Republic Slow Reading project, day 5

This is the last of our “slow reads” of Book I of the Republic. Today, we are discussing 350d to the end of Book I, a continuation of the conversation/argument between Socrates and Thrasymachus.

Tomorrow, I will post some observations about Book I that require the perspective of having read the rest of the dialogue. I didn’t want to bring any of this material into the discussion since I thought (1) it would disrupt the close, attentive reading that was our goal, and (2) I didn’t want to “spoil” the rest of the Republic for those who are coming at it for the first time.


1. In 350d Socrates claims that Thrasymachus and he “agreed” that justice is virtue and wisdom and that injustice is vice and ignorance. Then Thrasymachus shows by his actions that he didn’t agree at all, even if he couldn’t find fault in the argument. What is the value of agreement/homonoia? Is agreement the proper end of an dialogic argument or something else the end? In other words, are a conclusion and an agreement the same thing?

2. Thrasymachus objects to being prohibited from making long speeches. Why do you think that Thrasymachus prefers, and Socrates objects to, long speeches?

3. Thrasymachus participates in the rest of the argument in a half-hearted begrudging way. How is the argument hurt by Thrasymachus’ lack of real participation? Does that make any difference to the value of any conclusion reached?

4. Socrates concludes that the unjust are in themselves powerless to accomplish anything. Indeed, he says that injustice is the power of rendering powerless! (352) That can’t be right can it? Can’t it? How valid is the argument that leads up to it?

5. The conclusion at 353e that “justice is a soul’s virtue” — what does Socrates mean by that?

6. At the end of Book I, Socrates claims to be unsatisfied with where things stand in the argument. Why? Book I gives us lots of fine conclusions about justice: that it is always a benefit, that it looks to the needs of others, that it is the source of health and unity in the soul or community where it operates, that it is the soul’s virtue. So why is he so dissatisfied at the end? Why does he claim to know nothing about justice?

One last thing: was this “Slow Reading” something you found valuable and would like to do something along similar lines later? Let me know if you could.

18 thoughts on “Republic Slow Reading project, day 5

  1. My thoughts:

    RE Item 6: I believe Soc realizes and is disappointed that there is no clear answer to the question “What is Justice”.

    RE Item 2: Long speeches are not conducive to dialog. They don’t create a “sharing” give and take. They are self centered. They are as if the speaker is desirous of instructing rather that learning.

    RE Item 4: In the short term the unjust can “do” a lot. Whether what they do accomplishes anything is another matter. In the longer term the unjust will be overthrown… maybe by another unjust entity.

    • Re long speeches: why couldn’t a long speech represent the truth better than the back and forth sharing of dialogue? If one knew the truth of matter, wouldn’t the recitation of a long speech by the knower to the non-knower be more representative of that truth than a dialogue that must bring into play the confusions of the non-knower? Disregard for a moment whether Thrasymachus knows the truth or not.

      • A long speech may be filled with truth but unless the opponent has time to enter into the dialog the truth will not be able to be passed on because the long speech will be so tedious and boring.

      • I continue to mull over the “long speech” v. “dialogue” issue. Your reply states “If one knew the truth of matter…”. The problem is that many people feel they know the truth and in reality very few (if any) do. I look at Augusta politics and see some commissioners speaking on and on ad nauseum. These people truly feel they “know the truth”. Anyway it is an interesting point you make as to “why couldn’t a long speech represent the truth better…?”

      • Billy, you are still missing the point of the question. I stated it hypothetically, but you are confusing the issue by removing the conditional clause. The statement “If my eyes were missing, I would be blind” is a true statement, despite the fact that my eyes are still in my head. I realize there are a lot of people who wrongly think they know they truth. I’m not talking about those people — that’s why I included the if-clause. IF one WERE to know the truth, would it be better represented by a long-speech or a dialogue? To put the matter more concretely, if Plato knows something, why doesn’t he just come out and say it straightforwardly with a long speech (e.g. a treatise)? Why muddy the waters with bad guesses and inconclusiveness? In the words of D.C. Schindler, “why would he employ a form laden with such resilient ambiguity?” Does that way of putting it help?

