The Republic HTML version

Introduction and Analysis. Part I
The Republic of Plato is the longest of his works with the exception of the Laws, and is
certainly the greatest of them. There are nearer approaches to modern metaphysics in the
Philebus and in the Sophist; the Politicus or Statesman is more ideal; the form and
institutions of the State are more clearly drawn out in the Laws; as works of art, the
Symposium and the Protagoras are of higher excellence. But no other Dialogue of Plato
has the same largeness of view and the same perfection of style; no other shows an equal
knowledge of the world, or contains more of those thoughts which are new as well as old,
and not of one age only but of all. Nowhere in Plato is there a deeper irony or a greater
wealth of humour or imagery, or more dramatic power. Nor in any other of his writings is
the attempt made to interweave life and speculation, or to connect politics with
philosophy. The Republic is the centre around which the other Dialogues may be
grouped; here philosophy reaches the highest point (cp, especially in Books V, VI, VII)
to which ancient thinkers ever attained. Plato among the Greeks, like Bacon among the
moderns, was the first who conceived a method of knowledge, although neither of them
always distinguished the bare outline or form from the substance of truth; and both of
them had to be content with an abstraction of science which was not yet realized. He was
the greatest metaphysical genius whom the world has seen; and in him, more than in any
other ancient thinker, the germs of future knowledge are contained. The sciences of logic
and psychology, which have supplied so many instruments of thought to after-ages, are
based upon the analyses of Socrates and Plato. The principles of definition, the law of
contradiction, the fallacy of arguing in a circle, the distinction between the essence and
accidents of a thing or notion, between means and ends, between causes and conditions;
also the division of the mind into the rational, concupiscent, and irascible elements, or of
pleasures and desires into necessary and unnecessary--these and other great forms of
thought are all of them to be found in the Republic, and were probably first invented by
Plato. The greatest of all logical truths, and the one of which writers on philosophy are
most apt to lose sight, the difference between words and things, has been most
strenuously insisted on by him (cp. Rep.; Polit.; Cratyl), although he has not always
avoided the confusion of them in his own writings (e.g. Rep.). But he does not bind up
truth in logical formulae,-- logic is still veiled in metaphysics; and the science which he
imagines to 'contemplate all truth and all existence' is very unlike the doctrine of the
syllogism which Aristotle claims to have discovered (Soph. Elenchi).
Neither must we forget that the Republic is but the third part of a still larger design which
was to have included an ideal history of Athens, as well as a political and physical
philosophy. The fragment of the Critias has given birth to a world-famous fiction, second
only in importance to the tale of Troy and the legend of Arthur; and is said as a fact to
have inspired some of the early navigators of the sixteenth century. This mythical tale, of
which the subject was a history of the wars of the Athenians against the Island of
Atlantis, is supposed to be founded upon an unfinished poem of Solon, to which it would
have stood in the same relation as the writings of the logographers to the poems of
Homer. It would have told of a struggle for Liberty (cp. Tim.), intended to represent the
conflict of Persia and Hellas. We may judge from the noble commencement of the
Timaeus, from the fragment of the Critias itself, and from the third book of the Laws, in