Hey kids! Free Plato Book! And you can help me make it better!

by John Holbo on June 1, 2009

Yes, it is true! Visit the official book site. You can view the whole thing via Issuu.com, which has a very nice Flash-based reader: minimal and elegant but full-featured. And/or download the PDF for offline reading.

Want to see a neat trick? I can embed the book, like so.

Then you just click to turn the page (illegible at this size) or click to open and read in full-screen mode. It’s a very nice viewer they’ve got. Or I could make the embed open on a particular page, so when I’m blogging about a passage while teaching, I can just point the kids to the page in question. Or open the book itself onscreen in class and zoom so it’s readable. Neat, I call it.

The full book title (some would say: over-full): Reason and Persuasion, Three Dialogues by Plato: Euthyphro, Meno and Republic book I, with commentary and illustrations by John Holbo and translations by Belle Waring. It will be out in print by mid-August. The version that is up right now is actually the final draft – so far as I can tell. But I still have a week-and-a-bit to catch any last typos or mistakes. (I have a terrible suspicion that the Stephanus pages may have shifted a bit during the last edit. Gotta check that. How tedious, but oh-so-necessary.) I hope there aren’t any major problems with the book still, at this point. But if there are – well, I will do my best to make needed changes. So if you would like to volunteer your services as proofreader/last minute reviewer/critic, you are most welcome.

Not pre-publication peer-review. Not old-fashioned post-publication review. Perinatal peer-review. (Socrates always said he was a midwife. So I assume he would approve.)

The book is published by Pearson Asia (that’s a story in itself) and will be available in paperback by mid-August. They’ve been bringing out nice, inexpensive draft versions for my students in Singapore (that’s why I have an Asian publisher.) For this first general release I insisted on extending the deal I had insisted on for my own classroom use: I reserve the e-rights and so have a free hand to try manner of cool free e-stuff. I’m hoping one reward for my virtuous ways will be that some folks will want to adopt the book for classroom use. (Free e-availability is a big pedagogic bonus, I think.) And will then see to it that copies of the book are in school bookstores, so Pearson (and I) get paid a little. That seems fair.

OK, that’s all for now. If you want to talk Plato, please come on over to the book site. (And link! Please link! And help me edit the book, last minute, if you wouldn’t mind.) But it might be fun to chat about e-publishing in academia in this thread. If you are inclined. Doesn’t this sort of thing make a lot of sense. whatever you think of my particular book? I say it does.



Kent 06.01.09 at 2:21 pm

On page 28, first paragraphy, you have “who kept whispered no.” (typo)]]

I’ll keep reading. Very good stuff so far.


John 06.01.09 at 2:28 pm

E-publishing is a great idea, especially when the goal of discussing interesting ideas can be furthered through blogs. I’m at the beginning of my career and things like this make me excited for the future (even as the numbers of tenured faculty fall).


Kent 06.01.09 at 2:33 pm

Page 42, second line from the top: needs a space between “.” and “So the ambiguity…”

I’m still learning.


Kent 06.01.09 at 2:38 pm

Page 43, 2nd to last paragraph: “is that it is in virtue if sitting at a crossroads of data”

(“if” should be “of” obviously)

I have no idea if you even want this kind of copyediting done, but I can’t help myself.


Kent 06.01.09 at 2:51 pm

Page 48, very first (partial) sentence: I think you want to end with a ? rather than a .

Another missing space (between “way.” and “Parades”) on page 55, 5 lines up from the bottom.

2nd line on page 57 has “eistemology” instead of “epistemology”


MH 06.01.09 at 3:23 pm

Did you get permission from Plato’s estate? With the latest extention, I think his copyright is still good.


John Holbo 06.01.09 at 3:27 pm

Kent, thanks very much. I do want this sort of thing.


Kent 06.01.09 at 3:33 pm

Page 88, first few lines, has “the important think is to achieve knowledge” – should be “thing” obv.

If I had known it was going to be this long I wouldn’t have started reading. I do have to get some work done at some point today! But I’m enjoying myself thoroughly.


