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The Republic by Plato

The Republic

by Plato (Author)

Other authors: Clarendon Press (Publisher)

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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12,76065184 (3.85)171
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Showing 1-5 of 61 (next | show all)
How do you rate a classic like this? It's worth reading if only because of its immense influence on the Western world. It's also a much more multivocal text than it's given credit for, as a brief perusal of the secondary literature will show. Is the city in speech a serious utopian project, even if only as a regulative ideal, or is it an elaborate send-up of the absurdity of utopianism? That's only one of the big interpretive puzzles readers of The Republic must face.

On the Allan Bloom edition specifically - The extensive endnotes make this a very useful translation. ( )
  brleach | Jan 26, 2015 |
This was my first experience reading Plato, and it was an interesting one. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t relieved to have finished reading it, but I would also be lying if I said I didn’t like it because I do like it, sort of.

It’s an odd book to rate, written as it was more than two millennia ago (~375 BCE). The paradigms that governed Plato’s worldview are difficult to grasp. I kept reminding myself that back then they simply didn’t know some of the things I take for granted (like that germs cause disease and that slavery is neither necessary nor unavoidable), and even so I feel like I only have the barest edge of an understanding of where he was coming from.

In the Republic, a bunch of guys are hanging out talking while eating dinner and waiting to go to a torch race. It must be a very long dinner because they cover a lot of ground in their conversation and seem to have forgotten all about the torch race by the end.

They start out arguing about the nature of justice and just action, and that turns into an argument about whether the just man or unjust man is likelier to lead a happy life and gain material rewards. Having accepted that acting justly is better than acting unjustly, a couple of the guys say, “You know, the best way to do it is to act unjustly so you can get all of the wealth you can get through dirty dealings, but to have everyone think you’re a just man so you can have the good reputation along with the riches.”

And because there was no television back then, they end up creating a whole utopian society governed by philosopher kings (and queens, although Plato seems to keep forgetting that he included women in the mix of rulers) and in which marriage lasts only a week or two at most and there are no families and all children are raised by the community. Children consider their parents’ entire generation to be fathers and mothers, and their parents’ generation considers all children to be their sons and daughters. In order to maintain this utopian society, the rulers control the common folks in part by myths and deception and by only exposing them to stories and songs that promote the kinds of values they want in their society, and in part by rewarding bravery in battle with more chances to reproduce. It was all very Brave New World.

My notes are filled with comments like, “Is this a joke?”

And there are funny bits to it, like this exchange:

[Question] "Any story or poem narrates things past, present, or future, does it not?”

[Answer] “There is no alternative.” (86)

But I think Plato is pretty serious about all of this. He’s realistic in his expectation that a society like the one he’s imagined is unlikely to ever exist in reality, but he seems convinced that his utopia really is the ideal society.

The part I enjoyed the most was the Simile of the Cave. Plato uses this story to represent the way in which the life and understanding of the common man differs from that of the philosopher. In it, people are held prisoner within a cave, chained up so that they can see only right in front of them for their whole lives. Behind them is a fire and a road, but while they can see the shadows cast on the wall before them by those traveling the road, they can see neither the fire nor the road itself. Their entire existence is made up of shadows and reflections; they never get to see the true objects of the world. The prisoners believe this is all the world is until one day, one of them is set free and can look around.

“If he were made to look directly at the light of the fire, it would hurt his eyes and he would turn back and retreat to the things which he could see properly, which he would think really clearer than the things being shown him.” (242)

Even when he sees that what he’s thought was real is only a shadow, he continues to turn away from what’s real and back to the shadow because it’s what he knows and because the light of the fire is too bright for him to look at. You can imagine what happens when this fellow sees the world outside of the cave.

There’s a lot more to the simile than that, but I really found this idea of shadows and reflections intriguing. I think about the shadows to which we turn in our modern lives: television shows, movies, the Internet. These things aren’t real things but merely the shadows of real things. Plato argues that no good comes from these shadows (which in his day were lyric poetry and stage dramas rather than Breaking Bad and Duck Dynasty, but it’s the same basic concept), that they serve only to distract us with petty amusement. I wouldn’t go quite that far; I think that music, movies, books, and other amusements have the potential to lead us to deeper (or perhaps loftier) thinking and can help us to live better, more compassionate lives, but I agree with Plato that these things can also have the effect of causing us to see the world in such a way that we don’t act in the best---wisest, most compassionate, most just---way possible. For this reason, we have to be careful what we choose to consume, media-wise and not consume it passively, so that we can always be reaching for goodness and wisdom.

