The Philosopher King in Plato's Republic
Reminder: The intention of such word exercises is to give you the opportunity to think through how Plato is using an important term within the dialogue. This is the last planned word exercise and we thought it helpful to show that this process can be extended to concepts. We will give you our take later this month. If you would like to see more of these, please contact us, as we want to make sure we are providing things that are actually useful, not just things we think are useful.
473c-d “Unless,” I said, “the philosophers rule as kings or those now called kings and chiefs genuinely and adequately philosophize, and political power and philosophy coincide in the same place, while the many natures now making their way to either apart from the other are by necessity excluded, there is no rest from ills for the cities, my dear Glaucon, nor I think for human kind, nor will the regime we have now described in speech ever come forth from nature, insofar as possible, and see the light of the sun.
474bc It’s necessary, it seems to me, if we are somehow going to get away from the men you speak of, to distinguish for them whom we mean when we dare to assert the philosophers must rule. Thus, when they have come plainly to light, one will be able to defend oneself, showing that it is by nature fitting for them both to engage in philosophy and to lead a city, and for the rest not to engage in philosophy and to follow the leader.”
498ea “No time at all,” I said, “if you compare it to the whole. However, it’s no wonder that the many are notpersuaded by these speeches. For they never saw any existing thing that matches the present speech. Far rather they have seen such phrases purposely ‘balanced’ with one another, not falling together spontaneously as they are now. But as for a man who to the limit of the possible is perfectly ‘likened’ to and ‘balanced’ with virtue, in deed and speech, and holds power in a city fit for him, they have never seen one or more. Or do you suppose so?”
“No, I don’t at all.”
499b-c “Well, it was on account of this,” I said, “foreseeing it then, that we were frightened; but, all the same, compelled by the truth, we said that neither city nor regime will ever become perfect, nor yet will a man become perfect in the same way either, before some necessity chances to constrain those few philosophers who aren’t vicious, those now called useless, to take charge of a city, whether they want to or not, and the city to obey; or a true erotic passion for true philosophy flows from some divine inspiration into the sons of those who hold power or the office of king, or into the fathers themselves. I deny that there is any reason why either or both of these things is impossible. If that were the case we would justly be laughed at for uselessly saying things that are like prayers. Or isn’t that so?”
“Yes, it is.”
“Therefore, if, in the endless time that has gone by, there has been some necessity for those who are on the peaks of philosophy to take charge of a city, or there even now is such a necessity in some barbaric place somewhere far outside of our range of vision, or will be later, in this case we are ready to do battle for the argument that the regime spoken of has been, is, and will be when this Muse has become master of a city. For it’s not impossible that it come to pass nor are we speaking of impossibilities. That it’s hard, we too agree.”
500e “Now, if the many become aware that what we are saying about this man is true, will they then be harsh with the philosophers and distrust us when we say that a city could never be happy otherwise than by having its outlines drawn by the painters who use the divine pattern?”
501e “Will they still be angry when we say that before the philosophic class becomes master of a city, there will be no rest from ills either for city or citizens nor will the regime about which we tell tales in speech get its completion in deed?”
502a “Perhaps less,” he said.
“If you please,” I said, “let’s not say that they are less angry but that they have become in every way gentle and have been persuaded, so that from shame, if nothing else, they will agree.”
“Most certainly,” he said.
“Now, let’s assume they have been persuaded of this,” I said. “And, as to the next point, will anyone argue that there is no chance that children of kings, or of men who hold power, could be born philosophers by their natures?”
“There won’t,” he said, “even be one who will argue that.”
“And if such men came into being, can anyone say that it’s quite necessary that they be corrupted? That it’s hard to save them, we too admit. But that in all of time not one of all of them could ever be saved, is there anyone who would argue that?”
503b “My friend, I shrank from saying what has now been dared anyhow,” I said. “And let’s now dare to say this: philosophers must be established as the most precise guardians.”
“Yes, let it be said,” he said.
“Then bear in mind that you’ll probably have but a few. For the parts of the nature that we described as a necessary condition for them are rarely willing to grow together in the same place; rather its many parts grow forcibly separated from each other.”
“How do you mean?” he said.
“You know that natures that are good at learning, have memories, are shrewd and quick and everything else that goes along with these qualities, and are as well full of youthful fire and magnificence — such natures don’t willingly grow together with understandings that choose orderly lives which are quiet and steady. Rather the men who possess them are carried away by their quickness wherever chance leads and all steadiness goes out from them.”
536ab “So,” I said, “we must take good care of all such things since, if we bring men straight of limb and understanding to so important a study and so important a training and educate them, Justice herself will not blame us, and we shall save the city and the regime; while, in bringing men of another sort to it, we shall do exactly the opposite and also pour even more ridicule over philosophy.”
540d “What then?” I said. “Do you agree that the things we have said about the city and the regime are not in every way prayers; that they are hard but in a way possible; and that it is possible in no other way than the one stated: when the true philosophers, either one or more, come to power in a city, they will despise the current honors and believe them to be illiberal and worth nothing. Putting what is right and the honors coming from it above all, while taking what is just as the greatest and the most necessary, and serving and fostering it, they will provide for their own city.”
543a “All right. This much has been agreed, Glaucon: for a city that is going to be governed on a high level, women must be in common, children and their entire education must be in common, and similarly the practices in war and peace must be in common, and their kings must be those among them who have proved best in philosophy and with respect to war.”
580bc “Shall we hire a herald then,” I said, “or shall I myself announce that Ariston’s son has decided that the best and most just man is happiest, and he is that man who is kingliest and is king of himself, while the worst and most unjust man is most wretched and he, in his turn, happens to be the one who, being most tyrannic, is most tyrant of himself and of the city?”
592a-b “Rather, he looks fixedly at the regime within him,” I said, “and guards against upsetting anything in it by the possession of too much or too little substance. In this way, insofar as possible, he governs his additions to, and expenditure of, his substance.”
“That’s quite certain,” he said.
“And, further, with honors too, he looks to the same thing; he will willingly partake of and taste those that he believes will make him better, while those that would overturn his established habit he will flee, in private and in public.”
“Then,” he said, “if it’s that he cares about, he won’t be willing to mind the political things.”
“Yes, by the dog,” I said, “he will in his own city, very much so. However, perhaps he won’t in his fatherland unless some divine chance coincidentally comes to pass.”
“I understand,” he said. “You mean he will in the city whose foundation we have now gone through, the one that has its place in speeches, since I don’t suppose it exists anywhere on earth.”
“But in heaven,” I said, “perhaps, a pattern is laid up for the man who wants to see and found a city within himself on the basis of what he sees. It doesn’t make any difference whether it is or will be somewhere. For he would mind the things of this city alone, and of no other.”
“That’s likely,” he said.
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