Context Plato’s Republic is widely considered one of the most important philosophical texts throughout history. It is a Socratic dialogue written around 380 BC and it involves one of Plato’s most noteworthy disciples – Socrates. In this book, looks at ideals such as justice, politics, and morals are discusses them in length through the medium of a lengthy conversation. The book begins with Socrates visiting Glaucon and Polemarchus at the Piraeus, and he is asked to join a celebration during this time. While the celebration unfolds, Socrates questions his friends about the definition of justice.
Each of the individuals provide their own version of the argument and present a unique point of view on the concept of justice. While each of the men have their own stance on the matter, they are unable to convince the other to see eye-to-eye on the matter. The topic then diverts to forms of justice with each character arguing that justice differs greatly when it comes to men and cities. While Socrates’ friends are convinced that men can abide by the notion of justice, Socrates notes that it is better to seek justice in a city than from an individual man. The discussion quickly drift’s to the topic of education after this point and here Socrates presents his points on the ideal educational system for the people of his city. Socrates brings up the guardians of the city and the education that guardians should receive in order to maximize their roles.
A major arc of the discussion concludes at this point in the title with the following idea: “If the city as a whole is happy, then individuals are happy. In the physical education and diet of the guardians, the emphasis is on moderation, since both poverty and excessive wealth will corrupt them” (Plato, 1943). Socrates now moves his mind to other topics such as wisdom, courage, and temperance, in an attempt to find justice in the city as a byproduct. The context now firmly shifts to the concept of mind, body and soul, with Socrates attempting to define the term ‘psyche’. This leads us to the main topic of discussion which will be highlighted in this paper – philosopher kings.
Book VI In this portion of Plato’s Republic, Socrates begins to talk about the ideal individuals who could do justice to a city and rule a land fairly. According to Socrates, Philosophers are capable of being exceptional rulers and they could bring about drastic and necessary changes to the current establishment. His friends begin to question his stance on the matter and attempt to further refine their definition of a philosopher: “Inasmuch as philosophers only are able to grasp the eternal and unchangeable, and those who wander in the region of the many and variable are not philosophers, I must ask you which of the two classes should be the rulers of our State?” (Plato, 1943).
At this point, Socrates begins to closely define the qualities that could help assist a philosopher with regard to being a guardian. The first quality, Socrates states, is the affiliation to the truth. “In the first place, as we began by observing, the nature of the philosopher has to be ascertained. We must come to an understanding about him, and, when we have done so, then, if I am not mistaken, we shall also acknowledge that such an union of qualities is possible, and that those in whom they are united, and those only, should be rulers in the State” (Plato, 1943).
Socrates now begins to talk closely about the qualities he has in mind: “Truthfulness: they will never intentionally receive into their mind falsehood, which is their detestation, and they will love the truth” (Plato, 1943). He justified this stance thusly: “He whose desires are drawn towards knowledge in every form will be absorbed in the pleasures of the soul, and will hardly feel bodily pleasure –I mean, if he be a true philosopher and not a sham one” (Plato, 1943). Socrates moves onto the second quality he believes necessary in a Philosopher King: “Another criterion of the philosophical nature has also to be considered.
There should be no secret corner of illiberality; nothing can more antagonistic than meanness to a soul which is ever longing after the whole of things both divine and human” (Plato, 1943). The philosophers then move onto another important quality which is vital for being a guardian and a philosopher: “There is another point which should be remarked. Whether he has or has not a pleasure in learning; for no one will love that which gives him pain, and in which after much toil he makes little progress” (Plato, 1943). Thus we see that Socrates has mentioned that there are many qualities that an individual needs in order to properly help the masses, and this includes being knowledgeable, temperate, and having a genuine affection for the learning process.
The discussion now moves onto a topic that is beyond qualities: “Then, besides other qualities, we must try to find a naturally well-proportioned and gracious mind, which will move spontaneously towards the true being of everything” (Plato, 1943). The group appears to be in agreement regarding this stance. “They are absolutely necessary, he replied. And must not that be a blameless study which he only can pursue who has the gift of a good memory, and is quick to learn, –noble, gracious, the friend of truth, justice, courage, temperance, who are his kindred?” (Plato, 1943). The argument begins to become stern at this point and Adeimantus is in firm disagreement with Socrates, saying: “Then how can you be justified in saying that cities will not cease from evil until philosophers rule in them, when philosophers are acknowledged by us to be of no use to them?” (Plato, 1943).
To this, Socrates provides a lengthy response: “They throng about the captain, begging and praying him to commit the helm to them; and if at any time they do not prevail, but others are preferred to them, they kill the others or throw them overboard, and having first chained up the noble captain’s senses with drink or some narcotic drug, they mutiny and take possession of the ship and make free with the stores” (Plato, 1943). Socrates continues by noting: “Thus, eating and drinking, they proceed on their voyage in such a manner as might be expected of them. Him who is their partisan and cleverly aids them in their plot for getting the ship out of the captain’s hands into their own whether by force or persuasion, they complement with the name of sailor, pilot, able seaman, and abuse the other sort of man, whom they call a good-for-nothing” (Plato, 1943).
He makes a final point by noting: “But that the true pilot must pay attention to the year and seasons and sky and stars and winds, and whatever else belongs to his art, if he intends to be really qualified for the command of a ship, and that he must and will be the steerer, whether other people like or not-the possibility of this union of authority with the steerer’s art has never seriously entered into their thoughts or been made part of their calling” (Plato, 1943).
Plato elaborated in the following way: “Neither is there any reason why I should again set in array the philosopher’s virtues, as you will doubtless remember that courage, magnificence, apprehension, memory, were his natural gifts. And you objected that, although no one could deny what I then said, still, if you leave words and look at facts, the persons who are thus described are some of them manifestly useless, and the greater number utterly depraved” (Plato, 1943). His last point on the topic was: “We were then led to enquire into the grounds of these accusations, and have now arrived at the point of asking why are the majority bad, which question of necessity brought us back to the examination and definition of the true philosopher” (Plato, 1943).
Plato then goes on to compare a philosopher to a plant, mentioning the importance for a scholar to grow and change according to the need of the hour. “And our philosopher follows the same analogy-he is like a plant which, having proper nurture, must necessarily grow and mature into all virtue, but, if sown and planted in an alien soil, becomes the most noxious of all weeds, unless he be preserved by some divine power” (Plato, 1943). He continues this analogy thusly: “Do you really think, as people so often say, that our youth are corrupted by Sophists, or that private teachers of the art corrupt them in any degree worth speaking of? Are not the public who say these things the greatest of all Sophists? And do they not educate to perfection young and old, men and women alike, and fashion them after their own hearts? (Plato, 1943).
Thus we see that in this portion of the Plato’s Republic the idea of the perfect philosopher is dissected by some of the greatest minds of this era. The concept of justice, wisdom, and sacrifice make way for a truly compelling discussion that comprises of the perfect individuals to help build a great city. Socrates firmly asserts that philosophers would make excellent guardians for a city and would possess all the necessary qualities in order to help a society progress steadily. All the societal, economic, and political decisions would be best made by a philosopher as they would possess all the required traits in order to make an informed decision on the matter. Works Cited Plato. Plato’s The Republic. New York: Books, Inc., 1943. Print