The group, the individual and Plato’s Republic

I have to say, I’m not amazingly impressed with Plato’s Republic, now reading it for the first time. Logic is all very well. But without the more Aristotelean empiricism used by people making arguments today, they continually seem to miss key arguments, make questionable assumptions, and brush over topics that have taken entire lives of dedication as if they were children discussing what’s their favorite meal.

Now if you know Plato’s philosophies, and you know me (essentially a postmodern democratic reformist) then it may come as no surprise to you to hear me disagree with Plato, and supposedly Socrates too, since he was the subject of most dialogues in the book. Plato’s philosophies echo the Spartan constitution far more than the Athenian. And they have been said to be the ideological root of totalitarian states like fascist Italy and Germany, as well as the USSR.

However there is one area on which I agree with Plato. He argues that when everyone lives completely individual lives and we always think about ourselves rather than the group then we create unjust societies in which unhappiness is widespread. He pursues the other extreme of course. But is it not true that one of the most unquestionable bedrocks of Western society is the primacy of the individual? Especially given recent advances in group psychology and evidence about how group membership affects well being, shouldn’t we start re-questioning whether we might be going a little too far?

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