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Colloquium 1: On The Decline Of Political Virtue In Republic 8-9

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image of Proceedings of the Boston Area Colloquium in Ancient Philosophy

The political teaching of the Republic is rooted in its peculiar use in book 4 of what would later be canonized as the four cardinal virtues. Socrates’ account of four deficient political regimes in Republic 8-9 is framed as an examination of four kinds of vice, and so may be read as a study of the political consequences of a serial loss of these same virtues. Socrates’ colorful description of the inferior regimes and their corresponding human types confirms that Plato has represented generational changes occasioning transitions in regime-types as just such a gradual breakdown of virtue as a whole. The particular virtues provide the main fourfold scheme underlying the seemingly historical logic of political decline, while realistic touches and psychological explanation supplement rather than determine the overall scheme. Close literary attention is necessary to bring out this character of Socrates’ analysis of political degeneration.


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