  2. I don’t know about the argument. experience may say that the gods are not always enemys of the unjust and the friends of the just, the just may not always be happy and blessed while sometimes the unjust are. Thrasy’s falure to resist allowd soc to go on unaposed. the conclusion was pretty but these questions and maybe more weren’t addressed…. justice is the souls virtue… like the eyes viture is its ability to see well…. justice would be the souls ability to live well?…… and yes this has been very valuable to me on so many levels and would like to finish the republic this way… just maybe a little slower like every other day or something at least until I get in the good practice of reading like this again and I sharpen my dull and rusty brain 🙂

    • Perhaps Thrasymachus’ failure to engage with Socrates made the discussion too abstract, too removed from the concrete engagement of justice where it is really needed. To come to know justice, one must either act or be acted upon by justice. A dialogue leaves both partners open to both possibilities (i.e. acting and being acted upon), open to justice in action. A dialogue enacts justice when each participant is open to correction by the other. Where this is lacking, justice cannot act and cannot in such a situation become known.

      • This is my point against the long speech: “Dialogue leaves both partners open…”. “…when each participant is open to correction by the other.” Long speech closes off questions, responses, rebuttals, correction, etc. It opens up yawns, pontificating, lose of concentration, etc.

      • I think you are missing my point. I am not asking whether long speeches are effective pedagogically. I am asking whether long speeches are more faithful representations of truth than meandering dialogues. Here’s the thing: I don’t think they are. But why?

    • I really enjoyed this slow read project. I too would rather do it with longer intervals to give chance for more thought and exchange of comments. Thanks so much for this!

  3. The purpose of a long speech is to convince someone you are right. The purpose of a dialogue is to produce agreement. These may seem to be the same thing, but I think for Socrates, agreement is where both parties are not only convinced by the argument but transformed by it. Thus Thrasymachus refusal to participate weakens the desire of the dialectic. Since others are listening, it may not be completely destroyed.

    Further, I am certain Socrates wants to be challenged. Disputed. Without disputation, there is only a speech. With disputation the argument is refined, purified, made best. And how can a poor attempt to define justice give us the best definition? I think this is why Socrates is dissatisfied.

    • Good response. Sometimes Plato uses the metaphor of sticks rubbing together to produce a flame. A long speech can never induce more than an opinion in its speaker or hearer. A dialogue produces flames of insight that can be advances on mere opinion. So Thrasymachus withdrawing from the dialogue is not conducive to fruitful insight, even though/if he is mostly wrong and Socrates is mostly right. Socrates and Thrasymachus together are more effective truth-bearers than either alone.

    • “The purpose of a long speech is to convince someone you are right.”
      “A long speech can never induce more than an opinion in its speaker or hearer.”

      David and Woody,
      Is this necessarily the case? Without denying the virtues of dialogue, this seems to me slightly overdrawn. Are there never instances of a “long speech” (not sure the exact definition of this by the way) which has as its purpose something other than producing doxa in an unwilling audience? Some premises may alone seem foolish, but with full exposition and context may seem more reasonable. Disputation, at times, can be a rhetorical tactic by which a sort of Zeno’s paradox is created for someone trying to develop a complex argument; especially one that is not widely accepted. Think presidential debates;)

      • No, I agree with you: I don’t think this is necessarily the case. I certainly wouldn’t try to write a book if it were! But I do think that a long speech (makrologia) or book can never reach the level of insight available in genuine dialogue. (Aside: I think there are ways of listening/reading that make the experience more like a dialogue and less like a source/receiver transmission. But the telling or writing itself is not in itself dialogical — there must be “participation” (perhaps tacit) from the reader/listener end.) Also, it is important to distinguish between eristic and dialectic. Eristic is competitive, polemical exchange interested in victory/defect; dialectic is a cooperative search for a truth implicit, but not yet revealed, in rival opinions. Your counter examples are instances of eristic not dialectic. I agree that there are a lot of base imitations of dialogue that are really nothing of the sort.

  4. I left a posting of Feb 9 without realizing that so many postings had been made on the “long speech” on Feb 8. Great that we got more postings on this topic than from any other during the exercise! These fleshed out my thinking and left my posting of Feb 9 lying in the dust!

    One problem I have is that I don’t receive a notification when a posting has been made. Is there a way to get one?

    • Billy, I think there is a way to register so that you get notice when a comment is posted, but I’m not sure. That’s a WordPress question and I am still a novice using this platform. Anybody else know?

  5. I’m not 100% as im new too, I get a notification when some on “replies” to my posts in the wordpress tool bar (black bar at the top with name, reblog, etc.) For “follow up comments” I have an option to notify me via email when im posting a comment, which I don’t use. See if you don’t see it when your writing a comment on the bottom left. maybe try loging our and loging un suing the wordpressicon instead of typing it in youir self. here are some links maybe they will help.

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