Plato for the Ambitious

Dr. David O’Connor discusses Plato’s ambivalence toward political ambition in the Republic

Plato expresses an ambivalent attitude about political ambition in the Republic. On the one hand, Plato invites the reader to experience the excitement of making real changes in the world that can make people’s lives better. On the other hand, this spirit of reform is always chastened by passages that promote an attitude of resignation to the inherent limitations of politics. Socrates’ interlocutor Glaucon comes to the realization that the ideal city can only be perfectly realized in heaven. His realization does not lead him to abandon the hope of political welfare, however, but only to avoid pursuing it beyond the point of reason.
David K. O’Connor is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame.