LECTURE 3: PLATOS REPUBLIC
1. Review of Last Lecture
Begins with debate on justice
Socrates explains what justice IS NOT (specifically, Thrasymachus' definition of justice being the
advantage of the stronger
Plato's strategy to show what justice is:
Prove that justice is valuable as an intrinsic good (good in and for itself) but also as an
instrumental good (good for something else) (the just life is essential or a happy life)
The Analogy: The just city must also be a happy city (Justice in the soul is justice in the city)
o Justice in the city requires that all members to their own work; similarly, justice in the soul
requires that the parts perform their own function
Who should rule the city?
o Plato (III.412c: Only the best should rule--aristoi)
But who is the best?
Linguistically, the Gr. word for 'best' (aristoi) is similar to the Gr. word for
Strong correlation b/w the two, hinting at, "the virtuous person is the
According to Plato, the best ruler is a philosopher (better yet, a philosopher-king)
2. The Philosopher-King: The Best Ruler
The kallipolis (ideal city) can only come into existence when (V.473c;VI.499a-c) when
"philosophers rule as kings or those who are called kings and leading men genuinely and
adequately philosophize, that is, until political power and philosophy entirely coincide"
What is philosophy, and who is a philosopher?
o II.275e-376b: "The philosopher is like a dog"
Dog treats what he doesn't know as an enemy, but loves what it knows
o Problem of false philosophers: there are some who seem to be like philosophers but are not
true philosophers. They are not lovers of wisdom, instead, they are (V.475d-476d) "lovers of
sights and sounds"
Those who love only the sights and sounds of things
Most people (false philosophers) can perceive sights and sounds of beautiful things
o Those who love the nature of the thing itself permanent and unchanging
Only philosophers can understand the permanent nature of beauty- what makes
Plato's theory of knowledge
o Three types of knowledge about beauty
o Knowledge To know not only examples of beauty, but what beauty is in itself
(the form, idea of beauty in itself)
o Opinion To know only instances of beautiful things, but not beauty in itself
3. Ignorance Not to know anything about beauty (= the absence of knowledge or
o Remember, In Book 1, Socrates said: "I know nothing". The Socratic method merely
establishes ignorance, but does not give us an opinon or knowledge of justice
o Plato's point: only the philosopher can give us true knowledge. Most others can give us-at best- an opinion
Should government be based on opinion? Public opinion?
The Allegory of the Cave
o The Political meaning of the Cave Allegory
The 'best rulers' do not rule from ignorance or opinion; they rule only from knowledge
Only philosophers have knowledge- like the liberated prisoner who left the cave
But lovers of opinion or ignorance are not philosophers (can only see the shadows on
the wall); and for that very reason, they are not qualified to rule.
If you dont govern according to reason, necessarily you must be governing from
opinion or ignorance. That is why:
VI.484d: "it would be absurd to choose anyone but philosophers as rulers of the
ideal city. Philosophers govern only according to reason and by virtue, unlike
others... (not finished)
Why are philosophers best suited to rule?
o Consider those who are not philosophers
Sophists Tried to teach ability to engage in fraudulent behaviour and claimed to
have knowledge (but in actuality only had opinion.
Democrats Anyone can be in a position to rule (note: in classical Greece, election
was rare, and position of power were enacted by lottery)
And... Those driven by appetites and not governed by reason
Implications for Plato's ideal city:
o VI.503b: The guardians must be philosopher-kings
In other words, money-makers and auxiliary classes must be excluded from
Political exclusion: If the aristoi is to rule, it means that the demos (the masses,
the poor, the people) must never rule. Democracy can never be the best form of
rule. The people lack virtue (arete)
Problems with Philosopher Kings
Not everybody can be a philosopher-king, because true philosophers are so rare
See VI.494a, VI.497b-c, VI.503-4
'mass politics' is suboptimal: VI.497b "none of our present constitutions is worthy of
the philosophic nature"-- including democratic Athens
o Two Emerging models of politics
Mass Politics: The kind of democratic politics with the dispersal of power (democracy)
Elite Politics: Power is concentrated within a small circle of individuals.
Which is the best answer to our question about political leadership? Who governs better (a small
group or varied)?
No true philosopher really wants to rule
o Remember I.347d: "In a city of good men, if it came into being, the citizens would fight in
order NOT to rule"
o VII.520d: "A city whose prospective rulers are least egar to rule must of necessity be most
free from civil war"
VII.591c-d: "Philosophers must be forced to rule. "We mustn't allow them to do what they're
allow to do today...to stay there (outside the cave/public life) and refuse to go down again to
the prisoners in the cave"
Knowledge of philosophers must be shared with those who are ignorant or unaware
Philosophers have a bad reputation
o Vicious our useless, not honoured, btu slandered in the cities o Is philosophy compatible or incompatible with democracy?
o Political Inequality as central to Plato's thought: if 'the best' rule, it means others must obey.
Inequality is essential to justice. But doesn't this create resentment within the city? Wouldn't
the disenfranchised (excluded) want to rule?
If 'the best' exist, by definition, those who do not satisfy conditions of being the best
are less than that.
o Analogy of the ship and the ship captain (VI.486e-489a): 'Ships resemble cities and their
attitude to the true philosopher'
Is there such a thing as an 'unqualified' political ruler? Plato thinks yes: Just as there can be an
unqualified ship captain (one who doesn't know the art of navigation), so too can there be an
unqualified ruler (one who doesn't know the art of government). → an untrained person will
endanger others, that is why you need a chain of command
If the 'best; are truly in control, is there any need for law?
o An Analogy: Does the master-chef need a cookbook to make her dishes? Does the best
doctor need a medical handbook to practice medicine?
o If the answer is no, then why would the best ruler need law to practice the art of government?
o Another contrast:
Rule of Law
Rule of (the best) man
You would nee