Plato’s Conception of Democracy
(particularly in comparison to his own ideal state)
Plato, regarded as one of the greatest thinkers in the western classical tradition, is best known as the author of philosophical works of unparalleled influence. His works contain various comprehensive discussions on aesthetics, political philosophy, theology, cosmology, epistemology, and the philosophy of language. Some of his most influential political and pedagogical ideas are put forth in the Republic.
Growing up during the Great Peloponnesian War, Plato’s political philosophy was immensely shaped and influenced by his own political circumstances. Like other thinkers, Plato desired remedies to the prevalent political deterioration that was taking place in Athens. The Republic serves to be a criticism of Hellenistic Governance in general and its politics in specific.
According to his Theory of Forms, Plato believes that there exists an ideal world of Forms beyond the limitations of the physical world that cannot be comprehended by human experience. Furthermore, he states that the things that the state should promote such as morality and the good life are mere reflections of these ideal quintessence. This can be elucidated further by his Allegory of the Cave. Here, Plato puts forth the idea of a cave in which three prisoners are trapped; the shadows they see on the wall before them are reflections of reality, but they perceive it as the truth. This goes to show that humans live in a state of perpetual misunderstanding; what we see, feel, and hear are mere shadows of the truth. Only the one who escapes from the cave and seeks knowledge outside is enlightened with truth and wisdom. He uses this allegory to suggest that ordinary life is merely an illusion and those who intellectually venture out of this realm, the philosophers and thinkers, are the ones who can grasp the ultimate truth. Therefore, Plato believes that an ideal state should be ruled by philosophers as they are the ones who can ultimately fathom the permanent forms.
Influence of Socrates- societies – tripartite class structure
Different aspects of individual soul corresponding with the three classes of society
“unless philosophers bear kingly rule in cities or those who are now called kings and princes become genuine and adequate philosophers, and political power and philosophy