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Understanding Plato

Understanding Plato_edited.jpg

Understanding Plato is the prize-winning first book in Laurence Houlgate's eight-book philosophy study guide series on the classical philosophers.

 

The Plato study guide is designed for beginning and intermediate philosophy students who would like more depth than they would ordinarily get from books that give only notes and outlines of the philosopher's thoughts and theories.

 

Unlike other philosophy study books, each volume in the series focuses on both content and philosophical method. Each chapter breaks down arguments of the philosopher into understandable parts, showing how philosophers reach their conclusions and how they defend against possible objections.

 

Each chapter concludes with a set of questions for thought and discussion. Some of the questions are on topics that provide an excellent starting point for killer term papers.

 

References to other books about the philosopher or the topic can be found at the end of the chapter, in footnotes, textboxes or at the back of the book.

 

Understanding Plato  contains a complete discussion of four of the early Socratic dialogues (Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Meno) and Plato's longer and more famous work, Republic.

 

Professor Houlgate describes his book as a guide for “smart students” because it engages  and encourages beginning philosophy students to think critically about what they are reading. 

 

This is what Socrates saw as his task in ancient Athens and it is what finally got him tried and executed for corrupting the youth of the city. 

 

Critical thinking is still considered dangerous in many non-democratic countries of the world and teaching critical thinking skills has even been banned in some public schools in the U.S.A.  

 

But Understanding Plato is an award winner precisely because it celebrates critical thinking.  Unlike other study guides it does not offer “notes,” “summaries” or “flashcards” of the Socratic dialogues and Plato’s Republic.  

 

The objective of Understanding Plato is not to prepare students for a multiple-choice exam but to help them to think critically, participate in classroom dialogue and  write an “A” grade term paper or essay.  

 

      CONTENTS

Part I has four chapters with discussion questions about Plato’s Socratic dialogues. 

Part II has six chapters with discussion questions about the most important ideas and theories in Plato’s Republic. 

Part III is a summary and discussion of the nature of philosophy, the difference between philosophy and science, and the unique methods of philosophical reasoning.

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

1. INTRODUCTION

1.1  About the Smart Student’s Guide series

1.2  About Plato and Socrates

1.3  About this Book

PART I       A GUIDE TO PLATO’S SOCRATIC DIALOGUES

2. EUTHYPHRO: AN EXAMPLE OF PHILOSOPHICAL METHOD  

2.1 Examples are not Definitions

2.2 Quarreling Deities

2.3 Concurrence of the Gods

2.4 Piety as a Skill

2.5 Philosophical and Scientific Method

Questions for Thought and Discussion

3. APOLOGY: THE TRIAL OF SOCRATES

3.1  The Older Charges

3.2  The New Charges

3.2.1  An Inductive Argument

3.2.2   A Deductive Argument

3.2.3   Gods and Personal Daimons

3.3  Death, Justice and Civil Disobedience

3.4  Justice and Self-Preservation

3.5 .To Fear Death is “Blameworthy Ignorance”

3.6  Injustice and Harm to Oneself

3.7  The Gadfly of Athens, the Unexamined Life and Obedience to the God 

3.8  Closing Statement to the Jury

Questions for Thought and Discussion

4. CRITO: THE DUTY TO OBEY THE LAW

4.1  Crito’s Plea

4.2  Socrates’ Response

4.2.1  The “One Man”

4.2.2  The Duty Never to do Injustice to Anyone

4.2.3  The Authority of the Law

4.3  Plato’s Method for Determining Right and Wrong

Questions for Thought and Discussion

5. MENO: VIRTUE, KNOWLEDGE AND IMMORTALITY

5.1  Attempts to Define Virtue

5.1.1  Virtue Defined by Examples

5.1.2  Virtue as the Ability to Rule

5.1.3   Virtue as the Power to Acquire Good Things

5.2  Can Virtue Be Taught?

5.3  Knowledge and True Belief

5.4  Meno’s Paradox

5.5  The Theory of Recollection

5.6  A Brief Critique of Socrates’ Solution

Questions for Thought and Discussion

PART II A GUIDE TO PLATO’S REPUBLIC

6. THRASYMACHUS’ CHALLENGE

6.1  Three Attempts to Define Justice

6.1.1  Cephalus and Polemarchus

6.1.2  Thrasymachus: Justice as Political Power

6.1.3  The Ruler as “One who Never Errs”

6.1.4  Do Rulers Rule for the Good of Their Subjects?

6.1.5   A Lesson about the Limit of Inductive Arguments

6.2  Is Injustice More Profitable Than Justice?

6.2.1  The Unjust City and the Unjust Person

6.2.2  Functions, Virtues and Vices of the Soul

Questions for Thought and Discussion

7. A NEW ARGUMENT FOR INJUSTICE

7.1  Glaucon’s Challenge

7.2  Renewing the Argument of Thrasymachus

7.2.1  Forced Social Contracts

7.2.2  The Unwilling Practice of Justice

7.2.3  The Better Life of Unjust Persons

7.3  Justice in the City-State

7.3.1  A Questionable Analogy

7.3.2  The Origin of the Republic: Two Principles

7.3.3  The Minimal City

7.3.4  The Luxurious or “Feverish” City

7.3.5  The Guardians of the City

7.3.6  Political Power in the City

Questions for Thought and Discussion

8. THE ADVANTAGES OF JUSTICE

8.1  Searching for Justice and Injustice

8.2  Justice and Injustice in the City

8.3  Justice in the Individual

8.4.  A Proof that the Soul has Parts

8.5  Names and Functions of Parts of the Soul

8.5.1  Questions About the Divided Soul Theory

8.5.2  The Humunculus Problem

8.6  Justice and Other Individual Virtues

8.7  Injustice in the Soul

8.8  It is More Profitable to be Just than Unjust

Questions for Thought and Discussion

9. Women, Marriage and Children

9.1  Women

9.2  Marriage

9.3  Children

Questions for Thought and Discussion

10. SUN, LINE AND CAVE

10.1  Philosopher-Kings

10.2  Forms and Knowledge

10.3  The Analogy of the Sun

10.3.1  The Sun as an Offspring of the Good

10.4   Simile of the Line

10.5  The Allegory of the Cave

10.6  Knowledge of the Good and Political Authority

Questions for Thought and Discussion

11. DEFECTIVE CONSTITUTIONS AND DAMAGED SOULS.

11.1   Imperfection in Constitutions and Individuals

11.1.1  Timocracy

11.1.2  Oligarchy

11.1.3   Democracy

11.1.4  Tyranny

11.2   The Tyrannical Soul

11.2.1  Ranking Lives by Happiness

11.2.2  Ranking Lives by Pleasure

11.2.3  Reason as the Master of Desire

11.3  Injustice is Never Profitable

Questions for Thought and Discussion

PART III POSTSCRIPT: PHILOSOPHICAL METHOD

12. METHOD AND DISCOVERY

12.1   Philosophical Problems

12.2   Philosophical Method

12.3   Knowledge and Discovery in Philosophy

12.4   Philosophy and Science

APPENDIX

PHAEDO: THE LAST HOURS OF SOCRATES

REFERENCES

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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