Socrates As Philosopher King Essay

1720 words - 7 pages

      History is ripe with stories of great men.  Hundreds of politicians, philosophers, performers, and writers have left a unique stamp on humanity.  But only a select few can be said to have "changed history."  The legendary Athenian, Socrates, was one such figure.  Socrates ushered in an era of philosophical inquiry that still lingers to this day.  In Book Seven of Plato's The Republic, Socrates outlines his perfect regime.  According to Socrates, an enlightened "Philosopher-King" must rule such a regime.  Now suppose this Republic actually came into being, and Socrates was asked to rule it as a Philosopher King.  Would he?  Answering this begs three important questions:  Is Socrates a true philosopher?  Does he have the appropriate virtues?  Finally, and most importantly, if Socrates has the capacity to rule, why is he silent about it?

One way to decipher whether Socrates would have accepted the position of Philosopher-King is to examine whether he has the appropriate virtues.  These virtues are expounded in Book VI of The Republic.  In passage 487a, Socrates says that the Philosopher will be moderate, courageous, and just.1  Although all people possess these qualities, they are perfected in the body of the philosopher.  Socrates' life was an embodiment of these virtues.  He was courageous because he lived in constant pre-occupation with the eternal; thus, he was oblivious to the luxuries of life.  Plato, Aristophanes, and Ameipsias all show him to be a humble man whose only worldly pleasure was the pursuit of knowledge.2  This pursuit was not easy.  Socrates was constantly ridiculed by the Athenians and was ostracized for his views.  But he continued his pursuit.  He never gave in to the social prejudices against philosophy.  In fact, even when Socrates was on trial for "corrupting" the youth of Athens, he never gave up his beliefs.  He says in section 29c of the Apology:  "I, men of Athens, salute you and love you, but I will obey the god rather than you; and as long as I breathe and am able to, I will certainly not stop philosophizing."3  Ultimately, he chose to die (by drinking a cup of poison) rather than agree he was misleading the people.  This shows that he was courageous in life and in death.  But was he moderate?  According to Socrates, moderation lies not in restraining one's desires.  Instead, true moderation comes only with love of truth.4  In The Republic, Socrates is forced into a discussion about the nature of justice, virtue, etc.  Although he enters into the discussion against his will, he never imposes his views on others.  Instead, like a sincere seeker of truth, he acknowledges other points of view, and uses their weaknesses to formulate his own ideas.  In doing so, Socrates demonstrates that he is a lover of truth.  A true lover never forces his love upon others.  Instead, like a caring teacher, he leads his students to accept the truth on their own.  In the end, Socrates stays with the youths for the whole...

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