1 The classical philosopher Martha Nussbaum and others have drawn on several passages in the Republic to support their view that Plato was an early feminist. In class, I have argued that this view gives Plato too much credit.
How would you evaluate some of the ( explicit and implicit ) textual evidence ( remarks about the role of women at various points in the Republic )? Was he or wasn’t he enlightened, in relative terms, or by criteria we might now apply? Was the truth, so far as one can tell from this dialogue, somewhere in between?
2 In Book II of the Republic, ( Plato’s brother ) Glaucon and Adeimantus argue forcefully
21.1 that an unjust but surpassingly smooth opportunist, hypocrite and con-artist who hired the right p.-r.-agency ( cf. 365d ) would actually enjoy the best reputation and most successful life possible, in this corrupt world; and
2.2 that just people who were utterly and consistently persecuted for their virtues (cf. the story of Job in the Hebrew bible ) would ultimately despair of their lives, and have, in fact, good reason to do so.
Does Socrates’ assimilation of the consummately unjust ‘man’ to the conscience-ravaged tyrant in Book IX provide an adequate answer to the brothers’ questions and challenge, in your view? If not, can it be modified so that it does? Are there any other responses or approaches to the question that might seem to you more promising? Is it possible that Glaucon and Adeimantus are right, but we should ( try to ) be just anyway, for other reasons altoggther?
3. What do you think are the most plausible metaphysical and/or epistemological implications ( if any ) of the cave-parable ( Republic 314-319 )?
Are there analogues you have encountered in your reading of anthropology, say? Or ‘science fiction’? Or anything else?
Does the parable implicitly postulate a kind of god’s-eye-view, and if so, does this strike you as intellectually arrogant, or delusive? Or is it really a thinly disguised ( if deeply moving ) ethical or religious myth?
Or is it arguably an eloquent source of epistemological skepticism, rather than of the ‘knowledge’ of unique higher-order ‘forms’ which Plato hoped to motivate and illustrate? If I am in such a cave, do you think you could convince me that I am, without “dragging” me “toward the ( alleged ) light”? If not, how could I – benighted cave-dweller than I am – you from L. Ron Hubbard? Or he Moonies? Would I ask you for ID?
4. At one point in class, I suggested that Plato might have written, in effect, an elaborately staged scenario in which the intellectuals’ ‘craft’ – rather than the ‘lower’ technai of carpenters, merchants or flutemakers, say – acquires disproportionately inflated power, importance and prestige, and becomes a prerequisite for membership in a ruling-class which is no more intrinsically ‘just’ than any other craft-guild would be.
What do you think? Might the “rule of ‘philosopher-kings’” be a little more than an intellectuals’ head-trip? Or am I oversimplifying, in turn, and being too clever by half ( another common intellectuals’ trip )?