POLB70 Lecture 3: Plato
- PART 1: Who is the best ruler? The philosopher-king
- Hint: linguistic connection in Greek between ‘the best’ (aristoi) and ‘virtue’ (arete). The
best must be distinguished by possession of ‘virtue’. We also know that ‘justice’ must be
part of what it means to be virtuous. The best ruler therefore will probably be one who
beings justice to the city.
- Plato’s answer: the best ruler is the philosopher.
- The calliopes can only come into existence when (V.473c; VI.499a-c) when ‘philoso-
phers rule as kings or those who are called kins and leading men genuinely and ade-
quately philosophize, that is, until political power and philosophy entirely coincide.
- The bets ruler is what plato called a philo king. Philo is what makes one best suited to
What is philo? Who is a philo?
- II.375e-376b: the philosopher is like a dog
- The problem of false philosopher: there are some who seem to be like philo but are not
true philo. They are not lovers of wisdom (remember that Gr. philosophia is literally, the
love of wisdom) instead are (V.475d-476d) lovers of sights and sounds.
- Difference between:
- 1. Those who love only the sights and sounds of things.
- 2. Those who love the nature of the thing itself permanent and unchanging.
Example of beauty itself and examples of beautiful things:
- Some love only the sights and sounds of beautiful things
- Others love only the permanent nature of beauty itself
- Most people only can perceive sights and sounds of beautiful things
- Only philo can understand the permanent nature of beauty-what makes something
- Non philo have an imperfect understanding of things
- Others have no understanding at all.
Plato’s theory of knowledge
Three types of knowledge about beauty
- 1. Knowledge-to know what beautify is in itself - 2. Opinion-to know only instances of beautiful things, but not beauty in itself.
- 3. Ignorance-not to know anything about beauty (absence of knowledge or opinion)
- Remember Socrates in book I: I know nothing-Socratic method merely establishes ig-
norance. But it does not give us opinion or knowledge of justice.
- Plato’s point: only the philosopher can give us true knowledge. Most others can give
- Should government be based on opinion? (public opinion?)
The allegory of the cave
- Prisoners in a cave
- Socrates: they’re like us.
- Various interpretations
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; and for that very reason, thy
are not qualified to rule.
- If you don’t govern according to reason, necessarily you must be government form
opinion or ignorance, that us why:
- VI.484d: to would be absurd to choose anyone but philo as rulers of the idle city. Philo
govern according to reason and virtue, unlike others who govern according to ignorance
or opinion and by vice.
Why are philosophers best suited to rule? Consider those who are not philo:
- Those driven by appetites and not governed by reason
- Implications for Plato’s ideal city:
- VI.503b: the guardians must be philo kings
- In other words, money makers and auxiliary classes must be excluded from govt
- 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)
PART 2: Some problems with Plato's theory of philosopher-kings Problem 1: not everybody can be a philo king, because true philo 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.
- Two emerging models of politics
- 1. Mass politics
- 2. Elite politics
- Which is the better answer to our question about political leadership?
- Problem 2: no true philosopher really wants to rule
- Remember I.347d: in a city of god men, it came into being, the citizens would fight in
order NOT to rule.
- VII.520d: a city whose prospective rules are least eager to rule must of necessity be
most free from civil war.
- VII.591c-d: philosophers musty be forced to rule. We must allow them to do what
they’re allowed to do today...to stay there (outside the cave= outside public life) and
refuse to go down agin to the prisoners in the cave.”
- Problem 3: philosophers have a bad reputation
- Vicious or useless, not honored but slandered in the cities
- Is philo compatible or incompatible with democracy?
- Political inequality: as central to Plato's thought: if the best rule, it means other must
obey. Inequality is essential to justice. But doesn't this create resentment within the city?
Wouldn't disenfranchised want to rule?
- Analogy of the ship and the ship captain (VI.487e-489a): ships resemble cities and
their attitude to the true philo
- Is there such a thing as an unqualified political ruler? Plato thins yes: just as there can
be an unqualified chip captain (one who don't know the art of navigation), so too can
there be am unqualified ruler (one who doesn't know the art of government)
- Problem 4: if the best are truly in control, is there any need for law?
- An analogy: does the master-chef need a cook book to make her dishes?
- Does the best doctor need medical handbook to practice medicine?
- Fi the answer is no, then why would the best rule need law to practice the art of gov-