Big Planet

Posts Tagged ‘The Republic’

Plato’s Republic

In book review on June 5, 2009 at 3:45 pm

I do not know what is in Plato that makes me want to train my body physically, listen to classical music, eat good food, read great works, engage in conversation, and perform all exercises imaginable about the care of the self. For American philosopher Allan Bloom, The Republic is the supreme book on education (see “The Student and the University” in The Closing of the American Mind). I consider it as a monumental guide to the ordering of one’s soul, or a benevolent spiritual companion—Virgil, Falstaff, or Sancho Panza. It tells you about the best things to learn and do in this life; you don’t have to agree, but it invigorates you just the same about the question of the good life.

The best way to encounter Plato is to take him personally, to read his work as someone with real and immediate concerns about life, not as a political scientist, literary critic, or philosopher. A piecemeal confrontation with The Republic will do nothing but magnify Socrates’ errors, aside from highlighting his greatest contribution in ethics, politics, metaphysics or methodology, and obscuring the more important virtues of the text. This is why the ordinary student generally dislikes Plato, and this dislike takes the form of academic contempt (for there are so few who read him voluntarily that most people are not qualified to like or dislike his works on personal terms). This contempt is made clear when a casual student in the humanities or social sciences cannot speak of Socrates without adding a modern critique. He or she then confuses this academic knowledge, culled from modern theories, as a personal response to the text. In reality, this kind of reader lacks a response. Susan Sontag said that our fixation on interpreting content has something to do with not knowing how to react toward a given piece.

Too much is being said about the book’s manifest virtues—its statement on the nature of justice and the ideal State, its position against mimesis and poetry, etc.—that the latent virtues, which are more important, since they implicitly speak about incorruptible friendships and immortal conversations, are left out. The Republic is a book about the self and the soul more than it is about the disciplines. We must prize it not for its conclusions, but for its eternal questions and brave attempts to define the good life. I have been reading The Republic since last year (given to me as a precious gift during my 20th birthday), and today I have reached the last words of Book X. Jacques Derrida said that one never finishes reading Plato, admitting that, with so much respect and reverence, the scholar still feels like being on the threshold of understanding. Hence, it will be very hard to evade the influences of the book, and I promised myself to read it again and again.