References

The Classics Pages
Includes a guided tour of Plato's Republic. I highly recommend this resource.

Historical Women of Philosophy
Women Philosophers from 600 BCE to 17th century CE.

Plato
Excellent essay by Richard Kraut from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Philosophy Talk: Plato
Listen to this excellent radio program and take notes. The segment is about one hour. The free Real Player is required for streaming audio.

Plato and Platonism
A concise introductory essay from the Catholic Encyclopedia

The Philosophy of Plato
An well-organized overview from the Radical Academy

The Republic, Book I
One of Plato's greatest and most influential works. This is a marked-up version of the Jowett translation.

The Republic: Study Questions
To think about and look for when reading Book I.

The Apology
The mind altering depiction of the trial of Socrates. really, this work changed the world and if you read it well it will change you too.

Works by Plato
25 of his dialogues and letters from the 1871 translation by Benjamin Jowett

Plato's Allegory Of The Cave: A Springboard For The Matrix
A clever interpretation of Plato's allegory in relation to a philosophical movie The Matrix

Noble lies and perpetual war
Danny Postel and
Shadia Drury discusses Plato and other political philosophers in the service of contemporary theory and practice. This piece is particularly useful as an instance of how ancient philosophy remains relevant. Whether Drury's critique of Leo Strauss and current politics is accurate is open to discussion.


 

Plato: Women in the Ideal State - Part II
The Problem

The Context >>The Problem >> The Distinction >> The Analogy >> The Principle >> The Application >> The Conclusion

Given the necessity of addressing the status of woman in the Ideal State, Plato presents an extended argument from which he concludes that women should be educated in the same subjects and degree as men. You may follow this argument in the text of Book V of The Republic (only the section of Book V that deals with women is given here. For the whole text, see the resources on the left).

That women should be educated equally with men is a shocking conclusion, relative to the conditions of ancient Athenian culture. Indeed, this was a radical idea in Europe and the United States, until very recently. Note that in the U.S., the role of women in the military is still being debated. 2,300 years ago Plato boldly asserted that women may take full military duties along with all other aspects of society. Simply ask around and you will be able to find numerous people today who reject Plato's claim of gender equality.

In this brief analysis, I want to consider the structure of part of Plato's argument and the relevance of this argument to his over-all theme of contrasting appearance with reality.

Plato (speaking through the character of Socrates) recapitulates the main assertion;

Socrates: Then women must be taught music and gymnastic and also the art of war, which they must practice like the men?

Glaucon: That is the inference, I suppose.

Socrates: I should rather expect, I said, that several of our proposals, if they are carried out, being unusual, may appear ridiculous.

Glaucon: No doubt of it.

Socrates: Yes, and the most ridiculous thing of all will be the sight of women naked in the palaestra, exercising with the men, especially when they are no longer young; they certainly will not be a vision of beauty, any more than the enthusiastic old men who in spite of wrinkles and ugliness continue to frequent the gymnasia. (Rep. 452a-c).

Plato realizes that reasoning is not sufficient to bring most people to recognize a truth. Thus, he inserts the idea of appearance into the issue. He says; "several of our proposals, if they are carried out, being unusual, may appear ridiculous." If we follow the argument that he has given up to this point, we may be able to see that the proposals (e.g. educating women) are logically not ridiculous. Yet people are often more influenced by appearances than by reasoned truths. Plato's proposals will appear ridiculous because they conflict with the conventional practices and prejudices of the existing culture (i.e. appearances). Plato further emphasizes this theme by making a point of the appearance of naked women in the gymnasia. Exercise was part of Athenian education. Men frequently exercised together in the nude. If women were to join the men in education, then presumably they would exercise nude as well. Athenians, as most Americans, would think this absurd.

Now, whether men and women exercise together in the nude is not by itself the important question. If this is a problem, then solutions can be easily found (e.g. wear some clothes). Rather, Plato is making an important point by using an image, as he so often does. By focusing on the nakedness of men and women (especially as they strive to improve their bodies), he is emphasizing the role of appearance in the issue of equality and difference. When we strip male and female down to the skin, we have only the differences of appearance and body before us. Stripping away the clothes is symbolic of removing all of the assumptions that the culture puts upon the genders. This leaves us to question the real differences between woman and man, setting aside the differences that are created by appearance.

Stripped bare, the central question (as I construct it) that Plato gives to us is this:
We can see that the bodies of men and women are different. Yet, is there anything about those physical differences which require that we treat the two genders unequally?

In the remaining parts of this essay, that is the question I will investigate within Plato's argument.

The Context >>The Problem >> The Distinction >> The Analogy >> The Principle >> The Application >> The Conclusion

 

 

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