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Plato's Republic (Books That Changed the World)

(Part of the Books That Shook the World Series and Books That Changed the World Series)

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Book Overview

Plato is perhaps the most significant philosopher who has ever lived and The Republic , composed in Athens in about 375 BC, is widely regarded as his most famous dialogue. Its discussion of the... This description may be from another edition of this product.

Customer Reviews

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A Scathing Indictment of the Fatal Flaws in Plato's philosophy

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. His intellectual affinity is with the assessment advanced by Nietzsche, the great anti-Platonist, that Plato's philosophy marked a fatal turn that has corrupted clear thinking for millennia. Blackburn writes: "In Raphael's famous painting in the Vatican, known as The School of Athens, Plato and Aristotle together hold centre stage, but while Aristotle points to the earth, Plato points upwards to the Heavens. The poet Coleridge made the same contrast, saying that everyone was born either a Platonist or an Aristotelian." Blackburn sides with the this-worldly Aristotle contra the otherworldly Plato: "[This book] is written, as is perhaps already apparent, by a natural sceptic. My temperament is irreligious and empiricist, down with Aristotle and the reality-based community, rather than up with Platonism in the heavens." Francis Bacon regarded Plato as having "contaminated and corrupted" any chance of Greek natural science by an admixture of speculation and theology. And Lord Macaulay wrote: "This celebrated philosophy ended in nothing but disputation. It was neither a vineyard nor an olive-ground, but an intricate wood of briars and thistles, from which those who lost themselves in it brought back many scratches and no food." In Plato's philosophical system, as in its "vulgarization in Christianity" (Blackburn's phr

Some Negative Footnotes to Plato

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. Ultimately despite the many negative responses to Plato's views, the author commends Plato for the wealth of general ideas that pursue the question of how we should lead our lives, and how we should seek the truth. How quaint this may seem in our pop-culture that is filled with spin doctors. The author tosses in a few comments from time to time to show that he is no fan of conservatism, yet such remarks should not dissuade anyone from reading this fine book. Those quite familiar with Plato's teachings might not find much new here, yet still might enjoy this pleasant discussion. Philosophy novices will find this elegantly written book to be reasonably easy reading, and surprisingly quite entertaining.
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