Republic – Book VI

Unsurprisingly, Plato values knowledge with the highest esteem. In Book VI of Plato’s Republic, Socrates explains why philosophers are the ideal rulers and not vicious or useless if raised under the right circumstances. Socrates doesn’t believe that it is at the fault of philosophy if philosophers are perceived as useless, and expresses this idea with an analogy of a ship crew. He likens the “useless” philosopher king as a shipowner afflicted with weak hearing and short-sightedness. Although the sailors may all be in a physically better condition than the shipowner, and even though they are occasionally able to seize control of the ship by force and cunning, they have never learned the art of navigation and are therefore unable to efficiently rule the ship. The philosopher is thus best suited for rule as they are enlightened with the knowledge on how to do so.

Accordingly, Socrates believes that for the ideal guardians to thrive, they must be reared under an ideal constitution, but that such a constitution does not yet exist and therefore the guardian can not exist either. Here we have no other evidence to cling to except Socrates’ belief that the ideal ruler can exist, and that if they did we would all agree with Socrates wholeheartedly.

Book VI also delves into some of Plato’s most abstract ideas. He illustrates his idea on the Form of the Good through an analogy of the Sun. As we could not see anything in our world without the light of the sun, so too could we not see the good in anything without the original Form of the Good. Socrates uses analogy to express this idea for reasons not fully known. Could it be that it is not an idea any of us could fathom? Is it more important for anyone who is to be enlightened to come upon this realization independently? Nonetheless, this metaphysical mystery is the key to the philosopher king’s divine right to rule according to Socrates, as it is with this knowledge of the Form of the Good that philosophers are inextricably tied, and therefore rendered just.

1 thought on “Republic – Book VI

  1. Christina Hendricks

    Good points here, especially in the last two paragraphs. Socrates does say that occasionally someone with a good philosophical nature can still exist, through luck, because they were raised well and not corrupted, but it’s rare. And of course, they aren’t actually rulers so we can’t see how they’d rule.

    And I’m really intrigued by the fact that Socrates (Plato) refuses to say what the form of the good is but can only give us an analogy. I think Plato is trying to say that this sort of knowledge is something that only makes sense after you’ve gone through all the steps in education that he prescribes for the philosophers. Plato himself did run a school, and mathematics and geometry were very much emphasized by him as crucial to doing philosophy well and understanding reality. So maybe he thought that if he tried to explain it to people who didn’t have the correct educational background, they wouldn’t get it at all and would just think what he’s saying makes no sense. So it’s almost better not to say anything at all in that case!

    On another note, could you please activate a plugin on your blog that allows those who make comments to get check a box to get an email if there are any replies to the comment? Go to the dashboard when you’re logged in, then find “plugins” on the left menu. Go to the one called “subscribe to comments” and click “activate.”



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