About Plato

The Republic




The Republic


Plato's Republic : Background

“Why be good when bad people have a much better time?”

Plato's most famous work - but remember it wasn't his last word. He was about 40 when he wrote it - his ideas evolved considerably during the second half of his life. Remember too that it is not primarily about an "ideal state" - the state is constructed only in order to help solve a problem about human behaviour. It is a means to an end, not the end itself.

It's an attempt at answering the question "what's the point of being good?" (when the wicked are apparently so much happier and more successful). Being an Athenian of his time, Plato's current answer (he'd already had several goes - see Gorgias - which he wasn't satisfied with) had to involve the community - the polis. Ethics (personal behaviour) for a Greek could only be a part of Politics (group behaviour, behaviour of the polis). In other words, if you can work out the right way to organise the polis, so that the polis is healthy, individual happiness (eudaimonia) will be irrelevant. (Just as if the body is healthy, the man will be eudaimon and we don't need to ask whether the individual parts of that body - arms, legs, toes - are eudaimon.) Eudaimon is usually translated as"happy" and eudaimonia as happiness - better to think of it as "having what makes life worth living."

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