Plato Questions for E492 Modern Critical Theory, Cal State Fullerton



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Assigned: Plato. From The Republic, Books II, III, VII (45-63), Book X (64-77) and Phaedrus (77-83). Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, 2nd edition.

The Republic, Book 2 (circa 375 BCE)

1. In Book 2, what is Socrates' notion of childhood? Why is it so important to shape a child's experience in the right way, and what is the right way to do that? Does this notion of childhood square with modern conceptions of childhood? How so or how not? (45-47)

2. According to Socrates in Book 2, what is the worst "defect" or fault in the work of poets such as Hesiod and Homer? When and how is this fault committed? To what other art is this fault compared, and what inferences can you make thereby about the argument that Socrates is making here? Hint: in responding, consider the "mimetic" quality of the argument that Plato has given Socrates. (46)

3. In Book 2, what are some of the unsatisfactory fictions about the gods to which Socrates objects? Discuss the reasons for his objection to such fictions, and his insistence that such scurrilous fictions must be thoroughly erased from "a well-regulated community" (49). Is it simply a matter of their lack of truth, or is there more to it than that? Explain. (46-49)4. In Book 2, Socrates argues that the "first of the laws" about the divine is that "God ... cannot be responsible for everything" (49). So what kind of attributes do Socrates' Gods (or his God) have instead of the ones given by Homer and ordinary Greek mythology? (49-52)

6. In Book 2, especially around pages 49-52, Socrates calls for considerable censorship, effectively limiting artistic choices and audiences. Do you, as a modern reader, believe this kind of demand ever justified? If so, when, and regarding what audience and what images or ideas? If not, why not? (general question)

The Republic, Book 3

7. In Book 3, Socrates mentions some specific behavior and attitudes that must not be represented by poets. What are some of these, and what rationale does Socrates offer for refusing to entertain them? (52-57)

8. In Book 3, Socrates says that the Republic's rulers may, if they find it necessary, tell lies, but the citizens cannot lie to them in turn any more than they are to indulge themselves in literary fictions. Why does he think this is acceptable? Does this insistence diminish Plato's utopian ideal? Why or why not? Optional addition: I think we can take it for granted that our own US government conceals a good many things, and doesn't always give the full story about its activities. To what extent do you consider that justified, if at all? (55)

9. Towards the end of our selection from Book 3, what more does Socrates have to say about "cultural education" (59 top)? What, for example, makes for good character in an individual? How does a certain distrust of pleasure (especially sexual pleasure) manifests in this section of the text? What seems to be the basis of that distrust? (58-60)

10. In Book 3 generally, what inferences can you make about the relationship Socrates would like to see between religion, the state, and education? Does this desired relationship among these things seem inappropriate to you? (general question)

The Republic, Book 7

11. On pages 60-61, outline the scene Socrates describes at the beginning of his Allegory of the Cave; what's the initial situation of the cave-dwellers? Where are they and what are they doing? What about the subsection of people who are "on the other side of this wall" (61)? What are they up to? Finally, what seems to be the general atmosphere evoked by this scene, taken all together? Why do you suppose Plato has chosen such an odd way to represent the lives of ordinary humans?

12. On pages 61-63, what happens to destabilize the initial situation? What, that is, happens to one of the cave-dwellers? How does he take this great change in his condition, and then what happens when he returns, both with regard to his own sensibilities and the way his old comrades receive him?

13. On pages 63-64, how does Socrates explain to his dialog partner Glaucon the mechanics and meaning of the parable he has just recounted? Where should we seek the source of reality, and where find truth? Consider, too, Socrates' interest both in the understanding and attitude of those who remain trapped in their cavern and of the man who has seen beyond it. Is the situation at all satisfactory by the end of the story? Why or why not?

14. General question: if you are familiar with Socrates' biography, how might the Cave parable in Book 7 be taken as his disciple Plato's defense of the master's risky philosophical attempts to lead fellow Athenians towards truth? How was Socrates like the man who was taken to the surface to behold the "sun"?

15. General question: does the Parable of the Cave leave you with an optimistic or a pessimistic feeling about people's capacity to get free of comforting illusions, to break forth from habitual ways of perceiving and thinking? Explain the reasoning underlying your optimism or pessimism. For instance, what role, if any, can philosophy or literature play in the upward process Socrates describes? How many people around you, as you go about your life, do you suppose might want to be like Socrates' discoverer of truth? What percentage do you suspect are like the dwellers who are content to live in their cavern?

The Republic, Book 10

16. On page 64, what complexity of feeling does Socrates admit to even as he insists that we must banish all "representational poetry" from the ideal Republic? What seems to be his attitude towards the epic poet Homer and later classical tragedians, in spite of the criticism he levels at the epic bard on pages 67-70? Why might Socrates be a bit anxious about criticizing such great artists?

17. On pages 65-66, in explaining his views on representation, Socrates uses as his example the making of a bed. What does he mean when he says that there are "three different kinds of bed"? Who are the three different makers of those beds, and which is furthest removed from the real bed? Just what is this "real" bed, anyway?

18. On pages 67-72, how does Socrates criticize Homer and other poets or representers? For example, how is the imitative poet's product like "illusory painting" and "sorcery"? To what part of human nature do poetry and such practices appeal? Summarize Socrates' criticisms of poetic imitation.

19. On pages 73-76, how does Socrates reinforce his argument against most poets, this time broadening the net to embrace Greek political life? In the end, what kinds of poetry does Plato permit to remain in his ideal Republic? How much hope does he offer those who love the banned sort that such stuff might be redeemed and allowed in again? How could that happen, if it could: what would have to be demonstrated before he would permit poetry "designed merely to give pleasure" (76)?


20. In Phaedrus, what criticism does Thamous (or Amon) make of Theuth's invention, writing? Do you find Thamous' objections plausible? Why or why not? Meanwhile, what are Theuth's hopes for that same invention when he brings it to the attention of Thamous? (78)

21. In Phaedrus, Socrates moves on to discuss his own objections to the invention and practice of writing. What are those objections, and how sound do you think they are? In responding, consider what Socrates says about a piece of writing's similarity to a painting, as well as his parable of the farmer sowing seeds? What value does he draw from such comparisons? Ultimately, how is writing, according to Socrates, dangerous with regard to its potential for dissemination to a broad public? (79-81)

22. What opinion does Socrates venture regarding whether a wise person or philosopher ought to write? What characterizes the speech and writing of a wise person? What are some lesser kinds of writing that he mentions, and what does he have against them? As an aside, how do you suppose Plato would respond if we were to point out to him that he is in fact a very good writer of a literary fiction, The Republic? (81-83)

23. You've heard Socrates on the differences between speech and writing. But what about your own view? How do you relate the two? Do you think of one activity as somehow closer to the truth or authenticity, and the other, farther away? Either way, try to explain the reasoning behind your view of the matter. (general question, not for a presentation)

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