The Sun

The Line

The Cave


The Republic

“So could our state really work?”

The Philosopher King

N o, it probably would not work - but it's still an ideal to aim at. Human misery, however, will continue until philosophers become kings or existing kings become philosophers.

The philosopher (from Greek philo- love + sopho- wisdom = "lover of wisdom) is defined as: one who deals with knowledge (episteme) and not merely belief (doxa). Knowledge must be of things that are, not of things which are becoming (something else). Knowledge is thus concerned with the FORMS (Greek idea - which doesn't mean "idea") of things, not with things as they appear to us.

(Don't worry about the precise details of all this - you can understand the Republic without having to follow the details of Plato's strange epistemology. Basically he is saying you can't know a thing if it does not stay still for you to study it properly (Plato had learned from Heracleitus that, in our world "everything is in motion" - Greek panta rhei: all things flow).

Thus you can't know about tables from looking at the one in your kitchen, as that is in the process of becoming something else - a pile of old wood? a tree-house? ashes? Somewhere there exists the original FORM of table, which is perhaps a sort of heavenly blueprint or maybe algorithm from which all earthly tables derive their tableness [told you it was weird - Aristotle thought so, too - but it is NOT the main be all and end all of Plato's philosophy])

But in real life all philosophers are total weirdos, says Adeimantus, or they do philosophy for a short while and give it up. Socrates' reply: what do you expect in a democracy like ours? He goes on to give us his famous analogies for democracy in action - living politicians please note:

In a democratic state like Athens, the Philosopher will lead a quiet life, and won't have scope to help the community: although it may be possible - though hard - to change it for the better.

We are reminded of the qualities the rulers will need and told that their education will have to be long - or he/she will never reach the "highest form of knowledge". This of course is the FORM OF THE GOOD. All other knowledge will be useless without this. Once we get knowledge of it we will have the key to life - we'll know why things are good and be able to make the right political and ethical choices.

Plato tries to explain the relationship of the world of FORMS to our world in three famous comparisons:

Plato's Republic : Part 7


How are the Guardians ever going to understand all this?   [Next Page?]