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Plato's Philosopher-King


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#1 Brian Smith

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Posted 18 June 2007 - 06:49 AM

Plato declares the State must properly be ruled by a philosopher. But does Plato every explain why a philosopher would ever want to be King?

Supposedly a philosopher is a man who progressively turns his back on the world of appearances - on the physical and the passions. Instead, the philosopher focuses his mind on the abstract. And he pursues this knowledge - true knowledge, which is knowledge of universals - not for any particular end, but simply for the sake of attaining knowledge. For Plato, the philosopher is indeed the pure lover of wisdom. And he loves wisdom, not for the sake of what he can do with his wisdom, but simply for the sake of loving it. If that is the case though - if a philosopher seeks and finally gains ultimate knowledge (that of the universal Good) - does Plato explain why this man would then return his focus to the World of Appearances (the world of the untrue) and try to run every aspect of it? In other words, does Plato explain why the philosopher be interested in anything but the world of Universals? Why should the philosopher be interested in the organization and control of particulars? Why should he be interested in this 'unreal' world at all - the world from which he has sought to isolate himself?

Put simply, does Plato state why a man who is supposed to have no interest in that which is 'unreal' should dedicate himself to being ruler of the unreal?

I can imagine a few reason on my own. But I am interested in learning if Plato provided any such reasons himself.
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#2 Arnold

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Posted 18 June 2007 - 07:15 AM

Put simply, does Plato state why a man who is supposed to have no interest in that which is 'unreal' should dedicate himself to being ruler of the unreal?

They didn't have video games to play in an 'imaginary' world, so this would have been the next best thing. :o

#3 B. Royce

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Posted 18 June 2007 - 12:37 PM

I guess he would want to control the "unreal" so that it wouldn't get in the way of (or upset his notion of) the "real".

#4 Betsy Speicher

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Posted 18 June 2007 - 03:57 PM

Plato declares the State must properly be ruled by a philosopher. But does Plato every explain why a philosopher would ever want to be King?

I would imagine a power-lusting philosopher would take wanting to be King as self-evident and not needing an explanation.
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#5 alann

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Posted 18 June 2007 - 05:48 PM

Plato declares the State must properly be ruled by a philosopher. But does Plato every explain why a philosopher would ever want to be King?

Put simply, does Plato state why a man who is supposed to have no interest in that which is 'unreal' should dedicate himself to being ruler of the unreal?

To get to the other side?
(oh, wait, that's the chicken question... but it would apply, theologically speaking)

To guarantee funding. (I don't think that reason's changed in 2,000 years. Why do professors of modern philosophy want to be department heads?)

#6 Brian Smith

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Posted 19 June 2007 - 03:31 AM

So no one is aware of any specific reasons Plato himself gave as to why a philosopher who supposedly has no interest in the unreal should dedicate himself to being ruler of the unreal?
Eschewing logic for facts is empiricism, not rationality
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#7 Betsy Speicher

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Posted 19 June 2007 - 04:38 AM

So no one is aware of any specific reasons Plato himself gave as to why a philosopher who supposedly has no interest in the unreal should dedicate himself to being ruler of the unreal?

At the end of that lecture, John got up to ask me a question. It was a question which, as a teacher, I would have been proud to hear from a student who'd taken six years of philosophy. It was a question pertaining to Plato's metaphysics, which Plato hadn't had the sense to ask of himself.

John Galt had a question in metaphysics and Brian has one in politics. I'll bet there are quite a few questions Plato hadn't had the sense to ask of himself.
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#8 Paul's Here

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Posted 19 June 2007 - 03:08 PM

Plato declares the State must properly be ruled by a philosopher. But does Plato every explain why a philosopher would ever want to be King?

------------

I don't think Plato asks this question. He frames the issue in the context of whom we think are better to rule. (I guess he assumes that everyone must be ruled.)

Inasmuch as philosophers only are able to grasp the eternal and unchangeable, and those who wander in the region of the many and variable are not philosophers, I must ask you which of the two classes should be the rulers of our State?

And how can we rightly answer that question?

Whichever of the two are best able to guard the laws and institutions of our State--let them be our guardians.

Very good.

Neither, I said, can there be any question that the guardian who is to keep anything should have eyes rather than no eyes?

