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Plato's Republic

Plato's Republic

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Plato's Republic

Course No. 4537
Professor David Roochnik, Ph.D.
Boston University
Share This Course
4.7 out of 5
42 Reviews
71% of reviewers would recommend this series
Course No. 4537
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Course Overview

It is the first work in the history of Western political philosophy and, arguably, the most influential—so influential that the entire European philosophical tradition has been described as being nothing more than a "series of footnotes" to its author. Yet Plato's Republic, more than 2,000 years after its appearance, and in spite of the many provocative directions those footnotes have taken, still remains astonishingly relevant in its own right.

It poses one question after another that might well have been drawn from the headlines and debates of our nation's recent history:

  • What sort of person should rule the state? Is it ever permissible for a ruler to lie to the citizens? Should women be given the same political opportunities as men? What is the role of education in politics?
  • Should citizens be allowed full freedom when it comes to sexual relationships and private property?
  • Are all citizens equal before the law?
  • Is censorship of music and literature ever justifiable?
  • Should everyone have equal access to health care?

And these questions, no matter how vital they may be on their own, are only intellectual stepping stones along the pathway of Plato's greater inquiry—the question of defining justice itself and the reasons why a man or woman would choose a life aligned with that virtue.

In Plato's Republic, Professor David Roochnik leads you through the brilliant dialogue Plato crafted both to define and examine the issues with which political philosophy still grapples.

Chapter by chapter—what the Republic presents as "books"—Professor Roochnik introduces you to Plato's literary recasting of his own great teacher, Socrates, and the dialogue through which Socrates and the Republic's other characters create the hypothetical ideal city. It is by dissecting life in this presumably just city—the "Republic" of Plato's title—that the nature of justice itself can be examined.

Explore Justice through the Socratic Method

Socrates presents question after question, refuting each in a manner that leads to still another question, as Socrates's—and Plato's—ideas about the nature of justice and the society necessary for justice's emergence gradually unfold.

Many of those ideas will startle contemporary readers, who may recognize in them the foreshadowing of some of humankind's darkest moments.

Plato, for instance, has Socrates present what has come to be known, notoriously, as the "noble lie," the assertion that human beings are not born of their parents but of the city itself. Moreover, those men and women are born into three predetermined social classes—with souls containing gold, silver, or bronze—that must never mingle.

Preserving that purity of class—very similar to a caste system—also means the careful supervision of reproduction. If a bronze-souled child, for example, is born to a gold-souled woman, it is taken away to be raised by citizens of like soul.

If this sounds suspiciously like what we have come to know as the eugenics once offered as a route to racial purity, making you uncomfortable and suggesting why some have called the Republic the "great-great-grandfather of all totalitarian experiments," then Professor Roochnik would be far from disappointed.

Indeed, that discomfort with one of the great names in philosophy—literary character or not—is something he believes is a very good thing.

"Socrates's proposals will cause readers to object. They will find, however, that even if they disagree with what Socrates recommends, developing arguments against his proposals is a most valuable exercise," he says.

"They will be forced to think through basic assumptions concerning politics. For example, almost all of us believe political freedom is a good thing, and that all citizens should be counted as equal before the law. But why? Plato will encourage us to defend our most cherished beliefs."

Repeatedly, Plato puts those beliefs to the test.

Can You Defend Your Beliefs Against Plato?

Do you believe in freedom of the press and in an artist's right to set forth the ideals he or she believes in?

Socrates's ideal city is one in which cultural activity, because of its central role in forming the character of its citizens and developing the city's guardians and leaders, must be strictly censored and controlled. He notes that it is "imperative for the rulers of the city to supervise the makers of tales."

Do you believe there should be universal access to medical care, and that the infirm, or those with less to contribute to society, deserve to be treated?

In Socrates's ideal city—which he is constructing, remember, to examine the definition of and reason for justice—doctors exist to further the well-being of the city. If those who are less useful to the city, or no longer useful at all, must therefore go without care, even to the point of death, so be it.

