Plato Was Half-Right

In the Republic, Plato defined a philosopher firstly as an occupation: lover of wisdom. He then distinguishes between one who loves true knowledge (as opposed to mere experience or education) by saying that the philosopher is the only person who has access to ideas – the archetypal entities that exist behind all representations of the form (such as Beauty itself as opposed to any one particular instance of beauty).

It is next, and in support of the idea, that philosophers are the best rulers that Plato fashions within the Ship of State metaphor: a “true pilot must of necessity pay attention to the seasons, the heavens, the stars, the winds, and everything proper to the craft if he is really to rule a ship” (The Republic, 6.488d).

In Plato’s Republic, he talks about the philosopher, i.e. the ruling class of the time, to be the ruling class, while the merchants were born to control desire, and soldiers were born to be guardians; like obedient beasts knowing instinctually friend from foe.

Since reason is the dominant factor in this triad (reason, desire, guardianship) that Plato believes is the essence of any city/community, he argues that Philosophers should rule because, “philosophical minds always love knowledge of a sort which shows them the eternal nature not varying from generation and corruption.” A true lover of learning, which a philosopher is, must be truthful, for being untruthful would go against their love and their very being itself.

Now, while I do agree with Plato on many levels, I call into question here his understanding of the philosopher King, that they are natuarally from the high society.  I believe this is a tactic, similar to Machiavelli’s The Prince, where he wrote it for a specific audience in order to gain favor.

This is where Plato was Half-Right.

With that being said, I believe Plato’s interpretation of the Philosopher King, not dependent on gender mind you, to be one perfectly balanced in this triad that he spoke of, not reason being the dominant force. Again, I believe he was writing to those in high society, the only ones who could read, network, and purchase his work, but his words speak volumes for those in history to really be able to analyze what he said.

Plato comments that reason, desire and guardianship compose an individual within the city and the city itself, and that reason should dominate desire and guardianship.  It makes more sense to believe that Plato was hinting that the real Philosopher King was one balanced perfectly and at all times of reason, desire and guardianship.


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