Happy City, Happy Citizens? The Private Good and the Common Good in Plato's Republic
to be presented August 28, 2014 at the annual convention of the American Political Science Association
35 Pages Posted: 26 Jul 2014
Date Written: July 24, 2014
Several times in the Republic, Socrates declares that he and his interlocutors are making a city that is happy as a whole, but he never defines what it means for a city to be happy as a whole. This statement has been interpreted in two basically competing ways: either the happiness of the city is ultimately reducible to the happiness of its citizens (reductionism), or else the city's happiness is other than and perhaps even independent of the happiness of its citizens (holism). In this paper, I argue that the text itself is ambiguous, but that all existing reductionist interpretations are inconsistent with the text. At the same time, there is reason to doubt that holism is a plausible alternative. I conclude that Socrates is deliberately ambiguous on this topic, and that the Republic exhibits a persistent and deliberately unbridged gap between the private good and the common good, even in the best regime. I also conclude that Socrates' ambiguity can only be recognized and accounted for if one reads the Republic as a dramatic dialogue where characterization matters, and not as a dramatized philosophical treatise (as the reductionists read it).
Keywords: Common Good, Kallipolis, Plato, Republic
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