Between theory & practice in Plato’s “the Republic” & “Laws”




Dragon, Drake Sterling

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One of the most comical implications of Socrates’ (in)famous suggestion that "philosopher-kings" be made to rule the city alone is how far the illustrated model of the "philosopher kings" in the “the Republic” diverges from and falls short of being a genuine or complete philosophers on the model of Socrates himself. Why would Socrates propose the “Third Wave” if it is untenable, even in theory, and what does this suggest about the possibilities for radical political revolution in a democratic system? The activity of philosophy, as practiced by Socrates, is extremely problematic from the city’s perspective, and must be radically transformed if it is to be coetaneous with political life. In “Laws”, Plato presents use with a political philosopher who appears to actually succeed in this endeavour. The Athenian Stranger, as a character-type representative of the genuine philosopher, is noticeably different from Socrates. He is able to present himself, not merely as a theoretician or conceptual idealist, but a man with keen insight into the practical world of political institutions and legal practice. What changes would “philosophy” or the “philosopher” have to undergo in order to be made civic-minded or, atleast, legally permissible? Would these be antithetical to the core of Socratic political philosophy, properly understood? This essay seeks to shed light on the prior questions through an analysis of key differences in the character and rhetorical approach or “action” of Socrates and the Athenian Stranger in either dialogue.



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