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The Piety of Thought in Plato's Republic, Book 1

Darrell Dobbs
The American Political Science Review
Vol. 88, No. 3 (Sep., 1994), pp. 668-683
DOI: 10.2307/2944802
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2944802
Page Count: 16
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The Piety of Thought in Plato's Republic, Book 1
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Abstract

In the opening sentence of the Republic, Socrates recounts his intention to combine the operations of piety and theoretical speculation. Nevertheless, many readers regard Cephalus' subsequent abandonment of rational inquiry to perform certain sacred rites as a definitive indication of Plato's opinion that piety and philosophy are fundamentally incompatible. I find this interpretation untenable inasmuch as it depends upon the misidentification of Cephalus as the dialogue's representative of piety. I suggest that the true nature and philosophical significance of piety are indicated instead in Socrates' conversation with Cephalus' son, Polemarchus. As this conversation unfolds, Polemarchus' pious inclinations culminate in a perception of the dearness of the unknown good. Inspired by this piety, Socrates and Polemarchus defend the conventional paragon Simonides and, at the same time, launch a truly philosophical inquiry into justice.

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