Making political decisions requires judgement and skill. It should, Plato urges, be left to the experts.” In Plato’s The Republic, Socrates sets out an example of a ship led by men ignorant of navigation, who
In Plato’s work, The Republic, there is a systematic questioning of being, as The Republic itself is an attempt to answer a problem in human behaviour: justice. To deal with the problem of justice, Plato considers the ideal polis, a collective unit of self-government, and the relationship between the structure of the Republic and the attainment of justice. Plato argues that philosopher kings should be the rulers, as all philosophers aim to discover the ideal polis. The ‘kallipolis’, or the beautiful city, is a just city where political rule depends on knowledge, which philosopher kings possess, and not power. Although theoretically it would be ideal if the Republic and the modern state were ruled by knowledge, and not power, power is crucial in the make-up of political activity “don’t understand that a true captain must pay attention to the seasons of the year, the sky, the stars, the winds, and all that pertains to his craft, if he’s really to be the ruler of a ship. And they don’t believe that there is any craft that would enable him to determine how he should steer the ship, whether the others want him to or not, or any possibility of mastering this alleged craft or of practicing it at the same time as the craft of navigation. Don’t you think that the true captain will be called a real stargazer, a babbler, and a good-for-nothing by those who sail in ships governed in that way?” (Plato; 2007, 204)
Plato’s idea of specialization is also linked to justice, which he considers to be structural, as political justice is a result of a structured city, where individual justice is a result of a structured soul, and where each member of the polis has a “specific craft for which he has a natural aptitude” (Reeve; 2009, 69). “Ruling … is a skill” (Wolff; 2006, 68), which requires special training available to few. At the same time, philosophers must possess qualities that enable them to rule; for instance, they must be able to recognize the difference between friend and foe, good and bad. Above all, philosophers must “love wisdom”(Nichols; 1984, 254), as the rule of the wise leads to the reigning of justice, as philosophy becomes sovereign. Justice is a virtue, as is knowledge, which requires understanding. Understanding refers to goodness, and thus, knowledge and goodness are one. The philosopher kings have virtue as they have knowledge, and thus, according to Plato, their rule is justified.
Finally, the main flaw in Plato’s argument, which renders it highly unpersuasive, is the fact that he is describing and arguing in favour of what Voltaire defined as a “‘benevolent dictatorship’, where an enlightened despot, without the need to consult people, would nevertheless govern in their interests”vPlato argues that “there will be no end to the troubles of states… humanity itself, till philosophers become kings in the world… and political power and philosophy thus come into the same hands” (Plato; 2007, 192). Perhaps, Plato’s argument for a group of knowledgeable persons who have the ability to bring about happiness and justice in the Republic is ideal, but extremely unrealistic. As Aristotle argued, man is a political animal and it is inevitable for us all, not just for an elite of old men, to be interested and have a say in politics, as it is a force which inevitably affects us all. Plato’s argument is asking us not only to be disinterested in the political process, but also to leave our rights and opinions in the hands of a benevolent dictator. For this reason his argument is not only unpersuasive but is also unrealistic