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Re: Plato



Choisya wrote:
It is good, I think, that we are reading The Republic and Utopia within a short period of time

Has the Republic actually been scheduled? I haven't noticed it popping up on the scheduling thread as an active option.
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Choisya
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Re: Plato

No, that was my mistake Everyman. Sorry - the wish was mother to the thought:smileyvery-happy:



Everyman wrote:


Choisya wrote:
It is good, I think, that we are reading The Republic and Utopia within a short period of time

Has the Republic actually been scheduled? I haven't noticed it popping up on the scheduling thread as an active option.


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For Laurel and KristyR: THE REPUBLIC and UTOPIA

L and K, I mentioned to Choisya that I was reading The Republic (here). You'll probably appreciate Utopia more if you read The Republic beforehand.


KristyR wrote:
I am confused too, if we are reading The Republic as well as Utopia I need to order a copy.

Laurel wrote:
Did I miss something? When are we reading The Republic? I have Bellamy's book but have not read it yet.

Choisya wrote:
It is good, I think, that we are reading The Republic and Utopia within a short period of time because it will be interesting to compare the one piece of Utopian literature with the other, so many centuries apart.
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Re: For Laurel and KristyR: THE REPUBLIC and UTOPIA

True pmath, there is a lot to be said for reading around the Utopian literature in general, and Distopian literature for that matter. As someone else has mentioned, many of these ideas are alien to us now and so it becomes necessary to see where they are 'coming from'. Apart from The Republic they are all quite small 'novella' type books so an absolute doddle to us lengthy classic readers:smileyvery-happy:



pmath wrote:
L and K, I mentioned to Choisya that I was reading The Republic (here). You'll probably appreciate Utopia more if you read The Republic beforehand.


KristyR wrote:
I am confused too, if we are reading The Republic as well as Utopia I need to order a copy.

Laurel wrote:
Did I miss something? When are we reading The Republic? I have Bellamy's book but have not read it yet.

Choisya wrote:
It is good, I think, that we are reading The Republic and Utopia within a short period of time because it will be interesting to compare the one piece of Utopian literature with the other, so many centuries apart.



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Re: For Laurel and KristyR: THE REPUBLIC and UTOPIA

I did a very close reading of it with a philosopher about fifteen years ago.



pmath wrote:
L and K, I mentioned to Choisya that I was reading The Republic (here). You'll probably appreciate Utopia more if you read The Republic beforehand.


KristyR wrote:
I am confused too, if we are reading The Republic as well as Utopia I need to order a copy.

Laurel wrote:
Did I miss something? When are we reading The Republic? I have Bellamy's book but have not read it yet.

Choisya wrote:
It is good, I think, that we are reading The Republic and Utopia within a short period of time because it will be interesting to compare the one piece of Utopian literature with the other, so many centuries apart.



"Truth must of necessity be stranger than fiction, for fiction is the creation of the human mind, and therefore is congenial to it." ~~G.K. Chesterton
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Re: For Laurel and KristyR: THE REPUBLIC and UTOPIA



pmath wrote:
L and K, I mentioned to Choisya that I was reading The Republic (here). You'll probably appreciate Utopia more if you read The Republic beforehand.


KristyR wrote:
I am confused too, if we are reading The Republic as well as Utopia I need to order a copy.

Laurel wrote:
Did I miss something? When are we reading The Republic? I have Bellamy's book but have not read it yet.

Choisya wrote:
It is good, I think, that we are reading The Republic and Utopia within a short period of time because it will be interesting to compare the one piece of Utopian literature with the other, so many centuries apart.



Thanks for the suggestion pmath, I'll consider reading that as well.
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Timbuktu1
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Re: Plato

I once saw a lecture on The Republic that compared it to the Catholic Church. Turns out the church was founded during a time of neo-Platonic thought. It is a great help in visualizing his ideal state. Children are raised being taught dogma (the good) and over time the best and brightest are weeded out for further education. The weeding process continues until there are priests, then bishops, then finally, the philosopher king, the Pope. The problem with celebacy is obvious. The renunciation of material gain. It all comes from The Republic. And yes, it's a very controlled environment. I think it has worked in the church because everyone agrees to what is "the good". Also, Plato was anti-democratic. He watched the democracy of Athens destroy the man he considered the greatest who ever lived.. Socrates. Plato was born an artistocrat and believed that an elite, albeit an elite of merit, should rule.

