Socrates


Question 1


Explain Socrates’ claim that the crucial qualification for ruling is not wanting to rule. What is the role of philosophy in producing this qualification?


Socrates first introduces philosophy as a qualification for rulers in Book V. It is here that he formulates the idea of philosophers as king, or kings as philosophers. Socrates feels that this is the most controversial idea he has put forward, the third and greatest wave of paradox. However, one could consider his theories on matrimony and social structure to be far more radical and even subversive, seeing as students of politics these days are required to study prodigious amounts of philosophical works. In Socrates’ explanation of his assertion, he comes to the conclusion that philosophers are those who do not wish to rule because they prefer to stay away from politics, but who must rule because of their love for knowledge. The way he arrives at this conclusion is what will be examined in the following.


Towards the end of Book V, Socrates defines the philosopher as someone who loves wisdom, and is willing to possess all of it, unlike those false philosophers who focus on one sensation, not seeing the whole fact.


Having defined the philosopher, he goes on to enumerate their qualities and describe their actions in Book VI. In summary, the philosopher must be “a rememberer, a good learner, magnificent, charming, and a friend and kinsman of truth, justice, courage and moderation” (487a).


He proceeds to illustrate the doubtful usefulness of philosophers through the parable of the true pilot. Socrates likens the citizens of a state to the incapable captain of a ship - short of vision, deaf, and with little knowledge of navigation. The sailors each believe that they are more capable of navigating the ship of state, scheming against each other to take the helm, even though they have no skill in navigation either. Amongst these sailors there is a true pilot who understands the art of navigation and knows the patterns of the stars - but is not interested in participating in the struggle to control the ship. Because of this, this true pilot is dismissed as a useless “stargazer” (488a-e).


This represents the attitude of society to philosophers - while they have the most knowledge, citizens suppose that they are useless because they do not seek power. Socrates sees that they are useful to society, but are no made use of correctly. He uses the example of a doctor and patient - doctors never search for sick people to cure, the sick come to a doctor. Thus, it is the people who are in need of proper guidance that should seek out the services of a philosopher to lead them.


Socrates goes on to further explain the reluctance of true philosophers to rule. Those young people born with a philosopher’s nature are corrupted by the society, because through aiming to achieve excellence by society’s standard those with abilities are forced to adopt qualities with the public values by are corrupt. The strong qualities which could have made them philosophers turn to vices if improperly cultivated. They are thus diverted from the seeking of knowledge, and are corrupted by the praise of the people. He also criticizes those unworthy philosophers who are really incapable of real philosophy, who give philosophy a bad name.


True philosophers, by their very nature, do not seek public office because they know that the qualities necessary for success in politics are base ones, and they eschew such petty struggles for power. Moreover, the citizens value what is pleasurable to them, and support politicians who give them what they want. A philosopher would know what would truly benefit the citizens, which the citizens would reject, since they only seek gratification of their immediate pleasure. A philosopher, knowing the nature of the people and the practises needed to obtain their favour, is likely to dismiss vying for political success as an ignoble.


Question 4


What is the difference between a willing lie and an unwilling lie? Which of these is the Noble Lie? What are the components of the noble lie and what are they designed to achieve?


Socrates only defines the “unwilling” or “true” lie, briefly, and the “willing” lie or “lie in