Does Plato succeed in demonstrating that philosophers make the best rulers?

Essay by vensonB+, March 2004

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In Plato's most famous work, the 'Republic', he puts forward the view that the ideal state, embodying the highest and best capabilities of human social life, can really be achieved, if the right people are put in charge: "There will be no end to the troubles of humanity...till philosophers become kings in this world, or till those we now call kings and rulers really and truly become philosophers, and political power and philosophy thus come into the same hands" (473d). In many ways it can be seen that the strict and rigorous selection and education of the Guardians that he proposes could well produce healthy and balanced rulers, but there are a number of problems with the system of philosopher rulers as a whole, that lead me to believe that they may not make the best rulers after all.

In analysing whether philosophers do make the best rulers, it must first be understood what it is about philosophers that Plato thinks makes them most suitable for the role.

Plato's concept of what politics and government should be is a direct result of his belief in the theory of forms. The theory of forms basically states that there is a higher "form" for everything that exists in the world. Each material thing is simply a representation of the real thing which is the form. According to Plato, most people cannot see the forms, they only see their representation or their shadows. Only those who love knowledge and contemplate on the reality of things will achieve understanding of the forms. Philosophers, who by definition are knowledge lovers, are the only beings who can reach true knowledge.

Plato is very specific about the natural qualities the rulers must have. They need a philosophical temperament to judge between what merely seems to be the...