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Encyclopedia > Philosopher king
Part of a series on
Platonic idealism
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Philosopher kings are the hypothetical rulers of Plato's Utopian Kallipolis. If his ideal city-state is to ever come into being, "philosophers [must] become kings…or those now called kings [must]…genuinely and adequately philosophize" ( The Republic, 473c). Image File history File links Plato-raphael. ... Platonic idealism is the theory that the substantive reality around us is only a reflection of a higher truth. ... Platonism is a philosophical term usually used to refer to the idea of realism regarding the existence of universals after the Greek philosopher Plato who lived between c. ... Middle Platonism refers to the development of certain philosophical doctrines associated with Plato during the first and second centuries A.D. One of the outstanding thinkers of Middle Platonism was Philo Judeaus (Philo the Jew) who synthesized Platos philosophy with Jewish scripture largely through allegorical interpretation of the latter. ... Neoplatonism (also Neo-Platonism) is the modern term for a school of philosophy that took shape in the 3rd century AD, based on the teachings of Plato and earlier Platonists. ... Platonic epistemology is the belief that knowledge is innate, the development (often under the midwife-like guidance of an interrogator) of ideas buried deep in the soul. ... Socratic Method (or Method of Elenchus or Socratic Debate) is a dialectic method of inquiry, largely applied to the examination of key moral concepts and first described by Plato in the Socratic Dialogues. ... Socratic dialogue (Greek Σωκρατικός λόγος or Σωκρατικός διάλογος), is a prose literary form developed in Greece at the turn of the fourth century BCE, preserved today in the dialogues of Plato and the Socratic works of Xenophon - either dramatic or narrative - in which characters discuss moral and philosophical problems. ... Theory of Forms typically refers to Platos belief that the material world as it seems to us is not the real world, but only a shadow of the real world. ... The Platonic doctrine of recollection is the idea that we are born possessing all knowledge and our realization of that knowledge is contingent on our discovery of it. ... For other uses, see Plato (disambiguation). ... This page is about the ancient Greek philosopher. ... Plato, in The Republic (507b-509c), uses the sun as a metaphor for the source of illumination, arguably intellectual illumination, which he held to be The Form of the Good, which is sometimes interpreted as Platos notion of God. ... Plato, in The Republic Book 6 (509D–513E), uses the literary device of a divided line to teach his basic views about four levels of existence (especially the intelligible world of the forms, universals, and the visible world we see around us) and the corresponding ways we come to know... This article or section is in need of attention from an expert on the subject. ... For other uses, see Plato (disambiguation). ... This article is about the Turkish town. ... A city-state is a region controlled exclusively by a city. ... The Republic is an influential dialogue by Plato, written in the first half of the 4th century BC. This Socratic dialogue mainly is about political philosophy and ethics. ...


In Book VII of The Republic

Plato defined a philosopher firstly as its eponymous occupation – wisdom-lover. He then distinguishes between one who loves true knowledge as opposed to simple sights or education by saying that a philosopher is the only man who has access to forms – the archetypal concept which lies behind all representations of the form (such as a table as opposed to any one particular table). It is next and in support of the idea that philosophers are the best rulers that Plato fashions the Ship of state metaphor, one of his most often cited ideas (along with his allegory of the cave). "[A] true pilot must of necessity pay attention to the seasons, the heavens, the stars, the winds, and everything proper to the craft if he is really to rule a ship" (The Republic, 487e). Plato claims that the sailors (i.e., the people of the city-state over whom the philosopher is the potential ruler) ignore the philosopher's "idle stargazing" because they have never encountered a true philosopher before. Plato spoke of forms (sometimes capitalized: The Forms) in formulating his solution to the problem of universals. ... The ship of state is a famous and oft-cited metaphor put forth by Plato in book VI of ‘’Platos Republic’’. It likens the governance of a city-state to the command of a naval vessel - and ultimately argues that the only men fit to be captain of this... Illustration of Platos cave Platos allegory of the cave is perhaps the best-known of his many metaphors, allegories, and myths. ...


Plato describes the philosopher-kings' education as beginning with the general primary education until the age of eighteen and two years of intense physical training. Those performing exceedingly well receive ten years of rigorous mathematical education – because Plato believes the forms cannot be fully understood less they be tied in with the sacredness of mathematics. If successful at this stage, the student moves on to five years of training in dialectic. There is a final fifteen-year period of apprenticeship in managing the polis. A polis (πόλις, pronunciation pol-is) — plural: poleis (πόλεις) — is a city, or a city-state. ...

