Studying philosophy philosophical thought #1: In the book of life, the answers are not in the back…

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Philosophical thought #1: In the book of life, the answers are not in the back…

Plato’s Republic: Why do I have to read a #@$% thousands’-year-old book???!!

  • While still an aspiring politician, Plato was befriended by the elder Socrates and quickly became his informal pupil.
  • It can be thought of as a rectification of the fate of Socrates - a just man killed by an unjust State.
  • it is a philosophical masterpiece; it is acute political theory; it is great literature
  • for full downloadable text

MARKING & ANNOTATING the Republic, Book 1

  • And has not the soul an excellence also? Yes. And can she or can she not fulfil her own ends when deprived of that excellence? She cannot. Then an evil soul must necessarily be an evil ruler and superintendent, and the good soul a good ruler? Yes, necessarily. And we have admitted that justice is the excellence of the soul, and injustice the defect of the soul? That has been admitted. Then the just soul and the just man will live well, and the unjust man will live ill? That is what your argument proves. And he who lives well is blessed and happy, and he who lives ill the reverse of happy? Certainly. Then the just is happy, and the unjust miserable? So be it. But happiness and not misery is profitable. Of course. Then, my blessed Thrasymachus, injustice can never be more profitable than justice.
  • Justice = excellence of the soul
  • Just man lives well
  • = blessed and happy
  • Just = happy
  • Unjust= miserable
  • Injustice ≠ more profitable

Plato (427-347 B.C.)

  • “You can discover more about a person in an hour of play
  • than in a year of conversation.”

Characters in The REPUBLIC

  • Socrates: the narrator and protagonist
  • Glaucon: Socrates' closest and most loyal disciple
  • Adeimantus: is a source of poetry and literature
  • Cephalus: the elderly father of Polemachus
  • Polemachus: invites Socrates to his home, eager for the conversation. He cherishes very common ideas
  • Thrasymachus: is the fierce embodiment of tyranny
      • Cleitophon, son of Aristonymus
      • Charmantides, a Paeanian (silent)
      • Lysias, son of Cephalus (silent)
      • Euthydemus, son of Cephalus (silent)
      • Niceratus, son of Nicias (silent

According to Wikipedia BOOK 1 - Prologue  I.1: Descent to the Piraeus I.2—I.5: Cephalus. Justice of the Older Generation I.6—1.9: Polemachus. Justice of the Middle Generation I.10—1.24: Thrasymachus. Justice of the Sophist

  • From Cliff’s Notes

In his History of Western Philosophy (1945), Bertrand Russell sees three parts in Plato's Republic: -Book I-V: the Utopia portion, portraying the ideal community, starting from an attempt to define justice -Book VI-VII: since philosophers are seen as the ideal rulers of such community, this part of the text concentrates on defining precisely what a philosopher is -Book VIII-X: discusses several practical forms of government, their pros and cons.

  • Susan Gorman, Boston University
  • What is the function of Book 1?
  • “In teaching the beginning of the Republic, I highlight the function of the first two books so that the students are better equipped to understand the problem that is being set forth for discussion.
  • We talk mostly about what justice is and how a person can be deemed just or not.
  • Once we all realize that there are no easy answers, we are ready to see how other people, such as those participating in the discussion in the Republic, discuss justice.
  • Book 1 of the Republic sets the scene for the rest of the philosophical discussions to follow.”

ANTICIPATING TEST QUESTIONS: Multiple choice questions: What is "justice" as argued by Polemachus?

Thrasymachus' "justice" is a form of _______.

    • democracy
    • oligarchy
    • timocracy
    • tyranny

Short answer or longer essay questions:

  • - How does Socrates define harm?
  • - Why does he believe that it is never just to harm anyone?


Philosophical thought #2: Experience is a hard teacher; it gives the test first, then teaches the lesson afterwards…

1. Read for the professor's questions

  Generate questions from your lecture notes. View your notes as a set of answers from which you write questions.

