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Philosophers in the "Republic"

Plato's Two Paradigms

by Roslyn Weiss

Publication Year: 2012

In Plato's Republic, Socrates contends that philosophers make the best rulers because only they behold with their mind's eye the eternal and purely intelligible Forms of the Just, the Noble, and the Good. When, in addition, these men and women are endowed with a vast array of moral, intellectual, and personal virtues and are appropriately educated, surely no one could doubt the wisdom of entrusting to them the governance of cities. Although it is widely-and reasonably-assumed that all the Republic's philosophers are the same, Roslyn Weiss argues in this boldly original book that the Republic actually contains two distinct and irreconcilable portrayals of the philosopher.

According to Weiss, Plato's two paradigms of the philosopher are the "philosopher by nature" and the "philosopher by design." Philosophers by design, as the allegory of the Cave vividly shows, must be forcibly dragged from the material world of pleasure to the sublime realm of the intellect, and from there back down again to the "Cave" to rule the beautiful city envisioned by Socrates and his interlocutors. Yet philosophers by nature, described earlier in the Republic, are distinguished by their natural yearning to encounter the transcendent realm of pure Forms, as well as by a willingness to serve others-at least under appropriate circumstances. In contrast to both sets of philosophers stands Socrates, who represents a third paradigm, one, however, that is no more than hinted at in the Republic. As a man who not only loves "what is" but is also utterly devoted to the justice of others-even at great personal cost-Socrates surpasses both the philosophers by design and the philosophers by nature. By shedding light on an aspect of the Republic that has escaped notice, Weiss's new interpretation will challenge Plato scholars to revisit their assumptions about Plato's moral and political philosophy.

Published by: Cornell University Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-9

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pp. ix-xi

This book has been percolating for many years. Writing on the Republic is not a linear process. Interpretations seem right, then wrong, then better, yet still not just right. One tries again, goes back to the beginning. Finally, a book emerges—narrower in scope, more modest in ambition....

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Introduction: Two Paradigms

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pp. 1-10

The modest aim of this book is to show that Plato’s Republic contains two distinct and irreconcilable portrayals of the philosopher.1 That this is so is something of which I am deeply confident.2 I am less sure, however, of why this is so: it is one thing to read a text, quite another to read the mind...

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1. Philosophers by Nature

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pp. 11-48

Readers of the Republic reasonably expect all its philosophers to be the same. But, just as the dialogue identifies more than one best ruler—first a brave and moderate military man, next a practically wise man, and finally a philosopher—so, too, does it present more than one kind of philosopher:...

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2. Philosophers by Design I: The Making of a Philosophe

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pp. 49-84

Socrates expects of his philosophers nothing less than the salvation of cities. Only philosophers, he tells us repeatedly, can save regimes from all ills, public and private (5.473d; 6.487e, 499b-c, 500e, 501e, 506a-b; 7.536b); they “perfect everything” (pant’ epitelesai—6.502b); they are “saviors”...

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3. Philosophers by Design II: The Making of a Ruler

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pp. 85-128

The allegory of the Cave not only makes plain that the philosophers of Rep. 7 have no native interest in the pursuit of wisdom and the Good, but it exposes as well their unabashed disinclination to rule. Just as the released prisoners, having seen the sun, prefer virtually any fate to a return to...

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4. Socratic Piety: The Fifth Cardinal Virtue

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pp. 129-163

Despite the Republic’s extensive and expansive consideration of a whole host of philosophers and philosophic types, scant attention is paid to Socrates as philosopher or philosophic type. Although he serves as narrator of the Republic, Socrates says very little about himself—and very little...

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5. Justice as Moderation

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pp. 164-207

In the previous chapters, justice was conceived in conventional terms as the virtue that shows proper regard for the interests of others. Indeed, in assessing whether and to what extent the philosophers of Books 5, 6, and 7—and Socrates—are just, we considered only how much or how little their...

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Conclusion: “In a Healthy Way”

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pp. 208-218

Plato ends the Republic with the myth of Er (10.614b-621d). As the nightlong conversation in the home of Polemarchus and Cephalus winds down, Socrates recounts the tale of Er, a man who has recently died but returns to life to share with the living his observations of life after death....

Works Cited

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pp. 219-225


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pp. 227-236

E-ISBN-13: 9780801466052
E-ISBN-10: 0801466059
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801449741
Print-ISBN-10: 080144974X

Page Count: 248
Publication Year: 2012

Edition: 1