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← Great Books: THE REPUBLIC (Plato)

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Showing Revision 1 created 03/22/2018 by media vision.

  1. >> Two in San Jose and 59 degrees in downtown San Francisco.
  2. [ Music ]
  3. >> Right, ladies and gentlemen, Michael Savage, Hot Talk 560 KSFO. We're talking
  4. about what kind of world do you want to live in? What highway are we on? Do we
  5. want to be on this highway? Do we want to create a new highway? What did Plato
  6. say? This guy knew what was going on, but that was Greece. This is San
  7. Francisco.
  8. >> Is that the idea area? To keep talking until, finally, we get it right? We're
  9. having the same conversations Plato and his friends had back in 400 BC.
  10. [ Multiple Speakers ]
  11. >> Did you see the paper the other day about that high school student who was
  12. caught cheating on her college boards.
  13. >> Yeah, I read that, yeah.
  14. >> Oh, yeah.
  15. >> She said her teacher gave her the answers and told her that everyone cheats.
  16. That's the way the world works.
  17. >> But I think it's sad. People are under a lot of pressure.
  18. >> Let's face it here. If you were guaranteed that no one would find out,
  19. wouldn't you cheat?
  20. >> Would you cheat? Would you? What if there was a world where nobody cheated,
  21. and philosophers were the kings?
  22. [ Music ]
  23. This is a book that pulls you in, plays with your mind, and dares you to put it
  24. down without saying what you think.
  25. >> Plato's Republic has the kind of power to intrigue and infuriate that few
  26. works can equal. You can argue about anything from whether we should allow
  27. certain kinds of music to be sold, whether we should censor the arts.
  28. >> What is justice?
  29. >> What is a great society? What ought to be?
  30. >> What is authentic, and what is fake?
  31. >> How one has knowledge.
  32. >> What do we teach the young?
  33. >> Whatever it is, it's somewhere in Plato.
  34. >> Plato's Republic follows the intellectual adventures of Socrates, who one
  35. night, 24 centuries ago, created an ideal city, the Republic, were all of
  36. mankind's problems are solved.
  37. >> This book, the Plato's Republic, changed my life.
  38. >> William Bennett, former Secretary of Education of the United States says it
  39. encouraged him to go into politics.
  40. >> Plato says, yeah, we better have censorship in the ideal republic, because
  41. you're going to have otherwise you're going to have license. Everyone's going to
  42. do what they see on the video tape, and the videotape didn't even exist. He said
  43. he would kick out the poets, too. Go up to North Beach, I tend to agree with
  44. him.
  45. >> Mike Savage, a radio talk show host, who bills himself as the compassionate
  46. conservative, reads it regularly to his listeners.
  47. >> It's sort of an internal chess game that I play with myself, and I will read
  48. a few pages and find my mind, for, let's say, the pieces of thoughts that dance
  49. around in my head sometimes that get out of control fall in place. It's a way of
  50. ordering my mind, my imagination, and all of my mental faculties.
  51. >> Nobel prize-winning poet, Joseph Brodsky dismisses it.
  52. >> There are people, and people, you see, and this is what Plato couldn't
  53. understand. He thought that all people should be like, well, let's say himself.
  54. >> Novelist Joyce Carol-Oates questions his sanity.
  55. >> The Platonic vision is basically somewhat unreal. It's basically mad.
  56. >> Madman? Visionary? Plato has been hailed as the father of philosophy, the
  57. first feminist, a dangerously na�ve idealist, and a fascist. The fact is, we
  58. know very little about him or what he meant by his greatest book.
  59. >> It was, indeed, a kind of thought experiment to show the impossibility
  60. precisely of a perfectly just, perfectly communal, perfectly rational society.
  61. What the limits are, the limits that are rooted in our human nature.
  62. >> I think it's the deepest challenge against our way of life that there has
  63. ever been, and a deep challenge, because it has a kind of great nobility and
  64. beauty to it.
  65. >> Plato was born in a place that worshiped beauty and knowledge, Athens, 428
  66. years before the birth of Christ. The newly completed Parthenon towered over the
  67. city, another crowning achievement to the world's first democracy. This was the
  68. golden age, where the first plays were performed and the first histories of the
  69. world were written, a time when the Athenians produced art and ideas that we
  70. still marvel at.
