Biographies & Memoirs


I cannot say that this was a book I had been waiting to write. In fact, when I was approached with the prospect, my immediate instinct was to feel flattered, but to decline gracefully. As I explain further in the Introduction, I am neither a classicist nor a historian, even of the amateur variety. And worse than that, if in the present context there can be anything worse than that, I had never felt Plato to be a particularly congenial author. In some respects, as may be apparent from the book, I still do not. On the other hand, it is not really good enough for a philosopher to confess to a Plato-sized blindspot. He is too important, and too entrenched in the Western (and Islamic) tradition to ignore. The question has to be how we are to come to terms with him. Readers wanting to spoil the plot and skip to my own response to that, may read the last sentence of the book.

While I was dithering, I had the good luck to mention the invitation to a friend, the fine classical philosopher Julia Annas, whose own work on Plato infuses this book more than may be apparent. To my surprise, instead of laughing her head off, as she well might have, she immediately offered guidelines and support, even copying various papers and pieces of secondary literature for me herself. This great generosity made me think that perhaps the project was possible after all. Further reading, although filling me with dread at the sheer quantity of classical scholarship that has accumulated over the ages, also suggested that Republic has sustained, and still sustains, a wealth of philosophy, politics, and ethics about which one ought to have something to say. So I began to see how interesting the challenge might be, and of course once that idea has taken hold, the rest follows.

I suppose Julia did not singlehandedly conquer my diffidence at entering these unfamiliar waters, or I would have brashly knocked on more distinguished doors here in Cambridge, or in other centres where people who have devoted their lives to Plato are found. No doubt the book would have been better had I done so. But it would also have been longer, and I fear it would have tried the patience of my editor Toby Mundy even more than it has already done, as doubts and difficulties multiplied, turning into delays and rewrites, potentially without end. As it is, apart from gratefully receiving help from Paul Cartledge over Thucydides, I read what I could in Plato with mounting excitement, and before that could begin to cool, wrote the essay without any more ado.

It follows that my principal debts are to my agent, Catherine Clarke, who adroitly managed the initial flattery, and to Julia Annas for the confidence necessary to get started. Alice Hunt read the first draft with exemplary care, and suggested many improvements that I have tried to incorporate. I owe thanks to the University of Cambridge and to Trinity College for a period of sabbatical leave during which the work was done, and to my wife and family for putting up with a great deal of silence, abstraction and sheer exasperation, while I fought, as generations before me have done, with the greatest and most fertile single book of the Western philosophical canon.

Simon Blackburn


Spring 2006



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