Degenerate Regimes in Plato's Republic
David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Jack Alan Reynolds
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In Mark McPherran (ed.), Plato's Republic: A Critical Guide. Cambridge University Press (2010)
The essay concerns the negative end of the political argument of the Republic, that injustice—the rule of unreason—is both widespread and undesirable, and that whatever shadows of virtue or order might be found in its midst are corrupt and unstable. This claim is explained in detail in Republic 8 and 9. These passages explain recognizable faults in recognizable regimes in terms of the failure of the rule of reason and the corresponding success of the rule of non-rational forms of motivation. I will first look at degenerate regimes as they appear in a less systematic way in the Ship of State passage in Republic 6 and in the discussion with Thrasymachus in book 1. I then give a general overview of the system of degenerate regimes in book 8 to examine what exactly goes wrong with them and why, and explain how the process of degeneration ought be understood as the progressive decay of the rule of reason. Finally, I argue that a close look at this decay reveals something surprising: that degenerate regimes and characters feature weak versions of virtue, shadow-virtues that are based on appearances and held in place by force. Thus in the end the whole process of degeneration ought be understood as an extended conflict between reason and appetite
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