What I truly have difficulty with his the argument in book l of the Republic. The conclusion that it is NEVER alright to hurt another human being seems to me to be unrealistic, as well as untrue. Perhaps in social relationships, this idea holds up. But I don't see how a society can function without "hurting" the evil. What about self defense? Isn't it unjust to allow evil people to harm the innocent? I know that this was incorporated into Christianity, and has become a foundation of our thinking. But how can it possibly work? If good people do nothing, evil flourishes. And even the evil suffer as they are allowed to debase themselves. Any ideas?
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Choisya
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Re: Plato

Gosh! How did Plato get onto the British Classics board? I know we Brits have some good authors but Plato wasn't one of them.:smileyvery-happy:. I believe Plato's Republic was one of the books that folks in Laurel's Epics club were considering discussing sometime.
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Re: Plato

By default. There's no other place for it; at one point I think it was even you who suggested that British should be extended to non-British authors (such as French) in English translation.

This thread has been addressed to Plato since it was started nearly a year ago, so it makes perfect sense that Timbuktu1 would post about it here.

Choisya wrote:
Gosh! How did Plato get onto the British Classics board? I know we Brits have some good authors but Plato wasn't one of them.:smileyvery-happy:. I believe Plato's Republic was one of the books that folks in Laurel's Epics club were considering discussing sometime.


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Re: Plato

I once saw a lecture on The Republic that compared it to the Catholic Church. Turns out the church was founded during a time of neo-Platonic thought.

Well, yes and no. NeoPlatonism is most often dated to the time of Plotinus, though he didn't use the term (which didn't come into usage until around the 18th century). The church was, of course, in its initial formative stages quite a while before then, with Paul. Clearly there was at least some church structure by 200 AD, before the birth of Plotinus in 205. However, it's also true that church doctrines were in flux during that time and up to the First Council of Nicaea in 325. Augustine, who was one of the most influential Christian thinkers of the later Roman empire times was certainly influenced by neoPlatonism, but The City of God wasn't written until about 425, well after many of the core Christian doctrines had been established.

Christianity from then until the Renaissance had elements who were influenced by neoPlatoism and other elements, Aquinas the principal among them, who were more influenced by Aristotle.

So while Platonism and, later, neoPlatonism were both certainly in the minds of the early Church fathers, there's still, IMO, significant debate about how great that influence was.
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Re: Plato

Thanks so much for your reply. I'm still finding my way around this site, almost as confused about the site as I am about Plato!
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Re: Plato

OK, I'd like your views on this. Today in my great books course I mentioned how confused I am by The Republic. Could it be (I asked) that Plato is putting forth Trasymachus' argument that "justice" is the advantage of the stronger? Athens had lost the war to Sparta. The Republic is basically a description of Sparta... the stronger city-state. In The Republic, it seemed to me that Plato was saying that as Sparta is stronger, perhaps it is more just? I know this sounds wrong but It's a thought that keeps coming back... Even the autocratic structure of the government in the Republic seems to give the advantage to the stronger. Everyone in class was bewildered by this and I'm not really sure of it either. Just wondering what you might think. So confusing! Is this confusion Plato's goal???
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Re: Plato



Timbuktu1 wrote:
OK, I'd like your views on this. Today in my great books course I mentioned how confused I am by The Republic.

Good! That means you're thinking about it.

I would offer several comments.

One: perhaps the most trenchant comment I ever heard about The Republic is that you can't read it for the first time until you've read it at least once. Which on the surface seems no more sensible than some of Plato's remarks, but like many of Plato's remarks makes a lot of sense when analyzed. Much of what is said in Book 1 doesn't make sense until you have read the later books. Only then do you begin to realize what Plato was driving at. But until you've read the whole dialogue, you can't read the earlier books with intelligence.

Two: Plato sometimes has Socrates offer up arguments that he knows perfectly well are bogus, but which help to move the discussion in the right (for Plato) direction. So if you find an argument that seems to you bogus, don't just dismiss it: ask why Plato is offering this argument.

Three (which is a sort of corollary of two): Plato is a master craftsman. Everything he does is for a purpose. Everything is crafted and plotted to a degree that would put Agatha Christie to shame. Even in a dialogue as long as the Republic, every sentence is there for a reason. You may not see the reason at first (or second or third) reading, but the reason is there.

