Platos Philosophy

Light of truth

Joseph Pallattil

Plato is generally viewed as one of the greatest and most influential philosophers in the Western tradition. His political philosophy is held in similarly high regard, and is the earliest comprehensive political view we possess. As with other great figures, Plato’s political theory was not only part of his overall philosophical system but profoundly shaped by his social and political circumstances. Plato’s political experience was one of general decay and decline. In his view, the traditional polis, the main function of which was inculcating its moral values, was under assault from forces of democracy, individualism, and imperialism. Throughout his works Plato defended the traditional polis and argued for the need to pursue values of justice and the intellectual virtues rather than worldly goods such as wealth and reputation.

The essence of Plato’s political theory is straightforward. The purpose of the just city is to make its inhabitants as virtuous as possible, and so everything possible is done to achieve this. The result is a completely controlled environment in which all resources are devoted to the inculcation of virtue. The city’s primary institution is the education system. Its other institutions, including Plato’s famous system of communism, are intended to provide an environment in which the task of education can be successfully carried on. As noted above, the just city is composed of the three classes: the rulers, auxiliaries, and farmers. Underlying the structure of the city and its educational function are two basic psychological assumptions. First, Plato believes that people are largely malleable. A person is strongly affected by the environment in which he or she grows up, and so can be made virtuous if brought up in a properly governed city. The second assumption limits malleability. Plato believes there are fundamental, innate differences between people. The three different kinds of people-those with gold, silver, or bronze in their souls have vastly different capacities to achieve virtues. Although the just city is designed to raise people to the highest levels of virtue, they are capable of, the result must be different classes with different levels of virtue. Plato also speaks of the idea of Philosopher king. According to which the best form of government is that in which philosophers rule. The ideal of a philosopher king was born in Plato’s dialogue Republic as part of the vision of a just city.

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