  71. [ Music ]
  72. But it was also a time of devastating human loss. For the first 23 years of
  73. Plato's life, the Peloponnesian war raged between Athens and its neighbor,
  74. Sparta. Plato watched as the Athenian democracy was overthrown by a aristocrats,
  75. then replaced by dictators before democracy sees control once again. The one
  76. constant through it all, in Plato's view, seemed to be corruption, brutality,
  77. and blind ambition. Still, he probably would've ended up in politics like the
  78. rest of his wealthy family if he hadn't met a sidewalk philosopher named
  79. Socrates.
  80. >> Socrates seemed to have stood out in absolutely every possible way. He said
  81. that he was to Athens what a gadfly is to a large, lazy horse, in that the gods
  82. had sent him there to prick Athens and to irritate it and to make it think
  83. seriously about the kind of life that its citizens were leading. He was there to
  84. make people uncomfortable.
  85. >> Ever says this scum set up shop here, he's made me work twice as hard.
  86. >> So you say Simmias here is your enemy, because he makes you work harder than
  87. you did before?
  88. >> Well, isn't that enough to make any man your enemy?
  89. >> But an enemy is a man who does you evil, isn't he?
  90. >> Any fool knows that.
  91. >> And a friend is one who does you good.
  92. >> Any fool knows that, too.
  93. >> But what a fool does not know is what is good and what is evil. Now you make
  94. better vases and you work harder because of Simmias's competition, do you not?
  95. >> To talk to Socrates was to be taken down the garden path at the end of which
  96. one finds that, alas, you don't know what you're talking about. So it's fun to
  97. read the works. You sympathize with the person Socrates is questioning, and you
  98. have a sense that this poor person is being had, but you don't know exactly how
  99. it's being done. Socrates is the master of this. He can give you enough rope to
  100. hang yourself, and he always does.
  101. >> The master wrote nothing himself. We know him through writers like the
  102. general, Xenophon, and the comic poet, Aristophanes, who lampooned Socrates as
  103. the proprietor of a thinking shop.
  104. >> Anger.
  105. >> I told you once, Simmias, and I won't tell you again.
  106. >> Anger always interests me.
  107. >> Protagoras.
  108. >> But the infamous Socratic method was captured most vividly by Plato in a
  109. series of imaginary conversations known as The Dialogs. He made his mentor the
  110. main character of more than 20 books, including The Republic. The action begins
  111. at the port of Piraeus, just outside Athens. Socrates bumps into an old friend
  112. who invites him home to a party. It's there that he seizes the occasion to start
  113. a conversation that will last all night.
  114. >>Cephalus, it's clear that you're a good and decent man, so if anybody knows
  115. what it means to be a good and just person, it's you.
  116. >> I have been able to proceed through life with a clear conscience. I haven't
  117. been tempted to cheat or deceive someone to survive. I pay my bills.
  118. Occasionally, I give to a good cause.
  119. >> So if I understand you, Cephalus, to be a good person means to tell the truth
  120. and to pay your debts.
  121. >> Well, Socrates --
  122. >> The main argument of the Republic is an argument about being a good person,
  123. but the term that's usually used in translations is justice and what's at stake
  124. is the definition of justice.
  125. >> The style of the book's like the Johnny Carson show. Here we are, we're
  126. gathered together. We're talking. Let's meet so-and-so. Let's see what he has to
  127. say. Let's meet Cephalus. Well, Cephalus, come on out and tell us what you think
  128. about things. Well, Polemarchus, come on out. What do you think? Well, here's
  129. that crazy guy, Thrasymachus. Come on out, Thrasymachus. What do you think it
  130. is? Well, it's like an ongoing, you know, late-night TV show with these
  131. "experts" coming on. Here's your interviewer, your moderator, who says, well,
  132. that won't do. No, that idea of justice won't do and this idea, and the audience
  133. gets caught up in it.
  134. >> A man has lent you a weapon and now wants to have it back, but in the
  135. meanwhile, he believes his wife's having an affair with someone else, and he's
  136. desperate and actually wants to kill himself. Would it be right to give him what
  137. is rightfully his?
  138. >> No, I suppose not.
  139. >> So in this case, doing the right thing would, in fact, be doing the wrong
  140. thing. It's perfectly obvious that everyone is just doing what is in their best
  141. interests. The reality is that justice in this day and age is in what's in the
  142. interest of the stronger party. As a matter fact, I'll take it even further. The
  143. advantage goes to the unjust person every single time.
  144. >> Let's see if I understand you.
  145. >> At this point in the story, Socrates smashes the theory that might makes
  146. right, but back in Athens, might smashed right. The leaders of the shaky
  147. democracy had only had only recently lost the Peloponnesian war. They were tired
  148. of being stunned by Socrates's sharp tongue. In 399 BC, the 69-year-old
  149. philosopher was brought to trial for undermining the system.