Four: there are certain "code" words or phrases that take on special meaning. For example, up and down, wherever they occur, are important. Up almost always means good; down almost always means not as good, or even bad. The very first phrase of the Republic, "I went down to the Piraeus yesterday" isn't just a throwaway opening comment, but says that he is going from the elevated philosophical center of Athens down to the commercial, business oriented Piraeus.

Five and last for now: you mention the argument that justice is the advantage of the stronger. Note that this is foreshadowed by the incident where Polemarchus forces Socrates to stay by showing that he has numbers on his side -- his side is physically the stronger. Is it just for him to force Socrates to stay in the Piraeus instead of going back to Athens? If justice is the advantage of the stronger, then this is just! So the argument has a physical counterpart before it is made.

Good luck!
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Re: Plato

thank you, thank you, thank you! Your reply gave me goose bumps. So right! A lot of what you said had come to mind, almost on a sumbliminal level and reading it...one of those moments of epiphany! What is your background?

I am going to print your reply out and read it again and again.

I did spot certain things in book l that I thought were significant although they did not seem to be so. Especially the question, can you persuade us if we don't listen? I thought that was a reference to the argument in the Meno... no one can be taught... they must learn. When I brought this up in class I was ridiculed. I could be wrong there but I just had this sense that every word was significant. Even the mention that Socrates was going to a religious festival, seemed to me to be Plato defending Socrates' piety and asserting how wrong his conviction of impiety was. Anyway, I'm so grateful to you for your explanation. I'm having a difficult time putting Plato out of my mind, which I suppose is the point!!!
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Re: Plato

You're very welcome -- glad to be of help!

My background? I went to St. Johns College in Annapolis, Md, http://www.stjohnscollege.edu/ where I read the great books for four years, and got not instructed but educated. I've been reading them ever since (which is awhile, since I'm a bit older than you). I taught for about ten years, mostly English, mathematics, and music, but with a bit of religion and philosophy for fun, then went into business and law, but have never lost my love for reading the great books -- nor my love for talking about them!

I'm disappointed that any teacher, let alone a teacher of the great books, would allow a student to be ridiculed in class for bringing up an idea. There are no right or wrong answers when it comes to the great books*: their whole purpose is to inspire thought. That's their power. But serious thought is threatening to many people; that's why they killed Socrates.

I hadn't personally made the connection between the opening of the Republic and the Meno, but I definitely see how you got there, and it's a connection certainly worth mentioning.

That question "can you persuade us if we don't listen?" is a profound one for philosophy. What is the impact of a great idea that nobody listens to? (And why do certain writers get listened to when others who have previously made pretty much the same point are ignored? Take for instance Darwin, who was not the first to propose the idea of natural selection but who was the one who gets credit for it because he was the first one who wrote a book that people chose to listen to.)

You might also consider whether that question might be connected to the Apology and the verdict against Socrates: was he truly listened to?

Keep thinking, and keep connecting. Even if you eventually discard some of your initial connections as unhelpful, the fact of having thought and fully examined them is its own reward.

* with the exception of the deliberately disruptive student who responds to that by saying something like "the lesson I take from the great books is that I should physically cut out the tongues of every person who utters the word 'truth,' and since there are no wrong answers that must be right," but you get my point.

Timbuktu1 wrote:
thank you, thank you, thank you! Your reply gave me goose bumps. So right! A lot of what you said had come to mind, almost on a subliminal level and reading it...one of those moments of epiphany! What is your background?

I am going to print your reply out and read it again and again.

I did spot certain things in book l that I thought were significant although they did not seem to be so. Especially the question, can you persuade us if we don't listen? I thought that was a reference to the argument in the Meno... no one can be taught... they must learn. When I brought this up in class I was ridiculed. I could be wrong there but I just had this sense that every word was significant. Even the mention that Socrates was going to a religious festival, seemed to me to be Plato defending Socrates' piety and asserting how wrong his conviction of impiety was. Anyway, I'm so grateful to you for your explanation. I'm having a difficult time putting Plato out of my mind, which I suppose is the point!!!


