Plato: Socrates and the Conflict Between Knowledge and Opinion in the Polis
The essay will argue that Plato’s argument for the philosopher kings’ rule is neither persuasive nor realistic in theory, but that traces of the characteristics of his ideal form of rule do appear in the modern state. To set out this argument, the essay will firstly consider Plato’s argument for the philosopher kings, as well as its limitations, and secondly and finally consider what characteristics of the philosopher kings’ rule are valid and realistic in terms of the modern state.
Yet because Socrates links his discussion of personal justice to an account of justice in the city and makes claims about how good and bad cities are arranged, the Republic sustains reflections on political questions, as well. Not that ethics and politics exhaust the concerns of the Republic. The account in Books Five through Seven of how a just city and a just person are in principle possible is an account of how knowledge can rule, which includes discussion of what knowledge and its objects are. Moreover, the indictment of the poets involves a wide-ranging discussion of art.
While both the active and contemplative forms of life have their own goodness, Aristotle will argue for the superiority of the theoretic life on the grounds that the intellect is the distinguishing and highest function of man. Moreover while active works are chiefly good for further things beyond themselves, leisured pursuits have their own proper excellence. For Socrates the intellectual quest for “wisdom and truth” is part and parcel of the effort at the perfection of the soul, for it is by knowledge of the Good that one becomes good (Werner Jaeger, 1962). This point is made more explicit in the Protagoras where Socrates argues that “…no one willingly goes after evil or what he thinks to be evil in preference to the good.” Just as evil is a consequence of and basically identical with ignorance, so is virtue logically identical with wisdom. The philosophical life which seeks the knowledge of the Good and the ethical life which acts according to the Good are the same for Socrates. This mean that for the philosophical life will also be one concerned with the central question of the political.
Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics. (Loeb Classical Library. Harvard University Press, 1999).
Werner Jaeger. Paideia : The Ideal of Greek Culture, Vol. I (Oxford University Press, 1962)