  150. >> The official charge was that he did not believe in the gods of the city, and
  151. that he corrupted the young. He showed you how to find holes in what other
  152. people believed but didn't necessarily, in fact never, substituted something
  153. positive in its place, and that was seen as a very dangerous thing, which in
  154. fact, it was. After all, Plato, his greatest disciple, was also the greatest
  155. critic Athens has ever had.
  156. >> Socrates's trial was attended by health of Athens, including Plato. He says
  157. Socrates was offered his freedom if he would just stop questioning people, but
  158. he refused, proclaiming that the unexamined life was not worth living. Found
  159. guilty by a jury of 500, he suggested he be sentenced to free meals at city hall
  160. for the rest of his life. They didn't laugh. He was condemned to die by drinking
  161. a poison made from the hemlock plant.
  162. [ Music ]
  163. Plato's account of the death of Socrates made him a symbol of free speech and
  164. the favorite subject for artists like Jacques-Louis David.
  165. >> His friends come to say goodbye to him, and he spends the whole day trying to
  166. convince them that the soul is immortal, and then after he dies, the soul, which
  167. is the most valuable part of the human being, is going to remain perfectly
  168. unharmed. Socrates takes the poison and starts drinking it and continues
  169. discussing the issues. The executioner says "Please don't do that, because if
  170. you get agitated and talk too much, the poison doesn't work so quickly."
  171. Socrates says, "No leave me alone," he says. "Leave us alone, my good man. Your
  172. job is to give the poison as many times as it takes to kill me. My job is to
  173. have a discussion for as long as I can." He insisted on talking until the very,
  174. very end. Plato closes the dialogue by describing him as the best, the wisest,
  175. and the most just man of all we knew at that time.
  176. >> The martyrdom of Socrates made a political career unthinkable Plato. He spent
  177. the rest of his life carrying on his teacher's work. Nobody knows for sure where
  178. Socrates's ideas leave off and Plato's begin. Over time, the two names have
  179. become interchangeable. It is as Socrates that Plato plans a new world, where
  180. wisdom, not power rules, and it is Socrates who explains why philosophers must
  181. be its catalyst. Until philosophers are kings or the kings and princes of this
  182. world have the spirit and the power of philosophy and political greatness and
  183. wisdom meet in one, our cities will never have rest from their evils. No, nor
  184. the human race. Back at the party, Socrates has turned into the dinner guest
  185. from hell. The rest of the company has been drawn into the debate.
  186. >> You want me to prove that virtue is its own worth.
  187. >> But you have to prove that the good and honest person who goes unrewarded and
  188. unrecognized comes out ahead in the end.
  189. >> You're on.
  190. [ Chuckling ]
  191. We'll begin with a very simple society with men and women leading very basic
  192. lives, living close --
  193. >> And so Socrates begins to fantasize the first utopia in Western literature.
  194. Perhaps they can find that good person with the best life here, he reasons. For
  195. after all, society is just the soul writ large.
  196. >> He originally creates the city as a device, in order to understand something
  197. about human beings. He wants to say that each of us is made up of three parts.
  198. There's a rational part. There's an emotional part that loves honor and gets
  199. angry and so on, and then there's what he calls the appetitive part, which is
  200. the part that wants food and drink and sex and so on, the bodily appetites.
  201. >> Those animal appetites must be kept in their cages. Reason and honor will
  202. rule the republic, just like the well-ordered soul. Everybody gets one job for
  203. life, and a color-coded class, bronze for workers, merchants, and artisans.
  204. Silver for police and soldiers. And pure gold, naturally, for the philosopher
  205. King.
  206. >> See, he said that there's three types of people, the gold person, the silver
  207. person, etc. Now you may say, oh, my God. That means some people are not as good
  208. as others. Well, let me ask you something --
  209. >> Who's to determine what class they get into?
  210. >> It's real simple. I could never be a linebacker. I said that yesterday on the
  211. 49ers, but don't let me sit and listen to somebody tell me every 49er is capable
  212. of being a poet or philosopher.
  213. >> Right.
  214. >> We're not equal.
  215. >> In Plato's Republic, the philosopher kings would much prefer to be off
  216. thinking, but duty requires them to rule the state. Eternal bonding is
  217. forbidden. It might detract from loyalty to the state. Mothers care for babies,
  218. but they aren't told which ones are their own. A child's place is determined not
  219. by sex or race, but purely by intelligence. A farmer's daughter might become a
  220. philosopher queen.