JohnM 06.01.09 at 4:49 pm

typo in the table of contents, “How to Read This Book II” you have “Reason & Persausion”


Hortense 06.01.09 at 5:04 pm

p. 109, “holines” sb holiness

p. 115, “movitation” sb motivation

p. 128, “you think you are…” etc., sb followed by /maybe you are, etc/, instead of “maybe you do…”

p. 131, “get it’s blood on you” sb get its blood on you (it’s possessive, the blood of the young pig)

p. 133, “goddess’ ” sb goddesses, I think

p. 139 “words.Let” sb words. Let” (missing a space, I believe)

More later. Those are wonderful illustrations; like the Vitruvian man parody.

My only question – Is this a philosophy primmer or a philosophy prime-er?


Salient 06.01.09 at 7:01 pm

p.24 end of top para – “Ethics is a thing you think not just something you practice, perhaps without really knowing what you are doing.”

That sentence could use a comma after “think,” I think.


Salient 06.01.09 at 7:23 pm

But it might be fun to chat about e-publishing in academia in this thread. If you are inclined.

I am inclined to be mildly irritable about textbook publishers’ sluggish pace in adopting e-publishing, and predict that textbooks and reference books will be made widely available in e-reader format exactly one generation after I complete my professional training, necessitating the repurchase thereof, etc, etc. I do hope you and your publisher are planning to sell some kind of e-reader edition, at least eventually!


HNT 06.01.09 at 8:52 pm

would this text be suitable for a high school student readership?


John Holbo 06.01.09 at 11:19 pm

Hey this is great, thanks for all the pesky catches.

As to whether the text would be suitable for high school students: I’m never really sure whether philosophy for high school students is a good idea. But I think my intro is at least as appropriate as any other one on the market. The language might be a bit tough for high schoolers. It’s not technical in a philosophy sense, but it hasn’t been simplified the way high school texts often are.

I’m glad you like the illustrations, Hortense.


e julius drivingstorm 06.01.09 at 11:43 pm

Several potential problems in one sentence, page 23 (ch. 5):

“Obviously we should be careful not to assume that, just because we can’t know much about the historical Socrates’ philosophy that therefore we there wasn’t much to know.”

Delete the last “we”.

Maybe it could be better punctuated. But I wouldn’t worry too much about that as long as it keeps flowing. I think I see a missing space between the comma and “just”. And the letter “l” in historical looks like a programming symbol. Does that kind of stuff count?


e julius drivingstorm 06.02.09 at 12:10 am

Sorry, that should have been subhead 5.


John Holbo 06.02.09 at 12:46 am

thanks e julius, yeah it needs another comma at least. It’s just not that great as sentences go. Too double or triple negative.

“We shouldn’t assume that this is all there was to the historical Socrates’ philosophy, just because this may be all we can know about it, given the limits of the historical and textual record.”

Maybe that would be better.


Salient 06.02.09 at 12:58 am

One possible rearrangement:

“This may be all we can know about the historical Socrates’ philosophy, but we shouldn’t assume this is all there was to it, given the limits of the historical and textual record.”


vivian 06.02.09 at 1:06 am

By the way, congratulations!


Nitish 06.02.09 at 1:07 am

I actually liked the original sentence (“Obviously, we should be careful not to assume …”) much better than the rewritten version. The latter just seems too long and clunky. I would even remove the ‘therefore’ and write: “Obviously we should be careful not to assume that just because we can’t know much about the historical Socrates’ philosophy, that there wasn’t much to know.”

This is probably just me, though; my taste is generally considered a little weird.


Salient 06.02.09 at 1:10 am

+1 Nitish.


Jimmy Doyle 06.02.09 at 1:11 am

Socrates didn’t “always say he was a midwife.” He never says it before the Theaetetus, and the image is almost certainly Plato’s, not Socrates’. See M F Burnyeat, “Socratic Midwifery, Platonic Inspiration,” Bulletin of the Institute of the Classical Studies 24 (1977), repr in Benson (ed) Essays on the Philosophy of Socrates.


Nitish 06.02.09 at 1:28 am

Page 16, line 4: “I’m going tell you” should presumably be “I’m going to tell you”.


John Holbo 06.02.09 at 1:28 am

Fair enough, Jimmy. A bit of an exaggeration on my part, for post purposes (I plead).

I haven’t read that particular Burnyeat piece, so I don’t actually have much of an opinion on the subject.