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Timbuktu1
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Re: Plato

St. John's must be a wonderful place. My son went to the University of Chicago, in the hope that he'd have a similar education. Although he did get some of what he was looking for the pre-med program crowded out a lot of it. At present I'm taking the great books program at University of Chicago and my son is so jealous he's promised himself that when he retires he will take it as well. I'm in the second year of a four year program and until this class I have loved every minute of it. After this last session the students were ready to stage a revolt. I think this particular teacher is having a hard time. In fact, she pretty much shut down all discussion and we all kind of stared at each other and her for awhile. Some students are ready to demand their money back. I think it takes a lot of skill both academic and social, to conduct a class using Socratic questioning. We've been lucky until now. I've taken it as a personal challenge, however, and I'm determined to read, read, read this work until I get a handle on it.

We always read two works at the same time and part of the thrill is seeing how they relate. There's usually a conceptual/philosophical work and an artistic work. I love the system. The struggle to understand the concepts and then, the Eureka! when the artist allows you to feel them. The Odyssey is a pure delight and I'm having fun looking for the connections.

It's a real pleasure and honor to know you. Thank you for your support, it has helped as well as inspired me.
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Re: Plato

St. John's is indeed a wonderful place for the right student. (For the wron gone, it's a disaster.) But we owe a lot to Robert Hutchins and Mortimer Adler at the University of Chicago for the inspiration for the New Program.

Yes, it takes a very special teacher to teach legitimately using the Socratic method. It takes a teacher who believes that his or her role is not to be the authority, but to be a co-learner with the students. It's very hard for most professors to make this seismic shift in their approach to the classroom, where they are not the teachers but the books are the teachers. They want to instruct, to promote THEIR view, which of course is the right view, to tell you not just what to read but what to think about it. That's why in most colleges or universities, it's very hard to have the same faculty teach both traditional courses and great books courses. They simply can't adapt to the idea that the students and they are both students sitting at the feet of the master teacher who wrote the book.

Often little things count a lot, and one of the most important small things at St. John's is that in every class every member of the college, student or faculty, is addressed formally as Mr, Mrs, or Miss. (Ms wasn't an issue when I was there; I wonder whether it is today? :smileyhappy:) There are no academic titles -- no Professor Smith, no Dr. Smith, just Mr. Smith, who may be a student or a tutor.

The other cardinal rule of the seminar is that nobody is right because of who they are. In actuality, a tutor seldom puts forth an opinion; their principal role is to question and to draw opinions out of the students for testing against the book. But when they do put out an opinion, it gets no more automatic acceptance or validity than one put forth by a student. Both need to be tested against the book. In my freshman seminar, we had a first year tutor who, in the second or third seminar, was being questioned by the students about something he had said, and he got exasperated by being questioned and blurted out "I'm right because I'm the teacher, I've studied this for years, and I know." The next day, he was gone.



Timbuktu1 wrote:
St. John's must be a wonderful place. My son went to the University of Chicago, in the hope that he'd have a similar education. Although he did get some of what he was looking for the pre-med program crowded out a lot of it. At present I'm taking the great books program at University of Chicago and my son is so jealous he's promised himself that when he retires he will take it as well. I'm in the second year of a four year program and until this class I have loved every minute of it. After this last session the students were ready to stage a revolt. I think this particular teacher is having a hard time. In fact, she pretty much shut down all discussion and we all kind of stared at each other and her for awhile. Some students are ready to demand their money back. I think it takes a lot of skill both academic and social, to conduct a class using Socratic questioning. We've been lucky until now. I've taken it as a personal challenge, however, and I'm determined to read, read, read this work until I get a handle on it.

We always read two works at the same time and part of the thrill is seeing how they relate. There's usually a conceptual/philosophical work and an artistic work. I love the system. The struggle to understand the concepts and then, the Eureka! when the artist allows you to feel them. The Odyssey is a pure delight and I'm having fun looking for the connections.

It's a real pleasure and honor to know you. Thank you for your support, it has helped as well as inspired me.


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Timbuktu1
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Re: Plato

I don't know whether to laugh or cry for that first year tutor. I can only imagine how overwhelmed he felt. Egos are difficult things to handle!

Our professors are addressed by their first names. Our first professor (for the Meno) was the director of the program and was exceptional. She opened my mind and changed it, I thought forever. When you say there are certain key words/phrases in the Republic, words that jump out and yell "socrates", I thought " persuade" and "listen" were two. No way to persuade if people won't listen. People won't listen if they think they know. So, first things first, must get people to question their knowledge. So difficult and so uncomfortable to have our beliefs shaken. After our last session, the one that inspired the anger and revolt, one student, a former classics major, smiled with a twinkle in his eye said to me "It's working". Then I wondered...were we reacting like Meno? Were we angry and upset and uncertain because we were so lost? Perhaps this discomfort was a good thing? I'm not sure of anything! I think that's probably a good thing, right?

