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Great Books Stream #2 – Socrates on Sexual Equality in "Plato's Republic"

Sun, 5/28, 12pmPT – featuring @tldr, @grace, @ted, @aaina, @phil, @timdaub, @seanhart and more.

Sunday 5/28, 12pmPT –> channels/tldr

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10 pages -> socrates-sexual-equality.pdf

About the passage

Is being a man or a woman as unimportant to our natural purpose as our choice of haircut? Should our biological sex be affecting the way we are choosing our work? What are some practical implications of including or not including biological sex in our understanding of an individual’s true nature?

This week we will think about sexual equality from the radical perspective of Plato’s Socrates. Our passage comes from Plato’s Republic, which depicts Socrates’ most thorough investigation of the question “What is justice?” In order to understand the nature of justice, Socrates must first understand the nature of the city. Instead of referring to existing models, Socrates decides to build a “city in speech” with the help of the young men who are demanding the definition of justice from him.

One of the most radical elements of Socrates’ city in speech is that women will not be bound to childbearing and domestic management, but will equally share with men the most critical work of the city. While the conclusion that Socrates draws may seem very obvious (or even morally necessary) to us on the surface, it is worth noting two things:

  1. It was far from obvious to Socrates’ contemporaries.

  2. Socrates’ might have reached this conclusion by using different premises than we do today.

This passage, then, is an opportunity to return to the question of biological sex at a root; and to see an example that truly original thinking is never necessarily determined by the conventional beliefs of its time.

Learn more

To read about the Great Books Stream series as a whole, visit the introductory note.