Nitish 06.02.09 at 1:34 am

Thanks, Salient; I think your rearrangement is the best so far, though. :-)

Another alternative is to move the last clause in your version forward, perhaps like this:

“Given the limits of the historical and textual record, this may be all we can know about the historical Socrates’ philosophy, but we shouldn’t assume this is all there was to it.”


engels 06.02.09 at 1:42 am

But it would be very unusual (to say the least) for someone to use the phrase ‘A always said that P’ and mean it literally (that throughout A’s life, A maintained that P, or even, I suppose, that throughout A’s life, A never for a moment stopped repeating P…) The ordinary use of the phrase ‘A always said that P’, I think, is only to suggest something like ‘A has maintained P for some time‘.


Nitish 06.02.09 at 1:43 am

Page 18, “The shrine/sanctuary at Delphi was the most sacred site in the Greek world, was thought to be the center of the world.” Is there a missing ‘and’, perhaps, or did you intend just that?


Righteous Bubba 06.02.09 at 1:51 am

You should have these All Nitpick threads more oftener.


John Holbo 06.02.09 at 1:57 am

Nitish, that one I did intend. Leaving out the ‘and’, that is. But maybe I should add the ‘and’.

Nitpicking is such friendly work. Primate grooming activity. I’m sure there’s a sound and undeniable evolutionary psychology explanation. We love to look for misplaced commas, because back on the veldt we could reinforce social bonds within the monkey troop by cleaning bugs out of each others’ hairy pelts. How not?


Nitish 06.02.09 at 2:15 am

As far as the ‘and’ goes, I think it’s fine without. I just wanted to check that that was indeed what you intended, as opposed to something you would be annoyed at noticing later.

I’m cracking up at the “friendly work/primate grooming activity” theory (or just-so story, if you will). Perhaps it isn’t an accident that some of my closest friends call me ‘Nit’.


Cara 06.02.09 at 3:19 am

Speaking of nitpicking–I found an extra “some” in the second to last line of the second para. p 76.

I’m really enjoying reading it all–I’ll probably use for my intro class in the fall.


John Holbo 06.02.09 at 3:33 am

Cara, thanks! If you really are interested in adopting, then be sure to email me so I can give you contact info, so you can be sure you can get books in reasonable time.

Something I probably should have mentioned in the post, but now that all this nits are piling up, I should definitely mention it. In defense of the proofers at Pearson: someone there is actually going through the manuscript right now, trying to catch all this stuff. Our little effort is running in parallel. So all this stuff is not quite as sloppy as it looks, since some of it would have been caught by other means. (But really I am very grateful for the help.)


John Holbo 06.02.09 at 3:34 am

‘this nits’. These nits, rather. Even my nits have nits.


Salient 06.02.09 at 3:35 am

HNT @ 13 / John @ 14: I’ve wondered why there does not exist an AP Philosophy test and corresponding high school class (for which this text seems great). Of course, that’s a clouded way of calling it a great text for undergraduate freshmen non-majors.


John Holbo 06.02.09 at 3:47 am

I actually took a university-level philosophy class in high school. We read Plato. I couldn’t understand it at all. But then again: I didn’t have the right cartoons. I certainly have no objection to a substantial subset of AP students purchasing – at a very reasonable price – copies of my handsome and readable text.


e julius drivingstorm 06.02.09 at 3:54 am

Page 41, #6. The first indented paragraph should read “What do we make of…” or “What are we to make of…”

Unless you’re trying to have it both ways.


e julius drivingstorm 06.02.09 at 5:57 am

Page 44, middle: “Your textbook may have introduced the concept point by representing them as small black dots.”

Maybe this should be improved.


e julius drivingstorm 06.02.09 at 6:11 am

btw, thanks for the free Plato book.


Katherine 06.02.09 at 8:10 am

This all seems like a great idea, this e-publishing lark. I have to say though that I hate trying to read lengthy texts off a computer screen and have to get a paper copy of something more than a page or two long. Are you intending this electronic version to be read on a screen, or is it your expectation – or would you be horrified at the idea that – people will print it out as a book (and thereby getting out of buying a paper copy)?