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24 lectures
 |  30 minutes each
  • 1
    Plato’s Life and Times
    Lecture 1 moves from a brief overview of the course to a discussion of Plato's life and times, and the influences his world would have upon his work. x
  • 2
    Book I—The Title and the Setting
    In addition to introducing the characters of Plato's dialogue, this first book also introduces Plato's basic questions about justice and the person and method of Socrates. x
  • 3
    Book I—Socrates versus Thrasymachus
    The central debate of Book I takes place between Socrates and the Sophist, Thrasymachus. Though much of the latter's relativism is refuted, the questions at the heart of their dispute remain unanswered. x
  • 4
    Book II—The City-Soul Analogy
    Socrates introduces the city-soul analogy, the individual soul "written large," and we look at the first of the cities that will be constructed as a means of defining justice. x
  • 5
    Books II and III—Censorship
    Socrates argues that since the cultural world plays the central role in forming citizen character, music and literature of all kinds must be censored in a just city. x
  • 6
    Book III—The Noble Lie
    Socrates's censorship program culminates in the "noble lie," in which the city itself—where the predetermined social classes of birth should not mingle—is the parent. x
  • 7
    Book III—Socrates's Medical Ethics
    Socrates presents a radical view of the practice of medicine and the allocation of medical resources in his just city, and the student is challenged to articulate a response. x
  • 8
    Book IV—Justice in the City and Soul
    We see Socrates complete his city-soul analogy—including the "four cardinal virtues "—and then discuss Plato's psychology, especially his notion of the harmony of the soul. x
  • 9
    Book V—Feminism
    Do Socrates's conditions for justice make him a feminist? We examine his proposals in a contemporary light before moving to another condition: that a just city requires rule by philosophers. x
  • 10
    Book V—Who Is the Philosopher?
    A long intellectual detour moves us on our first step towards what is typically called "Plato's theory of Ideas," the cornerstone of his philosophical worldview. x
  • 11
    Book VI—The Ship of State
    A famous parable reveals one of the most pessimistic interpretations of "real world" politics ever conceived, along with a great irony about the role of philosophers in the real world. x
  • 12
    Book VI—The Idea of the Good
    Socrates finally reveals the answer to the question he has been evading all along: What does the philosopher-ruler actually know? x
  • 13
    Book VI—The Divided Line
    A single short passage turns out to be the most concise summary of Plato's conception of reality. Although it never becomes crystal clear, discussion does make it accessible. x
  • 14
    Book VII—The Parable of the Cave
    Perhaps because he realizes the difficulty of understanding both the Idea of the Good and the Divided Line, Socrates tells another parable: that of the cave. x
  • 15
    Book VII—The Education of the Guardians
    In answering why mathematics is so important to the education of the guardians, we complete our overview of Plato's "theory of Ideas" and his conception of education. x
  • 16
    Book VIII—The Perfectly Just City Fails
    As we begin our return to the discussion of actual politics, we learn a surprising irony about Socrates's conception of the perfectly just city: it is doomed to fail. x
  • 17
    Books VIII and IX—The Mistaken Regimes
    The fourth and final part of Plato's Republic, unlike earlier sections, is neither philosophical argument nor historical analysis; it is an explanation of how regimes change. x
  • 18
    Book VIII—Socrates's Critique of Democracy
    This lecture addresses what is perhaps the most politically charged issue found in this course, and addressing Socrates's challenges it should sharpen students' understanding of the regime that they likely think best. x
  • 19
    Books VIII and IX—The Critique of Tyranny
    Socrates offers a lengthy condemnation of tyranny, the worst of all possible regimes. We test his analysis by looking at the most notorious tyrant of our generation: Saddam Hussein. x
  • 20
    Book IX—The Superiority of Justice
    Socrates argues that the life of the just philosopher is happier and more pleasant than that of the unjust tyrant, returning to a key question posed in Book I. x
  • 21
    Book X—Philosophy versus Poetry
    Socrates returns to a subject first raised in Books II and III—this time with a critique even more severe. x
  • 22
    Book X—The Myth of Er
    Socrates tells a poem of his own, going directly to the issue of how human beings should live their lives and returning the Republic, full circle, to its opening theme. x
  • 23
    Summary and Overview
    In this lecture, we will review the journey we have taken through the ten books of Plato's Republic, trying to summarize the great achievements of this extraordinary book. x
  • 24
    The Legacy of Plato's Republic
    Whitehead characterized all of the European philosophical tradition as a "series of footnotes to Plato." We examine this wild exaggeration to see if, indeed, it holds any truth. x

Lecture Titles

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Course Guidebook Details:
  • 96-page printed course guidebook
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  • Questions to consider
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Your professor

