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The Republic by Plato - Barron's Booknotes
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Socrates compares the true philosopher to the amateur. Spectacles of all kinds-Dionysian festivals and other exotic gatherings of people-fascinate amateur philosophers. Amateurs, thus, are not as interested in discovering universal truths as they are in absorbing the particular, exciting sensations of the moment. On the other hand, true philosophers ignore momentary intrigues and keep their intellectual sights aimed at the understanding of eternal, unchanging knowledge. True philosophers are tireless scholars who have an incorruptible moral character. This combination of wisdom and virtue makes them the ideal candidates for rulers of the state.

But, alas, in Book VI Socrates says that the philosopher is considered useless in present societies and in fact is useless. Philosophers have neither the character for nor the interest in engaging in the political frays-often deceitful, underhanded, and demeaning-that seem to be required of men who succeed in acquiring power. What, then, is to be done? How is it possible for philosophers to be kings?

In Book VII Socrates outlines a total educational program for gifted youth who have the potential for becoming the "true pilots" of the state. The potential philosopher kings will be physically well trained, will spend ten years studying mathematics and related sciences, and will spend five years studying dialectic (the art of systematically inquiring into the nature of reality-philosophy, Socrates' art). They will follow their fifteen years of higher education with a fifteen-year internship in the practical workings of the state (in other words, they will return to the cave of illusion, but with insight and purpose). At the age of fifty the best of the best will become the philosopher kings and will govern the state with wisdom and virtue, both attributes backed by a solid foundation of practical experience. These rulers will be the embodiment of the just state-ruled by reason and characterized by harmony between their emotions and desires and between their personalities and the rest of society.

The perfectly just state, therefore, will be ruled by philosophers, that is, by people who are exceptionally well educated, have vast practical wisdom of government and society, and have justice within their souls.



13. Philosophers are lovers of wisdom, seekers of truth. And according to Plato philosophers should be rulers of the state, even though they have no desire to rule. What they do have is the knowledge and moral character necessary for excellent leadership.

Tyrants, on the other hand, are lovers of base pleasures and of tremendous wealth. They are all-powerful rulers who seek their own advantage instead of looking after the health of the state and the welfare of the people they rule. What they lack is reason and moral character. They are unhealthy people, in both body and soul, because they are enslaved by their appetites, which in turn causes them to enslave the people (their subjects) who are forced to cater to the tyrants' appetites.

Thus philosophers and tyrants represent the two extremes of moral character. Using the model of the tripartite soul, we can better understand the differences between the philosopher and tyrant. The soul of the philosopher is guided by reason. His greatest pleasure is learning. The soul of the tyrant is guided by his appetites. His greatest pleasure is to be physically satisfied, for example, sated by food and wine and surrounded by silk and gold.

Despite his wealth and power, the tyrant is the most miserable of men, says Socrates, because he is despised by all others and is devoured from within. He knows no true pleasure or happiness. Only people with a philosophic nature can have true pleasure; they are continually filling their souls with knowledge which, unlike physical appetite, never admits of emptiness.

In the Allegory of the Cave philosophers are those people who escape from the chains of ignorance and through an extended and rigorous educational process ascend the cave path and emerge in the light of the sun, into the knowledge of reality. That is, the philosopher moves from level 1 of the Divided Line (being aware of shadows and reflections of imitations of reality) to level 4 (having knowledge of universal principles and of the form of the good). Tyrants, however, spend their lives in the cave grasping shadows. They never experience the pleasures of true knowledge and so always remain more enslaved (chained to passion) than the people they enslave.

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