The Republic By Plato – Book Review

City as seen from aboveBest for:

Plato’s Republic is best for those who are interested in philosophy, enjoy challenging their thinking, and those who don’t mind reading slowly to digest. 

Difficulty to digest:

Reading an original translation, without outside help or previous training, is going to be very difficult for most. I strongly recommend using another resource to help guide you.

Plato’s Republic – Key Insights:

Plato’s Republic is one of the most well-known pieces of philosophical work. In this book, Plato uses Socratic dialogue to discuss a wide range of topics. The core themes are justice, happiness, and how society should be organized. This book is challenging but extremely rewarding for those who choose to work through it.

The Republic proceeds logically through sets of dialogue to uncover answers about what Justice is and how we as individuals relate to it. Getting through these conversations winds through all sorts of ideas in interesting and unique ways. This book is challenging, prepare accordingly. 

While you may easily get on board with Plato’s ideas of virtue, the discussion throws many modern conceptions of a good society out the window. I’ll cover just a few concepts here, for example, but you’ll need to read the book to get a full picture of what’s proposed.

Order Over Freedom

One theme raised in Plato’s Republic is that freedom should be secondary to virtue and cohesion. He makes arguments for censoring speech about the gods and limiting poetry (while simultaneously noting if a good argument can be made it would be nice to keep poetry around). The purpose of this is to reduce the chance individuals aspire to or justify nonvirtuous emotions. The understanding being with too much freedom comes to a weakening of society and virtuous individuals. 

In the same vein, it’s also argued that the Republic should be modeled under a meritocracy. Each person should be assigned to the task they’re most fit to handle and focus almost exclusively at becoming good at that task. The logic here is that focus on one task creates individuals who are exceptionally skilled at that instead of diverting attention across many trades. 

Plato also argues for some stratification of society, though with a strong unification of citizenship. Only the most adept have the chance to rule, but everyone’s goal is the betterment of society as a whole. There is no ownership of property and no small family units. All individuals in society act as one larger family.  Some, mostly the ruling class, will have to make sacrifices to create the greatest utilitarian levels of happiness.

Philosopher Rulers

Only the most adept philosophers compose the ruling class. They are tested continuously for many years. At each stage in life, only the most qualified continue with a chance to rule. The unqualified shift into other roles. These individuals are meant to value virtue over honor or pleasure and show others how to live as well.

This leads to one of the most famous metaphors ever devised, the allegory of the cave. I won’t butcher it here as you can read it yourself, but the main point is the ruling class is meant to spend much of their time considering a virtue. In doing so, they will have the closest access to what virtue actually is and must spend another portion of their time helping everyone else rise to their understanding. 

Of course, this is a difficult task, one that necessitates returning to the common understanding and attempting to help others rise higher. While unpleasant, this is a core responsibility of any ruler. I highly recommend reading this allegory for yourself as it paints a great, clear picture. 

Worth The Challenge

The Republic covers far more than I have here. Plato meticulously and logically walks through each point. There is also a huge range of other concepts and lines of logic worth reading through, such as why other forms of government like Democracy, are less preferable. You may not agree with every concept, but Plato’s Republic will likely challenge your thinking. It’s always useful to consider other ideas, especially ones as well reasoned as they are here. Reading through this book will not only give you many new ideas to consider but provide strong examples of clarity and logical argumentation. It’s not perfect, but there’s a reason it has survived so many years. 

Other considerations:

The book is written as a dialogue which can make it easier to imagine and digest, but also has long sequences where side characters agree repeatedly instead of contributing anything useful. This makes it feel a lot less like an actual conversation, as there are huge blocks of explanation with no real contribution from anyone else. To some, this could be repetitive and distracting, taking away from the arguments at hand. 

Unless you’re already well versed in philosophy and this style of speaking, the Republic will be challenging. The concepts are graspable but the language is dated and the logic moves very quickly. For most casual readers, I recommend a summary resource in tandem to provide a more modern overview to clarify any points of confusion. 

Finally, there are ideas in The Republic that will be challenging for many individuals. If you’re going to read this book, try to go into it with an open mind. If not, you may reject the ideas without hearing the full logic. I don’t specifically endorse any particular idea, it’s just a useful skill to listen to all arguments before making a judgment and in this particular case, a more challenging task. 

Applicable Content:

  1. If you had the chance to reorder society, what would you create? Why?
  2. What do you think are the pros and cons of Plato’s Republic, given the few pieces of information outlined here.
  3. How are you currently developing your virtues?

Planning to read The Republic (it’s free!)?

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