  221. >> He does imagine that there will be some women all the way up to the top
  222. class. "If then, we use the women for the same ends as the men, we must teach
  223. them the same things. Yes, the males received an education consisted of
  224. literature and athletics, yes. Then we should give these two sorts of training
  225. to the women, too, and military training also, and we should treat them in the
  226. same way."
  227. >> Repos in Plato's time probably greeted this with astonishment. Athenian women
  228. had no vote and virtually no education. Often, the weren't even the sexual
  229. partners of choice. Wives didn't eat at the same table as their husbands, let
  230. alone fight beside them at war.
  231. >> It's a world in which men and women are completely equalized on the premise
  232. that women must never again be mothers. So I think what Plato means to say is
  233. this is what it would take to really overcome sexual differentiation and
  234. hierarchy.
  235. >> Was the Republic meant as a straightforward blueprint or a political satire,
  236. as many scholars insist. Maybe some of both.
  237. >> There is the sense that in his city, I would not be able to do what I liked.
  238. There is a sense in which I would not be able to have my own family in my city.
  239. Those are very, very frightening ideas. On the other hand, on the other hand,
  240. there's this incredible love of learning, of understanding, of trying to fit all
  241. the various pieces of our lives and of the world together in such a way that
  242. they can't even for one moment, make sense to us. It's such a powerful idea that
  243. there are moments when you say, even if the price is the other, it might be
  244. worth paying.
  245. >> Plato doesn't want the rulers fighting over money or personal relationships.
  246. So he doesn't give them any. The rest are allowed the comforts of their own
  247. homes and families but have no say in how things are run. Those who have can't
  248. rule. Those who rule can't have. It's an interesting idea. To keep up the
  249. quality of the flock, the philosopher kings secretly rig periodic meeting
  250. lotteries to produce the best possible offspring. Once the children are born,
  251. the society begins shaping their characters early and carefully.
  252. [ Music ]
  253. "Shall we just carelessly allow children to hear any casual tales, which may be
  254. devised by casual persons? And to receive into their minds ideas, for the most
  255. part, the very opposite of those which we should wish them to have when they're
  256. grown up? We cannot."
  257. >> William Bennett's collection of stories, The Book of Virtues, starts with
  258. that quote from The Republic.
  259. >> There's really only one fundamental political question, and that is the
  260. education of the young. It's a very platonic thought. I mean, I think anyone
  261. would agree. What do we tell them about ethics? What do we tell them about jobs,
  262. life, career, destiny, fate? Isn't that what determines the future of this
  263. country, education? And that is, essentially, what he saying in this book. That
  264. the whole course of a city state and the whole course of a life depends upon
  265. education.
  266. [ Multiple Speakers ]
  267. >> To ensure that the Republic remains on course, the children are only allowed
  268. to hear heroic and uplifting tales. Homer's stories about the gods temper
  269. tantrums and carousing with humans are out. So is rowdy music.
  270. >> This is Zeus.
  271. >> Socrates decrees that any poet who refuses to produce politically correct
  272. fairytales will be banished from the kingdom.
  273. >> "The first thing will be to establish a censorship of the writers of fiction
  274. and let the sensors receive any tale of fiction which is good and reject the
  275. bad. And we will desire mothers and nurses to tell their children the authorized
  276. ones only." Well, this is just a very spirit of the dictator.
  277. >> Censoring storytelling in ancient Athens would be like censoring TV in our
  278. own culture. The tragic plays of Sophocles and Aeschylus were the free press of
  279. their day. And Homer, author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, was a read as a guide
  280. to life and revered as a god. Plato thought that was unhealthy. As he puts it in
  281. The Republic, "Good role models don't make good theater." He doubted whether
  282. average citizens could separate reality from fantasy and worried that they might
  283. imitate the world they saw on the stage.
  284. >> And he said if amusements become lawless and the youths themselves become
  285. lawless, they could never grow up into well conducted and virtuous citizens.
  286. >> Who is to give the guidance that's most authoritative in life? Is it to be
  287. the philosopher, which includes the scientists, the man of reason? Or is it to
  288. be the poet, the person or man of inspiration of the gods, of revelation, of
  289. mystery? And Socrates insistence is the poets need, finally, to bow to reason.
  290. That would be one of the great costs of a perfectly just society. If you're
  291. going to say everyone must be brothers and sisters, don't expect Shakespeare or
  292. Goethe or Aristophanes to be part of it.
  293. >> "From my window at dusk, I would watch the horde of bleating automobiles, as
  294. they flash back and forth past shapely, nude columns and Dordic hairdos,
  295. standing pale and un-rebellious on the steps of the city court."
