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Why Plato thinks philosophers should be the true rulers

The solution tackles the issue "Why philosophers should be the true rulers of a city" from PLATO's "The REPUBLIC".

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Why philosophers should be the true rulers

Plato's aim in the third part of the Republic is to show that the ideal state can exist, that is, that it can be brought as close to existence as possible. The way to do this is to put the philosopher in charge. Adeimantus told Socrates that philosophers are useless to the society, whereupon Socrates replied that if philosophers are useless to the society, it is because society does not know how to use them. (The Republic of Plato, translated with introduction and notes by Francis MacDonald Cornford, New York, Oxford University Press, 1963, p. 194. Henceforth referred to by page numbers only.)

At the beginning of this part, Socrates is challenged to show that the ideal state is possible. Socrates' argument is that the ideal is the truth, hence the ideal is closer to the truth than is any practice. So, the ideal state or the ideal man is the true state or the true man. Men and state are always imperfect and their true state is to tend towards perfection. The real world is not this visible world; and the real man is not this visible man, as we know them. The real world, or ideal world, is the world of Forms. This real world is unchanging and eternal and can only be known by thought or by contemplation. There is therefore a world of reality and a world of appearance. Everything in this tangible world is but an imperfect appearance of the real world of eternal Forms.

Socrates employs the analogy of justice to make this point of approaching the ideal as close as possible clearer. "Well, said I, let me begin by reminding you that what brought us to this point was our inquiry into the nature of justice and injustice...suppose we do find out what justice is, are we going to demand that a man who is just shall have a character which exactly corresponds in every respect to the ideal of justice? Or shall we be satisfied if he comes as near to the ideal as possible and has in him a larger measure of that quality than the rest of the world?" (p. 177)

Socrates' interlocutor, Glaucon, agreed that it would be satisfactory. If one were to discover the essential nature of justice and injustice, one would then be in a position to know what a perfectly just and perfectly unjust person would be like and then use them as "ideal patterns" and not as tangible patterns. The way to do this would be to see how happy and unhappy each person (just and unjust) is. The inference would be that to the degree one tends towards justice or injustice, one tends towards happiness and unhappiness.

In the same vein, if a painter makes a perfectly, that is, ideally, beautiful figure, one should not take the painter to task by claiming that such a figure does not exist in fact. Socrates, of course, shows that the same is true of his proposed ideal state. It ...

Solution Summary

This post examines the arguments Plato advanced on why he thinks philosophers should be the true rulers of the state. It examines Plato's concept of what makes one a philosopher, what the ideal is and how it could be brought into existence, and to what extent. Plato's uses of analogies to clarify his points are also explored to bring the arguments to light.