Plato 's Philosophy

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The Love of Wisdom

The term philosophy is derived from the Greek terms Philos, which means lover or companion, and Sophia, which means wisdom. As a result, philosophy implies "love of wisdom," and a philosopher is a lover of wisdom. A philosopher's purpose is to achieve a systematic and thorough explanation of the fundamental values of being that present final solutions to fundamental questions about the nature, origin, and fate of the cosmos, as well as define how to obtain good for humanity. As the philosopher's life is directed by intellect, morals, and spiritual equilibrium, such insight guides action. This is the reason why Plato and Socrates insist that there are intellectual and affective prerequisites that are required for one to be a philosopher.

Fundamentals of being a Philosopher

There are various fundamentals for one to be a true philosopher. One, he should be detached from earthly goods, meaning that he should not be tempted by comforts, wealth, fame or social standing. Secondly, he ought to be wholly committed to wisdom and the truth. He should be a defender of the truth. Thirdly, he should be willing to stand against common wisdom. A philosopher should question common reasoning and aspire to unearth what is not known. Fourthly, he should practice philosophy as a vocation. Philosophy is a way of life and should guide every action, decision, even thoughts of the philosopher.

The Role of Philosophers in Governance

The ideal human existence is ruled by wisdom and knowledge and especially that which acknowledges goodness and what is just for human beings. According to Plato, philosophers have an important position in the political sphere as they know what is good and are not eager to rule. Therefore, they provide balance in a world that mostly uses deceit to lure people to decision making. According to Kingwell, the idea of a perfectly enlightened ruler or leader in any sector is not quite achievable as even the philosophers themselves keep evading such directions. Therefore, he suggests that like in many practices, it is always important to set apart an empty chair for an absent or figurative philosopher to bring sanity and order in any setting. Philosophers provide guidance in governance in terms of making and interpretation of laws and constitutions. Thus when these two elements are based on philosophical knowledge, they are superior, correct, and just. This line is clear when Plato says that '…in order for the city to possess the virtue of wisdom, its rulers must possess knowledge' (Rep, iv. 428b-429a).

Philosophy and Political Virtues

Philosophical knowledge is also required for cultivating political virtues in the personalities of the citizens of a just society. These desirable qualities are necessary when dealing with life's demands, socializing with others, and for enhancing control of emotions and desires that are necessary for completing meticulous intellectual investigations.

Justice in the City and the Philosopher

What justice does the City owe a philosopher and what justice does the philosopher owe the City?

In Plato's allegory of the city, there are three distinct social classes involved in allotment of labor. First, there is the upper or guardian class that rules, auxiliary class that supports the rulers, and the merchants who produce to provide for the needs of the city. In the same way, the psyche of an individual is made up of three parts; reason, spirit, and appetite. The spirit part supports reason and reasoning part is for ruling. Justice according to Plato is each element having and doing its responsibility, and since the smaller parts are similar to the larger, justice involves all the individual parts playing their role. It is important that there is order both in the city and the body. For this to succeed, the appetite that shows a man his bodily needs must be kept in check by reason and the spirit must obey and act. Similarly, man and the city must both perform their duties to acquire some order.

Philosopher Kings

Also, Plato argues that justice is the overall virtue, in the sense that in both the human psyche and city each part does its job, the whole will acquire wisdom, moderation, self-discipline, and courage. This argument shows the position of a philosopher and city and the expectations of both. A philosopher expects the city and its rulers to perform their job and the city in return expects the philosopher to complete his task. In this manner, both can benefit and acquire wisdom, courage and confidence.

The Role of Philosophers in Politics

Is it possible for philosophers to become kings or kings to become philosophers?

Plato argues that 'Unless…philosophers become kings in the cities or those whom we call kings and rulers philosophize truly and adequately and there is a conjunction of political power and philosophy…..there can be no cessation of evils…for cities nor, I think, for the human race (Rep. V. 473c11-d6). Plato has various reasons for claiming that there is need for philosophical understandings in the political spheres as recorded in the Republic.

Firstly, Plato notes there is a motivational theory behind wanting to get into power and sometimes may work against the very people one is supposed to serve. If governors are "lovers of ruling" (Rep.vii.521b4-5), they are likely to not pursue good of all people but pursue their own benefits thus advancing civil conflicts. Philosophers according to Plato, 'look down on' (Rep.vii.521b1-2, 520e-520b) the political life and prefer their lives more. Thus only they can seek good of all individuals in a society.

Secondly, when it comes to selecting and deciding on the rulers, the process sometimes leads to bitterness and disagreements between economic and social masses. However, when philosophers rule, such circumstances can be avoided as people can be convinced that such rulers make decisions that for the benefit of all (Rep,vi.499d-501e). Finally Plato argues that philosophers possess knowledge or episteme of what is good, fine and just and therefore, are fit to be rulers. It is possible for kings to become philosophers as wisdom and knowledge can be learned and philosophers are not born rather they are made. A king has to evaluate his long time beliefs and measure their correctness and values. They have to recognize the difference between and enemy and a friend, bad and good, and above all they must love wisdom. This kind of a ruler, who aspires to become a philosopher, should not have the desire to own property or money, and they should be free of all vices, desires, and excesses. In addition, there is need to re-evaluate education systems to be in line with those that Plato describes that future kings can acquire knowledge to think as philosophers.


Annas, Julia, An introduction to Plato's Republic (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981).

Cooper, John M. "The psychology of justice in Plato." American philosophical quarterly 14, no. 2 (1977): 151-157.

Kingwell, Mark. "Why Every Government Should Keep an Empty Seat for a Philosopher King | Mark Kingwell." The Big Ideas. May 10, 2012. Accessed February 13, 2017.

Moors, Kent, 'Justice and Philosophy in Plato's Republic The Nature of a Definition', Interpretation, 12(1984), 192-223

May 10, 2023

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