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Topic #D35

Plato, Republic 473c-509c


26 November 2001
Scribe: Kevan Copeland


These minutes were not spoken; for another version, go to the spoken minutes




With the latest reading of the Republic, Professor Hutchinson stated that there is the sense of everything coming together.  He noted that the word ‘text’ derives from the word ‘textile’.  He went on to say that strands of things woven differently in turn produce different things, and that Plato is always weaving his own texts because he means us to be focused on one idea.  Plato presupposes that his readers have knowledge of his other texts, and that each individual reading is enriched by other texts.  This is the idea behind intertextuality, which Professor Hutchinson stressed is not itself impressive or subtle.  He noted that even Beatrix Potter uses intertextuality in her stories about Peter Rabbit.  Plato leaves threads hanging so that those that are most ‘pregnant’ will cause readers to give birth to brainchildren of their own.  Professor Hutchinson asserted that the rich intertextuality in Plato’s texts is no accident.


                  Professor Hutchinson then read from section 473c of the Republic, in which Socrates says that having philosophers serve as kings will solve all problems.  This appears to be ludicrous, and Socrates admits that it is paradoxical and that it couldn’t be that simple; Athenian political society at the time was not conducive to philosophy or signing over society to philosophers.  Perhaps even more preposterous and odd is the intellectual institution that fosters the cultivation of minds of the higher degree with the intent of putting them in positions of power—this would be Plato’s Academy, his training ground for politicians.  Most members of this school were not Athenians, but foreigners, and many would go back to where they came from after their time at the Academy to reform their own political institutions.  Plato’s own text is a self-description where he offers details about his institution.  In his description he is explicit in describing what kind of students he wants.


                  Professor Hutchinson stated that students at the Academy were often brilliant, with Aristotle being one of these amazingly gifted students.  Aristotle left for Athens after reading Plato’s texts—Professor Hutchinson noted that the texts were active advertising material, and described them as the literary equivalent to an infomercial.  Yet he stressed that while Plato’s work was successful at advertising, it was also more substantial than a modern-day infomercial, likening it to a magnificent, fictitious documentary.


                  In the Republic, Socrates stresses that philosophy is the love for wisdom.  Professor Hutchinson gave a reading from 474d, which attempts to illustrate, that if one loves something, they must love all of it, not just one part.

“That would be an appropriate response, Glaucon, for somebody else to make.  But it isn’t appropriate for an erotically inclined man to forget that all boys in the bloom of youth pique the interest of a lover of boys and arouse him and that all seem worthy of his care and pleasure.  Or isn’t that the way you people behave to fine and beautiful boys?  You praise a snub-nosed one as cute, a hook-nosed one you say is regal, one in between is well proportioned, dark ones look manly, and pale ones are children of the gods.  And as for a honey-coloured boy, do you think that this very term is anything but the euphemistic coinage of a lover who found it easy to tolerate sallowness, provided it was accompanied by the bloom of youth? In a word, you will find all kinds of terms and excuses so as not to reject anyone whose flower is in bloom?” (Republic, 474d-475a)


Professor Hutchinson stated that this weird catalogue of lies that lovers tell themselves goes back to Symposium drinking songs.  Elements of Book IV come back in this section, and a poem by Lucretius is also alluded to.  As well, this portion of the text is tied to themes from the Symposium—more examples of intertextuality in Plato’s texts.


                  476e from the Republic gives a clear paraphrase that the brain can fathom regarding the idea of knowledge.  Reality has being and is a necessary being—Plato signs on to this quite fully.  Timelessness is a thing that is a timeless being.  The Symposium spoke of erotic yearning, and suggested that this yearning is also a yearning for eternity—this is where timelessness comes into play.  Professor Hutchinson spoke of an interesting theory that offered an alternative concept—that there was a yearning for significance rather than eternity.  In human erotic yearning, there is a desire for another whom one can place their trust.  Only things that are truly permanent can be of significance—thus taking away eternity makes the significance of something to a person decrease. 


                  Professor Hutchinson then points out that the dialogue in the Republic is very wooden.  Readings from a random page where the dialogue is flat reinforces this statement.  Professor Hutchinson asserts that the text is written in such a fashion as to carry forth a discussion, and not to impede it.  Plato sacrifices creativity in order to get out the conversation in the format it is presented in.   A student asked why the Republic is in the form of a dialogue and not simply a long passage of Socrates talking.  Professor Hutchinson responded that the use of dialogue was a convention of the time that was being maintained, and noted that Laws does not involve Socrates, and that there is no dialogue used in it.


                  Book V of the Republic features a complex discussion.  Presented here is the idea that opinion is a cognitive state, and that it is a different faculty than knowledge.  Professor Hutchinson elaborated on this idea presented in the text by saying that opinion is a thing we have to grasp hold of things that come and go.  As an example, well-established physics would be opinion whereas mathematical truths would be knowledge.  Geometry, astronomy, and harmonics are examples of such mathematical ‘knowledge’.  In regards to harmonics, or the study of music, Plato was in touch with the most important players at the time.  Book V concludes by saying that lovers of true things should rule the city.


                  The Republic then continues to offer a much more elaborate vision of the ideal student, from 485 onwards.  Professor Hutchinson paraphrased some of the qualities listed in the text, including love of all kinds of learning, having self-control, not being petty, not having a love of money, having no fear of death, realizing that many things on earth have no importance, and the ability of the soul to reach out to grasp divine and human nature as a whole.  Adeimantus responds to this in 487b.  Professor Hutchinson says that Adeimantus claims that philosophy has “a bad rep”; Adiemantus says those who are inexperienced with philosophy are like those inexperienced at checkers, and are similarly trapped by experts at the game and rendered immovable.  Whereas Adeimantus describes philosophers as “cranks”, Professor Hutchinson stated that the way to become a weirdo is to study philosophy.


                  Section 488a of the Republic offers an intellectual image—it compares cities to ships and captains to politicians.  Professor Hutchinson described a ship cast adrift, with a committee system in place of a captain and a lack of discipline rules.  In this situation people contest for superiority, and can’t give guidance to the people who know how to run the ship.  Professor Hutchinson talked about the need to recognize one who knows the stars, or a stargazer—a person who knows how to orient themselves.  Aristotle adopts the image of the sailor, setting sail confidently to navigate the ocean of life.


                   The dialogue in the Republic continues on to offer a recurring image of philosophy as a woman who philosophers should get close to.  Intertextuality becomes evident again as references to books I and X are present.  Professor Hutchison describes this as a bookmark for Plato in the middle of his book.  He presents the myth of the sun as the first and most accessible of metaphors Plato uses to discuss knowledge.  Light is cast on objects that make them intelligible, allowing us to understand truth.  Something is the source of this light, and Plato calls this “The Good”.  Plato brings forward Parmenidean tradition while tying up loose ends.