Plato: Exploring the Philosopher King, Educational Theory, and Communism

Introduction

Plato, a student of Socrates, was born in the year 427 BC within the city of Athens. He is renowned for laying the philosophical groundwork for Greek political theory, encompassing a wide array of philosophical concepts and topics that continue to underpin the Western political tradition. Often referred to as the Father of Political Philosophy and regarded as the Founder of Philosophical Idealism, Plato’s work marked the inception of utopian thinking in the Western world.

Key Events in Plato’s Life

  1. In 387 BCE, Plato founded the Academy (Library) in Athens, an institution of great intellectual significance.
  2. In 399 BCE, Socrates, Plato’s mentor, was executed, an event that deeply impacted Plato’s philosophical development which also made him critical of Democracy.
  3. Plato was invited to the Sicilian state in Syracuse, where he was tasked with instructing Dionysius II and aiding him in becoming a philosopher-ruler as described in Plato’s work “The Republic.”
  4. Later, Plato was arrested by Dionysius and sent to prison due to political complications.

Influences on Plato

Plato’s philosophical ideas were substantially shaped by the prevailing intellectual climate of his time and the teachings of notable thinkers such as Pythagoras, Parmenides, Heraclitus, and, most significantly, Socrates.

Context of Plato’s Times in Athens:

During Plato’s lifetime, Athens experienced defeat by Sparta in the Peloponnesian War. This defeat fueled Plato’s desire to understand the reasons behind Athens’ downfall. He lived through a tumultuous period in Greek history, witnessing the tyrannical rule of reactionaries, which he deemed corrupt. This experience motivated his quest to establish an Ideal State, with the Rule of the Philosopher King as the solution.

Influences from Other Philosophers:

  • From Pythagoras, Plato adopted the concept of the Transmigration of Souls and the idea that the universe is based on mathematical and logical principles, suggesting that society should also adhere to these principles. Plato’s affinity for geometry can also be traced to Pythagoras, emphasizing its logical nature.
  • Heraclitus‘s belief in the continuous change of life influenced Plato’s view that change is fundamental in the world.
  • Parmenides taught Plato that despite the ever-changing world, there exists something permanent: Ideas. Plato amalgamated these views to assert that knowledge was a virtue attainable solely through intellect.

Socrates:

Socrates had the greatest influence on Plato’s philosophical development, with Plato regarding him as the wisest man on Earth. Socrates introduced Plato to the dialectical method and imparted three fundamental doctrines: Virtue is Knowledge (which became the foundation of Plato’s political philosophy), the Theory of Reality, and the Theory of Knowledge. Plato considered himself a disciple of Socrates, and Socrates is a central character in Plato’s dialogues.

Plato’s notable works

The Republic” (386 BC): A comprehensive work that explores justice, education, communism, and the institution of the philosopher-king within an ideal state. Republic was basically a dialogue between Socrates, Cephalus and his sons – Polemarchus, Thrasymachus, Glaucon, and Adeimantus. In Republic Plato also gave the concept of “Kallipolis” – A Utopian City

Note –Republic of Plato is all about Education” – Rousseau

The Statesman” (360 BC): Reflects Plato’s stance on democracy, featuring classifications of states and constitutions. In this book he gave preference to “rule of law”.

The Laws” (347 BC): Demonstrates Plato’s evolving thoughts, moving away from the concept of the philosopher-king to embrace the Rule of Law. This is the Plato’s longest dialogue.

In Laws Plato also described Magnesia, the envisioned settlement on Crete, an independent agricultural community positioned approximately nine to ten miles away from the coast. Its isolated location is designed to discourage the influence of outsiders who might disrupt Magnesia’s cultural integrity. Nevertheless, Magnesia will still accommodate a population of enslaved individuals and foreigners responsible for tasks that citizens are prohibited from engaging in, such as trade and menial labor.

The political structure of Magnesia will be a hybrid, combining elements of democracy and authoritarianism. This is evident in the management of political offices, with the most prestigious being the “nocturnal council.” This council’s primary responsibility will involve delving into the philosophical underpinnings of law and providing insights on how these principles can be applied within the Magnesian society.

