The Republic Introduction
In A Nutshell
We're going to bet you've never had a conversation quite like the one in Plato's Republic.
For starters, it's a conversation so earth-shatteringly deep, serious, and life-altering that it takes up an entire 300-page book. But that's only the beginning. Plato's Republic is pretty much the ultimate classic in the entire discipline of philosophy—some people even think it invented the whole concept of philosophy, which means that the philosophical conversation Plato began with this book has continued ever since.
Plato wrote the Republic in around 380 BCE, so if you're counting, that means this is a 300-page conversation that's continued for like three thousand years.
But don't worry: you don't need to write some philosophical opus to join in, too. One of the most important things about Plato's description of philosophy is that it's a lifelong, ongoing process of questioning everything. All you need to do is be open-minded. Well, and you also need to be ready to have some of the most fundamental truths you hold dear—justice, goodness, freedom—radically challenged.
Have you ever heard the phrase "the unexamined life is not worth living"? It's spoken by Plato's protagonist Socrates, and if you want to be convinced that it's true, Plato's Republic is the place to begin.
Now, if all this talk about fundamental truths sounds kind of intimidating, keep in mind that Plato's Republic is a book that grapples with the power of the imagination, too. On the one hand, in order to solve tough philosophical dilemmas, Socrates and his pals use their imaginations to construct a new kind of city. They imagine the city's laws, customs, government, leaders, family life, military practices... you name it.
But on the other hand, even though this imaginative exercise is clearly crucial to how Plato's philosophy works, poetry and imaginative activities are banned from this city for being immoral. Yikes. Why the contradiction? Because the bottom line in Plato's Republic is that if you're looking for neat and tidy answers, you're in the wrong place. This book is about asking questions—and sometimes it gets messy. You've been warned.
Why Should I Care?
Let's be real: Plato's Republic? Not a beach read. Not even a page-turner. But before you run screaming in the opposite direction, keep in mind that this doesn't mean you're going to be bored. For starters, Plato's Republic is one of the most influential books ever written—and we mean ever. It's a foundation for most of Western philosophy—and even Western literature, too.
Not sold yet? Well, it's also a book that wants to be challenging. It doesn't want to secretly ruin your life, but it wants to show you that the challenges of reading and thinking can empower you, change your perceptions, and even alter your world. This Plato dude really believed that the power of thought could completely change the world.
So, while the name "Plato" and the title Republic might sound like a perfect recipe for a snoozefest, this book is actually anything but. In fact, it's got some deeply radical ideas for the time—equal rights for women, no private property—that made a lot of people upset. So upset, in fact, that they famously sentenced the book's protagonist, Socrates himself, to death for spouting such radical ideas. Doesn't sound so snooze-worthy now, does it?
But enough from us. In true Platonic spirit, why don't you check out what all the fuss it about?