simon blackburn on plato


If any books change the world, Republic has a good claim to first place. It is commonly regarded as the culminating achievement of Plato as a philosopher and writer, brilliantly poised between the questioning and inconclusive earlier dialogues and the less compelling cosmological speculations and doubts of the later ones. Over the centuries it has probably sustained more commentary, and been subject to more radical and impassioned disagreement, than almost any other of the great founding texts of the modern world. Indeed, the history of readings of the book is itself an academic discipline, with specialist chapters on almost every episode in the story of religion and literature for the past 2,000 years and more. To take only the major English poets, there are entire books on Platonism and Chaucer, Spenser, Shakespeare, Milton, Blake, Shelley and Coleridge, to name but a few, and there are many others on whole movements and times: Plato and Christianity, Plato and the Renaissance, Plato and the Victorians, Plato and the Nazis, Plato and us. The story of Plato’s direct influence on philosophy is another study in itself, one peppered with names such as Philo Judaeus, Macrobius, Porphyry, Pseudo-Dionysius, Eriugena, as well as the better-known Plotinus, Augustine or Dante. Sometimes the Plato in question is the author of other texts, notably the inspirational dialogue Symposium and the theologically ambitious Timaeus. But Republic is seldom far away.

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