David Roochnik

About Your Professor

David Roochnik, Ph.D.
Boston University
Dr. David Roochnik is Professor of Philosophy at Boston University, where he teaches in both the Department of Philosophy and the Core Curriculum, an undergraduate program in the humanities. He completed his undergraduate work at Trinity College, where he majored in philosophy, and earned his Ph.D. from Pennsylvania State University. Dr. Roochnik was awarded Boston University's Gitner Award in 1997 for excellence in teaching...
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Plato's Republic is rated 4.6 out of 5 by 42.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating and beautifully taught The content of the course was absolutely fascinating, and dealt with the many aspects that are mentioned in other courses I have taken; but in this course there is time and Professor Roochnik is very deliberate in explaining the subtleties of the key themes such as the Platonic forms, the parable of the cave, and the step by step building of the perfectly just city led by dictator philosopher kings. Professor Roochnik suggests quite compellingly that perhaps this logical building of the “perfect city” is simply one more example of Plato’s famous irony – and we cannot know whether these are really his beliefs or whether he is trying to convey that there cannot be a perfect construction of a just city, even if constructed by the most brilliant minds. I have heard many TGC courses on Greek Philosophy: the current Professor’s survey course on Greek philosophy, Professor Bartlett’s course “Masters of Greek thought” dedicated to Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, and Professor Surgue’s course on Plato’s dialogues. I found this course to be the best of them for two main reasons: Professor Roochnik did an absolutely outstanding job in explaining the subtleties, complexities and ironies of Plato’s thinking. Though I enjoyed the courses given by Professor Surgue and Professor Bartlett, I found Professor Roochnik’s courses be the most profound and insightful. The other reason is that this course is devoted to one single great book, albeit a very long one – indisputably Plato’s most important and profound work… The other courses all had a wider scope of interest and so – did not provide as fine an analysis. This has been one of the most fascinating and enjoyable courses I have taken – great professor, great content!
Date published: 2017-09-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Awesome and in-depth I've skipped over this course foe a long time because I thought I understood the Republic, having been compelled to read it in college. But I finally bought the course, and it is possibly the best course The Great Courses has produced. I think the strength of the course comes not only from the fantastic professor, but from being such an in-depth course over one seminal book that has several topics. Although many of the Great Courses are great and cover topics or ideas to a good extent, few cover a single book, with such depth and insight. This course got me excited to explore some of the other courses that focus a single book. I would like to recommend the Great Courses produce more courses that focus on a single book, whether of a philosophical or literary nature.
Date published: 2017-07-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding! Very thorough. Very fair. In depth but clear and maintains interest. All the lectures are great but the last two really end the course on a high.
Date published: 2017-06-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Introduction This is an excellent introduction to a great, if flawed work. Professor Roochnik is a very well organized, competent, but not necessarily dynamic lecturer. The lectures are well organized to cover all the major books and themes of "The Republic". It is easy to tell that Dr. Roochnik has an excellent, even masterful, command of the material. Given Plato's immense contribution to, and influence of, Western Philosophy and Political Theory, this is an excellent primer on, arguably, his greatest work.
Date published: 2017-05-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Can't live well without it! Plato's thoughts have lived for centuries. I have trouble pulling wisdom from translation, but this course explains things nicely. You get a sense of why his thinking has lived so long.
Date published: 2017-05-19
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Plato's Republic I found this a little dry. I enjoyed it but I can not say I enjoyed it immensely as I have other courses. I would recommend it to friends.
Date published: 2016-10-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Prof. Roochnick Does Justice to Plato This was truly an eye-opening course. Prof. Roochnik does the seemingly impossible by providing a concise overview of a long difficult text, and yet he still finds that time in his lectures to delve deeper into some of the variously enigmatic and controversial aspects of this foundational text in Western thought. Prof. Roochnik lectures with energy, humor, and gravitas, making this series a true delight, rather than the slog that such dense material can sometimes produce. I further appreciate his commitment to alerting the listener to the portions of lectures that are his own interpretations of the text or interpretations of other scholars. He is always quick to encourage the reader to come to his or her own conclusions. I highly recommend this course to anyone wishing to gain a clearer picture of Greek--indeed, Western--philosophical thought.
Date published: 2016-07-21
Rated 3 out of 5 by from I have become a fan of Professor Roochnik and thought his delivery of the content was good. I just wasn't as interested in the subject as I thought I'd be, I suppose I purchased it more to listen to his presentation style and the humor he works in (like he did in "An Introduction to Greek Philosophy") vs. the topic. The Professor's explanation of "The Good" was excellent. I hope he does another course.
Date published: 2016-07-13
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