Term Paper: Guardians (Philosopher Rulers) of Plato

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Guardians (Philosopher Rulers) of Plato's Republic

In many ways, the works of Plato regarding justice and virtue represents the zenith of ancient western thought on these subjects, in much the same way that the works of Confucius represent the acme of ancient eastern thought on these subjects. Both men were renowned philosophers (although Plato was substantially influenced by his master, Socrates), who interacted with many other philosophers and wise men of their day. As such, there is a principle point of commonality between Plato's The Republic and Confucius' The Analects -- since both of these texts represent the most labored and highest form of thought from these respective learned men. The focus of the former is on providing a sustained and independent definition of justice, which inherently revolves about notions of ethics and of goodness, in particular. The focus of the latter is on demonstrating the requisites or the way to ethical behavior, which also focuses a lot on the notion of goodness. Therefore, when applying the teachings of Confucius in The Analects to one of the primary tenets of Plato's work, that of the guardians or philosopher rulers, it is interesting to see what Confucius would have thought about this idea of Plato's, which represented the apex of humanity from a moral point-of-view. A careful analysis of both texts indicates that for the most part, Confucius would have approved of Plato's philosopher rulers, for a number of different reasons.

One of the first things that Confucius would have noted about the guardians after, say, perhaps reading the entirety of The Republic, is that there is a preeminence associated with goodness in this work that is greatly aligned with this concept within his own work. The influence of goodness on the guardians is quite considerable. It is widely likened to the sun as the source of all things of substance and of lasting value. The subsequent quotation, in which Socrates (the principle character in The Republic) describes the effect of such goodness, readily reinforces this idea.

Once one has seen it, however, one must conclude that it is the cause of all that is correct and beautiful in anything, that it produces both light and its source in the visible realm, and that in the intelligible realm it controls and provides truth and understanding, so that anyone who is to act sensibly in private or public must see it (Plato).

This passage indicates that goodness plays a fundamental role in the achievement of justice. Moreover, it is key to note that Plato believes that the only people to fully perceive this sort of goodness, and understand its source are the guardians. In fact, the guardians are largely charged with ruling others because Plato posits the notion that they are the only classification of people who can readily discern such goodness.

There are a number of references to goodness in The Analects in which Confucius refers to the idealization that such a concept represents for man. As such, one can even argue that goodness and achieving good is the chief theme within this text. Since the guardians are those who are able to perceive goodness and the effect that this quality has on justice and morality, one can sensibly infer the Confucius would approve of this facet of the description of the guardians detailed by Plato in The Republic. Moreover, one can buttresses this fact with passage from The Analects that allude to how important goodness is in terms of achieving morality or justice. "The Master said…He who loved virtue, would esteem nothing above it. He who hated what is not virtuous, would practise virtue in such a way that he would not allow anything that is not virtuous to approach his person" (Confucius). To correctly interpret this passage, the reader must understand that Confucius is the master and that virtue is akin to goodness. The fact that such virtue is "above" everything else directly correlates to the high esteem with which goodness is viewed by Plato. As such, it is integral to the carrying out of duty of the guardians, a fact which Confucius would readily sanction.

A fairly crucial aspect of the guardians as elucidated within Plato's The Republic is the responsibility that these individuals have. Within this work, Socrates propounds the notion that there is a specialization that should occur within society. Specifically, a stratified social order should take place in which there are producers, warriors, and philosopher rulers. One of the intrinsic responsibilities of those who are philosophers or guardians is to rule over the remaining members of society. It largely due to this responsibility of this class of people that there is such an emphasis on the fact that they are the only people who can truly see and understand goodness -- since they are charged with governing the world in such a way that goodness is readily disseminated and followed. This responsibility of the guardians is implied in the following quotations in which one of the people Aristotle is discoursing with in Plato's text, Adeimantus, creates a metaphor about the duties of guardians. "…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 rule of a ship" (Plato). The metaphor in this passage likens the guardian specialization to a captain of a ship, and the republic or the states which they govern to the ship itself. All of the responsibilities that a captain has related to properly steering the ship are likened to all of the responsibilities a ruler has for successfully governing his people. Thus, Plato establishes the fact that one of the chief duties of guardians is to apply their goodness to successfully governing others, whose duties are to carry out the commands of the guardians.

This integral function of the guardians as rulers of the people is one which Confucius would have surely supported. One of the reasons that Confucius valued good is because he believed that it was a quality conducive to peace and lawful governance. There is a somewhat inverse relationships between his appreciation for just rule and a just ruler, when compared to this notion as discussed within The Republic. Whereas Plato largely makes the point that the guardians who are well acclimated with goodness are the only ones fit to rule, Confucius posits the viewpoint that in order to have a just, virtuous, or good kingdom, a good ruler is required. In such a situation, the ruler is charged with embodying all of the virtues that his kingdom will take on. This point of commonality between these two works greatly suggests that Confucius would have approved of the responsibility of the guardians. The following quotation demonstrates that Confucius is aware of and advocates a similarity between the qualities of a ruler and those evinced within his kingdom. "The Master said, 'If a prince is able to govern his kingdom with the complaisance proper to the rules of propriety, what difficulty will he have? If he cannot govern it with that complaisance, what has he to do with the rules of propriety" (Confucius)? Since it is the principle duty of guardians to rule over people largely because of their knowledge and virtue, it is logical that Confucius, who also desires a wise, virtuous leadership of rulers, would support this function and the idea of guardians in this respect.

Another point about the nature of guardians that Confucius would have more than likely supported is the propensity for these individuals to value and pursue learning or knowledge. In fact, there is a fundamental relationship between the pursuit of good and the pursuit of knowledge, a fact which Plato readily explains with a use of sophisticated metaphors regarding the sun and a line, as well as a lengthy allegory about a cave in which men are bonded in darkness. As previously explicated in this document, the sun is representative of the influence and might of goodness, which is the final stage of progression that the guardians go through in their evolution of understanding from average men to those who are just and virtuous. Their progression is marked by their progress along a line in which the initial stages find them bound within a cave, wrongfully believing that shadows from an unseen light source are what reality is and what life is about (Plato). The first half of that line, which is representative of the first half of their stages of development in which they can only see the effects of things and not their true cause, goodness, is likened to man's use of the senses for governance. The second half of the line, in which the prisoners gain freedom and are eventually able to look at the sun, the true source of goodness, represents the use of the mind with its propensity for knowledge and intellect, which is further along in the stages of development. Thus, The Republic places a… [END OF PREVIEW]

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