Saturday, January 04, 2014


Not one of the dialogues of Plato has one sole purpose or one sole theme, not even the Apology or the Crito. As a Rembrandt portrait is as much a study of personality as a study of the aesthetic interplay of light and shade, so in a dialogue of Plato the drama and the thought work not side by side but each in and through each.

In "The Argument of the Republic" (Chapter VII of Plato: An Interpretation, 2005) I downplayed the political character of the Republic in reaction to the position of scholars who see nothing in the Republic but a political treatise. They comment on the book and criticize it as if they were discussing the electoral programme of a US presidential candidate. They show not a whit of historical sense. They do not take into consideration that while Plato's moral and metaphysical philosophy is the fruit of his insight, his politics is the product of his time and historical circumstances. Lewis Mumford in The Condition of Man (1944), Ch. I, Sect. 4, gives an insightful and judicious critique that any serious reader will find amply rewarding.

My own position was and is that whatever may have been Plato's motive or overriding interest in composing the Republic, we have in its central part, the profoiundest and maturest expression of Plato's philosophy and the quintessence of all philosophy. These seventy-odd pages, from 472 in Book V to the end of Book VII, are the lasting gift of Plato's inspiration yo humanity.


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