Study Guide

The Republic

By Plato

The Republic Introduction

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.

What is The Republic About and 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?

The Republic Resources

Websites

The Trial of Socrates
Remember how we mentioned Socrates was put to death? Well, you can get the full lowdown on his trial and execution here.

Interactive Socrates
With images, links, and other info, this is a great website to help understand the mysterious figure of Socrates—and the Greek world he lived in.

Movie or TV Productions

Agora
Although set in Alexandria hundreds of years after Plato's time, this film still gives an idea of the practice of Greek philosophy... and how even some women were involved.

The Matrix
The Matrix may not be the first thing you think of when you think of Platonic philosophy, but this film is pretty much just a very extended version of the Allegory of the Cave. Everything is an illusion? You have to free yourself from being a prisoner? Socrates told you so.

Articles and Interviews

Plato and Pop Culture
A very nifty article by Plato expert Alexander Nehamas on how Plato's critique's of poetry might actually be valid and relevant in today's world.

Plato and Higher Education
You might think Plato's ideas about education were way too weird to be useful, but this article uses Plato's perspective as a way to rethink the organization of higher education today.

Video

Dude, It's an Animated Allegory of the Cave
Having trouble visualizing Plato's Allegory of the Cave? You're in luck. This animated version of the Allegory of the Cave makes all the strange images and descriptions crystal clear. The animals are pretty cute, too.

Audio

Audio Plato
The Republic is a dialogue, after all, so if you're feeling like recreating that sense of conversation, listening to it on audio book could be the perfect solution.

Images

Plato and His Pals
In this famous painting by Raphael called the "School of Athens," Plato and another famous Greek philosopher, Aristotle, stand front and center. Who's that old guy sitting in blue on the steps? That would be Socrates.

A Republic for All Time

Check out this nifty title page from a Renaissance copy of Plato's Republic... with some Greek too.