John Holbo 06.02.09 at 8:18 am

Hi Katherine, it’s fairly print-disabled as it stands. You can print individual spreads onscreen on Issuu.com. But you would then need to laboriously hit the print button 200 times, while waiting for pages to load in between, which is no one’s idea of a good time, and the print quality isn’t absolute tops.

The idea is that if you want to read it on paper, you should buy the nice (and reasonably priced, it will be!) paperback. We are hoping to get more course adoptions by offering a nice e-something, then have that large number of adoptions compensate for the somewhat lower rate of purchase, due to the easy e-alternative.


John Holbo 06.02.09 at 8:27 am

Let me just add: it’s annoying not to be able to print just a few pages of some electronic doc, for classroom use, or personal use. And it’s annoying not to be able to select, cut&paste short sections from PDF’s, again for fair use. So I’ve tried to make sure that such basic within-fair-use features are supported. Printing out the whole book, however, is not fair use. I wouldn’t exactly be horrified. But I’ve tried to make it not worth the trouble, for anyone who can actually afford a paperback.


andthenyoufall 06.02.09 at 8:49 am

These are the boldest translations of Plato I’ve ever seen! (Get it?) Is the use of bold formatting meant to convey emphases that are clear in the Greek but difficult to convey in English? Or to help students along?


Katherine 06.02.09 at 8:50 am

Fair point all John. I think you might be underestimating the determination of the cash-strapped student though!


John Holbo 06.02.09 at 9:28 am

If someone is really so cash-strapped that they are willing to work for several hours to print the thing out laboriously, I doubt whether I could get them to pay in any case. But point taken.

As to the bold use of bold. Here’s the explanation of that I gave over at the book site itself (in response to a similar inquiry.)

“There’s a funny story about the font. It’s Hypatia Sans Pro and it doesn’t have an italic version for the odd but sufficient reason that the project just never got done, apparently. The guy who was working on it went on to something else, and whoever is picking up the pieces isn’t done picking. We’ve been waiting a year and a half.

You can read about it here.


In comments, folks are banging on their keyboards for italics. You see me in there, way back in July of last year, inquiring when it will be available. I figured for sure it would exist by the time my book came out but we’re still waiting. When the time came I thought about switching to another font but I really like Hypatia Sans and I was worried that italics often don’t look good in screen displays, particularly at small sizes. They can really blind you. Since this work was supposed to have a major e-book life, I just stuck with the bold face option. It’s kinda grown on me.

In a weird way, the fact that pros aren’t using Hypatia Sans yet, because it’s got no italics yet, means that my book has a distictive typographic look. (To reach for the silver lining that way.)”


Hortense 06.02.09 at 4:12 pm

the Meno section was interesting in light of the whole Malhotra thread.

page 187, 2nd line, “basic arithmeti” sb basic arithmetic
page 190, 2nd line, “these ar” sb these are
page 197, 1st para, “six virtues families” sb six virtue families [? I think]
page 202, there’s an unclosed or unopened quote ( people’ )
page 206, “Galileo, very platonic thinker” sb a very platonic thinker [?]
page 207, there’s an incomplete thought in the last para; “writes disapprovingly of how” etc. is unfinished – can be fixed by changing “of how” to “about”
page 209 – inconsistent use of footnote methodology – I much prefer what you have here for footnote 9, rather than what is sprinkled throughout the rest of the text, which is in parens like (4); I assume this is one of the formatting glitches that your copyeditor will fix.
page 210, several instances (and elsewhere in the text) of quotes placed “thus”. instead of the more conventional “thus.”

If I find any more nits in the next section I will just email you.


engels 06.02.09 at 6:21 pm

However, I take it your point is that the real Socrates never said it at all, in which case it is well taken.


Tim O'Keefe 06.02.09 at 8:35 pm

A title nit-pick:

Republic Book I is not a dialogue by Plato, it’s one book within the dialogue Republic. So I find Three dialogues by Plato: Euthyphro, Meno, and Republic book I a little jarring. I guess they’re all dialogues in the sense of all being (depictions of) situations in which folks are talking to one another, but then why not something like “Three philosophical conversations by Plato”?

P.S.: Why no comment preview? I like to make sure I haven’t screwed up my HTML tags.