When you go to your textbook, use the questions from your lecture notes as a key. Use your text as a reference book: in it, you need to find examples illustrating the major points in class.

Don't take extensive notes from your reading; instead, make a list of key words (both yours and the philosopher's) illustrating given arguments.

  2. Read for examples

  A philosopher shifts between using the complex "language of philosophy" (terminology specific to philosophy and/or terms taken from common speech - “to know”- but used in a special sense) and ordinary, everyday examples to illustrate his points.

If you locate and focus on the real examples, you can learn to follow a philosophical argument with less stress.

Skim the reading for concrete, out-of-context words ("shoemaker,” "joke,” "thief”) and read the full sentence in which they appear – it will illustrate in concrete terms the point the philosopher is making.

Glance away from the book and make up another example of your own that is parallel. Now look for confirmation at the actual principle stated in dense, philosophic terms.

Working from examples is learning by building on what you already know, not trying to memorize difficult-to-digest passages written in strange jargon.

If you are not sure of a given point, go to your professor with your parallel examples (yours vs. the philosopher's) and ask if your example fits.

You'll know then if you've made a correct generalization, if you've really understood the point at hand.

3. Read for the philosopher's controlling principle  

For example, a controlling idea for Plato is that conversation about philosophical subjects is the most important of all human activities ("the unexamined life is not worth living").

For Aristotle's Ethics: that happiness is the quality of the whole life, so the happy man "puts it all together."

It is a useful mental exercise to pretend that you believe something then try to uncover the philosopher's hidden and unstated assumptions (e.g. that women are inferior).

Finally, you will want to decide if the philosopher adheres to his principles throughout his work.

Philosophical thought #3, with apologies to Rene Descartes: I don’t think much; therefore, I must not be…   

Philosophy Categories

  Theoretical Philosophy - epistemology, metaphysics - examines what is or what happens in the world

Practical Philosophy - ethics, politics - examines what ought to be done or sought after

    Philosophical Styles  

Philosophical Dialogue Plato Conversational, enriched with drama and personalities. Solution-oriented, letting the readers discover things for themselves.  

Philosophical Treatise or Essay Aristotle, Kant Order is imposed on a specific subject – physics, politics, ethics, reason.  

Meeting of Objections Aquinas Combination of question-raising and objection-meeting; imbued with the spirit of debate and discussion.  

Systemization of Philosophy Descartes, Spinoza. Philosophy organized in a mathematical fashion, giving it certainty and formal structure.  

Aphoristic Style Nietzsche A subject is touched upon, a truth or insight suggested; then the reader is left, to make the connections and arguments himself.

PHIL 000: Elementary Nihilism. Students learn the philosophy of total self-negation. Those who bother to attend classes will be failed. 3 credits


To develop an argumentative opinion

  • Notice anything that strikes you as
    • highly important,
    • puzzling,
    • exactly right, or
    • drastically wrong

If your opinion agrees with a point:

  • Why?
  • The point plays a decisive role in the argument?
  • The point has hidden but important implications?
  • It helps resolve other problems?

If your opinion disagrees:

  • Why?
  • Is there a flaw in the reasoning?
  • Contrary evidence not taken into account?
  • The argument has a contradiction or mistake?
  • The argument has missed a crucial distinction?

How are you going to approach the topic?

to Analyze (neither supporting nor opposing)

To Compare/ Contrast

  • Draw connections
  • Show similarities
  • Show differences
  • Show where the presuppositions differ
  • Show the effects of the differences

To Evaluate Is it correct?

  • Why?
    • Can you expand to other problems?
    • Can you add more evidence?
    • Can you amplify/ clarify the reasoning?

To Criticize

  • Faulty argument?
  • Wrong conclusion?
  • Reasoning/ assumptions /premises are faulty?
    • Which? Where? Why?
  • True in part, false in others?
    • Which ways true?
    • What parts false?

“I was thrown out of NYU: On my metaphysics exam, I looked within the soul of the boy sitting next to me.” - Woody Allen

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