There can be no question of that.

And are not those who are verily and indeed wanting in the knowledge of the true being of each thing, and who have in their souls no clear pattern, and are unable as with a painter's eye to look at the absolute truth and to that original to repair, and having perfect vision of the other world to order the laws about beauty, goodness, justice in this, if not already ordered, and to guard and preserve the order of them--are not such persons, I ask, simply blind?

Truly, he replied, they are much in that condition.

And shall they be our guardians when there are others who, besides being their equals in experience and falling short of them in no particular of virtue, also know the very truth of each thing?

There can be no reason, he said, for rejecting those who have this greatest of all great qualities; they must always have the first place unless they fail in some other respect. Suppose, then, I said, that we determine how far they can unite this and the other excellences.

Plato: The Republic - The philosopher-king
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#9 Brian Smith

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Posted 19 June 2007 - 06:52 PM

Plato declares the State must properly be ruled by a philosopher. But does Plato every explain why a philosopher would ever want to be King?

I don't think Plato asks this question.

And that is all I am trying to confirm.

I am familiar with the passage you quote from Plato. And, as you surmise, Plato indeed identifies the type of person who is logically best equipped to rule - for the philosopher has the knowledge of true reality, something not possessed by others. Thus he is the best candidate to rule. But I have not found an explanation from Plato for why a philosopher - a man who has turned his focus away from the unreal and onto the real - would want to be King of the unreal. All I am trying to do here is confirm I have not somehow missed an explanation for this from Plato. And given the responses so far, it appears I have not missed such an explanation.
Eschewing logic for facts is empiricism, not rationality
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I pledge allegiance to Existence
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#10 Paul's Here

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Posted 19 June 2007 - 07:48 PM

-----
But I have not found an explanation from Plato for why a philosopher - a man who has turned his focus away from the unreal and onto the real - would want to be King of the unreal.
----------

What is Plato's theory of volition or human motivation or intellectual development? Perhaps that would give a clue. Perhaps Plato assumed that once the philosopher-king agreed with Plato's philosophy, it would not make sense to not choose to be a king. Or perhaps Plato was simply putting for an argument whereby people would choose him to be the philosopher-king. Or perhaps Plato's rationalism simply got away from him.
ANTHEM
"It is my eyes which see,
and the sight of my eyes grants beauty to the earth.


It is my ears which hear,
and the hearing of my ears gives its song to the world.


It is my mind which thinks,
and the judgment of my mind is the only searchlight that can find the truth."


---------

"Life, if well spent, is long." - Leonardo

--------------------
(Avatar shows the Milky Way and our place in it.)

#11 Brian Smith

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Posted 19 June 2007 - 08:33 PM

What is Plato's theory of volition or human motivation or intellectual development? Perhaps that would give a clue. Perhaps Plato assumed that once the philosopher-king agreed with Plato's philosophy, it would not make sense to not choose to be a king. Or perhaps Plato was simply putting for an argument whereby people would choose him to be the philosopher-king. Or perhaps Plato's rationalism simply got away from him.

As I indicated in my first post, I too can imagine many reasons why "perhaps" Plato would assert such a premise. My only goal here is to learn if anyone is aware of any actual argument put forth by Plato in its support. And it appears that, like myself, no one else is aware of any such passage in Plato's writings - which, as Betsy indicated, suggests Plato indeed did not address this question.

Unless someone can identify a quote or passage from Plato which actually provides an answer to the question, one is lead to the conclusion no such answer from Plato himself exists (even though one might be able to posit a number of answers on one's own).
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#12 PhilO

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Posted 19 June 2007 - 09:09 PM

Unless someone can identify a quote or passage from Plato which actually provides an answer to the question, one is lead to the conclusion no such answer from Plato himself exists (even though one might be able to posit a number of answers on one's own).