  296. >> For the late Russian poet, Joseph Brodsky, this is no theoretical discussion.
  297. He lived in Plato's Republic Soviet style. Jailed four times, he was finally
  298. exiled as a social parasite.
  299. >> There is a certain point that it was allowed in the city, well, and a certain
  300. point which it wasn't. As simple as that. The state was simply doing the
  301. discerning job, which is, essentially, a very Platonic idea in the sense,
  302. because what it does, it simply subordinates ascetics to the ethics. This is
  303. exactly what Plato is all about, and this is garbage. Well, aesthetic is, how
  304. should I put it to you? Aesthetics is the mother of ethics, not the other way
  305. around. No matter how ethical society can build, it won't secure the
  306. masterpiece. Good ethics don't.
  307. [ Music ]
  308. >> Plato thought reason should rule in his republic. We think he pushed it a
  309. little too far. We reject the eugenics. We reject the imposition of order. We
  310. would reject the censorship. No, there's too much totalitarianism here. There's
  311. too much utopian totalitarianism. There's too much tyranny. There's too much the
  312. smart guys know best.
  313. >> When he gets to the point of saying you shouldn't love your children. We
  314. should structure the city in such a way that we don't even know who our own
  315. children are, so that we won't have these intense personal attachments, you
  316. can't run a city that way, because if people don't love their own, that they're
  317. not going to care about anything else either. The vision of The Republic is a
  318. vision of justice and harmony. Well, people are not going to be harmonious,
  319. because people are going to insist upon, in the face of all these laws,
  320. committing adultery. They're going to have romantic liaisons. Children are not
  321. going to want to be taken from their mothers. Mothers are going to love their
  322. children. Somebody's going to want to create music. Everybody is born with the
  323. specific spiritual identity, and we're not worker ants. I'm not sure that ants
  324. are happy. I really wouldn't want to be an ant to find out.
  325. >> I don't think any serious person could agree that The Republic is really a
  326. good place to live in, and I doubt very much whether Socrates or Plato did. The
  327. Republic is meant by Plato to prove that philosophers can never be kings, and
  328. that we can never have a completely communistic society. It establishes the
  329. limits of politics, I think, more clearly and more profoundly than any thinker
  330. ever has, precisely by pressing those limits of this fantastic thought
  331. experiment.
  332. >> My own view is that he believed it. He believed every word of it, and he
  333. never had a doubt that if his city was installed, it would be the best city in
  334. the world.
  335. >> No, that's why we go to wise men and experts, isn't it? To clear things like
  336. this up.
  337. [ Music ]
  338. Is this a real mountain? Plato didn't think so. What about those clouds? This
  339. flower? That bee? He said they're just copies. That there's a parallel world
  340. where you'll find the ideal cloud, the original flower, the perfect bee. The
  341. soul is imprinted with these models at conception. That's how we recognize a
  342. tree, for instance, when we see one. For Plato, the idea of a tree that you hold
  343. in your mind is what's real. This particular tree, and all the others we see,
  344. are just imitations of that idea.
  345. >> Plato's theory of forms is an effort to explain what's true in an absolute
  346. sense. What is it possible to know really? Answer, what doesn't change. When you
  347. will learn geometry, you're not learning about chalk circles. You're not
  348. learning about circles that are even more perfect than the one I've drawn, if,
  349. in fact, the circle is made of something physical. You're learning about an
  350. ideal circle. One that you can't touch. One that you can't even see, because any
  351. circle you could see would be a physical circle. And so, Plato, wanting to point
  352. us to what can't change and is perfect, wants us to consider a circle that can't
  353. be seen.
  354. [ Music ]
  355. >> What do we see about the three yellow and the two green? What do we see?
  356. >> Mathematicians proving the existence of invisible circles and abstract
  357. equations all deal with ideal forms, but the kind of mental leap Plato was
  358. talking about went way beyond math, and that's frustrated philosophers for
  359. centuries. On file in that metaphysical heaven, were perfect examples of
  360. everything in the universe, even qualities like beauty, justice, and goodness.
  361. Today, wise men and women say he was looking in the wrong direction. For them,
  362. our world, this minute, is as real as it gets.
  363. >> These ideas were always be evolving, so long as we are human, and so long as
  364. consciousness is evolving. You simply can't stop history. You see, everything is
  365. changing. Reality is flux.
