Philosophers as a Rulers

Every society is governed by a set of rules and values that definepeople’s way of life. In governance, the concept of politics isinevitable, and it takes diligent and knowledgeable rulers who do notwork towards self-interest but to the interests of the community. InThe Republic Plato argues that kings should be philosophers and thatphilosophers should be kings (Wolff 53). The rationale for Plato’sthinking is that philosophers possess a special level of knowledgewhich acts as a recipe for good governance. In the Republic, there isa systematic questioning of being as Plato tries to answer theaspects of justice as a problem to human behavior. In the Kallipolisas outlined in The Republic is a beautiful city where the politicalrulers relied on knowledge. Philosophers incline on knowledge and noton power. The essay will demonstrate that philosophers should not berulers. Although it is inevitable to draw some similarities betweenthe modern state and the ideal Polis as presented by Plato, it willmake a conclusion that Plato is advertising a political systemcharged with lack of democracy and led by a benevolent dictator.

Plato’s idea of the acceptance of philosophers as kings and kingsas philosophers is theoretically viable, but it may not become idealin the modern society because, although knowledge is crucial in anyform of ruling, power is crucial in the made up of politicalactivity. To compose an argument, it will be necessary to highlighton Plato’s idea and to expound on its limitations. It will beimperative first to consider his argument and understand thecharacteristics that would be applicable in a modern state.

Understanding Plato’s Argument

Understanding democracy is primary in understanding Plato’sargument on the appropriateness of philosophers as rulers and kings.Plato asserts that philosophy involves non-material and abstractideas and not the physical and material world that is accessible toan individual by using their five common senses (Plato 200). In thecurrent world, most of the states and through the provisions in theirconstitutions uphold the sense of democracy. Individuals have a sayin the making of rules that govern them. There has been a debateabout democracy since Plato’s time. The argument revolves aroundwhether it is the rule of the majority or whether it is theMadisonian view of protecting the rights of the minorities. Accordingto Plato, democracy is the rule by the demos. Demos represent thepeople or the mob (Wolff 67). The making of political decisions callsfor judgment and skill. Plato argues that making viable politicalreasons should be left to the experts.

To emphasize on the need to have experts making critical decisionsfor the people, Plato employs the craft analogy and gives the exampleof a ship whose direction depends on the knowledge of the individualat the wheel. A ship’s captain must be well versed with the seasonsof the year, the sky and the stars (Plato 204). Having knowledge onsuch crucial aspects curtails the need for the captain to becomeinfluenced by the thoughts of others in the ship. Plato stresses onthe need for specialization to rule a republic. In the time before420 BC, statesmen did not appreciate the role of philosophers inruling. He stresses on the dangers of liberty and equality and theunnaturalness of democracy.

The idea of specialization as outlined by Plato is linked justice.According to him, justice is structural. Political justice emanatesfrom a structured setting, and individual justice is the product of astructured soul. Plato argues that ruling is a skill, and each memberof the polis harbors a specific skill and a natural aptitude.Therefore, as a skill ruling requires special training that is onlyavailable to a few people. Plato asserts that not all minds aretrained to grasp knowledge. It is a unique skill possessed byphilosophers, and it is their ultimate goal. Knowledge is importantin rulings the same way a vision is dependent on light.

Philosophers as outlined Plato possess a level of knowledge that isnot common with many people. They can recognize friend and foe byanalyzing their behavior and patterns of thoughts. Philosophers alsolove wisdom as the basic rule of those obsessed with wisdom. Heprovides that the rule of the wise is a gateway to sovereignty. Platogoes ahead to defining justice, and he refers to it as a virtue thatis not necessarily learned. It only requires understanding and sisknowledge. Understanding is synonymous with goodness. Therefore,knowledge and goodness are the same. Philosopher kings, as outlinedby Plato, possess the virtue of knowledge and it justifies theirrule.

Why Philosophers Cannot Make Good Rulers

In his argument, Plato pays a lot of attention on his definition ofdemocracy as the rule of the unfit. Such an argument as it revolvesaround making a judgment for the purpose if ruling may only be validif it explains the philosophers’ ability to grasp the eternal andimmutable while the common folks are blind to true knowledge andreality. It would also hold if the common people fell under generalcharacteristics of lacking a clear and standard perception in theirmind (Plato 205). However, the argument and stance taken by Platomay become ideal in the modern context for several reasons.

First, democracy as evolved in the different societies and as theworld continues to develop, people become very sensitive to theirrole in governance, and they demand a voice in determining the typeif leaders who will govern them. Most states have adopted the primarydefinition of democracy as a government of the people, by the peopleand for the people. States have, therefore, become strong proponentsof the representative mode of democracy. Citizens exercise it throughelecting the people to represent them in government, and they haveincluded to the pluralistic approach towards politics (Wolff 69).While exercising this right, it is not guaranteed that those who holdsuch positions will be held by the skilled people as proposed byPlato. It the current world, a state is no longer under theinfluence of the elite or philosophers with the attribute f goodness.It is in the hands of a group of people who come together to argueand discuss policies that they deem as favorable for theirjurisdictions. Ideally, such a team should be composed f members whohave a great deal of knowledge in the matters they are putting forthand create a positive political change. However, it is very difficultto constitute such a team through representative democracy wherebythe citizens endorse members to the team (Wolff 70).

