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The Republic by Plato - Barron's Booknotes
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BOOK VI: THE PHILOSOPHER KING

Socrates begins this book by expressing his regret that the main topic of discussion-"discerning the differences between the just and the unjust life"- limits the depth of his remarks on the differences between the philosophic and nonphilosophic life. Nevertheless, the discussions here are devoted to explaining the nature of philosophers and philosophy. Five aspects of philosopher kings and their special kind of knowledge are explored: 1. the attributes of true philosophers; 2. why philosophers are considered bad sorts; 3. the possibility of philosopher kings; 4. the Idea of the Good; and 5. the Divided Line.

ATTRIBUTES OF TRUE PHILOSOPHERS (484a-487a)

Why should philosophers be kings? Answering this question, Socrates says, is the next logical step in theoretically establishing a regime for the good state.

Socrates has already defined philosophers as those people who are capable of understanding eternal and unchanging truths. This definition, however, suggests impractical theory-weavers who lack the interest and common sense to govern a state. The rulers' task is to guard the laws and pursuits of society. Are philosophers suited to such a task?

People whose task is to keep watch over things, Socrates argues, must have keen sight. Who has keener sight than those who have knowledge of the reality of things, of what things really are? Philosophers, by definition, have the keenest sight into reality.



Glaucon agrees, but says that rulers need other qualities in addition to intellectual vision. His remark prompts Socrates to list the characteristics of true philosophers.

True philosophers are educated from earliest childhood, as are all guardians, to act in accordance with the four excellences of human nature: wisdom, moderation, courage, and justice. But because they are endowed with an unusually fine native disposition (recall the Myth of the Metals where mother earth fashions rulers with veins of gold), their ways of displaying the four virtues are different in quality from the average guardian. Wisdom is revealed by their unflagging love of truth and by their continual demonstration of the spirit of truthfulness; moderation by their disregard of physical pleasures and by their immense delight in intellectual pleasures; courage by their understanding that death is inconsequential because they know that the essence of things, including human souls, is eternal; and justice by their lack of concern over petty matters, their integrity, and their understanding of the "wholeness in all things human and divine." Additionally, true philosophers are gentle, friendly, have good memories and, in general, are simply good people to be around and have around.

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