  366. >> Whatever you think of Plato's quest for permanent answers, nobody denies the
  367. power of The Republic's most famous story, the allegory of the cave.
  368. [ Music ]
  369. Imagine that this is the only world you've ever known. For as long as you can
  370. remember, you've been chained here in this cave watching the shadows dance on
  371. the wall in front of you.
  372. [ Music ]
  373. Unable to even turn around, you have no idea that they are merely reflections
  374. cast by the outside world. You believe they are all there is to life. This is
  375. your reality.
  376. [ Music ]
  377. Then one day our prisoner breaks loose.
  378. [ Music ]
  379. Drawn to the light, he is almost blinded by his first sight of the sun. But
  380. little by little, he is able to open his eyes and see the world beyond the cave.
  381. >> We are prisoners right now. We are now in the middle of a cave, [inaudible]
  382. of a dark room in which we are all tied up. This is the cave. The freest moments
  383. that we have for Plato are moments of imprisonment, are moments of slavery. We
  384. all begin, in some sense, is prisoners of our culture or our religion or our
  385. civilization. We're given answers to the most fundamental questions. What is
  386. love? What's a good family? Who is God? Nowadays, the currently fashionable
  387. conventional philosophy that's taught in our schools is something called
  388. pragmatism. The idea being that we just simply can't really transcend our own
  389. time and culture. That we just have to deal with the world that's given to us.
  390. Now Plato would say that means just rearranging the shadows on the walls of our
  391. cave.
  392. >> One of the tasks of The Republic is to bring people out of the cave, so
  393. they're not looking at shadows, but looking at the real thing out into the sun.
  394. If there's a cave today and shadows the people are looking at, it is the sort of
  395. darkened living room at four in the afternoon, with those images flickering
  396. across the screen, miseducating the young.
  397. [ Music ]
  398. >> Are his fellow prisoners thrilled to learn that the real world is out there?
  399. Not exactly. Plato ends the story by saying that they would tear the enlightened
  400. one limb from limb if they could break their chains. He has challenged
  401. everything they believe in. Of course, once you've seen the light, it's hard to
  402. go back. As Socrates discovered, it's a lonely being the bearer of new ideas.
  403. [ Music ]
  404. The most damning criticism of The Republic came in the 1940s.
  405. >> Seig!
  406. >> Heil!
  407. >> Seig!
  408. >> Heil! Heil.
  409. >> Philosopher Karl Popper the charge that Plato had opened the door for this
  410. madness with the eugenically superior model state he had envisioned in 386 BC.
  411. >> People do think of Plato as a fascist, as maybe the first fascist, maybe is
  412. the greatest fascist. I think it's extraordinarily unfair and inaccurate to
  413. think of him in those terms. He does not believe in any kind of racial
  414. superiority of the people in his city. He does not believe that this society can
  415. come about by, as it were, forcible means.
  416. [ Explosions ]
  417. >> The idea that Plato foreshadowed certain ideas that we've come to associate
  418. with fascism, I'd say, I think that's fairly tenable. If Plato had never lived,
  419. however, we would still have had Hitler. One certainly can't blame Plato for
  420. Hitler or Stalin or Marx or Lenin. It's not for their theories that they're
  421. remembered but for their actions. They were brutal murderers.
  422. >> Corruption is the human norm, and this is what Plato won't swallow.
  423. >> Plato's understanding of human nature might appear to be as abstract as his
  424. ideas, but some of those ideas are still very much alive. For instance, in
  425. Singapore, in just 30 years, this small, ethnically diverse island has been
  426. transformed into one nation, one people, one Singapore.
  427. [ Singing ]
  428. Led by a benevolent despot named Lee Kwan Yew, whose reputation for integrity is
  429. as legendary as his strict controls, the crime rate is down. The standard of
  430. living is up. It's seen as one of the most astonishing success stories in the
  431. developing world and is a nation in a straitjacket.
  432. >> He has curtailed individual freedoms and put into place a highly moralistic
  433. and constraining conception, which includes a lot of policies for breeding. I
  434. mean, eugenic policies, which say that we'll give special breaks to people in
  435. certain classes when they reproduce but will penalize reproduction and some of
  436. the other ethnic groups. All of this, with a kind of Platonic idea that in this
  437. way, we're going to promote the common good and raise people's well-being.
  438. >> It's Hot Talk 560 KSFO.
  439. >> I got a quote from another political scientist, Ben Franklin. He said,
  440. "People who are willing to sacrifice freedom in exchange for security will
  441. receive neither and deserve neither."
