19 Nov 2022 15:12

Yet Another Inadequate Placeholder

I was very fortunate, as bored thirteen year old, to have a teacher who made a habit of assigning me books to read which I'd hate but have to argue against. Plato was one of his more inspired choices: it's hard to resist the charm, even if he was a totalitarian bugger. (Mr. Epstein also had me read Ayn Rand, who I just found laughable.)

Some years ago, I reviewed a book about the evolutionary biology of cooperation, and, in doing so, gave a version of the prisonners' dilemma where the two actors are bandits, who must cooperate to rob innocent travellers more effectively. In writing that, I had dim memories of having read somewhere that even robbers must obey some principles of justice among themselves or perish. Afterwards, trying to track this idea down, I realized that of course it came from the Republic. (Series of footnotes, etc.) This actually led me to re-reading Plato for the first time since high school.

My profound conclusion: Plato is very weird. I cannot swallow the Straussian theory that the esoteric teaching buried in The Republic is actually the view put in the mouth of Thrasymachus, but it's a deeply odd and unconvincing book. Or again: in Theatetus, Socrates goes on at length about how he's just a midwife to others' ideas. He is then the only person who actually proposes any ideas at all for the whole rest of the book. What on Earth was the point of writing this way? I'm sure some readers never noticed this --- there have been a lot and many people are bad at reading --- but surely it was very plain? I have no profound conclusions about any of this, just a nagging curiosity.