A Conversation about Books I and II
Posted on September 16th, 2014

To what extent, if any, should the polis seek to influence the development of citizens by encouraging school to adopt certain literary works and discouraging the use of other literary works (even if that encouragement or discouragement does not take the form of compulsion or prohibition)?


From Dr. Lindsay, September 18, 2014


On the Platonic Socrates’ terms, as discussed in The Republic, it appears that the polis must enforce the study of certain literary work and prohibit others. For Socrates, while the few who are wise would benefit from studying otherwise-discouraged works, the same cannot be said of the many, who are by nature less than wise. The latter group is capable, at best, not of wisdom but of right opinion. The many’s inability to philosophize leads Socrates to the conclusion that the good polis must ensure that their formation is scrupulously monitored.

Of course, our modern sensibilities are inflamed at the prospect of such censorship. We have the First Amendment’s protection of freedom of speech. But it likely would appear to the Platonic Socrates that this “solution” carries new problems of its own.


From Dr. Larry Allums, September 18, 2014


I would also say that the polis must enforce the study of some texts and prohibit the study of others, and for precisely the reasons that Dr. Lindsay states. In fact, I would go further and say that the model presented in Socrates’ “city in speech” would well serve the actual polis, the “city in deed,” or whatever we would call it. Of course this condition would apply: that only the wise do the enforcing and prohibiting. This is the overarching condition of the Republic in general–that the philosopher-king (as we’ll see coming up) rules.

How far are we from the possibility of that? Just think of the Texas textbook debate occurring presently in Austin. In whose voice do we hear wisdom?


From Dr. Upham, September 22, 2014

Just a note on the kind of enforcement mentioned in Book II.  Socrates speaks of supervision of the makes of tales, and merely persuasion of the “nurses and mothers.”  The former may suggest some coercion, the latter less so.  I would be very happy to know what the “flavor” of the original Greek terms is at 377c.


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