One of my favorite passages explains what happens when we don’t do this:

”Those, therefore, who have no experience of wisdom and goodness, and do nothing but have a good time, spend their life straying between the bottom and middle in our illustration, and never rise higher to see or reach the true top, nor achieve any real fulfillment or sure and unadulterated pleasure. They bend over their tables, like sheep with heads bent over their pasture and eyes on the ground, they stuff themselves and copulate, and in their greed for more they kick and butt each other because they are not satisfied, as they cannot be while they fill with unrealities a part of themselves which is itself unreal and insatiable.” (327)

To be our best selves and to have “real fulfillment,” we must always seek what’s real and true in this life and strive always towards wisdom goodness.

That is, if we want to be our best selves and achieve real fulfillment, which I suppose is also open for debate, but the guys in the Republic would have to order more dinner rolls and probably some wine, too.

This, to me, is the reason to read Plato. His Republic doesn’t contain ideas we can---or should---apply to our lives and our societies right out of the box, but we can turn around and contemplate the admittedly wacky ideas it presents. Plato’s ideal society is seriously impractical (and, to me at least, undesirable), but reading about it prompts me to consider what it is that I think is wrong with the idea. Why couldn’t it work? Why shouldn’t it work? And if not Plato’s utopia, what’s a better alternative?

And even more than this, I ask myself, am I basing my life on shadows and reflections rather than on things that are real and true? If I am, is this a bad thing or not? And if it’s a bad thing, what am I going to do about it? ( )
  ImperfectCJ | Jan 25, 2015 |
A good piece to just sit and reflect on. ( )
  benuathanasia | Jan 2, 2015 |
Plato's Republic is one of the world's most famous thought experiments. It is usually described as a treatise on justice in an ideal State, and while that is not incorrect, it is not the whole story. While the work is certainly of interest to students of philosophy and political science, it might also appeal to anyone interested in psychology and literature in general.

The first thing one notices right off the bat is what a great writer Plato is. This great work of philosophy is presented as a conversation — seemingly without end! — which like other dialogues of Plato, engages the reader and draws him or her in with a surprising degree of wit and flare. We who are not philosophers per se might tend to think of philosophy as a dry and lifeless subject, but in Plato's hands, it can be quite fascinating and certainly never dull.

The Republic is not an easy place to begin with Plato because of its sheer length and the scope of ideas it covers, but with some patience it is not an entirely bad place to begin, either.

For whatever reason, reading ancient Greek literature in English translation seems to be fraught with difficulties. It may be because of the limited vocabulary available within the ancient language as compared to a polyglot language such as English with its agglomeration of words from literally everywhere. But word choice can make a huge difference in the tone and feel of the material.

For example, as mentioned above, most modern translations of the Republic are concerned with "justice" in an ideal "state," which sounds rather remote, abstract and high-minded, leaving a perception of difficulty. Robin Waterfield has tried to be more precise in his translation. The Greek word dikaiosunē is usually translated as "justice," but Waterfield says the word "refers to something which encompasses all the various virtues and is almost synonymous with 'virtue' in general." In his translation the Republic is about "morality — what it is and how it fulfils one's life as a human being." Also, instead of "state," Waterfield has substituted the word "community." In combination, the idea of morality in the community brings the whole discussion down to a more personal level. I appreciated the change and the more personal tone of the entire work.

At any rate, philosophy aside because I am singularly unqualified to utter even platitudes on the subject, I enjoyed reading Plato's Republic. It was a much different book than I was expecting. Of course, having recently read Eric Havelock's [Preface to Plato], I was reading with an agenda — namely, to see whether his assessment of the Republic was correct, and while I appreciate his perspective, I feel his agenda got in the way of presenting a complete picture.

I also came away from this reading believing that many critics and commentators attribute more dogmatism to Plato than was really intended. The notion that he, through his mouthpiece Socrates, was setting up an ideal state, a sort of communist utopia, is an overstatement. While he did conclude that in his so-called ideal state the rulers would have no personal property and that they would be philosopher kings (and by implication queens), he also admitted many times throughout the discussion that "the community we've just been founding and describing can't be accommodated anywhere in the world, and therefore it rests at the level of ideas." Thus my initial suggestion that the Republic is a thought experiment, and the ideal state or community is a notion to be thought about and discussed but never to be realized. Something called "human nature" will prevent anything like it ever working in the real world. The ideal was created as a paradigm within which to explore the subject of whether a just or moral person is happier than an injust or immoral person, and incidentally, to try to define the nature of goodness. Socrates was only able to come up with various allegories to illustrate his points about what constitutes goodness, but he never delivered a definition as such.