  442. >> Yes, I love that. That's very beautiful. So you're saying --
  443. >> How do we make America an orderly state without making it overly orderly and
  444. turn it into a Singapore where a piece of chewing gum on the street is an
  445. offense for $500, for example? I don't want to live in in this Huxleyan Brave
  446. New World, okay? So I think maybe, Plato's Republic can also warn us away from
  447. an overly ordered state, an overly clean place, an overly good place.
  448. >> Time to take out the trash and clean out the barn.
  449. >>Ah, that brings us to a democracy. Could a philosopher king survive in
  450. Washington DC?
  451. >> On the one hand, it's wonderful that anyone can grow up to be president. On
  452. the other hand, it's frightening that anyone can grow up to be president.
  453. >> America doesn't choose its leaders by lot, as ancient Athens did. It holds
  454. popularity contests instead. Plato might well have admired the idea of a small
  455. group of wise men and women seeking justice in the courts, but he'd most likely
  456. see America's obsession with individual power, money, and success as signs of a
  457. society with a seriously disordered soul.
  458. >> One of the serious criticisms Plato addresses to democracy is that its love
  459. of freedom easily becomes a life of license without realizing it. That a taste
  460. for having no restrictions can easily replace the more thoughtful and mature
  461. conception of freedom, which is freedom has to be freedom under the rule of law.
  462. [ Crowd Shouting ]
  463. >> I mean, can we admit that our public life is disordered in something like the
  464. way Plato says, and yet still defend our own way of life? What can the role of
  465. reason be in a democracy like ours without taking away the freedoms that we all
  466. cherish?
  467. [ Music ]
  468. >> The citizens of the Republic are satisfied with their place in life, because
  469. they've been told that the gods created them for different purposes. That's why
  470. they made some people with gold in their veins, some with silver, and some with
  471. bronze. In the book, Socrates calls the story The Noble Lie.
  472. [ Snare Drum Playing ]
  473. >> We, too, have our myths, our noble lies. The Declaration of Independence,
  474. prior to a probing philosophical analysis, which very people undertake, it
  475. really comes to us and is taught to us when we're Young is a kind of myth, a
  476. kind of poetry, a kind of beautiful belief, and what the philosopher in our
  477. society, if he was a Socratic, would have to do is question it, doubt it. Ask
  478. what do we mean by human rights? Do they exist?
  479. [ Music ]
  480. >> The Republic was Plato's ultimate attempt to vindicate Socrates way of life.
  481. In the allegory of the cave he says that the escaped prisoner cannot sit alone
  482. forever under the sky of ideas. It is the philosopher's job to return to the
  483. cave and try gradually to turn others away from the shadows.
  484. >> The deep insight into human beings here is that we are political creatures.
  485. That the life of the city and our lives are inextricably intertwined. That
  486. probably explains why I'm engaged personally, so much engaged in public life and
  487. politics. I am persuaded by Plato that the man who lives away from the affairs
  488. of the city state is the idiot. That to separate oneself from the life of the
  489. community is to separate out oneself from life itself.
  490. [ Music ]
  491. >> Plato wasn't just someone who lectured and wrote. He was someone who started
  492. a school. His school was called The Academy. The word we have now, academy, and
  493. likewise, the word academics, comes from the Greek word, and at his school, he
  494. had a student who went on to become rather famous it is all right. His name was
  495. Aristotle.
  496. >> Aristotle arrived at The Academy when he was 17. He spent the next 20 years
  497. arguing with Plato about the meaning of it all before he went on to tutor
  498. Alexander the Great. The world's first university lasted for almost 1000 years.
  499. Then in 529 AD, the Christians targeted this early think tank as a pagan
  500. stronghold and shut it down forever.
  501. [ Non-English Spoken ]
  502. Today, there's not much left of Plato's Academy, but it is still hallowed ground
  503. for those lovers of wisdom who gather each week to listen to the ideas of modern
  504. philosophers. When the school was closed, the Academy's students fled, probably
  505. taking Plato's and Aristotle's manuscripts with them for safekeeping.
