Reading Questions on Plato’s Republic, Book VI

Let me begin with a brief note: At this stage of the Republic, Socrates’ main goal is to show that his ideal city is actually possible. His position is that the city is possible if and only if philosophers rule or rulers become philosophers. Now, to prove this claim, Socrates needs to address two main issues. First, he needs to address a collection of practical considerations (e.g., he needs to show that philosophers are not vicious or useless, but are or could be the best rulers, which means that he must address to some extent what it means to “rule” and what skills are necessary to do so properly); and he also needs to address what philosophers actually do. This, in turn, leads him into rather complex discussions of metaphysics and epistemology. Socrates’ position, in brief, is that philosophers come to know fundamental being (i.e., the Form of the Good) as it is in itself, and this knowledge enables them to maintain all of the virtues and prepares them for wise and just rule. Now, throughout this digression (Books V-VII), Socrates mixes up these two issues. He moves freely from the “practical” concerns about philosophers to their metaphysical and epistemological inquiries. However, I think it is a good idea to keep these two positions separate, and we will tend to do so in our discussions in class.

Regarding the “practical” dimensions of Socrates’ claim that philosophers should rule:

(1) What are some of the ways Socrates tries to show Adiemantus that, in addition to being knowledgable, philosophers are also supremely virtuous? What characteristics do true philosophers have, according to Socrates?

(2) According to Adiemantus, what is the majority’s opinion about philosophers? Why does Socrates agree with this opinion? Socrates provides two ideas here, so you should be able to discuss them both (pp. 162-165).

(3) What are some of the ways that philosophers tend to become corrupted?

(4) Pay attention to Socrates’ “beast” metaphor (p. 166). What does the metaphor imply about Socrates’ opinions about “the masses”? Why can’t the masses be philosophical?

(5) Why can’t ordinary craftspeople also engage in philosophy (p. 169)?

Regarding Socratic metaphysics and epistemology:

(1) Go back to the end of Book V (pp. 151-156): In these discussions, Socrates first goes through a discussion of epistemology; this is the part where he tries to explain the difference between knowledge and opinion. What is the difference, according to Socrates? After he establishes this, he then moves to questions of metaphysics; this is the part where he tries to distinguish between the many beautiful things and Beauty as it is in itself. What is the difference that Socrates is pointing out? Now, here’s the big question: what is Socrates trying to prove in this discussion?

(2) What is the relationship between what we can know and the various forms of “being” that exists in the world?

(3) Try to abstract a bit: what are some of the characteristics of the Forms?

(4) Now turn to the end of Book VI (pp. 181ff): In this discussion Socrates is introducing is idea of the Form of the Good. What are some of the characteristics of this Form? (Note: this is a bit of a trick question).

(5) Take a look at the “sun metaphor” (p. 182). In what way is the Form of the Good like the sun? Why does Socrates appeal to a metaphor here, rather than directly describing the idea?

(6) Describe Socrates’ “line metaphor” (pp. 183-184). What is Socrates’ point in this metaphor? Try to explain, for instance, the various ways of knowing what a triangle is using this metaphor.


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