And when they are fifty years old, those who have lasted the whole course and are in every way best at everything, both in practice and in theory, must at last be led to the final goal, and must be compelled to lift up the mouth of their psyches towards that which provides light for everything, the good itself. And taking it as their model, they must put in good order both the polis and themselves for the remainder of their lives, taking turns with the others (540a4-b1).

After extensive education, the kings finally understand the form of the Good. Plato describes The Form of the Good in his book, The Republic, using Socrates as his mouth piece. ...

Relationship to the rest of The Republic

The entirety of The Republic can be understood as a treatise on education, as well as political thought or philosophy. The entirety of the work is concerned with how to raise the guardians, or ruling class of the Kallipolis, effectively. Philosopher-kings are simply the most successful and excellent specimens of guardians; however, there is no real explanation of what happens to the "would be Philosopher Kings". There is only speculation.


  • Plato's ideas as put forth in book II of The Republic with reference to women mean that he does not preclude philosopher-queens.
  • Though philosopher-king is used the term "The Guardians" is also used to describe the concept.

Historical Philosopher-Kings

Several figures in history have been cited as exhibiting key attributes of the Platonic ideal, including:

Ayatollah Khomeini also was moved by Plato's philosopher king and tried to model his "Islamic Republic" on Plato's template. It is for this reason that there is a supreme religious leader that has jurisdiction over all aspects of Iranian Politics. King Solomon Latin name (Hebrew: שְׁלֹמֹה, (Shelomo) (Shlomo pronounced with Yiddish accent)Standard Tiberian ; Arabic: سليمان, Sulayman; all essentially meaning peace) is a figure described in Middle Eastern scriptures as a wise ruler of an empire centred on the united Kingdom of Israel. ... Alexander the Great (Greek: ,[1] Megas Alexandros; July 356 BC–June 11, 323 BC), also known as Alexander III, king of Macedon (336–323 BC), was one of the most successful military commanders in history. ... Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus (April 26, 121[1] – March 17, 180) was Roman Emperor from 161 to his death. ... Matthias Corvinus as depicted in Chronica Hungarorum by Johannes de Thurocz Matthias Corvinus (Matthias the Just) (February 23, 1443 (?) – April 6, 1490) was King of Hungary, ruling between 1458 and 1490. ... Frederick the Great Frederick II of Prussia (Friedrich der Große, Frederick the Great, January 24, 1712 – August 17, 1786) was the Hohenzollern king of Prussia 1740–86. ... Suleyman I (Ottoman Turkish: Sulaymān, Turkish: ; formally Kanuni Sultan Süleyman in Turkish) (November 6, 1494 – September 5/6, 1566), was the tenth and longest-serving Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, reigning from 1520 to 1566. ... Catherine the Great redirects here. ... This article is about the Texcocan philosopher-king. ... Ayatollah Khomeini founded the first modern Islamic republic Ayatollah Seyyed Ruhollah Khomeini (آیت‌الله روح‌الله خمینی in Persian) (May 17, 1900 – June 3, 1989) was an Iranian Shia cleric and the political...

See also

enlightened desportism is the act when a prist lies in order to become better in the eyes of the churchEnlightened absolutism (also known as benevolent or enlightened despotism) is a form of despotism in which rulers were influenced by the Enlightenment, a historical period. ...


  • C.D.C. Reeve, Philosopher-Kings: The Argument of Plato's Republic, Princeton University Press, 1988.

More information

  • Text of section of The Republic pertaining to philosopher-kings.

  Results from FactBites:
Republic (Plato) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (3453 words)
Written in the form of a dialogue, it concerns what is called philosophia peri ta anthropina (philosophy of the human things) and it encompasses the areas of ontology, epistemology, political philosophy, feminism, ethics generally, medical ethics, communism, and economics.
Hence, in the centre piece of the Republic, Part II, 2-3, Plato deals with the rule of the philosopher and the vision of the Agathon in the famous allegory of the cave, with which Plato clarifies his theory of forms.
Some of Plato’s proposals have led philosophers like Leo Strauss and Allan Bloom to ask readers to consider the possibility that Socrates was creating not a blueprint for a real city, but a learning exercise for the young men in the dialogue.
  More results at FactBites »



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