POSC 250: ANCIENT POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY

PLATO'S REPUBLIC

Laurence Cooper

Fall 2000

Willis 416

Office hours:

x-4111

Thursday 2:30-4:30 and Friday 2:00-4:00.

POSC 250: ANCIENT POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY

PLATO'S REPUBLIC

I. Purpose and Scope

In this course we will examine ancient political philosophy through the intensive study of Plato's Republic, perhaps the greatest work of political philosophy ever written. Precisely because of the depth and comprehensiveness of its examination of political questions, the Republic addresses questions which go far beyond what we today normally think of as the realm of the political. In this work whose ostensible topic is justice, Plato treats such questions as: What is morality? Why should a person behave morally? Wouldn't it be more satisfying to be a tyrant? Regarding society and the variety of possible regimes, the work asks: What would a perfect society look like? What would be its customs and institutions regarding the equality of the sexes? What would the status of the family be in such a society, and in what ways is the family good or bad from the standpoint of society's needs? And who would rule? Regarding the individual, the work considers the many possible ways of life and asks which is best, all the while exploring the question of human nature and the "politics" that take place within the psyche itself. Beyond all that, the work asks whether we see reality as it is or else spend our lives amid illusion and prejudice which we mistake for reality. Because the Republic is a dialogue and not a treatise, we never receive definitive answers to these questions in Plato's own name. (Plato does not appear as a character in the dialogue.) But if the dialogue form poses difficulties that a treatise does not, it more than compensates for them with literary and intellectual satisfactions that few if any treatises can match.

II. Course Requirements

By far the most important requirement is that you read all assigned passages closely and before class. The Republic is one of those rare great philosophic works which, although difficult to penetrate, nevertheless offers much to the first-time reader. But it offers even more to the persistent reader, so you are advised to read the assignments more than once. Those seeking further insight may wish to consult Allan Bloom's Interpretive Essay (located at the back of the book), which offers a section by section commentary on the text, and/or consult me for further recommendations. But you should not consult any interpreter until you have first read the assigned portion of the text on your own. Grades will be based on two 6-8 page papers (25% each), a final exam (40%), and class participation (10%).

 

III. Reading Schedule

The following schedule is only approximate. We may depart from it if and when class discussion so requires. The numbers refer to the traditional Stephanus pagination, which appears in the outer margins of each page of text.

September 12: 327a-331d (first part of Book 1)

14: 331d-354c (remainder of Book 1)

19: 357a-72e (first half of Book 2)

21: 372e-83c (second half of Book 2)

26: 386a-403c (first half of Book 3)

28: 403c-17b (second half of Book 3)

October 3: 419a-34c (first half of Book 4)

5: 434c-45e (second half of Book 4)

FIRST PAPER DUE FRIDAY, OCTOBER 6, 5:00 PM

10: 449a-73c (first two thirds of Book 5)

12: 473c-487a (remainder of Book 5, beginning of Book 6)

17: 487b-503b ("middle half" of Book 6)

19: 503b-511e (remainder of Book 6)

24: 514a-41b (Book 7)

26: 543a-62a (first two thirds of Book 8)

SECOND PAPER DUE FRIDAY, OCTOBER 27, 5:00 PM

31: 562a-76b (remainder of Book 8, beginning of Book 9)

November 2: 576b-92b (remainder of Book 9)

7: 595a-608b (first half of Book 10)

9: 595a-608c-21d (second half of Book 10)

14: Conclusion

TAKE-HOME EXAM DUE MONDAY, NOVEMBER 20, 5:00 PM