You might also want to do an internet search to find those who are considered the top Plato scholars today, and then ask them. They'd probably be delighted to get a question these days. :o
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#13 Brian Smith

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Posted 19 June 2007 - 10:52 PM

You might also want to do an internet search to find those who are considered the top Plato scholars today, and then ask them. They'd probably be delighted to get a question these days. :o

The suggestion is a good one. And I will say that I have not limited my queries to just this site. Nor just to Objectivists on or off this site. I include The Forum in my questioning because there is a diverse lot of people here with a good understanding of philosophy and of Objectivism as well. As such, there are times I will find an answer - or a better answer - from individuals here than I get from 'professionals'.
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#14 baletindomewen

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Posted 10 October 2007 - 10:05 PM

We just (albeit hurriedly) discussed Plato's Republic in my Ethics class, and the professor gave the following explanation for why Philosophers should rule (I'm sorry I don't have the applicable passages with me right now...only my class notes):

All beings have a telos (Greek: aim, goal, purpose, end, reason for existence), and fulfilling your telos brings about eudaimonia (lifelong flourishing; sometimes translated as happiness). The soul has three parts: appetitive, passionate, and reasonable, and each part has a corresponding arete (virtue, proper functioning, excellence): temperance (right appetites), courage (right passions), and wisdom (reason). In society, each part of the soul corresponds to a class of society: workers (live primarily by the appetitive portion of the soul), soldiers (live primarily by the passions of the soul, namely, courage to protect the state), and Philosopher-Kings (live primarily for reason, such that they know what is best for society; know The Good). Each person, in order to achieve eudaimonia, needs to fulfill his or her telos. Principle of Specialization: everyone has a telos, and that's your job in society (division of labor, etc.) So if one is wise and knows what is best for society, one's telos is to be a Philosopher-King and rule others. Being a Philosopher-King also brings one closer to the Gods, since wisdom is the highest virtue, and ignorance is the source of all evil.

Essentially, the way the professor described it, a person may not necessarily want to be King, but what you want doesn't matter if it goes against your telos. What you want, and what exists in reality, may be contradictory (hence, what you want is flawed because you're ignorant about what you really want, and ignorance is evil), so what you want is irrelevant to what role you're supposed to play in order to fulfill your telos and attain eudaimonia.

#15 realitycheck44

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Posted 24 March 2008 - 01:30 AM

I know this thread is old, but Plato does answer this question in Book 7 of The Republic in a section titled "The Duty To Govern". He basically says that Philosopher-Kings have a duty to govern because they were given the gift of education and thus must govern the city. It's the modern "give back to the community" idea. I could expand, but it seems like Brian was looking for an exact place where Plato addressed the issue.
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#16 JRoberts

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Posted 24 March 2008 - 03:06 PM

I know this thread is old, but Plato does answer this question in Book 7 of The Republic in a section titled "The Duty To Govern". He basically says that Philosopher-Kings have a duty to govern because they were given the gift of education and thus must govern the city. It's the modern "give back to the community" idea. I could expand, but it seems like Brian was looking for an exact place where Plato addressed the issue.


Plato also hints at the fact, in Book IV when discussing his allegory of the cave, that the Philosopher King must rule because he is the one most reluctant to rule.

Take this into account. Plato states that the philosopher king is living the greatest life possible, that of contemplation. This life of contemplation allows him to "commune" in his mind with the Form of the Good. So why, you ask, would somebody who is in the "presence" of the Form of the Good want to "go back" into the cave to rule? He doesn't. But he "has" to make the necessary sacrifice of leaving the greatest possible state of virtue and happiness, because in not wanting to return to the world of man and rule it, he will therefore be less likely to be corrupted.

It's almost a Jesus like parable where somebody makes a sacrifice to leave the greatest possible good and happiness (Heaven, the Form of the Good), to live amongst the world of man, in order to save the wretched creatures who are not able to contemplate on their own. This is also true because Plato's highly elitist philosophy states that not many will be able to "contemplate" the Good without the help of their philosopher king ruling over them.

Ironically, for a historical account of what happened when Plato introduced this concept into the real world, see this letter written by Plato. He traveled to Syracuse in order to establish his Philosopher King, only for the project to fail and for Plato to get arrested. Reality always wins!
Rome was founded and extended by the labors of those men of old; their descendants made Rome more hideous while it stood than when it fell. For in the ruin of the city it was stone and timber which fell to the ground; but in the lives of those Romans we saw the collapse not of material but of moral defenses, not of material but of spiritual grandeur. The lust that burned in their hearts was more deadly than the flame which consumed their dwellings.

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