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Poetic Justice

Rereading Plato’s "Republic"

Poetic Justice

Rereading Plato’s "Republic"

When Plato set his dialogs, written texts were disseminated primarily by performance and recitation. He wrote them, however, when literacy was expanding. Jill Frank argues that there are unique insights to be gained from appreciating Plato’s dialogs as written texts to be read and reread. At the center of these insights are two distinct ways of learning to read in the dialogs. One approach that appears in the Statesman, Sophist, and Protagoras, treats learning to read as a top-down affair, in which authoritative teachers lead students to true beliefs. Another, recommended by Socrates, encourages trial and error and the formation of beliefs based on students’ own fallible experiences. In all of these dialogs, learning to read is likened to coming to know or understand something. Given Plato’s repeated presentation of the analogy between reading and coming to know, what can these two approaches tell us about his dialogs’ representations of philosophy and politics?           

With Poetic Justice, Jill Frank overturns the conventional view that the Republic endorses a hierarchical ascent to knowledge and the authoritarian politics associated with that philosophy. When learning to read is understood as the passive absorption of a teacher’s beliefs, this reflects the account of Platonic philosophy as authoritative knowledge wielded by philosopher kings who ruled the ideal city. When we learn to read by way of the method Socrates introduces in the Republic, Frank argues, we are offered an education in ethical and political self-governance, one that prompts citizens to challenge all claims to authority, including those of philosophy.

288 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2018

Ancient Studies

Philosophy: History and Classic Works

Political Science: Classic Political Thought


"Jill Frank’s Poetic Justice makes an important contribution to the ongoing conversation about the contemporary relevance of Plato’s political philosophy. Philosophers, political theorists, and classicists will find much to grapple with in Frank’s re-assessment of how the Republic aims at cultivating philosophically-engaged and self-reflective citizens. . . . Poetic Justice exemplifies the work of political philosophy. Philosophy and the responsibility of reflective citizenship come together in new and exciting ways."


Table of Contents

Prologue                      Learning to Read
1                                  Reading Plato
2                                  Poetry: The Measure of Truth
3                                  A Life without Poetry
4                                  The Power of Persuasion
5                                  Erōs: The Work of Desire
6                                  Dialectics: Making Sense of Logos
Epilogue                      Poetic Justice
Works Cited


Foundations of Political Theory section, American Political Science Association: David Easton Award

International Conference for the Study of Political Thought: Elaine and David Spitz Book Prize

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