Plato, The Republic,
ed. by G.R.F. Ferrari, transl. by T. Griffin, Cambridge Texts in the History of political Thought,
rec. Stefano MASO
volume presents an English version of the ten books of Plato's dialogue. The
featured introduction deals with seven problems: The Thirty (xi), Faction
(xiii), A Spartan utopia (xiv), The philosopher and the king (xviii),
A politician work (xxii), City and soul (xxv), Mathematics
and metaphysics (xxxix). There is then a useful and up-to-dated
bibliographic guide for the reader, a synopsis of The Republic, a
glossary which includes real and mythological characters, names of towns and
places, an English analytic index. The translation joins, at the foot of the
page, only the strictly necessary notes.
are useful and interesting choices in this publication. First of all it is
significant that the volume is meant as a part of the collection
"Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought". This is to
testify the urgency of a serious change of mind about the value and the
role of Plato's Republic. This dialogue, in fact, forms the
unavoidable starting point on the History of western-Greek political thought
and, especially, of the political reflection tout court. Think to the
role this dialogue had in forming the thought of Thomas More, Francis Bacon,
Hobbes or Hume; in the developing of Ninth Century utopian and scientific
Socialism and the role it has in contemporary elaboration (for instance
however wrote using dialogic form; he did not adopt the treatise form that
nowadays is usually exercised.
doing this, he wanted to reproduce that liveliness which makes it possible
to attain the result desired in a constructive and not dogmatic way; that
liveliness which represents the reason itself "by its power to conduct
a rational discussion", te tou dialegesthai
dunamei (511b). Griffith, as a translator, assumes well the task of
reproducing exactly the direct liveliness of Plato's dialogic language. This
is a very delicate enterprise because it clashes with the demand of accuracy
to the text, which is often -and rightly - claimed from philological
hermeneutics. The result can be considered positive, especially from the
point of view of the modern reader who has the opportunity to follow clearly
and directly the plot of the argumentation.
there are some inevitable problems which are due to the lack of an explicit
reference (may be a note) to the original text in the cases of more
difficult interpretation. G. Ferrari is the editor of this volume and also a
scholar with a consolidated experience (see Listening to the Cicadas: a
Study of Plato's Phaedrus, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1990).
He assures he has discussed for a long time with Tom Griffith (the former
translator of Symposium, Euthyphro, Apology, Crito,
Phaedo and Phaedrus) about the more efficacious solutions for
critical passages. Unfortunately the reader is not put in a position to
realise this. Moreover the collection's editorial project does not provide
for the Greek accompanying text: this is a right choice, according with the
kind of privileged addressee, but at least the signalling of the reference
text (Burnet, I believe) would have allowed the most exacting reader to
control those situations and solutions that seem ambiguous to him.
the less the group of chapters appears translated in an efficacious and
involving way: let's take, for instance, the famous myth of the cave (at the
beginning of book 7) or the Er's one (at the end of book 10). On the
contrary, in the specific, the interpretations of some single key terms are
suspect. Some example: "category of understood" and "category
of the see" translate to noetou genous and
to horatou genous. The Greek language uses
= "genus", "class", "sort", "kind".
Griffith uses "category": an expressly Greek term (see kathagoreuo)
with a meaning that has a close and different philosophical connotation. On
the whole, text and understanding run, but a reader (one might think to
Aristotle) thinks to be dealing with "categories", not with "classes".
Moreover: in 511e and 534a noesis = "Understanding";
dianoia = "Thinking"; pistis
= "Belief". Why eikasia = "Conjecture"?
James Adam had, already, written: “The translation ‘conjecture’ is
misleading, for conjecture implies conscious doubt or hesitation, and doubt
is foreign to eikasia in Plato’s sense”
(Cambridge 1902, 19802, p. 72).
The reader looses the true sense Plato meant: apprehension by means
of images/shadows. A note might perhaps have observed what a such solution
left of implicit.
then: how can the reader imagine that behind the reductive term "form"
(see "the form of the good") there is the highly significant term idea
= "ideal form"?
now let's move on to the introduction.
First of all we find a consideration on the historical framework, that is
the political instability of Greek world in the late Fifth and early Fourth
Centuries BC; and then Ferrari discusses on the cultural influences on Plato
when he came to write the Republic.
I think that the paragraph entitled A politician
work? is decisive as concerns the interpretation. There is no
doubt that dialogue deserves its classification as a political work, but
what is its political stance? We may find the first stirrings of Socialism.
On the other hand we may also find a prescient charter for Fascism. Perhaps
Liberalism as well?
can foresee the solution only if we move to the ethical and educational
plane: in the perfect society (Callipolis) the philosopher has a special
role and governs by using his moral and intellectual excellence. His natural
superiority is reinforced and perfected by a careful education and he sees
to propagate and perpetrate this organisation and this structure. The
philosopher and politician man has the object of promoting virtue making
flourish the whole society, and modelling the community on permanent ideals
of good and perfection.
political action and ethical need are perfectly united and do not
determinate a precise choice of political form but rather impose the need to
become, somehow, to the best self-governing community. Of course this is the
most important trait of Plato's work and Ferrari grasps this perfectly. Then
Ferrari writes: "The philosopher, even the philosopher who becomes king,
does not look to society as the realm in which to exercise his freedom and
realise his virtue, but looks rather to the life of the mind for his
liberation" (xxiv). This is a kind of automatism: the way to wise man's
beauty-perfection can succeed only in a social context in which the
beauty-perfection is coming true. And this is the heart of Platonic utopia.
This is the surprising anticipation of individualism and socialism we find
in Plato's Republic.
on this understanding the dialogue can be defined as a political work.
on this understanding the matching between psychological inquiry and social
research is understandable and justifiable. As a matter of fact, in book 4,
Plato described the virtues of single man to the ones of social classes.
Wisdom is located in the ruling class; courage in the army; self-discipline
in the class where subjects are willing to be ruled by those who are better
suited to rule. Just as the rational element in single individual (to
logistikon) and so wisdom and justice rule the desiring element (to
epithumetikon) and the spirited element (to
the contrary, from Machiavelli on, we know that ethical motivations must
absolutely be absent from political strategy if we want to reach a
particular and not utopian object. So we can conclude: in modern political
conception, Plato's work can not remain an actually useful work, but it is
only an historic grounds to depart from or, better, to refute. Of course
Plato's is a project impossible to propose. Because of this Ferrari writes,
rightly I believe, the 'Republic' is a "counterpolitical work" (xxv).
rises another important problem in the paragraph "Mathematics and
metaphysics" (xxix): since the knowledge, which qualifies a guardian
to rule, is philosophic wisdom and since philosophic wisdom has
for its object the whole cosmos (486a), "how intimate is the connection
between this knowledge and philosopher's political activity?" (xxx).
Surely Plato is bringing attention from political level to physical and
metaphysical one. The harmony that rules the "polis" should
certain be the same that rules the cosmos. And this harmony can be
understood only through mathematical instruments. For this reason the
philosopher-king must be learned in advanced mathematics and so in the
knowledge of perfect being world that is as perfect as Callipolis will
become or will be. Like in others dialogues (for example see Sophista
or Teaethetus), Plato confirms that the
dialectical science can only be an instrument for this. Because of this the
philosopher-king will master the dialectics that, may be with too much
hesitation, Ferrari suggests to be "some kind of metamathematics".
It goes without saying that, in this prospect, the echo of the tension with
sophistic science is placated.
With this meritorious work by Ferrari-Griffith, we can now hope that the basic text of Western political philosophy will come out from the hands of the classical philologists and will become a part of a renewed contemporary political debate. Suggestions are really innumerable.