Book Review: The Republic by Plato

The RepublicThe Republic by Plato

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Old white guys sit around discussing how to set up a totalitarian military state with them as the rulers.

Plato’s famous text covers a lot of ground as it tries to establish what justice is. It covers politics, personal and political ethics, idealised states (democracy ranks third out of four), education, and virtue. The Republic is a heady read, whilst being fascinating.

The strawman style to the interlocuter dialogue did annoy me as a reader. Whilst it was in service of making a larger point, it did make the discourse feel more shallow than it is. Plato’s thinking was also amazingly progressive for an age that predates the enlightenment by the best part of a millennium. But this thinking was also confined by the times.

Plato, along with Socrates and Aristotle, were the drivers behind western society. Books like The Republic put forward a lot of ideas for discussion and dissection, opening the dialogue that would lead to progress. That alone makes The Republic worth reading, but I also found it was worth reading if only to see much of it in context rather than discussed second-hand. E.g. The famous allegory of the cave takes on a slightly different light when not viewed in isolation.

For a more detailed understanding:

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Book review: On Generation and Corruption by Aristotle

On Generation and CorruptionOn Generation and Corruption by Aristotle

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m not going to review this book. It’s a few thousand years old, I don’t really have anything to add.

What I found interesting about this book was what it got wrong. Obviously Aristotle is one of the most influential thinkers of all time, he was one of the earlier people to grapple with determinism (Democritis and Leucippus got there first). But in Aristotle’s arguments on the Four Causes and the Four Elements, it was interesting that he rejected Leucippus’ and Democritus’ Atomism, a theory that was ultimately proven correct. Which got me to thinking.

How would anyone describe fire – one of the four elements – without our modern knowledge? How would we explain or seek to understand (rationalise) the workings of fire without chemistry, physics, and all of that other knowledge we take for granted?

Reading the arguments melding the four causes and elements into an understanding of change and decay in the modern age, it is easy to point and laugh. Stupid philosophers can’t science! But as I was reading I realised I could counter the arguments only based upon the accumulated knowledge of the natural world. If I was to remove that knowledge and just go by observation, could I do better? The answer is clearly no. At best I could come up with different, but probably not better. Because I’m definitely in the same league as one of the greatest thinkers of all time….

This realisation then had me thinking about how we don’t value our modern age and modern knowledge as much as we should. As Douglas Adams noted, we are surrounded by wonders of technology and science, but could we explain it and rebuild it, or would we have to settle for being a sandwich maker from the stars?

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