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Wh does Plato believe that onl Philosophers are fit to rule?

Written b : ALAN T

Rather than the practical pursuit we are accustomed to, for Plato, Politics is an intellectual

faculty. Governance by non-philosophers is to be governed by opinions, beliefs and self-interest;

in contrast the philosopher ruler will govern with virtue and justice with no hidden agenda. The

philosopher is in love, in love with learning, knowledge and truth. It is important to make a

distinction here between the acquisition of knowledge and the acquisition of truth, because

knowledge is not necessarily the truth.

With the help of an allegory, Plato explains the sensible world of illusion and belief, the place

where most people reside. The philosopher has stepped outside this world, into a world of

knowledge and truth. Plato makes use of a cave to explain this; I will use another means. A child

believes in the myth of Santa Claus, a child has good reason to suppose this myth is true, it is

inculcated when he receives Christmas presents, the media, family and friends consolidate the

belief, the child even writes to Santa Claus and receives a reply. On Christmas Day this belief

becomes a reality . Through education and maturity, the child will have doubts as to the truth of

this illusion. At some stage during the transition from childhood to adulthood he will acknowledge

the illusion, and further, during parenthood the myth really comes home to roost as knowledge

and absolute truth. (He now has a choice; he can put an end to the myth or continue the cycle)

What is distinctive regarding each stage, is how far they have come out of the cave. Through

illusion and belief to knowledge, or from artisan to auxiliary to philosopher.

The fundamental prerequisite to becoming a philosopher ruler is to have knowledge of the forms,

therefore knowing the truth. The forms do not exist in the sensible world, they can only be

found in the super-sensible world. Platos theory of the forms is partly logical and partly

metaphysical. The logical part is, take for example a dog, there will be many types of dog, and

general particulars regarding a dog. The form of a dog is universal and eternal it has no position

in space or time, it is not born when a dog is born, nor does it die when a dog dies. The

metaphysical part of the theory is the form of a dog is a perfect, unique dog, created by God.

The dog is real, particular dogs are apparent. Armed with this truth, the philosopher rulers will

always make the right decisions, and rule with total wisdom, justice and virtue. The rulers will

not own property, nor have money, they will be free of vices, excesses and desires. They will

have a Spartan existence (Plato was an admirer of Spartan culture). A ruler in Platos' society as

described in his dialogue The Republic would be incorruptible, an absolute model of sensible world

perfection and justice. If one was to look no further into Platos utopian society you could be

forgiven for thinking that the philosopher rulers would be the ultimate answer for political duties

and government administration. A more detailed examination of policy and structure is

necessary, prior to arriving at a conclusion.

The structure in Platos society is tripartite and hierarchical, made up of the philosopher kings as

rulers. The auxiliaries who will be in a sort of military role (prospective rulers) and the artisans

(workers) who will produce all the consumable and non consumable goods deemed necessary for

consumption and the continued economic viability of the society.

The philosopher rulers duties as administrators in platos society or commonwealth are to legislate, educate and to keep an ever watchful eye on the auxillaries and artisans, paying special attention to the auxillaries, especially those that are considered fit to be future philosopher rulers. All auxiliaries will be subjected to a series of tests, which will check their powers of resistance to self-interest, pleasure and other temptations. Plato writes in book 5,

“Whenever we find one who has come unscathed through every test in childhood, youth and manhood, we shall set him as a ruler to watch over the commonwealth; he will be honoured in life, and after death receive the highest tribute of funeral rites and other memorials. All who do not reach this standard we must reject.”

The philosopher rulers will inculcate certain myths, one royal lie will be told to the commonwealth. The most important part of it is the dogma, that God has created men of three kinds. The best are made of gold, second best silver; and the commoners are made of bronze and iron. Only those made of gold are fit to be rulers, those of silver will be auxiliaries; the rest will do the manual work. Children will be the same class as their parents. Gifted children can be moved up the classes and by the same token children born in the wrong class will be removed and placed in an appropriate class. Russell says,

“The Japanese have been taught since 1868 that the Mikado is descended from the sun goddess and that Japan was created earlier than the rest of the world” he continues, “ What Plato does not seem to realise is that the compulsory acceptance of such myths is incompatible with philosophy, and involves a kind of education which stunts intelligence.”

The auxiliaries will live together in dwellings; their food will be provided through the labours of the artisans, like a sort of wage for their guardianship, the spirit will be similar to that of a boot camp.

Plato in books 4 and 5 does pledge equality for woman in the commonwealth, education, and auxiliary duties are open to both sexes, and women will play a full part in the commonwealth. Plato appears to address the issue either as a compromise or his intentions are perhaps disingenuous with regard to the actual role of women.

