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Plato and the City: A New Introduction to Plato's Political Thought

Jean-François Pradeau
translated by Janet Lloyd
with a Foreword by Christopher Gill
Copyright Date: 2002
Edition: 1
Pages: 176
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  • Book Info
    Plato and the City
    Book Description:

    Plato and the City is a general introduction to Plato's political thought. It covers the main periods of Platonic thought, examining those dialogues that best show how Plato makes the city's unity the aim of politics and then makes the quest for that unity the aim of philosophy. From the psychological model (the city is like a great soul) to the physiological definition (the city is a living being), the reader can traverse the whole of Plato's oeuvre, and understand it as a political philosophy. The book is designed to be an undergraduate textbook but will also be of interest to scholars. It is the first English translation of Platon et la cité, published in French by Presses Universitaires de France in 1997 as part of the series Philosophies, and offers English-speaking readers access to a more unifying continental European reading of Plato than is common in UK or North American scholarship.

    eISBN: 978-1-78138-066-6
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Translator’s Note
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. xi-xvi)
    Christopher Gill

    This book is a translation of a revised and extended version of Jean François Pradeau’sPlaton et la cité, first published in France in 1997.¹ What does the book have to offer English-speaking readers?

    In the first instance, as the title indicates, this is both a study of a specific theme in Plato—the ‘city’ or political community—and an introduction to Plato’s political thought as a whole. It is lucid and non-technical; it includes summaries of the main dialogues relevant to this theme and translations of key extracts; all Greek terms are translated throughout. It thus provides an accessible...

  5. Author’s Note
    (pp. xvii-xvii)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    At the time of Plato’s birth in 428 BC, Athens had been at war with the Spartans and their allies for the past three years, and was still reckoning the number of those who had died in the terrible plague epidemic that had carried off over a quarter of her population in 430–429. In the year of his death, 347, when the Athenian empire was no more than a distant memory, King Philip of Macedon was officially admitted to the group of Greek powers of which he would soon be the master. Plato was not concerned to describe and...

  7. 1 ‘I am no politician’ (Socrates)
    (pp. 9-42)

    Plato’s earliest dialogues, the ones described as ‘Socratic’, tackle the political question hardly at all and do not make the city the subject of any specific enquiry. It is not possible to explain this silence simply by reference to the somewhat ambiguous and ultimately very anecdotal declarations that the principal figure in these dialogues, namely Socrates, makes regarding his own political commitment. The man who said at his trial, ‘You may be sure, men of Athens, that if I had undertaken to go into politics, I should have been put to death long ago’ (Apology 31d7–9)⁵, also claims in...

  8. 2 The political psychology of the Republic
    (pp. 43-71)

    Plato’sRepublicprovides the definitive anthropological and cognitive definition of political competence. Here, the notion is both developed and refined, for the dialogue produces definitions of both the city and the knowledge that takes the city as its object and also presides over its government. Furthermore, that definition of political competence is intertwined with a thread of reflection upon the use that this political technique can make of the city.

    It is by way of a comparison, at the beginning of Book II, that theRepubliccomes to adopt the political constitution (politeia)⁵⁶ as its subject. At II, 368c–369a...

  9. 3 Producing the city: the Statesman
    (pp. 72-113)

    In treating politics as a technique, Plato recognizes the obligation of defining its material and specifying how this is used. What does politics use and what does it take care of? How does it operate? What is the nature of its material and who can make use of it? By now we know the answers to these questions and they are invariable, albeit at a general level: the material of politics is the city as a whole and the technician who shapes it is a knowledgeable governor, a philosopher. The task of supplementing these general answers with a precise account...

  10. 4 The life of the city: the Timaeus-Critias
    (pp. 114-132)

    The city is a physical object, composed of heterogeneous and mobile elements that are interconnected by a technique of guidance, that is to say politics. Those who exercise the guiding function must unite those diverse, unstable, mortal elements in a single creation. They must arrange for the city to live as a single unit and for the citizens, in their turn, to live together in accordance with that essential unity. In a wide range of contexts, the dialogues of Plato present both to the eye and the mind one and the same example of a perfect arrangement of bodies: the...

  11. 5 The city, a world of politics: the Laws
    (pp. 133-166)

    TheTimaeusand theCritiasconstitute the necessary condition and preparation for a systematic philosophical work that Plato was either unable or unwilling to realize in that form. TheLaws, which returns to and completes the programme designed for the trilogy constituted by theTimaeus-Critias-Hermocrates, is neither a legislative treatise nor even simply a work of ‘political philosophy’. It completes the systematic project behind Plato’s whole oeuvre, for in this dialogue he tackles every aspect of the reality of which philosophy sets out to give an account.

    Over recent years, this last, unfinished work by Plato has been the object...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 167-168)

    In Plato’s dialogues, the object of politics is the city and its goal is the city’s unity. Not one of these texts ever rejects that plan, the concept of which is truly philosophical since it presupposes an enquiryinto nature, an enquiry that can only be carried out by a man who understands things as they are, that is to say a philosopher. In making the city a physical living entity, Plato opted to set his political analysis within the framework of a physiological (or physical) programme of research in which he linked together two things that his successors (Aristotle...

  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 169-175)
  14. Index
    (pp. 177-181)