Did Plato write three drafts?

I mentioned in my last post that a sense of the Republic’s structure attunes its reader to notice certain discontinuities that seem to mar its implicit order. One of these is the transition from Book IV to Book V, which is the opening of the middle (climatic) act of the five act division I gave of the Republic as a whole. The end of Book IV seems, on a first reading, to reach a climax:  the characters were trying to trying to answer the question, “What is justice?” and Book IV reaches consummation with a set of satisfying (or at least agreed upon) definitions of justice and the other virtues. By the dialogue’s internal logic, this climax should have marked the top of the dramatic arc of a shorter five act play, organized like this:

ACT I:  Exposition and introduction to the question concerning the nature of justice (Book I to Book II, ending at 367a)
ACT II: Building the “City in Speech” (367a – 427c)
ACT III: The discovery of justice in the city and soul (427c to end of Book IV)
ACT IV: The degradation of the City (Books VIII & IX)
ACT V: Epilogue (Book X)

One wonders if the original draft of the Republic looked something like the above and that Plato revised it later — responding to the defect/opportunity that he sensed in his original climax. Whatever the reason, whether from original intention or in a later draft, Plato upsets the poetical pattern that a reader would most likely anticipate — and not for the first time. If the truncated plot dissected above is a draft, it may not even be the first. In fact, I think the Republic can be likened to an ancient stone temple, whose fissures and discontinuities of material can reveal to a discerning archeological eye visible traces of three distinct “layers” comprising the building of it, each layer building upon the “finished” structure of its predecessor. All three point share an epistemic aspiration since all three could be subtitled “Peri dikaiou” (“concerning justice”) without falsification. The three archeological layers (let’s call them “drafts”) are:

  1. A first aporetic (i.e. unsatisfying) draft. This is Book I as given to us. There is common speculation that Book I was originally a stand-alone dialogue called Thrasymachus.  If we were to imagine it as an independent work, it would be uncannily at home beside other aporetic dialogues like Meno, Laches or Euthyphro. The immanent but unsatisfied desire to know, a knowledge always transcendent to that desire, is the foundational layer of the Republic. The first draft expresses that desire in the form of a question that the Republic never gives up.
  2. A second poretic (i.e. satisfying) draft comprised of Books I – IV and Books VIII – X. This is the excerpted dialogue that I divided into five acts above, which builds upon the “first draft.” The middle version offers a “solution” to the question posed in the first version. But the answers are given in the form of doxa/opinion. Perhaps one should one just accept the definitions as dogma, as true beliefs. Because verbal answers can only be given in the form of opinion/doxa, then must the activity of searching always terminate with opinion? Questions seek satisfaction, but if a question is the expression of a divergent problem, then its satisfaction cannot and will not be a verbal answer. Why such an answer is inherently faulty is the question for a succeeding stage in the search.
  3. The finished draft, i.e. the Republic as we have it. It is neither aporetic nor poretic, but claims kinship with both. It is possible that the final draft of the Republic is a sublation of both aporetic and poretic searches for wisdom — that the completed dialogue as we have it the dialectical resolution of the antithetical forms of ending — satisfying or dissatisfying — which are present as modes within it. The aim of the Republic is perhaps to gather, through dialectical engagement, the unsatisfying and satisfying into a single whole of a settled direction of aspiration.

Please note that I am not asserting that Plato actually wrote in a sequence of three drafts, although such an assertion is possible and consistent with the internal evidence. I am however saying that these three drafts/plots are very much present to be interpreted, indicative even if accidental, and that the transitions between them are important. In Book V, Socrates uses the metaphor of waves/kyma to describe the three stages of the “Female Drama” culminating in the discovery of the necessity for philosopher rulers (more about this later). One can also see the climax of the Republic as arriving at the third wave of something like labor pains, with two spurious indications of arrival before the living baby is born.

In a series of later posts, I will attempt a close reading of portions of Book V in order to understand the major transition indicated there. Of particular interest to me will be: (1) what is deficient in definitions as such, especially true definitions, a deficiency that makes the climax of Book IV abortive, and (2) how to “translate” the political teachings of “the three waves” of the “Female drama” into psychological/cognitive versions in keeping with the city/soul analogy.


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