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Plato's Republic : Books that Changed the World
Plato is perhaps the most significant philosopher who ever lived and The Republic, composed in Athens in about 375 BC, is widely regarded as his most famous dialogue. Its discussion of the perfect city--and the perfect mind--laid the foundations for Western culture and has been the cornerstone of Western philosophy. As the distinguished Cambridge professor Simon Blackburn points out, it has probably sustained more commentary, and been subject to more radical and impassioned disagreement, than almost any other text in the modern world. A clear and accessible introduction to philosophy’s first superstar” (Kirkus Reviews), Plato’s Republic explores the judicial, moral, and political ideas in the Republic with dazzling insight. Blackburn also examines Republic’s influence and staying power, and shows why, from St. Augustine to twentieth-century philosophers such as Ludwig Wittgenstein, Western thought is still conditioned by this most important, and contemporary, of books.
In this critical but judicious study, Blackburn (Truth: A Guide) regards what's considered the greatest of Plato's Socratic dialogues as "the foodstuff of unintelligent fundamentalisms." Hitler, totalitarianism and neoconservatism can't be blamed solely on "time and circumstance, land, food, guns, and money, the economic and social forces," he argues, so it may be that Socrates' utopian republic, ruled by philosopher-kings, may also have influenced the world in the worst possible way. Blackburn explores the themes that support such an argument, from Socrates' defense of the right of armies to conquer and colonize, to his extolling the benefits of a caste system. Although Blackburn--a philosopher at the University of Cambridge who identifies more closely with Aristotle--admits that he "had never felt Plato to be a particularly congenial author," he presents a clear and sympathetic synthesis of approaches to the famous Myth of the Cave, and gives the Platonist defenders their due. He finishes by making the case that the most critical reading of the book may be the best defense against its insidious influences. Hardly a ringing endorsement, Blackburn's book is a provocative companion to an essential text. (July)
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April 10, 2008
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