grudgingly admits an admiration for Plato's dogged pursuit of wisdom, knowledge, and truth: "I find I am less unconvinced than I had been eight books previously" (a reference to the ten "books" of Republic). He especially approves of Plato's persistent inquiry into the question, "How are we to live our lives?"

The burden of Blackburn's critique, however, is negative than positive.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The philosophy of Plato as found in the Republic has certainly been analyzed, and debunked in many books, but this slim book by Simon Blackburn can be considered as a pleasant group of essays on Plato's philosophy. I've found that there is often a difficulty in the writing of short books on lengthy, complex subject matter. Mr. Blackburn rises to this challenge, and gives us a book that presents the essence of Plato's ideas in a style that is lucid and meaningful. This is no dry Cliff's Notes coverage.

The title of this review indicates that the author finds serious fault in many of Plato's arguments. Words like "outlandish" and "tedious" pop up from time to time. The various chapters discuss such things as politics, art, truth, Plato's cave, and virtue.

Let's take one topic, that of art. Plato felt that a painting was twice distant from reality. The painter cannot envision reality as it really is, and the painting is even less a reflection of the real world. Blackburn's point is that a painting, such as a portrait, can indeed express reality by showing an aspect of a person that is not readily noticed in the person himself. It can show the model to be humble, or proud; intelligent or stupid. So art has the capacity of telling us things just as language does.

Blackburn states that because of the failure of many of Plato's arguments people like Leo Strauss have proposed that in reality Plato may have been hiding his teachings behind the apparent opposite. Strauss does, however, seem to accept the philosophical position that it is acceptable for the government to tell noble lies for the benefit of the state. In this regard Blackburn notes the recent comment by one administration official who said that the administration creates its own reality.
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