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The following is a dialogue recently discovered by the Greek Archaeological Society of Athens. Its discovery has created quite an uproar in the philosophical world because it is an obvious extrapolation, apparently written by Plato himself, on one of his most ambitious and confounding works, the Republic. The exact date of its origin is a matter of some debate. This historian, however, falls into the category of those scholars who place it very near the end of Plato’s life, possibly even as late as 348 B. C. E., the year of his death. The introduction of a host of characters previously absent in any writing of the time, and an uncharacteristic jocularity in some aspects of the conversation seem to suggest both an aged recognition of the passing of the torch to younger philosophers and disregard for the youthful worries of appearing silly or absent-minded. Perhaps the best suggestion of its age is found in the last line of the dialogue, “Good night, old man.” It is not difficult to see the connection between the twilight of the day and that of Plato’s life.
The body of the work is aimed primarily toward a better understanding of Plato’s most virtuous person, the philosopher-king. It is found in many of Plato’s works that he adamantly believed in a need for the philosopher to govern the city-state if any of the problems that plagued governments of his time were to be resolved. This dialogue seems to be his masterwork in defense of this belief. With the introduction of his main question –Is the philosopher-king truly just? – Plato takes his primary characters, Socrates and Tomarchus, through the many topics discussed in the Republic in an effort to clarify the philosopher-king’s virtue. Ironically, as is noted in the text, the answer to the question will bring his participants back to the original topic of the Republic in a brilliant reexamination of the true meaning of justice.
Finally, Plato offers one of the most striking arguments found in the writings of the ancients. The utilitarian idea of the good – the greatest happiness for the greatest number – has long been believed to have solidified with such precision in the work of John Stuart Mill in Utilitarianism. This text shows, however, that Plato has conceived the idea – to make as many people as possible, as happy as possible – in such a way as to suggest an almost prophetic understanding of Mill’s work many centuries later. Plato delivers a brilliant argument through the use of a younger contemporary known for his grandiosity of speech, his belief in democratic ideals, and his clarity of communication, Gordias. Plato jokingly attributes one of the most convoluted statements in the whole text to this character as a sort of ironic compliment. Plato offers a response to this democratic defense in order to conclude his conversation. It is hard, however, to know whether or not he believes himself to have persuaded Gordias, and the democrat in general, of the failings of democracy and the corresponding supremacy of aristocracy when the last resort of the aging man is essentially to agree to disagree.