Cornford says, “ This topic is introduced as if it were a digression. Socrates is interrupted as he starts upon a description of the degenerate types of constitution and human character. “

Further, if men and women are to be equal, and live, work and play together as guardians of the commonwealth, it is noted that women are not addressed in the following dialogues.

“ And is there any pleasure you can name that is greater and keener than sexual pleasure?” “No”

“Nor any that is more like

founding, you will have a law to the effect that a lover may seek the company of his beloved and, with his consent, kiss and embrace him like a son, with honourable intent, but must never

be suspected of any further familiarity, on pain of being thought ill-bred and without any delicacy of feeling. “

_” “ It appears then that in this commonwealth we are

And no mention of women here either, “Boys and youths should be given a liberal education suitable to their age; and while growing up to manhood, they should take care to make their bodies into good instruments for the service of philosophy.”

It is clear and not disputed that Plato had an admiration for Sparta, who had homosexual relationships built into their training regime. Russell says, “Homosexual love, male if not female, was a recognised custom in Sparta”.

Platos plan for the continuation of the commonwealth, with regard to reproduction were based on eugenic principles, gold must only be paired with gold to ensure a golden offspring, silver with silver, and bronze with bronze. (This actually helps to inculcate the royal lie ) This eugenic reproduction will occur during marriage festivals , which will take place once or twice a year. The prospective parents will believe that destiny or luck will select their bed companion by the drawing of lots, actually they are being deceived because the pairings are prearranged. These marriages are dissolved at the end of the festival, which continues for about a month. Any child born outside this official union is deemed a bastard and will be taken away and subjected to infanticide. In any case, children produced out of the union are taken away and cared for by nurses. It can be seen that family bonding and emotion does not occur, parents and children are never aware of each other s identity. Plato believes that this is beneficial and necessary to the survival of the commonwealth, and that the equilibrium and status quo of society is never to be compromised.

The political alternatives available to Plato were in his opinion imperfect constitutions. They were

a Timarchy, a military aristocracy like Sparta, it would be possible for the commonwealth to

decay into a Timarchy if the auxiliaries gained power. An Oligarchy is government by the few, who would be money lovers, and the poor are despised. Democracy, in Platos view is mob rule.

The philosopher rulers qualification and fitness to rule was outlined earlier, they have a knowledge of the forms, which has led them to the ultimate truth they will govern with virtue, reason and justice. In Platos society the philosopher is the best option. Although it must be said Plato sometimes loses the essence of philosophy altogether. His philosophy supports the regimentation of men and ideas, censorship, collectivism and thought control. He does allow recourse for metaphysical speculation but he occasionally displays the kind of dogmatic approach normally the domain of philosophers of religion. Roman Catholicism is a scholastic institutionalised society, similar to Platos utopia in the republic. To conclude, a comparison will be made using the Roman Catholic Church as a model.

It is worth looking at two of Paul the apostle s writings, the first to the Romans and the second

to the Philippians.

ROM. Ch.12.4 “For as we have many members in one body and all members have not the same office”

The Commonwealth is divided into three classes; citizens are told they are gold, silver or bronze.

Phil. Ch.4.8. “Finally brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”

The rulers of the Commonwealth spend most of their lives thinking on these things.

In organisation, nature and duties the Catholic Church is like the Commonwealth, the Pope has a similar role to that of Plato. The Patriarch and Cardinals are the philosopher rulers. Part of their

duties are to keep an ever watchful eye on the Catholic commonwealth , with a view to

inculcating certain knowledge and beliefs to the bishops and priests (auxiliaries in the Republic).

The parishioners are the commoners, (artisans). From priest to pope it is very much a male

dominated affair, with a strict regimental almost spartan existence, romantic heterosexual love is

not permitted, their lives are consumed with a constant yearning for the knowledge of the good.

They are monitored, and any deviance will be punished with re-education or excommunication.

(Dissenters would be banished in the republic) They do not have personal property or money.

The priests survive on donations from the commoners (the producers). Family life doesn t exist

(only the commoners are allowed family life). Until recently, children born out of wedlock were

given up or

orphanage. Occasionally commoners (artisans) volunteer for training to become priests

(auxiliaries). Not everyone makes it, it is not an easy process, the priests have to learn to

control their desire and thymos and like their philosopher rulers be guided by reason. By and

large the Roman Catholic philosopher rulers achieve remarkable results in achieving a conforming

status Quo in their Commonwealth , considering it is a large-scale world-wide affair. Platos

looked after by the catholic commonwealth which would usually mean a convent or

intention was to have his commonwealth based on a much smaller scale, in more manageable

geographic locations.

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