Thursday, August 05, 2010

Plato's "The Republic" Sucks

From the Tournament of Genius-
Personally, I'd go with Colbert...

Today during lunch I finally finished reading Plato's "The Republic" & it was pretty much a waste of my time. I found a copy from one of my siblings on the bookshelf at my parents' house, so I took it to read on vacation the other week. It was so disappointing that I have to comment on it.

I was already familiar with Plato's general biography & work. In high school, the great teachers I had for Intellectual Heritage exposed me to Plato's 'Allegory of the Cave', which is a small part of "The Republic". That allegory was pretty much the only enlightening aspect of the book for me.

While hiking with my brother-in-law in the mountains I was trying to describe my problems with the book & the one word I came up with was 'bullsh*t'. I'm sure this analysis wouldn't go over well w/ philosophy scholars, but oh well. Even though I'm aware it's a translation of a Classic... I personally found almost no value in reading it. These ancient Greek intellectuals seemed to have hours on end to B.S. about their opinions, and now we call it philosophy. I guess I was looking for logical discussions using factual observations of the topics presented, but all that's produced are arbitrary rules and theories based on many questionable assumptions.

The premise of the book is that Plato's mentor, Socrates, & some other Greeks of his time were discussing the nature of justice vs. injustice. Out of this search for moral clarity arose the attempt to theoretically design the ideal city. I can appreciate their effort to come up with a blueprint for a new way of governing society. Every step of the way, however, the main speaker Socrates throws out one conjecture after another & conveniently treats them as objective truths.

I know it was written over 1500 years ago, but it's hard to take any of it seriously as when these guys are talking about the value of personal freedom & individualism... while also assuming it's okay to own slaves. There were inconsistencies in all the arguments made, from what makes a man "just"- to what type of ruling class would be best for a city.

The last chapter was the most annoying to me, because Socrates tries to explain the unimportance of art such as painting, music, or theater. In the ancient Greek world, these professions were seen more as we today view as 'crafts' as opposed to 'fine art'. In the book, however, Plato (through Socrates) goes another step & claims that these skills are mere 'imitations' of reality & not reality itself. A carpenter makes a table, and is therefore of a higher ability than a painter because a picture is a mere "imitation" of the table. This coming from the same man who believed made-up numbers & abstract geomeric solids are the basis of reality.

So basically, my review summary is:
"The Republic" is undoubtedly a historic work of literature, but I still think it sucks. :P


Anonymous said...

I agree, completely. I'm half way through reading it, and while I could to an extent appreciate the first section about justice, where Socrates mostly questions things, and doesn't assert ideas, the rest of it, up to what I've read, is a massive chain of unquestioned assumptions about reality and goodness. This isn't what I expected, even from a faux dialogue, of someone who supposedly questions everything, and claims not to know anything.

Welcome said...

Well, remember that Plato wrote the dialogue of Socrates, so we don't know if that's what he really said or if that's what Plato was saying.

This is interesting And what I've thought when I learned about Sophism. Sophism didn't go anywhere

And it's interesting to note that Socrates even says that the sophists are better teachers then him. I've also learned some learned from him. So I started to wonder if Plato was using his own bias posing as Socrates words. And I can understand being hurt by the death of your mentor's/teachers ideas, but then who says that wouldn't have happened in Plato's Republic?

Anonymous said...

Its interesting, 5 years after you posted this, i was searching the same on google as I came away with the exact same opinon of plato and "The Republic". All of the arguments are a long long reach and many of the people who are supposed to be presenting the other sides of the argument to Socrates seem to artifically agree with him much of the time. Perhapse its just the translation I read but it was a compleate waste of two long plane flights.