Plato’s Republic – Notes from a first reading – Book 3

June 6, 2013 — Leave a comment

Book 3 is essentially a treatise on education and the responsibility of the state (the polis) to provide the ‘right’ kind of education for its citizens. Myths and poems are examined for the virtues that they preach and those deemed not in the interests of the polis are to be censored. Besides the obvious hint of totalitarianism in the ideas behind censorship, the prominent concept here is the persons relationship to the polis and polis to the person. An individual is thought of as a future guardian. The program is a matter of survival and regeneration for the polis. Just about all aspects of life fall under the education program. Religion (perceptions about life after death) is the first discussion. Interestingly, the more poetic the literature, the more a person may fear death i.e. the fear of Hades:

“It isn’t that they aren’t poetic and pleasing to the majority of hearers but that, the more poetic they are, the less they should be heard by children or by men who are supposed to be free and to fear slavery more than death.” (387b)

A value set is constructed based largely on the faults of the gods. For instance, Zeus displays no self restraint when he caves in to desire and ‘possesses’ Hera on the ground, dashing his well laid plans (390c). This must be censored so as to not display examples of supreme beings showing lack of self constraint. Also, to avoid a culture of bribery, censoring of lines such as:

“Gifts persuade gods, and gifts persuade revered kings.”

These arguments are largely calling back to earlier work by Plato around the concept of individual responsibility and fate. Plato has previously argued that if the gods and fate preside over reality and our behavior is determined by their whims and will, then any murder can claim fate as responsible for his crime. Complex logic and theorizing lead Plato to system whereby man is responsible for his actions. See Plato and the Myth of Er

Next comes a study of prose and style. Plato essentially goes into a discussion about the ethical merits of 1st person versus 3rd person perspective. Plato suggects that tragedy and comedy are narrated by ‘imitation’ (1st person). This is considered an important topic for the proposal about education. Whether or not to allow tragedy and comedy into the city. Because tragedy and comedy assume the roles of many varied characters, Plato seems to be driving at the idea that it is impossible to ‘imitate’ reality via one poet/playwright or through one actor and therefore this will serve only as a distraction for the future guardian of the city who must be focussed on the sole craft of guardianship.

Essentially they surmise what is allowed to be said and how it is to be said.

Essentially Plato is searching for a system to create soldiers, or ‘guardians’, that will be consistent and serve the philosophical vision that defines the city: namely that of a city of justice and virtue.

“we must find out who are the best guardians of their conviction that they must always do what they believe to be best for the city. We must keep them under observation from childhood and set them tasks that are most likely to make them forget such a conviction or be deceived out of it, and we must select whoever keeps on remembering it and isn’t easily deceived, and reject the others.” (413d)

The guardians come out of this system looking somewhat like supermen, free of vice and full of virtue. At once serving the city, but at the same time being despised in order that their intentions remain pure and not materially driven. It is easy to start plotting the relationship between Nietzsche and the ancient Greeks once you start ‘struggling’ through Plato’s Republic. An individual comes out of this system reflecting the dominant ideology. This is an idea that is still relevant today though not necessarily in the totalitarian character as described by Plato. You could imagine when a person says someone is typically American, or the American dream, or the Australian fair go. What they refer to is a set of shared characteristics that come out of a particular culture, or the shared vision of a wide cross section of that culture.

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