Back to the first professor, who was really expert at what she did. In discussion, again and again she led us to see the problem with trusting authority (like the Sophists) rather than reason. I really saw exactly what she was saying and was very careful, in discussion, to never cite an authority. One day I compared the process of Socratic questioning to a child, going through cognitive developmental stages. One day he believes the moon follows him wherever he goes. Then the next day this stops making sense. He feels uncomfortable and uncertain and questions his ideas. The cognitive dissonance triggers a lot of thought and reasoning and questioning until he develops a new construct, the moon does not follow him, and then he's comfortable again. This process, I ventured, was what Meno was going through, what we all go through, when we learn. Well, she just nodded dismissively and went on. A couple of weeks later I tried something new. The same point arose in discussion and I prefaced my explanation with, "Piaget described this process..." The professor was riveted, nodded, prompted me in my explanation by saying "beautiful, beautiful" and seemed very impressed by new "brilliance". So, even the best are not immune to a little Sophistic thinking. I have since played with this method and it does appear that almost everyone is swayed and impressed by authority.

BTW, I was thinking of Darwin. Last spring the Field Museum had an exhibition on Darwin. Perhaps it traveled to your area? The interesting thing was that the first Friday of every month U of C holds free lectures at the Cultural Center. That Friday I went to hear a lecture about Emerson, someone I knew very little about. Afterwards, we went to the Darwin show. At first I was amazed at the coincidence. They fit hand and glove, Emerson and Darwin. Then I realized that Emerson came before Darwin and set the stage. He's even called a pre-darwin evolutionist. Yes, the ideas were in the air and the stage was set. I forget why Darwin was the one accepted...there was an explanation in the exhibit. Was it because he had so much physical evidence? Or did he get the book published first? Of course there are still many people who don't accept Darwin! They can't be persuaded because they already "know" and won't listen. How many times, every day, have I thought of this idea? Like children who develop faulty constructs to explain their worlds, we need the safety of feeling we "know". Questioning everything is difficult. But it's the only way to the truth.
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Re: Plato

The appeal to authority is deeply ingrained in human thinking -- after all, don't all of us as young children appeal to the authority of our parents? We ask them all sorts of questions and believe what they tell us. Our whole education system is based on appeal to authority. How do we know that X is true? Because it's in the textbook, stupid. Or because that's what the teacher gives us "correct answer" points for.

Not that authority can be dismissed entirely. Authority is necessary for learning. If you and I disagree on the definition of a word, what do we do? We go to the dictionary and look it up.

For most of the Middle Ages, appeal to authority was all there was. The Bible and Aristotle (the Philosopher) were the authorities, and any argument could be ended by quoting one or the other. The magic of the Renaissance was that it did away with appeal to authority thinking and encouraged independent thinking.

Authority can be very helpful. Much of what I know about the Republic came from reading (particularly Eva Brann) and listening to the Teaching Company lecture series on Plato. The question, for me, is whether you use the authority as an element of your own thinking, evaluating and deciding for yourself what to believe, or whether the response is "okay, the Bible or Aristotle or Piaget or whoever says it, so that in and of itself makes it true and we don't need to go further."

Of course, you know all this, but I had to think it out loud for my own benefit. :smileyhappy:

As to Darwin, I think he got the credit because he was the showman, the one who wrote the popular book and went around pushing it. There are many ideas throughout history that are attributed to the "wrong" person because they were the ones who popularized the idea, not the one who discovered it.
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Re: Plato

I frankly don't like the idea of addressing teachers by their first names. I think there is, or at least should be, a substantive difference between a classroom discussion and a cocktail party or college dorm bull session. I think you emphasize that by a certain degree of formality in address. And also, in an age where first names are so widely used, it helps to depersonalize a disagreement with a person: I think it does make a difference whether you say "I disagree with Barb on this point" or "I disagree with Miss Hopkins on this point."

Maybe it's just because the Mr. and Mrs. is so familiar to me from my four years at St. Johns, but I do find that it adds a note of seriousness of purpose and depersonalization when you address your friends as Barb, Charlie, etc. outside the classroom and Miss and Mr. inside it.
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