Laurence Cooper

Fall 1998

Willis 416

Office hours: Thurs. 10-12,


Fri. 11-12, and by appt.

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. Grades will be based on two 6-8 page papers (25% each), a final exam (40%), and class participation (10%).

II. Reading Schedule

The following schedule is only approximate. We may depart from it if and when class discussion so requires.

September 11: 327a1-331d3

14: 331d4-347a6

16: 347a7-354c3

18: 357a1-368c3

21: No class

23: 368c4-373e8

25: 373e9-378e3

28: 378e4-398b9

30: No class


October 2: 398c1-422a3

5: 422a4-434c6

7: 434c7-441c-8

9: 441c9-452e3

12: Mid-term break

14: 452e4-471c3

16: Aristotle's Politics, Book 2, Chapters 1-5 (Lord translation; handouts available)

19: 471c4-484d10

21: 485a1-502c8

23: 502c9-521b11

26: No additional reading

28: 521c1-541b5

30: 543a1-555b2

November 2: 555b3-576b6

4: 576b7-588a11


6: 588b1-608b10

9: 608c1-621d3

11: No additional reading

13: Conclusion