Beautiful City: The Dialectical Character of Plato's "Republic"

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To the vast literature on Plato's Republic comes a new interpretation. In Beautiful City, David Roochnik argues convincingly that Plato's masterpiece is misunderstood by modern readers. The work must, he explains, be read dialectically, its parts understood as forming a unified whole. Approached in this way, the text no longer appears to defend an authoritarian and monolithic political system, but rather supplies a qualified defense of democracy and the values of diversity.

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Overview

To the vast literature on Plato's Republic comes a new interpretation. In Beautiful City, David Roochnik argues convincingly that Plato's masterpiece is misunderstood by modern readers. The work must, he explains, be read dialectically, its parts understood as forming a unified whole. Approached in this way, the text no longer appears to defend an authoritarian and monolithic political system, but rather supplies a qualified defense of democracy and the values of diversity.

Writing in clear and straightforward prose, Roochnik demonstrates how Plato's treatment of the city and the soul evolves throughout the dialogue and can be appreciated only by considering the Republic in its entirety. He shows that the views expressed in the early parts of the text do not represent Plato's final judgment on these subjects but are in fact dialectical "moments" intended to be both partial and provisional. Books 5-7 of the Republic are, he maintains, meant to revise and improve upon books 2-4. Similarly, he sees the usually neglected books 8-10 as advancing beyond the thoughts presented in the previous books. Paying particular attention to these later books, Roochnik details, for instance, how the stories of the "mistaken" regimes, which are often seen as unimportant, are actually crucial in Plato's account of the soul.

Beautiful City is certain to be controversial, as the author's insights and opinions will engage and challenge philosophers, classicists, and political theorists.

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Editorial Reviews

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"In this slim but elegantly written volume, Roochnik (philosophy, Boston Univ.) treats Plato's 'Republic' as a dialogue, which is to say that he is attentive to the fact that 'The Republic' develops and builds as a conversation might, with progressive revisions, qualifications, and attention to the method of the dialectic itself. . . .Roochnik's approach is persuasive and highly recommended to scholars of the classical world. Summing Up: Highly recommended."—Choice, November 2003

"Does Plato's Republic defend an authoritarian and monistic political system? . . . All of us (historians, political philosophers, classicists) who are rather ill-disposed toward the political implications in Plato's book should read David Roochnik's rebuttal of this standard view. . . . I can warmly recommend this book to utopian scholars who want to have a knowledgeable and insightful guide to the complex dialectical drama that is Plato's Republic."—Petteri Pietikainen, University of Hawaii, Utopian Studies 15.2

"R. has offered a clearly articulated, carefully argued, and hermeneutically innovative reading of the most complex and difficult text in the Platonic corpus. The book is selective in its focus and rigorous in its development. It makes no attempt to exhaust the inexhaustible. Republic, no attempt to solve all of the dilemmas raised by this text or by the voluminous literature on the dialogue. It picks its fights carefully and strategically, never losing itself in scholarly minutiae, always illuminating through its disagreements. It is ultimately a provocative book."—Colin A. Anderson, Hiram College, Bryn Mawr Classical Review, 5 October 2004

"While Plato's Republic is surely one of the richest books in the history of philosophy, it is also one of the most written about, and therefore presents a formidable challenge: how to say anything new? Only a genuinely new 'take' on the dialogue will allow for a new vein of its richness to be tapped; David Roochnik has succeeded admirably in doing just that."—Drew Hyland, Charles A. Dana Professor of Philosophy, Trinity College

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801440878
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press
  • Publication date: 5/15/2003
  • Series: 6/30/2008
  • Pages: 159
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Prologue 1
Ch. 1 The Arithmetical
1 Tripartite City, Tripartite Soul 10
2 The One, the Two, and the Three 30
3 The Arithmetical Character of Kallipolis 40
Ch. 2 Eros
1 Intimations of Eros 51
2 The Three Waves 57
3 Kallipolis v. the Republic 69
Ch. 3 Democracy, Psychology, Poetry
1 Democracy 78
2 Narrative Psychology 93
3 Psychological Narrative 111
App The Meaning of "Dialectical"
1 The Technical Meaning of "Dialectic" 133
2 The Nontechnical Meaning of "Dialectic" 140
3 Dialectic in the Republic 149
Bibliography 153
Index 157
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