  506. >> It meant that they were scattered all around the Mediterranean world,
  507. extremely good copies of all of Plato's works, and this meant that the odds that
  508. they would last of The Dark Ages and be rediscovered in cellars and in wine
  509. casks, in all kinds of crazy places was much greater than, for example, poor
  510. Sophocles or poor Euripides, most of whose plays were lost, and so on.
  511. >> Socrates survived the dark ages, thanks to Islamic scholars. They translated
  512. Plato into Arabic and passed his books through Egypt, India, Persia, in Spain.
  513. It wasn't until centuries later that the ancient texts were finally unearthed in
  514. Europe and translated into Latin and other languages. This ninth century
  515. manuscript found in Constantinople was purchased by King Henry IV of France
  516. towards the end of the 16th century. It is believed to be the oldest surviving
  517. copy of The Republic in the world. In the 24 centuries since it was written,
  518. Plato's Republic has sired hundreds of imaginary worlds. In 1516, Sir Thomas
  519. More named the mythical kingdom he modeled on Plato Utopia. In Greek, it means
  520. both no place and good place. Sigmund Freud studied Plato. The inventor of
  521. psychiatry divided the human psyche into the into the id, the ego, and the super
  522. ego, an intriguing resemblance to Plato's balance of reason, honor, and passion
  523. in the well-ordered human soul.
  524. >> That idea that the person is the soul or the mind, and that the body is
  525. somehow external and temporary, a bit like a house in which you might live, has
  526. been a very prominent idea in the history of Western civilization. Of course, it
  527. has obvious connections with the immortality of the soul in Christianity.
  528. >> The German philosopher Nietzsche called Christianity "Plato for the people."
  529. Poet Percy Bysshe Shelley called Plato one of his gods. Even Arthur Conan Doyle,
  530. creator of Sherlock Holmes, pays tribute when Dr. Watson quotes Plato to
  531. describe his detective friend as, "The best and wisest man I have ever known.".
  532. >> Allow me to congratulate you on a brilliant bit of deduction.
  533. [ Music ]
  534. >> Plato never gave up searching for the truth, and one must never let it be
  535. said that his views were impervious to experience. His one venture into politics
  536. was on the island of Sicily, where he had hoped to turn the young ruler into a
  537. flesh-and-blood philosopher king. His pupil, however, soon grew bored with the
  538. experiment and tried to sell Plato into slavery. After barely escaping with his
  539. life, Plato felt compelled to create a somewhat more user-friendly utopia. The
  540. poets still are banished, but the philosopher kings have been replaced by the
  541. vote and a set of laws. Plato died shortly after finishing The Laws at the age
  542. of 80. His biographer reported he had passed to that city state which he planned
  543. for himself and planted in the sky. Many centuries later, philosopher Alfred
  544. Whitehead concluded that everything is just a footnote to Plato.
  545. [ Music ]
  546. >> "He imagines that he is a master in dishonesty, able to take every crooked
  547. turn wriggle into and out of every hole, bending like a withy and getting out of
  548. the way of justice, and all for what? In order to gain small points not worth
  549. mentioning." He's talking about the life-long litigant, ladies and gentlemen.
  550. Twenty-seven-hundred years ago the lawyers of the judges were already driving
  551. Greek society and saying, okay.
  552. >> I think one of the most compelling moments in the history of Western thought
  553. is in this book, and I will never forget it. I still get goosebumps thinking
  554. about it, which is the challenge of the Ring of Gyges. If you had this ring, and
  555. that's the story and here, and you turned the bezel of the ring, and you became
  556. invisible, and you could get away with anything by being invisible, would you do
  557. it?
  558. >> What Plato wants to prove in The Republic is that that's wrong. That in fact,
  559. even with a ring that made you invisible, even apart from what other people
  560. think, it's good to be good. The question is whether he succeeds in proving what
  561. others might want him to prove or expect him to prove. The course of The
  562. Republic, he redefines goodness. Plato tells us that virtue is internal to a
  563. person. That is the harmony of the soul.
  564. >> People leave the dialogue differently from when they start. You are a changed
  565. person, in some ways, by encountering this man who truly means what he says.
  566. This is not just highfalutin bull session. This is about life and how you leave
  567. it, how you live it, how you leave it, and the conditions under which it should
  568. be lived. This is about the real stuff.
  569. >> You see, most of us, when we think, usually we're in trouble, and we think to
  570. get out of trouble. What Plato tries to convey there is thinking can be a feast
  571. and a frenzy, and that philosophy is that thinking as a feast.
  572. >> "The wonder," Plato says, "is the beginning of philosophy." We still wonder
  573. about the same questions he set down all those centuries ago, searching for
  574. wisdom and justice and finding an imperfect approximation, struggling between
  575. reality and illusion, reason and passion, politics and philosophy, public and
  576. private, body and soul. And probably, we always will be.
  577. [ Music ]
  578. >> Behind every great book, there's a great story in it. Now sit back and spend
  579. an hour with the best reading experience you'll ever have on television. The
  580. Great Books Festival continues on TLC, adventures for your mind.