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Are philosophers incorruptible? In the ideal city there are provisions to minimize possible corruption, even among the good-loving philosophers. They can neither enjoy private property nor family life. Although they are the rulers, they receive only a modest remuneration from the state, dine in common dining halls, and have wives and children in common. These provisions are necessary, Plato believes, because if the philosopher-rulers were to acquire private land, luxurious homes, and money themselves, they would soon become hostile masters of other citizens rather than their leaders and allies a-b.

The ideal city becomes a bad one, described as timocracy , precisely when the philosophers neglect music and physical exercise, and begin to gather wealth b. Initially chosen from among the brightest, most stable, and most courageous children, they go through a sophisticated and prolonged educational training which begins with gymnastics, music and mathematics, and ends with dialectic, military service and practical city management.

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They have superior theoretical knowledge, including the knowledge of the just, noble, good and advantageous, but are not inferior to others in practical matters as well d, e. Being in the final stage of their education illuminated by the idea of the good, they are those who can see beyond changing empirical phenomena and reflect on such timeless values as justice, beauty, truth, and moderation b, b. Goodness is not merely a theoretical idea for them, but the ultimate state of their mind. If the life of the philosopher-rulers is not of private property, family or wealth, nor even of honor, and if the intellectual life itself seems so attractive, why should they then agree to rule?

Philosophical life, based on contemplative leisure and the pleasure of learning, is indeed better and happier than that of ruling the state d. Plato assumes that a city in which the rulers do not govern out of desire for private gain, but are least motivated by personal ambition, is governed in the way which is the finest and freest from civil strife d.

Philosophers will rule not only because they will be best prepared for this, but also because if they do not, the city will no longer be well governed and may fall prey to economic decline, factionalism, and civil war. They will approach ruling not as something really enjoyable, but as something necessary c-d. Objections against the government of philosopher-rulers can be made. Firstly, because of the restrictions concerning family and private property, Plato is often accused of totalitarianism.

Especially in the Laws he makes clear that freedom is one of the main values of society d. Other values for which Plato stands include justice, friendship, wisdom, courage, and moderation, and not factionalism or terror that can be associated with a totalitarian state.

The restrictions which he proposes are placed on the governors, rather than on the governed. Secondly, one can argue that there may obviously be a danger in the self-professed claim to rule of the philosophers. Individuals may imagine themselves to be best qualified to govern a country, but in fact they may lose contact with political realities and not be good leaders at all. If philosopher-rulers did not have real knowledge of their city, they would be deprived of the essential credential that is required to make their rule legitimate, namely, that they alone know how best to govern.

As in a few other places in the dialogue, Plato throws his political innovation open to doubt. Their political authority is not only rational but also substantially moral, based on the consent of the governed. They regard justice as the most important and most essential thing e. A political order based on fairness leads to friendship and cooperation among different parts of the city. For Plato, as for Solon, government exists for the benefit of all citizens and all social classes, and must mediate between potentially conflicting interests.

Such a mediating force is exercised in the ideal city of the Republic by the philosopher-rulers. In the ideal city all persons and social groups are given equal opportunities to be happy, that is, to pursue happiness, but not at the expense of others. Their particular individual, group or class happiness is limited by the need of the happiness for all. The happiness of the whole city is not for Plato the happiness of an abstract unity called the polis, or the happiness of the greatest number, but rather the happiness of all citizens derived from a peaceful, harmonious, and cooperative union of different social classes.

The philosopher-rulers enjoy respect and contemplative leisure, but not wealth or honors; the guardian class, the second class in the city, military honors, but not leisure or wealth; and the producer class, family life, wealth, and freedom of enterprise, but not honors or rule. Then, the producers supply the city with goods; the guardians, defend it; and the philosophers, attuned to virtue and illuminated by goodness, rule it impartially for the common benefit of all citizens.


The three different social classes engage in mutually beneficial enterprise, by which the interests of all are best served. Social and economic differences, i. In the Platonic vision of the Republic , all social classes get to perform what they are best fit to do and are unified into a single community by mutual interests. In this sense, although each are different, they are all friends. In the Laws a similar statement is made again c , and it is interpreted as the right of the strong, the winner in a political battle a. The answer to the question of what is right and what is wrong can entirely determine our way of life, as individuals and communities.

They, the wise and virtuous, free from faction and guided by the idea of the common good, should rule for the common benefit of the whole community, so that the city will not be internally divided by strife, but one in friendship Republic , a-b. Then, in the Laws , the reign of the best individuals is replaced by the reign of the finest laws instituted by a judicious legislator c-d. The skeptic may believe that every adult is capable of exercising the power of self-direction, and should be given the opportunity to do so.

He will be prepared to pay the costs of eventual mistakes and to endure an occasional civil unrest or even a limited war rather than be directed by anyone who may claim superior wisdom. In the short dialogue Alcibiades I , little studied today and thought by some scholars as not genuine, though held in great esteem by the Platonists of antiquity, Socrates speaks with Alcibiades. The subject of their conversation is politics. Frequently referred to by Thucydides in the History of the Peloponnesian War , Alcibiades, the future leader of Athens, highly intelligent and ambitious, largely responsible for the Athenian invasion of Sicily, is at the time of conversation barely twenty years old.

The young, handsome, and well-born Alcibiades of the dialogue is about to begin his political career and to address the Assembly for the first time a-b. He plans to advise the Athenians on the subject of peace and war, or some other important affair d. His ambitions are indeed extraordinary. He does not want just to display his worth before the people of Athens and become their leader, but to rule over Europe and Asia as well c.

His dreams resemble that of the future Alexander the Great. His claim to rule is that he is the best.

His world-view is based on unexamined opinions. He appears to be the worst type of ignorant person who pretends that he knows something but does not. Such ignorance in politics is the cause of mistakes and evils a. What is implied in the dialogue is that noble birth, beautiful looks, and even intelligence and power, without knowledge, do not give the title to rule. Ignorance, the condition of Alcibiades, is also the condition of the great majority of the people b-c.

Nevertheless, Socrates promises to guide Alcibiades, so that he becomes excellent and renowned among the Greeks b-c. He or she is perfect in virtue. The best government can be founded only on beautiful and well-ordered souls. In a few dialogues, such as Phaedo , the Republic , Phaedrus , Timaeus , and the Laws , Plato introduces his doctrine of the immortality of the soul.

Expert political knowledge for him should include not only knowledge of things out there, but also knowledge of oneself. This is because whoever is ignorant of himself will also be ignorant of others and of political things, and, therefore, will never be an expert politician e. Those who are ignorant will go wrong, moving from one misery to another a. For them history will be a tough teacher, but as long they do not recognize themselves and practice virtue, they will learn nothing.

It is also impossible without an ongoing philosophical reflection on whom we truly are. Therefore, democracy would not be a good form of government for him unless, as it is proposed in the Laws , the element of freedom is mixed with the element of wisdom, which includes ultimate knowledge of the self.

Unmixed and unchecked democracy, marked by the general permissiveness that spurs vices, makes people impious, and lets them forget about their true self, is only be the second worst in the rank of flawed regimes after tyranny headed by a vicious individual.

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This does not mean that Plato would support a theocratic government based on shallow religiosity and religious hypocrisy. There is no evidence for this. Freedom of speech, forming opinions and expressing them, which may be denied in theocracy, is a true value for Plato, along with wisdom. It is the basic requirement for philosophy.

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  • In shallow religiosity, like in atheism , there is ignorance and no knowledge of the self either. In Book II of the Republic , Plato criticizes the popular religious beliefs of the Athenians, who under the influence of Homer and Hesiod attribute vices to the gods and heroes dc. He tries to show that God is the perfect being, the purest and brightest, always the same, immortal and true, to whom we should look in order to know ourselves and become pure and virtuous b-e.

    God, and not human beings, is the measure of political order Laws , c. The three other virtues describe qualities of different social groups. Wisdom, which can be understood as the knowledge of the whole, including both knowledge of the self and political prudence, is the quality of the leadership ea.

    Plato's Political Philosophy

    Courage is not merely military courage but primarily civic courage: the ability to preserve the right, law-inspired belief, and stand in defense of such values as friendship and freedom on which a good society is founded. It is the primary quality of the guardians b. For Fite, the fundamental idea of the Politeia lies in the realization of true experts and their rule in society, which is eventually reduced to utilitarian efficiency.

    In the contemporary situation, Fite finds that the Soviet Union seems to follow this basic idea. He affirms that Lenin and Stalin belong among the great leaders of scientific rule. In fact Plato belongs among the peripheral, reactive political figures. In this way Fite has demoted Plato from a godlike status to a peripheral one. Crossman begins by giving a clear description of the drastic change of our relation to Plato and his Politeia after WWI in the following way.

    Its whole conception seemed far-fetched and remote to a generation which assumed liberal ideas as self-evident truth of human nature. Instead, he was elevated to a higher rank, and became a idealist, remote from practical life, dreaming of a transcendent City of God. Knowing what class-war and revolution mean, we can understand why Plato advocated dictatorship to prevent them. The new foundation was supplied by the philosophy of Socrates, for whom truth derives only from reason. By this new foundation, aristocracy was legitimized by an eternal and universal order. The philosopher king thesis was presented to make leaders more self-regulating, based on their own spiritual capability as well as on their knowledge.

    According to Plato, every man can be happy under the dictatorship of the true aristocracy and the rule of the best, so Crossman says. His Academy can be seen as the headquarters of an open conspiracy to establish aristocratic dictatorship in Greek world, and the Politeia is no more than its Manifesto. The commander-in-chief is Plato himself.

    Plato’s Philosophy Summary

    Equality, freedom, and self-government are condemned as illusions. Plato claims that man should be more realistic, and be free from such illusions. The perfect state is not a democracy of rational equals, but an aristocracy of inequalities among men. Crossman admits repeatedly that liberal ideas are losing their effectiveness, and a kind of spiritual revitalization is necessary.

    Project MUSE - Plato's Political Philosophy

    In this context, the battle of Plato has gained a real political meaning. Plato begins his visit with Great Britain. He is troubled by the different meaning of the concept of democracy, but soon he recognizes that British regime is in fact an aristocracy depending upon the natural submissiveness of the poor, and that good government is preferred to self-government there.

    Plato consistently criticizes the attempt to introduce true democracy popular government in Great Britain because his experience of democracy was so terrible. Was Plato a communist? Crossman says no in various respects. He would say that the problem of economic justice is not the real problem, and control by the workers could not improve the situation very much. Insofar as socialism is a product of class warfare, it cannot overcome it. The basic objective of the government is to change the heart of men, so that Plato would feel only disgust for the Communist glorification of material and technological advance.

    Plato would consider that the United States and Russia shared a common aim acquisitive instinct , in spite of difference of political system, a difference in method alone. Then Crossman discusses the similarity between Plato and Lenin. Both of them agree that philosophy and science should be mobilized to change social reality, and believe that such changes are feasible. At the same time, neither is reluctant to use power ruthlessly in order to abolish vested interests. His praise of Stalin seems to be more impressive when we consider the series of great purges in s Russia.

    During his visit, Plato is supposed to write to Aristotle, because Aristotle would be helpful to classifying this regime. Then Plato happens to face the reality that he himself is mobilized in National Socialism, for a professor confesses in public that he studied Plato according to liberal prejudices, but has recently published a new book titled Platon und der Ursprung des Nationalsozialistischen Staatsgedankens for the consolidation of National Socialism.

    The professor went on to say that Plato advised the revolution which Hitler achieved, and rejecting democratic Athens he praised Sparta in terms of its military training and its educational system. Eventually the audience expresses its dissatisfaction with this long speech, and he is ordered to leave the platform.

    It is characteristic that Plato has no sympathy with fascism. In any case, the report of the visits illustrates the impact of realist Plato very clearly. Crossman finally discusses the problem of the relationship between Plato and liberal democracy. Plato starts out from the recognition of the irrational nature of the common man on the one hand, while on the other he designs the new regime presupposing the presence of exceptionally gifted statesmen.

    But Crossman stresses that this presupposition is extremely unrealistic and far from realities of human life. In fact, Plato overlooks the basic reality that politics is necessary because no extraordinarily gifted personality exists in this world. Plato, basing himself on wrong presuppositions, makes the highest demands of the rulers and requires absolute submission of the governed, who are to abdicate their own self-realization. At the same time the basic problem of Platonic political thinking is that Plato cannot realize that the main issue is not replacing one dictatorship by another, but replacing dictatorship by a constitutional system and rule of law, because the ancient Greek situation was too dominated by harsh power battles to allow Plato to realize this basic change of perspective.

    In connection with this argument, Crossman criticizes the thesis of the philosopher king, in which absolute truth should be imposed upon the masses. The dictatorship by philosophers violates the nature of philosophical research, because human reason cannot reach infallible and absolute truth. Crossman recognizes it is time to review the democratic regime free from the prejudices of old liberal axioms and to consolidate its intellectual position anew in a turbulent situation.

    This way of thinking, namely historicism, implies the historical inevitability of totalitarianism. So historicism is also a main target of his attack in this work. Yet it seems difficult to incorporate Plato into the category of historicism, which originates in 18th or 19th century.

    Popper tries to solve this difficult problem by providing the interpretation that Plato did not write his Politeia as a design for the future, but simply tried to identify his ideal state in the beginning of the history. In other words, Plato was an absolute defender of the past and an antagonist of historical change itself. The main aim of the ideal state was to prevent the danger both of change and of decay. This aim could be realized by a strongly unified ruling class, whose members are not only racially superior but also are educated and trained so thoroughly that they can remain as a unified group of warriors without being disturbed by internal conflict.

    Thus, the ideal state for Plato was Sparta, not Athens. In this sense the Politeia was originally intended as the recovery of the natural order, but Plato conceptualizes an organic community in which only a tiny number of elite can realize the nature of human beings. This basic design should be contrasted with the principle of universalism and equalitarianism supported by Christianity and humanism, according to Popper.

    Giving a typical example, the translation of Politeia by Republic in the English speaking countries has helped to cultivate the image that Plato must be a liberal. He claims that the spell of Plato is one of the causes that help spread totalitarian mentality. His doctrine is part of a counter-revolutionary attempt against the egalitarianism, humanism and universalism realized in Athenian democracy.

    The great spirit of Athenian democracy was embodied by Pericles as well as his mentor Socrates, while Plato continued to belong to the group of the Oligarchy. Focusing on three of Plato's dialogues—The Laws, The Republic, and The Statesman—Mark Blitz lays out the philosopher's principal interests in government and the strength and limit of the law, the connection between law and piety, the importance of founding, and the status and limits of political knowledge.

    He examines all of Plato's discussions of politics and virtues, comments on specific dialogues, and discusses the philosopher's explorations of beauty, pleasure, good, and the relations between politics and reason. Throughout, Blitz reinforces Plato's emphasis on clear and rigorous reasoning in ethics and political life and explains in straightforward language the valuable lessons one can draw from examining Plato's writings.

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    The only introduction to Plato that both gathers his separate discussions of politically relevant topics and pays close attention to the context and structure of his dialogues, this volume directly contrasts the modern view of politics with that of the ancient master. It is an excellent companion to Plato's Dialogues. Table of Contents. Cover Download Save. Frontmatter Download Save. Contents Download Save.