Plato's 'Republic': An Introduction
Sean McAleer, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire
Copyright Year: 2020
ISBN 13: 9781800640559
Publisher: Open Book Publishers
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The book is a comprehensive companion to the Republic, with a helpful introduction to the main questions and structure of Plato's masterpiece. It struck me that every argument of the Republic receives some consideration, and the most important... read more
The book is a comprehensive companion to the Republic, with a helpful introduction to the main questions and structure of Plato's masterpiece. It struck me that every argument of the Republic receives some consideration, and the most important arguments are given thorough treatment. At times McAleer formalizes Socrates' arguments, though this is not his only mode of exegesis. He regularly makes connections from earlier in the work, both recalling topics as they recur, and making explicit themes first-time readers might otherwise miss. McAleer's book is comprehensive in another respect, too: throughout each chapter he regularly references other figures in the history of philosophy (e.g. Kant, Freud, Confucius). He then ends each chapter with several recommendations for further reading with those earlier references in mind. McAleer doesn't merely list these resources, but offers brief commentary on each item, inviting readers to explore topics and figures beyond the Republic in a more focused way.
The book is accurate and uncontroversial as a reading of the Republic. As appropriate the author makes connections with other figures, accurately representing their views without overburdening the reader with unnecessary detail.
Since this is a commentary on an ancient text, it is far less likely to become dated than other textbooks in the open-access library. In the course of explaining some argument or philosophical theme, McAleer often makes reference to our contemporary culture. For example, he explains the straw-man fallacy by reference to our sometimes impoverished political discourse about abortion. Moreover, several of the chapter titles and subheadings within chapters use colloquial language in order to make clear to readers the upshot of what's happening (e.g. "Adeimantus Ups the Ante"). One wonders if some of the references may be (or become) a little dated (e.g. the 1998 film The Big Lebowski), but for the most part they are helpful to make things more accessible to students today.
McAleer's writing is both clear and accessible. He supplies important background information almost seamlessly in the course of his exegesis on the text of the Republic.
I discerned no internal inconsistency with respect to the content of the Republic.
Early in the book the author notes that he will not ordinarily distinguish between Plato and Socrates. In the course of his exegesis, however, he regularly--indeed, more often than not, by my count--does observe an appropriate distinction between Socrates and Plato. The former is a speaker within the dialogue who presents specific arguments and makes various proposals throughout, while the latter is the author weaving the whole dialogue together. McAleer very regularly indicates this by saying, "Plato has Socrates argue" such-and-so, or simply focuses on what Socrates says, by contrast with noting Plato's overall use of metaphor, dialogue, and so forth. Since the author's practice seemed to distinguish the two in ways I think are appropriate, I was surprised by the insistence that distinguishing them is, for the most part, not necessary. This struck me as a mild inconsistency in attribution.
The chapter divisions are helpful and well-considered.
The book breaks down into 14 chapters. Book 1 of the Republic earns two chapters, one on Cephalus and Polemarchus, and a second dedicated to Thrasymachus. The sections of Book 2 on education are paired, sensibly enough, with the content of Book 3 and treated in a single chapter on education. His treatment of Book 4 breaks down into two chapters, "The Political Virtues" and "Personal Justice." His treatment of Book 5 also earns two chapters, devoting one entirely to the problem of philosopher kings. Finally, book 7 receives two chapters, one devoted to the famous Allegory of the Cave, and another to the more advanced philosophical education of guardians-to-be. So, although the book's divisions do not match up exactly with the Republic's ten books, McAleer's divisions are sensible and well-considered.
The layout is helpful and appealing. My only suggestion is that the first instance of key terms (e.g. "Opposition Principle") might be bolded within the body text.
Images and illustrations are incorporated throughout the book. These help readers visualize Socrates "in action" in the Greek context. These include ancient Greek pottery as well as later etchings, paintings, and statuary on Greek themes.
The text is well-written and error-free.
Since the book is an introduction to an ancient Greek text, much of the discussion is rooted in that culture.
McAleer's introduction is a welcome resource for students reading Plato's Republic for the first time.
Table of Contents
- 1. Fathers and Sons
- 2. Taming the Beast: Socrates versus Thrasymachus
- 3. A Fresh Start
- 4. Blueprints for a Platonic Utopia: Education and Culture
- 5. Starting to Answer the First Question: The Political Virtues
- 6. The Republic’s First Question Answered at Last: Personal Justice
- 7. Questions about the Idea Polis: The Three Waves
- 8. Surfing the Third Wave: Plato’s Metaphysical Elevator, the Powers Argument, and the Infallibility of Knowledge
- 9. The Philosopher’s Virtues
- 10. Metaphors to Think by: The Sun and Divided Line Analogies
- 11. The Allegory of the Cave
- 12. The Decline and Fall of the Ideal City-Soul
- 13. The Republic’s Second Question Answered: Three and a Half Arguments that the Just Life is Happier
- 14. Are We There Yet? Tying up Loose Ends in Book X
About the Book
This book is a lucid and accessible companion to Plato’s Republic, throwing light upon the text’s arguments and main themes, placing them in the wider context of the text’s structure. In its illumination of the philosophical ideas underpinning the work, it provides readers with an understanding and appreciation of the complexity and literary artistry of Plato’s Republic. McAleer not only unpacks the key overarching questions of the text – What is justice? And Is a just life happier than an unjust life? – but also highlights some fascinating, overlooked passages which contribute to our understanding of Plato’s philosophical thought.
Plato’s 'Republic': An Introduction offers a rigorous and thought-provoking analysis of the text, helping readers navigate one of the world’s most influential works of philosophy and political theory. With its approachable tone and clear presentation, it constitutes a welcome contribution to the field, and will be an indispensable resource for philosophy students and teachers, as well as general readers new to, or returning to, the text.
About the Contributors
Sean McAleer, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire