Philosopher king

Philosopher king

Philosopher kings are the hypothetical rulers, or Guardians, of Plato's Utopian Kallipolis. If his ideal city-state is to ever come into being, "philosophers [must] become kings…or those now called kings [must] …genuinely and adequately philosophize" ("The Republic", 5.473c).

In Book VII of "The Republic"

Plato defined a philosopher firstly as its eponymous occupation – wisdom-lover. He then distinguishes between one who loves true knowledge as opposed to simple sights or education by saying that a philosopher is the only man who has access to Forms – the archetypal entities that exist behind all representations of the form (such as Beauty itself as opposed to any one "particular" instance of beauty). It is next and in support of the idea that philosophers are the best rulers that Plato fashions the ship of state metaphor, one of his most often cited ideas (along with his allegory of the cave). " [A] true pilot must of necessity pay attention to the seasons, the heavens, the stars, the winds, and everything proper to the craft if he is really to rule a ship" ("The Republic", 6.488d). Plato claims that the sailors (i.e., the people of the city-state over whom the philosopher is the potential ruler) ignore the philosopher's "idle stargazing" because they have never encountered a true philosopher before.


Plato describes the philosopher-kings' education as beginning with the general primary education until the age of eighteen and two years of intense physical training. Those performing exceedingly well receive ten years of rigorous mathematical education – because Plato believes the forms cannot be fully understood less they be tied in with the sacredness of mathematics. If successful at this stage, the student moves on to five years of training in dialectic. There is a final fifteen-year period of apprenticeship in managing the polis.

And when they are fifty years old, those who have lasted the whole course and are in every way best at everything, both in practice and in theory, must at last be led to the final goal, and must be compelled to lift up the mouth of their psyches towards that which provides light for everything, the good itself. And taking it as their model, they must put in good order both the polis and themselves for the remainder of their lives, taking turns with the others (7.540a4-b1).
After extensive education, the kings finally understand the form of the Good.

Relationship to the rest of "The Republic"

The entirety of "The Republic" can be understood as a treatise on education, political thought, philosophy, or psychology. The entirety of the work is concerned with how to raise the guardians, or ruling class of the Kallipolis, effectively.

Historical philosopher-kings

Several figures in history have been cited as exhibiting key attributes of the Platonic ideal, including:
*Napoleon Bonaparte
*Alexander the Great
*Marcus Aurelius
*John II Komnenos (described as Rome's "Second Marcus Aurelius")
*Matthias Corvinus of Hungary
*Frederick the Great
*Suleiman the Magnificent
*Catherine II of Russia

Karl Popper blamed Plato for the rise of totalitarianism in the Twentieth Century, seeing Plato's Philosopher-kings, with their dreams of 'social engineering' and 'idealism', as leading directly to Stalin and Hitler (via Hegel and Marx) [ The Poverty of Historicism, by Karl Popper, Routledge 2nd edition 2002 ] . In addition, Ayatollah Khomeini is said to have been inspired by the Platonic vision of the philosopher king while in Qum in the 1920s when he became interested in Islamic mysticism and Plato's Republic. As such it has been speculated that he was inspired by Plato's philosopher king and subsequently modeled elements of his "Islamic Republic" based on it. [ [ Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, 89, the Unwavering Iranian Spiritual Leader by Raymond H. Anderson] . 04 June 1989, The New York Times.]

ee also

*Enlightened Absolutism


*C.D.C. Reeve, "Philosopher-Kings: The Argument of Plato's Republic", Princeton University Press, 1988.

External links

* [ Text of section of "The Republic" pertaining to philosopher-kings] .

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