Friday, April 26, 2019

Allan Bloom’s Interpretation of Plato’s The Republic

In his Interpretive Essay (The Republic of Plato by Allan Bloom; Second Edition; Page 305 to 436), Allan Bloom presents Plato’s the Republic as a guide to the problem of human happiness, and the question of how a human being should live in a city or society. He views Socrates as the founder of political philosophy. Here’s an excerpt from Bloom’s Interpretive Essay:
The Republic shows us why Socrates was accused and why there was good reason to accuse him. Not only does he tell us about the good regime, but we see his effect on the young men he was said to have corrupted. Socrates, in leading them to a justice which is not Athenian, or even Greek, but is rather human, precisely because it is rational, shows the way to the truth about political things and develops the extremely complex relationship of that truth to civil society. These questions are most relevant to modern man, although they are perhaps harder for him to understand than for men of any previous generation. They are relevant to him because he admits his need for "values" and because the progress of publicly useful science now threatens him with destruction; they are harder for him to understand because he has been taught that "values" cannot be established by reason and that science is simply salutary for society. 
For these reasons it behooves us to study the Republic. For it is the first book which brings philosophy "down into the cities"; and we watch in it the foundation of political science, the only discipline which can bring the blessings of reason to the city. We will learn that the establishment of political science cannot be carried out without sacrifice of the dearest convictions and interests of most men; these sacrifices are so great that to many they do not seem worthwhile: one of the most civilized cities which has ever existed thought it better to sacrifice philosophy in the person of Socrates rather than face the alternative he presented. This is why philosophy needs an apology; it is a dangerous and essentially questionable activity. Socrates knew that his interests were not, and could not be, the interests of most men and their cities. We frequently do not see this and assume that his execution was a result of the blind prejudices of the past. Therefore we do not see the true radicalness of the philosophic life. The Republic is the best antidote to our prejudice. The proper starting point for the study of Socratic philosophy is the nonphilosophic orientation of the city within which philosophy must take its place. Hostility to philosophy is the natural condition of man and the city. Socrates, in admitting his guilt, will show what higher concerns pardon him for it. 
I think Bloom offers any interesting way of looking at Socrates and Plato. Bloom begins his Preface to the Second Edition of The Republic of Plato with these words: “When I teach the Republic now, the reactions to it are more urgent and more intense than they were a quarter-century ago when I was working on this translation and this interpretation.”

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