Why does Plato argue that rulers must be philosophers?
Word Count: 2147
Philosophers love all truth, and hate untruth” (Plato. The Republic). This is the primary remise, upon which Plato basis his entire theorem of the philosopher King, and the justification for their ascension to power. A recurrent theme within The Republic is the exploration by Plato into what is the ideal society? Is it merely an abstract impossible concept, or is there an ideal method of how to organise ourselves into human communities? Within this essay I intend to examine Plato’s reasoning and justification for his belief in philosopher rulers and question whether they are, in fact, the best people to govern society. The current democratic method of organisation of the “polis” was not suitable for Plato as he considered ruling far too vital a role in society to be left to the untrained. Instead, it should be left to those who have the knowledge and more crucially, the wisdom required to comprehend such a task. It is, however, at this point, we should consider that a significant factor in Plato’s opposition to democracy was that the Athenian democracy had condemned Socrates to death. It is important to remember that the liberal democracy which we currently experience is very recent and not at all the concept of democracy that Plato speaks. In fact, the idea of all adults over the age of 18 being able to vote would indeed be absurd to someone such as Plato. The democracy, of which he speaks, would be of greater equivalence to a modern day referendum, in which all those eligible to vote gather to debate and eventually vote. Plato thus set out to craft a new structural form for the polis, in simple, an ideal society. This constituted three general social classes and indirectly three separate polis’s within the whole Kallipolis. At the lowest end of this, was the “producers”, although Plato pays little attention to this class, it compromises people who were engaged in economic activities, such as, farmers and manufacturers. Although of no political importance, they served the crucial function of providing the economic and material requirements of the community. Primarily, Plato places them as obedient workers under the control of the auxiliaries. This constitutes the first polis, “one in which money lovers, and only money lovers are made as happy as possible” (Reeve C.D.C p187 1984), and thus becomes a “luxurious polis” (Plato The Republic p372 e). The second level on Plato’s ideal society was that of the auxiliaries. It was the auxiliaries who, in current times, would complete the actions of the military civil service and public offices i.e. Police. Consequently, it was their occupation to enact the decisions made by the ruling class. It would be from the elite of the auxiliaries that a philosopher guardian would emerge, as they had worked their way through the education and training. Therefore, this emerges as the second polis in which “unnecessary appetites” (Reeve C.D.C p178 1984) are removed “this is the part of the Kallipolis in which honour-lovers are made as happy as possible.” (Reeve C.D.C p178 1984) However, it must be pointed out that the auxiliaries also shared this second polis with the guardians who were not chosen as “philosopher kings.” Finally, it was the Guardians who were left at the top of the society, as the rulers. This was the elite group above the rest of society, only those who completed all the statutes laid out during their training would be able to become a recognised philosopher guardian at the age of 50. These would be the people who had a true understanding of the forms and ultimately, of what is good and just. With this Plato has set out his “eidos” for the ideal society and his belief that those most suited to govern this society were his “Philosopher Kings” who were chosen from this Guardian class. It is at this point, that I believe we must further engage with what in fact it means to be a philosopher, and how...
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