Note – Al-Farabi wrote the summary of Plato’s Laws.

Some other important works are:

  • The Symposium – Metaphysics of Love
  • Apology – Novel
  • Phaedo – Theory of Soul
  • Gorgias
  • Crito
  • Critias
  • Meno
  • Sophist
  • Timaeus – The Sphere of Physics
  • Noble Lie

Plato’s Methodology

Plato employed dialectics, using rational and logical dialogues and debates as his primary mode of philosophical discourse. His methodology was deductive, moving from general principles to specific conclusions. He was an idealist, concerned with envisioning “what ought to be” rather than describing “what is.” Plato’s ideas were radical and utopian, often ahead of his time.

Major Themes in Plato’s Political Thought

Theory of Ideas by Plato

One of Plato’s central ideas is the Theory of Ideas, which posits that reality is a reflection of perfect and permanent Ideas. He argues that the material world is characterized by change, while the world of Ideas is one of perfection and permanence. Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” illustrates the transformation from ignorance to enlightenment, emphasizing the need to move from the material world to the realm of Ideas through the enlightenment of the soul.

Theory of Souls by Plato

Plato’s Theory of Souls, often referred to as the Myth of Metals, can be traced back to the influence of Pythagoras. According to Plato’s philosophy, every human possesses a soul, which he believes is composed of three distinct elements: reason, courage, and appetite.

Plato emphasizes that not all souls are created equal; rather, they exhibit varying degrees of dominance among these three elements. The rare individuals in whom reason dominates are classified as the “Man of Gold.” In contrast, those in whom courage dominates are known as the “Man of Silver.” The majority of individuals, in whom appetite prevails, are labeled as the “Men of Copper.”

In Plato’s Ideal State, he envisions a society organized into three distinct classes based on the quality of souls or spiritual characteristics. These classes include the ruling class, associated with wisdom; the soldier class, embodying courage; and the producing class, representing temperance.

Theory of Justice by Plato

Plato’s Theory of Justice is a central aspect of his philosophy, as demonstrated by the fact that he subtitled his work “Republic” as ‘Concerning Justice.’ His concept of justice is intricately linked to the fulfillment of one’s duty. According to Plato:

  • Justice is concerned with duty.
  • Justice is the source of virtue.
  • Justice is essential for maintaining harmony.

In a just state, peace, harmony, and excellence thrive. Similarly, in a just soul, reason must dominate over courage and appetite. Plato stresses the importance of each element performing its designated tasks and being appropriately situated. Interference between different classes should be avoided, and individuals should exercise self-control.

Theory of Education by Plato

Plato’s Theory of Education serves as a means to identify the spiritual qualities of a soul and establish an Ideal State. According to Plato, “State is the reflection of individuals“. He combines elements of the Spartan and Athenian education systems to create a holistic approach to education, considering it vital for the harmonious functioning of both the state and society.

Key features of Plato’s educational scheme include state-controlled education for both men and women, strict censorship of literature, compulsory education, a focus on both mental and moral development, and a strong connection with the soul. Plato envisions the production of philosopher-kings through education.

The stages of Plato’s education system consist of:

  • Stage I (0-18 years): Primary and secondary education, involving music, gymnastics, moral stories, and basic education in various disciplines.
  • Stage II (18-20 years): Compulsory military education and the first filtration process, where those who fail join the producer class.
  • Higher Education (20-35 years): In-depth education in subjects like mathematics, astronomy, logics, and sciences, with a focus on geometry, leading to a second filtering process. Those with logical aptitude continue, while others join the soldier class. The age of 30-35 involves dialectical method training.
  • Practical Training (35-50 years): Individuals become eligible to become philosopher-kings at the age of 50.

Plato’s perspective on education is comprehensive and emphasizes that it should be a lifelong process.

Theory of Communism by Plato

Plato’s Theory of Communism is a significant aspect of his political philosophy, closely intertwined with his concept of justice. This theory is influenced by the city – Sparta. In this theory, he advocates for the communal ownership of property and the institution of marriage.

