The Republic, considered to be Plato?s hallmark political philosophy treatise, is one of the most read books in history. The implications of its logical conclusions have had political scientists and philosophers debating for centuries. Starting from a completely naked metaphysics, Plato structures the idea of government as something completely natural to man and attainable through reason- something that was completely revolutionary during his time. He also lays out the most basic guiding principles of governance by different kinds of governments- democracies, oligarchies, and autocracy.
Plato begins the piece narrating from the position of Socrates. Socrates is debating a few people in the village market and the question at hand is ?What is justice?? Many present give several different possibilities for the definition of justice such as obeying laws, having the fearful being preyed on by the strong, etc. Socrates refutes each one of these ideas and presents justice as, instead, this abstract term founded as the ?ultimate good? or the ?form of the good?.
Plato then goes on to discuss more practical matters such as how an actual government should be run with this ?ultimate good?. Plato propounds that the highest good exists in a society when each person is giving his share to society, that share which is most natural to him. Only by doing so will each person be doing justice not only to himself, but to a society. Plato describes this society as the ?Republic? hence giving the book its name.
The leader of the Republic, Plato writes, must be a ?philosopher king? who has completely mastered logic and comprehended the ?Form of the Good?. Thus he has realized not how things are, but how they should be. This wisdom is rarely found in many men, so Plato suggests, a democracy is destructive to a society because a bunch of people who don?t understand the form of the Good are acting in unison to corrupt the people. Thus, only a autocracy with a strict caste like system will provide ultimate justice.
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