This course will focus on Plato’s Republic, perhaps the greatest work of political philosophy ever written. With close and sensitive study, we will examine central questions that are raised by Plato, such as: What is justice? Who should rule? What are the characteristics of the best political regime—and are there worthy alternatives if the best political regime is unattainable?

Image: Frederic Edwin Church, Parthenon, oil on canvas, 1871

Bryan Garsten on the history of political thought


Bryan Garsten

Bryan Garsten is Professor of Political Science at Yale University. He writes on questions about political rhetoric and deliberation, the meaning of representative government, the relationship of politics and religion, and the place of emotions in political life.

Preview the Syllabus by Week/Session



Discussion Questions:

  1. Consider the opening scene. Why does a book about justice begin with a philosopher playfully forced into discussion with powerful young men?
  2. Analyze carefully the main definitions of justice offered during the course of the Which definition is best?
  3. Does anyone in the dialogue successfully refute Thrasymachus’s position? Do you emerge from Book One with a good reason to act justly?



Discussion Questions:

  1. Why is Glaucon not satisfied by Socrates’s arguments from Book One? What does Glaucon want most of all?
  2. Why does war arise in the course of creating an ideal city in speech? What is the significance of war for the domestic politics of the city?



Discussion Questions:

  1. What is the purpose of the so-called “noble lie” (414c–415d)? Does Socrates endorse the view that all political communities are ultimately built on lies?
  2. What is the purpose of the restrictions on poetry? Does Socrates offer a good case for censorship?
  3. Socrates argues that the soul has three parts, rather than the two (desire and reason) that are most often Why does he think a two-part model is insufficient to account for human politics?



Discussion Questions:

  1. Socrates introduces a science of politics according to which one type of regime decays into another. Pay special attention to the causes behind each change. What role does debt play? What roles do ambition, envy, and other passions play?
  2. What are the strengths of democracy as a regime type? What are its weaknesses? What is the likely means by which democracy decays into tyranny?

Other Courses You Might Be Interested In


Engage in close study of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics and Politics.

What Is Political Philosophy?

Explore the work of Leo Strauss, one of the twentieth century’s most consequential teachers and scholars of political philosophy.

Sophocles’ Antigone

Consider the conflicting understandings of the familial, the divine, and the political, and their proper relationships through Antigone.

Thucydides and Today’s Challenges

Read Thucydides as a series of case studies, setting up a discussion of contemporary strategic problems.

Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels

Revisit the quarrel between "the ancients and the moderns" and reflect on human nature with Swift's Gulliver's Travels.