Blindness and Reorientation: Problems in Plato's Republic

Blindness and Reorientation: Problems in Plato's Republic

Blindness and Reorientation: Problems in Plato's Republic

Blindness and Reorientation: Problems in Plato's Republic


Are the just happier than the unjust? In Plato''s Republic, Thrasymachus argues that they aren't, that justice is simply the advantage of the stronger. Though Socrates apparently refutes him, Plato's brothers, Glaucon and Adeimantus, take up his argument anew, challenging Socrates to show them that justice really does better further happiness than injustice.

The nature of this renewed challenge and the reason for it are hotly debated problems. Equally problematic is the question of whether Socrates succeeds in meeting the challenge in the crucial case of the philosopher-kings, whom he claims are happiest of all. Central to his attempt is a complex tripartite psychology and the yet more complex the metaphysics and epistemology of transcendent Platonic forms. But just how these are to be understood or how knowledge of such forms could help the philosopher-kings with the practical business of governing a city also remain deeply problematic issues.

Beginning with a discussion of Socrates in the Apology, and his portrait by Alcibiades in the Symposium, and proceeding to topics more directly within the Republic itself, Blindness and Reorientation develops not just powerful new solutions to these problems, but a new understanding of Plato's conception of philosophy, its relationship to craft-knowledge, and the roles of dialectic and experience within it. Written in a clear and vivid style, C. D. C. Reeve's new book will be accessible to any committed reader of Plato.


In the closing lines of the Phaedo, Socrates is described as “a man who, we would say, was the best of all those we’ve experienced, and, generally, the wisest and most just” (118a16–17). More than anyone, he embodied the true philosophical spirit for Plato. It is to a Socrates “made fine and new” (314c1–4), indeed, that the author of the (almost certainly spurious) Second Letter attributes all of Plato’s writings. Yet the apparently unreformed Socrates we meet in the Apology, who is arguably closest to the historical figure, seems to be motivated as much by pious obedience to the god Apollo as by the sheer love of wisdom itself. His target is hubris. His method is elenctic examination pursued in private conversation. His message is the pessimistic one that the god alone is wise, whereas human wisdom consists in the hard-won recognition of what this implies about oneself. Like the “sophist of noble lineage” (Sph. 231b8), he seems to educate exclusively by purging those who falsely think they know of their conceit of wisdom, not by putting positive knowledge or wisdom into them. He is a midwife, not a begetter of children. Moreover, he is catholic in his examination. Anyone—man or woman, slave or free—is a suitable target for his deflationary therapy. a professional teacher and Sophist like Thrasymachus is a candidate, but so, too, is an ordinary young man like Polemarchus or an old one like Cephalus.

Paiderasteia, or boy-love between an older man (erastēs) and an adolescent boy (eromenōs), was an accepted practice in Socratic Athens. As Greek comedy makes plain and common sense suggests, sex was common in such relationships, with the boy playing the passive role. Once he reached manhood, however, that had to change. On pain of losing his citizen rights, he could no longer be a passive sexual partner. Instead, he was expected to marry, have children, and became an erastēs in his turn. Though erotic in nature, the relationship was conceived as primarily educative. By associating with someone who was already a man, a boy learned aretē—virtue or excellence. He learned how to be a man himself. We might think here of rites of passage in primitive warrior societies, some of which also involve . . .

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