But that is in the nature of Plato's dialogues, which consist of many questions and few definitive answers. The pleasure in reading comes from the plethora of ideas that arise out of the conversations between Socrates and his interlocutors.

In addition to the political level, Plato constantly reminds us that "We should bear in mind the equivalence of the community and the individual," and that a just society reflects the just or moral character of the individuals of whom it consists. What works at the community level he also tries to apply to the individual, not always successfully. The success of the community is dependent upon the education of its people and adherence to its customs. Education as discussed in the Republic applies to the rulers or "guardians," but in an open democratic society it must apply to everyone.

The Republic is not by any means a quick read, and the more time spent, the more one will get out of it. Robin Waterfield's translation in the Oxford World Classics series is excellent in addition for its introduction and extensive notes which help to guide one through the many digressions and to pinpoint the salient ideas. ( )
7 vote Poquette | Dec 16, 2014 |
Ugh ( )
  murphyrules | Nov 26, 2014 |
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» Add other authors (114 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
PlatoAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Clarendon PressPublishersecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Allan, D. J.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Allen, Robert E.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Baccou, RobertTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Blakewell, Charles M.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bloom, AllanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Buchanan, ScottIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Burnet, JohnEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Camarero, AntonioTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cornford, Francis MacdonaldTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Davies, John LlewelynTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ferrari, G. R. F.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fraccaroli, GiuseppeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Grayling, A. C.Forewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Grou, Jean NicolasTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Grube, G.M.A.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Itkonen-Kaila, MarjaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jowett, BenjaminTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Koolschijn, GerardTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kredel, FritzIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Larson, RaymondTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lee, DesmondIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lee, DesmondTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lee, Henry Desmond PritchardTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lindsay, Alexander D.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Molegraaf, MarioTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nehamas, AlexanderIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pabón, José ManuelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Reeve, Charles D. C.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rouse, W. H. D.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Scott, William C.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Shorey, PaulTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Spens, HarryTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sterling, Richard W.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vaughan, David J.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Warren, HansTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Waterfield, RobinTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Whewell, WilliamTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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I went down yesterday to the Piraeus with Glaucon, son of Ariston, that I might offer up my prayers to the goddess, and also because I wanted to see in what manner they would celebrate the festival, which was a new thing. (Benjamin Jowett's translation)
The main question to be answered in the Republic is: What does Justice mean, and how can it be realized in human society? [tr. Cornford]
...justice is keeping what is properly one's own and doing one's own job. (Desmond Lee translation)
...the state whose prospective rulers come to their duties with least enthusiasm is bound to have the best and most tranquil government and the state whose rulers are eager to rule the worst. (Desmond Lee translation)
...no one who had not exceptional gifts could grow into a good man unless he were brought up from childhood in a good environment and trained in good habits. Democracy...sweeps all this away and doesn't mind what the habits and background of its politicians are; provided they profess themselves the people's friends, they are duly honored. (Desmond Lee translation)
...an excessive desire for liberty at the expense of everything else is what undermines democracy and leads to the demand for tyranny. (Desmond Lee translation)
...all the poets from Homer downwards have no grasp of truth but merely produce a superficial likeness of any subject they treat, including human excellence. (Desmond Lee translation)
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The original Ancient Greek title was 'Πολιτεία', though most editions in the original Classical Greek have the Latin title, 'Respublica'. Neither should be combined with this translated entry (Modern Greek editions should be here, however).
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0872201368, Paperback)

Since its publication in 1974, scholars throughout the humanities have adopted G M A Grube's masterful translation of the Republic as the edition of choice for their study and teaching of Plato's most influential work. In this brilliant revision, C D C Reeve furthers Grube's success both in preserving the subtlety of Plato's philosophical argument and in rendering the dialogue in lively, fluent English, that remains faithful to the original Greek. This revision includes a new introduction, index, and bibliography by Reeve.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:47:00 -0400)

(see all 9 descriptions)

A model for the ideal state includes discussions of the nature and application of justice, the role of the philosopher in society, the goals of education, and the effects of art upon character.

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