Plato’s proposal for communism encompasses two main aspects:

  1. Communism of Property: Plato suggests that communism of property should be practiced among the ruling and soldier classes. This means that members of these classes are not allowed to acquire or own private property. The reasoning behind this is that individuals in these classes, with reason and courage as dominant traits, should not be distracted by the pursuit of personal wealth.
  2. Communism of Family: Plato goes even further by advocating communism of family, which includes the sharing of both marriage and wives. According to Plato, family poses a greater threat to the ideal state than property, as it is often the desire to provide for one’s family that leads to the accumulation of property. In Plato’s vision:
    • The entire state is considered a family.
    • There is no concept of permanent marriage among the guardian class, and all men and women are shared among one another under the authority of the state.
    • The state determines who will marry whom, with a eugenic purpose of creating a more intelligent and capable citizenry.
    • Marriage, in this context, is primarily for procreation.
    • Once a child is born, they become the responsibility of the state, relieving women from the duties of child-rearing and allowing them to participate in the affairs of the state.
    • This system ensures that there is no discrimination among children, and all are treated equally.

Theory of Philosopher King by Plato

Plato’s Theory of the Philosopher King is closely connected to his concept of justice and his vision of the ideal state. He places great emphasis on the element of ‘reason’ and argues that only competent and efficient individuals should hold the right to govern.

Plato was critical of democratic systems and instead advocated for a government by an intellectual elite, with unlimited powers vested in the Philosopher King. He believed that for a city to become ideal, philosophers must rule or rulers must embrace philosophy, as this would eliminate corruption and evil.

The qualifications for a Philosopher King according to Plato include being a person of reason, undergoing 50 years of education, and having no personal property or family. The Philosopher King is granted absolute power, and their wisdom cannot be questioned by public opinion. However, Plato does place one limitation on the Philosopher King: they cannot change the constitution or laws of the state.

Plato also assigns a position of great importance to the concept of law in his work, “Laws,” underscoring its significance in maintaining order and justice within the ideal state.

It is important to note that not only Plato was critical of Democracy but also regarded as first fascist in history as he gave more importance to duties than rights of the individual and his idea of Philosopher King also reflects authoritarian ideals.

Quotes by Plato


“Human behavior flows from three main sources: desire, emotion, and knowledge.”
⮚ “Ideas are the source of all things”
⮚ “Ignorance, the root and steam of all evil”.
⮚ “No law or ordinance is mightier than understanding.”
⮚ “Those states are best governed where the ruler is least interested to govern”
⮚ “It is foolish to limit an expert practitioner of medicine with the book of medicine
”.

Conclusion


“One can be either Platonic or anti-Platonic but can never be non-platonic” – Karl Popper.
“Plato is Philosophy and Philosophy is Plato” – R.W. Emerson

The political philosophy of Plato has left a deep impact on the political thought and ideologies which emerged in the subsequent centuries. It is rightly said – “Western political thought is nothing but footnotes to Aristotle and Plato”.

Commentaries on Plato

  1. Justice for Plato is at once a part of human virtue and the bond which joins men together in the states – Barker .
  2. Virtually all socialistic and communistic thought has its roots in Plato – Maxey
  3. Plato may not be everybody’s saint, but undoubtedly he is everybody’s teacher – R. N. BERKI
  4. Modern communist totalitarianism has been derived from Platonic communism – Karl Popper
  5. Plato introduced authoritarianism in politics – Bertrand Russell
  6. Plato’s Justice is a bound which holds the society together – Sabine
  7. Plato was cynical, reactionary, inhumane, and highly imaginative – Toynbee
  8. Plato was wrong for his time and ours – R.H Crossman
  9. Plato as father of Philosophy, Politics and Literary idealism – Benjamin Jowett.

Some Important Books on Plato

  1. “In Defense of Plato” – Ronald R. Levinson
  2. “Plato’s Modern Enemies and theory of Natural Law” – John Wild
  3. “Plato Today” – RHS Crossman
  4. “The man and his work” – AE Taylor
  5. “Lectures on the Republic of Plato” – RL Nettleship
  6. “Platonic Legend” – W. Fite

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