Also, philosophers should not be kings only by the virtue of thecharacteristics they harbor. Having a deep insight into logic,understanding, ethics, metaphysics and political philosophy does notdeem one as having similar level f understanding in the needs of thepeople. While people hold positions that give them the mandate tomake decisions regarding the society in which they represent, they doso primarily to guard the interests of the public. Ideally, Plato isless concerned with a reprehensive form of governance. A benevolentdictator works towards decisions that he believes to be viable in thecommunity without necessarily having the voice of the people in them(Plato 200).Plato provides that true philosophers are very few byusing the allegory of the ship captain who is well versed with thenavigation seasons and not ready to change his mind from the constantsuggestions coming from his team, it is evident that he is supportinga significant level of dictatorship. Philosophers, therefore, maywork their way amidst the ideas of the majority while holding on tothe claim that they are very conversant with understanding, logic andpolitical philosophy.

The specific level of knowledge that philosophers have makes theminappropriate rulers and kings. Plato provides that philosophersharbor specific skills that are only available to a few people (Plato205).It translates to a very few of them in any society. If theybecome rulers, the idea will transform ruling from the commonperception of representation to a ruling class with unique skills andcapabilities. It will be difficult for any government to have auniform representation. Should two or more rulers hail from oneregion or community and the rest of the state misses out, therepresentation that forms the core of democracy in the current worldwould not be in force. For example, the chamber of Commons in theGreat Britain is consists of members from the elite class who havereceived education from the best schools in the country. If thiselite group would rule the country without considering the proposalsfrom policies made by the Senate and the parliament, they wouldlargely be representing their interests and those of their kind(Wolff 72). However elite, they may not understand the needs of allthe people. In the same way, philosophers belong to their class ofunderstanding and logics, but their understanding does notnecessarily reflect the needs of the people in the community. Theyare therefore not fit to be rulers.

Philosophers should not be rulers because they incline to benevolenceand dictatorship. Plato’s idea that philosophers are wise and fullof goodness locks them away from public criticism and ideas. Theresult will be totalitarianism in which the public may suffer fromthe decisions reached by the rulers. The Platonian method ofgovernance was a common trend in the 20th century, and it saw therise of various leaders whose rule was tainted with effective viewsbut which were divergent to needs of the public (Wolff 81). Forexample, Adolf Hitler who borrowed a lot from the Platonian model hadvery great interest for his country. However, his needs did notreflect the interest of the public. His inability to listen and thedisregard for other people’s opinion put the country at thereceiving end of attacks finally.

A divergent view is presented by Annas in his work, Voices fromAncient Philosophy. According to her, political experts would not bevery practical politicians. Instead, they would possess knowledge inthe political arena that requires abstract reflection and thought.Annas agrees with Plato that in any society, these people arephilosophers (Annas 51). In other states, Annas refers to them askings, and they are ideal to be rulers. Her view is that there wouldbe a significant political implication if philosophers enter thearena since they are the only ones who harbor such knowledge (Annas51). Their souls aim at fulfilling the desires of their rationalpart. The rational part of the soul is very objective in pursuinghappiness that can be drawn from the forms f the world. For example,it aims at achieving justice. Therefore, submitting to the guidanceand rule of such individuals is pragmatically beneficial to thecommunity.

Conclusively, rulers should not become rulers and kings, especiallyin the modern society. The redefinition of democracy and the waypeople understand it would only create chaos instead of peace. Theclaim by Plato that humanity would only achieve peace if politicalpower falls into the hands of philosophers is misleading. A group ofphilosophers with a deep understanding of logical and politicalphilosophy and their ability to bring peace and happiness is ideal.However, it is very unrealistic in the current world. in fact,Plato’s statement that man is a political being strengthens thethesis since if men are political, they will look forward to beincluded in political decisions regardless their level of knowledgean idea that philosophers would overlook citing the inability of somepeople to reason and make viable decisions. However, the position isnot to make the role played by philosophers in governance obsolete.Their insight and logical coherence can be a vital input ingovernance. Having a slot for a couple of philosophers on policymaking teams can help in arriving at more viable decisions. However,governance should not be entirely at their mandate.


Annas, Julia. Voicesof ancient philosophy: An introductory reader. New York: OxfordUniversity Press, 2001.Print.

Plato. TheRepublic of Plato. Vol. 30. New York: Oxford University Press,1945. Print.

Wolff, Jonathan. Anintroduction to Political Philosophy. Oxford University Press,USA, 2006. Print.