Plato’s Philosopher King : Notes

Plato was one of the greatest thinkers of his times and has rightly been called as the father of Political Science. His greatness lies in his systematic philosophy and logical conclusions of his ideas. In fact his philosophy is so well knit that all his ideas are inter-dependent and closely linked with each other. His whole philosophy is based on certain assumptions like virtue, knowledge, justice or development of human mind.

The Theory of Philosopher king in Layman terms 
Why Philosopher King?

According to Plato, Philosophers should be the ruler of the state.

The real problem in the state is because of ignorance, so if Athens has   to  be an Ideal state, it must be ruled by the knowledge( the Philosopher king )

Eligibility :
  1. 50 years of education
  2. should have prover capability of Reasoning
  3. cannot have family or private property
What does it Signifies?

Philosopher King is the symbol of knowledge and Sacrifice.

Powers of Philosopher king

Philosopher King have Absolute Power.

Why Absolute Power?

According to Plato, it would be foolish to limit the expert practitioner of medicine with book of medicine. He also suggests that ” no law or ordinance can be mightier then Knowledge”.

Is there any limitation on Philosopher King?

There is only one limitation – he cannot change the constitution of Republic.

what does it implies?
  1. Plato is the ultimate Philosopher
  2.  Plato idea will cont

Basic Assumptions of Plato’s Philosophy

He divided human mind into three main systems namely reason, spirit and appetite and gave pride of place to reason. Corresponding to these in the state are rulers, soldiers and the peasants.

Reason represents rulers and as such like reason in the human mind, ruler has a supreme place in the state. In every ideal state ‘ruler is the embodiment of human mind.

Another basic assumption of Platonic philosophy is that ‘Virtue is knowledge.’ It implies that virtue and knowledge must go hand in hand and are identical or in other words it is combination of wisdom and goodness.

Plato was of the opinion that one of the main causes of trouble was that the ignorant were ruling over the wise and also that this state of affairs could only be corrected  when the wise after getting proper training would rule the nation.

Therefore, the wise i.e., the philosopher king should have the final power to ruler the state. He believed that those who were capable should only rule. His idea of virtue was bound to give birth to his philosophy and Creation of philosopher king.

It was through him that virtue could be promoted. Since he was embodiment of virtue he could ask others to become Virtuous. Through his conduct and behavior he could make others follow the ideals being followed by him.

Therefore, his philosophy of ‘virtue in action’ and philosopher king were bound to go hand in hand.

Salient Features Of Rule Of Philosophy
  1. Outcome of Proper Training  Rule of philosopher king was a noble idea. By this he meant that only those who had knowledge and proper training should rule and all others should be excluded from this category as they were incompetent to govern.
  2. It is Aristocratic: Basically Plato has tried to establish intellectual aristocracy. He wants to have government of the elite when he says that all are not competent to rule. He even does not establish an enlightened monarchy.
  3. Necessity of Cultivated Mind All do not have a cultivated mind to understand and follow the supreme and noble idea that ‘virtue is knowledge. Therefore, those few who have this cultivated mind , should only be trained as philosopher kings. In the words of Edward Zellor, “The Platonic state can only be an aristocracy of virtue and intellect exercised by one or few.”
  4. Seeker of Truth: A philosopher king is always seeker of truth. He knows everything by virtue of his knowledge. Because of that intellectual brilliance he has better capacity to judge the things than any other ordinary person. He can look after the interests of community better than those who are ignorant.
  5. Identical Interest with the State: Since philosopher king is a perfect guardian and has rational character, he is selfless. He has capacity to distinguish his own as well as state interests. He has no interest apart from the interests of the state. In other words, his interest and the interests of the state are always identical and cannot be separated from each other.
  6. Product of Education: Plato’s philosopher king is product of a regular system of education. This education lasts up to the age of 35 followed by another 15 years of training. In fact the system is so extensive and exhaustive that it continues for the whole life of the philosopher king.
  7. An Absolute Rule: The rule of philosopher king is absolute in nature. A philosopher king is not supposed to be responsive to public opinion. He is more or less devoid of customary laws and conventions though it is expected of him that he should honour and respect these. He is supposed to be above laws but his words are laws and binding for all. But at the same time he wants that philosopher king should watch excessive inflow of wealth in the state and keep the size of state limited keeping in view its unity and efficiency. He should see that every citizen is performing his allotted duties and that system of education is not changed.
  8. Flexibility in Rules: Rule of philosophy king is better than that of the ‘rule of the law’ because the latter is not very much flexible and cannot give the people what is due to them whereas rule of philosopher king is flexible and gives the people their due.
  9. He has Many Responsibilities: Philosopher king is supposed to check flow of private property and concentration of wealth in few hands and also maintain unity in the state. He is also to see that it is self-sufficient. He should also ensure that every citizen properly performs duties assigned to him and that all are responsible for maintaining and continuing the system of education
Critical Evaluation of Plato’s Idea:

Plato’s philosophy about philosopher king and role of philosophy has been put to severe criticism. Main points of criticism advanced against his philosophy are as under:

  1. It is Despitic Rule: Plato’s philosopher king is more or less despotic Despotism was neither welcomed during his own age not is it welcome even today. In fact the people have a repulsion for this very word. It Ignores Masses: Plato feels that only those few who are trained for the specific purpose of ruling should govern. He has thus ignored bulk of the citizens, their worth and capacity. It is undesirable and unhealthy. A system which does not respect vast majority cannot be considered well in any way or in the interest of the people. 10.
  2. He Denies Educational Facilities to Majority: It is deplorable that he proceeds on the assumption that majority of the people are not worth getting the education which a philosopher king can get. He thus discriminately closes the doors of education on the masses, which is bound to stand on the way of development of the faculties of the people.
  3. Failure in Practical Life: Plato has created a philosopher king to rule over the subjects, but in actual practice such kings have met with utter failure. In India one finds that Muhammad Tughlaq was a near philosopher king. By his policies and actions he brought untold miseries to his subjects and earned the title of ‘wisest fool’ of his times. Such could be due fate of any other philosopher king. Such a situation was bound to arise because his philosopher king was never made to confront real problems of real life.
  4. Chances of Democracy are Ruled Out:- By creating the institution of philosopher king as the embodiment of ‘knowledge in action’ Plato has practically closed all chances of direct and indirect democracies and elections. Democracy was loved during Plato’s own times and is very much liked even today.
  5. Study of Essential Subjects is Ignored: Plato, in his system education meant for the philosopher king, has provided for the study of music and astronomy but he does not provide for the study of essential subjects like finance, law, and so on which are of practical use to a ruler than the study of music.
  6. Eccentric Ruler: The type of education which Plato gives to his philosopher king and powers which are vested in him can make him more an eccentric person rather than an ideal ruler. To vest power in an eccentric person can never be safe or justified.
  7. It Under-estimates Collective Wisdom: In his philosophy Plato has laid maximum stress on the wisdom of single individual namely the philosopher king. He makes us believe that this single individual is the embodiment of all wisdom and knowledge. But in the process he forgets the value of collective wisdom and in fact underestimates that. Who can deny today the collective wisdom is always much better than the individual wisdom.
  8. No Need for Education: The main aim of Plato’s educational system is to produce philosopher king. If one such king is to rule throughout his life then how many rulers are needed and what is the use of having such an elaborate and costly educational system.
  9. It is Anti-Democratic: Today his concept of philosopher king has also been criticised because of its anti-democratic nature. The people are supposed to simply obey the philosopher king and willingly obey his commands it believes that one single individual is above all others and thus ail are not equal in the state. A vast majority of citizens have been reduced to the status of dumb driven cattle and so on. All combined together make his philosophy anti-democratic. As already said anti-democratic system was neither cherished during Plato’s day, nor it is liked today.\
  10. He Can Become Selfish: A philosopher king can at any stage also think of combining his own interests with public interests and thus may try to have unlimited powers and make the lives of citizens miserable. Power corrupts man and absolute power absolutely and this can be true of philosopher king as well. In his scheme of things there is no provision for checking his selfishness.
  11. He can Likely to Become Corrupt: Kant has criticised the rule of philosopher king when he says, “That the king should become philosopher king is not likely to happen: nor would it be desirable since the possession of power invariably debases the free judgment of Reason.” There is no provision to check either misuse of his authority or power and to put a brake on his selfish nature.
  12. It is an Utopian Concept: His concept of philosopher king is more utopian than real. It is not possible to have such a selfless, devoted and high standard man with such high ideals as Plato preaches. It is because of this that it has been said that philosophers are quite imaginaries. A person who has got no practical training, has neverncome in contact with the masses and has no channels to understand and follow their problems, cannot be a successful ruler “As for the philosophers they make imaginary Laws and imaginary commonwealths.” History is a witness that the world has not produced philosopher kings much less successful ones.

There is no doubt that Platonic philosophy has been put to severe criticism but still it cannot be denied that the basis of his philosophy is sound. He rightly preached that all could not be competent to rule and that on few who had cultivated mind and brain were competent enough to rule. The only defect in his philosophy being that he could not develop that properly and failed to keep practical ends in view. We can at the most say that basis of his, philosophy are sound but superstructure is unsound and impracticable. It is his original idea and most consist with his philosophy of virtue and justice.

About Rohit Chaudhary

Graduate, helping others to graduate

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