The Philosopher King: Socrates vision in Plato's Republic



[FROM THE REPUBLIC - PLATO]

IT will be possible then, and only then, when kings are philosophers or philosophers kings.

The philosopher desires all knowledge. Justice, beauty, good, and so on are single, though their presentation is multiplex and variable. Curiosity about the multiplex particulars is not desire of knowledge, which is of the one constant idea--of that which is, as ignorance is of that which is not. What neither is nor is not, that which fluctuates and changes, is the subject matter of opinion, a state between knowledge and ignorance. Beauty is beauty always and everywhere; the things that look beautiful may be ugly from another point of view. Experience of beautiful things, curiosity about them, must be distinguished from knowledge of beauty; the philosopher is not to be confounded with the connoisseur, nor knowledge with opinion. The philosopher is he who has in his mind the perfect pattern of justice, beauty, truth; his is the knowledge of the eternal; he contemplates all time and all existence; no praises are too high for him.

"No doubt; still if that is so, why do philosophers always show themselves either fools or knaves in ordinary affairs?"

A ship's crew which does not understand that the art of navigation demands a knowledge of the stars will stigmatise a properly qualified pilot as a star-gazing idiot, and will prevent him from navigating. The world assumes that the philosopher's abstractions are folly, and rejects his guidance. The philosopher is the best kind of man; the corrupted philosopher is the worst; and the corrupting influences brought to bear are irresistible to all but the very strongest natures. The professional teachers of philosophy live not by leading popular opinion, but by pandering to it; a bastard brood trick themselves out as philosophers, while the true philosopher withdraws himself from so gross a world. Not in the soil of any existing state can philosophy grow naturally; planted in a suitable state, her divinity will be apparent.

I need no longer hesitate to say that we must make our guardians philosophers. The necessary combination of qualities is extremely rare. Our test must be thorough, for the soul must be trained up by the pursuit of all kinds of knowledge to the capacity for the pursuit of the highest--higher than justice and wisdom--the idea of the good.

The good is to the intellectual faculty what the sum is to that of vision; it is the source and cause of truth, which is the light whereby we perceive ideas; it is not truth, nor the ideas, but above them; their cause, as the sun is the source of light and the cause of growth.

Again, the material things with which the eye is concerned are in two categories--the copies, reflections or shadows of things, and actual things. Correspondingly the things perceived by the intellect are in a secondary region--as the mathematical--where everything is derived from hypotheses which are assumed to be first principles; or in a supreme region, in which hypotheses are only the steps by which we ascend to the real ultimate first principles themselves.

And it will follow further that the mind has four faculties appropriate to these four divisions, which we call respectively pure reason understanding, conviction and perception of shadows; the first pair being concerned with being, the field of the intellect; the second pair with becoming, the field of opinion.





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