Tim O'Keefe 06.02.09 at 8:35 pm

A title nit-pick:

Republic Book I is not a dialogue by Plato, it’s one book within the dialogue Republic. So I find Three dialogues by Plato: Euthyphro, Meno, and Republic book I a little jarring. I guess they’re all dialogues in the sense of all being (depictions of) situations in which folks are talking to one another, but then why not something like “Three philosophical conversations by Plato”?

P.S.: Why no comment preview? I like to make sure I haven’t screwed up my HTML tags.


Tim O'Keefe 06.02.09 at 8:35 pm

Sorry about the double post–I thought I hit submit just once.


John Holbo 06.03.09 at 12:20 am

“Republic Book I is not a dialogue by Plato, it’s one book within the dialogue Republic. So I find Three dialogues by Plato: Euthyphro, Meno, and Republic book I a little jarring … but then why not something like “Three philosophical conversations by Plato”?”

Yeah, but I think ‘conversations’ would be a bit coy-sounding (why bother to relabel Euthyphro and Meno as conversations, since ‘dialogue’ is obviously a perfectly good translation of ‘dialogoi’, although ‘conversations’ would be as good, linguistically.) And there is a solid sense in which Republic book I is a stand-alone work, although also book 1 of 10. I think I’ll stick with what I’ve got, for lack of a better idea.


Tim O'Keefe 06.03.09 at 2:52 am

Yeah, I can see your reasons not to change the title. You’re right that Republic I stands apart (as does Republic X, in a different way). I vaguely remember reading about speculation that Republic book I was originally composed as a stand-alone dialogue (the Thrasymachus?) and then pressed into service as the introduction to the Republic. But as far as I know, there is absolutely no evidence for this (apart from the obvious ways in which Book I is far different from the rest of the Republic.


Salient 06.03.09 at 2:53 am

Since this work was supposed to have a major e-book life, I just stuck with the bold face option. It’s kinda grown on me.

I like this. Italics look pretentious: I can cause you to attenuate your vowel sounds, dear reader, right here from the page! And, with but a roll of my wrist from the Ctrl to the I, I can ensure you will envision me solemnly intoning the middle third of this sentence in a declarative voice, because it’s the part I thought was the most thoughtful; the rest is just embellishment. (Here, the italics convey my mock horror!)

Bold words, on the other hand, do not give me this impression (though I suppose Glenn Greenwald is trying his hardest to disabuse me of this naivete).

Please do let this format continue to grow on you. :-)


Kragen Javier Sitaker 06.03.09 at 9:01 am

The Flash doesn’t work properly in the version of Gnash I’m using. You might want to fix that (if it hasn’t been fixed in Gnash.) I’m running Gnash 0.8.4-0ubuntu1 on Firefox 3.0.10+nobinonly-0ubuntu0.8.10.1, obviously on Ubuntu Linux.


andthenyoufall 06.03.09 at 2:52 pm

John – I wasn’t actually rooting for italics but more wondering whether you and Belle take the bold to reflect something in the Greek. (Maybe I’m reading the wrong editions, but I’ve never seen bold or italics in a Platonic dialogue before!)

So for example, I could see translating “je m’en fous, moi” as “I don’t give a damn” in certain contexts, rather than as “me, I don’t give a damn”. That sort of thing.


jholbo 06.05.09 at 5:59 am

Yeah, andthenyoufall. Funny fact. I way over-use italics in my own writings. I have to cut back. I thought that by using bold instead I could somewhat cut down, because it would be more obvious to me that it looks weird, as I was writing it. I’m not sure whether that plan worked.

As to italics in the dialogue. Hell, the man knew not a thing about typography. They didn’t even know about proper spacing between words, the ancient fools. I am doing Plato the favor of adding italics/bold face for proper dramatic emphasis. When I die and meet him in limbo, with the other noble pagans, I expect to be properly thanked for this.



brandon 06.08.09 at 6:33 pm

On pg. 12, under section 4, there should be a period after the parentheses, even though there is also a question mark inside the parentheses. The question mark would be sufficient punctuation only if the parenthetic sentence was stand-alone, not inside a non-parenthetic sentence.


John 06.09.09 at 5:28 am

On pg. 217, in 71A, there is a quote that is unterminated (should be terminated on pg. 218.)

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