Ideal Characteristics of Plato’s Guardians
The characterisitics of the ideal guardian is summarized in those words by Socrates in the second book of the Republic : “[H]e who is to be a really good and noble guardian of the State will require to unite in himself philosophy and spirit and swiftness and strength. . .” Swiftness and strength is deemed necessary as the guardian is to be like a well-bred watchdog, who ought to be “quick to see, and swift to overtake the enemy when they see him, and strong too, if when they have caught him, they have to fight with him.” The requirement of ‘spirit’ is then derived from this, because if he is to fight well he ought to be brave, and Socrates finds that he is not likely to be brave who has not spirit, and that “the presence of it makes the soul of any creature to be absolutely fearless.” Finally, it is also found that the guardian must be a philosopher, or a lover of wisdom. With only strength and spirit, the guardians, Socrates says, will likely be savage against each other, which is certainly undesirable. The guardians ought to be dangerous only to their enemies, but gentle to their friends. Therefore, he must have that quality which enables him to “distinguish the face of a friend and of an enemy only by the criterion of knowing and not knowing.” This quality, Socrates says, is love for learning or wisdom, or philosophy. These characteristics are developed and nurtured by education. Socrates prescribes musical education for the soul, and gymnastics for the body.
This musical education seems not to refer to ‘music’ in the modern sense; it includes tales, poetry, myth – what we would call ‘arts’, though this in turn would include things seemingly not included by Socrates. Their education, or at least the education that Socrates specifies, is moral in nature, rather than intellectual. It involves the censoring of certain tales, and retaining only those that would promote the virtues required of a guardian. There is...
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