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For the Love of Wisdom

Philosophical Politics in Plato and Aristotle

by David Foss

Hence I was forced to say in praise of the correct philosophy that it affords a vantage point from which we can discern in all cases what is just for communities and for individuals, and that accordingly the human race will not see better days until either the stock of those who rightly and genuinely follow philosophy acquire political authority, or else the class who have political control be led by some dispensation or providence to become real philosophers.[1]

The Philosopher King — or, to speak more appropriately, the Philosopher Ruler — stands as one of Plato’s most enduring and controversial images. It represents the convergence of philosophy and politics, in a way that Plato considered essential for the establishment of a government committed to justice. It was in this sense that he thought politics needed philosophy. But more beats beneath the mortal cover of our thoughtful lawgiver. In a twist, as subtle as it is essential for the discipline of philosophy which followed Plato, the image of the Philosopher Ruler embodies an image of philosophy which concerns itself centrally, and completely, with political life. Philosophy needs politics. Philosophy needs to be political.

But what is philosophy? And what does it have to do with politics? Can there even be a philosophical politics? Socratic philosophy is notoriously credited with having been founded on the principle that the philosopher is the one who knows she does not know. She is distinguished from the sophist for this one admission: she is certain of her ignorance; whereas the sophist, like the public voice, claims certainty loosely, haphazardly announcing and withdrawing commitment, without clear warrant or justification — satisfied with the utility of provisional truths, and the real power they endow by the appearance of authority.

The philosopher prefers to abandon the game of appearances, where the names of truth, knowing, and appropriateness are commonly used to cloak the infirmity of popular presumption, and enter into the study of knowing. She asks, What is it to know? How does knowing occur? And, at a loss for an answer, she desperately seeks, by a dialogical interrogation of those who seem to know something, what wisdom might be uncovered in the arts, creative and interpretive, such that some common ground might be found upon which to plant the seeds of knowledge itself. She would never rest until she caught some unfiltered glimpse of that reality by which intellection grasps any thing, in its nature and relatedness.

Such a strange character this is! Or, as Socrates would certainly say, ‘Such a charming character this is.’ But what does this tell us of philosophy? And, why juxtapose the disciplines of philosophy and politics? This cannot be all there is to the philosophic lifestyle: as our philosopher is not terribly practical — forever looking beyond the here and now, straining her whole being to see what illuminates the knowable — stumbling over her feet, as it were, for want of attending to the immediacies of living in a world of guessing. Clearly, if it is to count as a way of life, there must be more to philosophy than knowing one does not know.

I. Plato’s castellum

The city in speech, which constitutes the guiding metaphor in Plato’s Republic, is ostensibly founded to reveal the nature of justice, such that a person can approach death with confidence and security, knowing to have had no part in doing wrong to any other. To treat others appropriately, or to know what such treatment looks like, Plato (in the voice of Socrates) requests our indulgence for the duration of his grand detour, as we seek out the image of commodious living. The finest community will be one which most perfectly reflects the way we ought to treat one another (and ourselves). If confronted by the image of such unambiguous social well-being, it would seem natural to conclude that our civic duty is incidentally and simultaneously made clear.

And so the players embark upon their task: to render the most perfect city. Philosophy, it seems, begins this journey as the handmaid of investigation. The dialectical (or merely dialogical) flavor of the founding of the city clearly gives philosophy a methodological significance from the start. But upon the recognition that the city must guard against the causes of discontentment found in material excess, as well as foreign invasion, philosophy is given a rather peculiar explicit utility. The guardian, who must be a spirited and vigorous defender, must also be endowed with the capacity to favor the known over the unknown: the guardian must love the law, and fear its adversaries, and be able to discern each on no basis other than knowing the one and not the other.[2] The ‘philosophic’ nature of the guardian is confined to a love of what is learned, which most often remains firmly embedded in cultured opinion, and need not ever refer to an apprehension of the truth itself. Or, in contrast to the Socratic image sketched above, this ‘philosophic’ nature need not ever come to the realization that it is only certain of its ignorance. Indeed, it is essential that the guardians be entirely confident in their opinions. Doubt has no place in this philosophy.

As the education of the guardians is articulated, it becomes clear that the founders of the city, and ultimately the lawgivers, maintain a paradoxical monopoly on the lie. At first this is expressed negatively, where the poets are receiving their indictment:

Adeimantus, you and I aren’t poets right now but founders of a city. It’s appropriate for founders to know the models according to which the poets must tell their tales. If what the poets produce goes counter to these models, founders must not give way; however, they must not themselves make up tales.[3]

While this does echo Plato’s common complaint that the philosopher’s task is descriptive, not imaginative[4], he here suggests that a degree of falsification is permissible, if it accustoms the guardians appropriately with regard to what is good and just for the city.

Still, truth is not taken lightly by such a regime. But whether the guardians are acquainted with the true by their own intellection, or merely by a strong attachment to its likeness, it only matters that they be appropriately habituated to come to its defense when it is threatened. Because it must be for the truly beneficial that the defenders of the regime act, though it be done by custom, the true must have some part in their education. Its place, for forceful implementation, is in custom; increasing the need of the lawgiver to insure that no part of custom endangers the true. However, it would seem that lying is central to the management of custom. And so, in order to rein in the variability of such a central component of the adequate protection and implementation of such a regime, the practice of lying is reserved for the perspicacious lawgivers only.[5]

It would seem that, even more hazardous to the health of the city than the mere saying of untruth (whether sanctioned or not), is the fomenting of change. Change, with respect to the established order, cannot be tolerated, without unduly risking its efficacy or merit.[6] The order being defended is somewhat unclear — whether it be the particular legislation of the regime, or the constitution of the city, such that there is a proper ordering between and among the rulers, auxiliaries, and craftsmen. Such a prohibition against legislative revision implied by the first of these alternatives seems at first quite consistent with what follows. While the emphasis in each case hints steadily toward a grounding in the second possibility (that this is a caution against changes which undermine the ordering of disciplines, and not against legislative change as such), it is the first alternative which receives support from a literal reading of its argumentative neighborhood. The localized evidence seems to suggest that legislative change is to be avoided primarily for the intrinsic disrepute it gives the law.

Constant and unprincipled revisions of Law, because habit is only guarded by repetition and regularity, undermine the customs of a people, regardless of the value of their content. Laws tailored for the maintenance of specific nuances of a particular culture are laws forever in need of revision. Arguing that an explicit treatment of custom by the laws is imprudent, Socrates says,

... to set them down as laws is, I believe foolish. Surely they don’t come into being, nor would they be maintained, by being set down as laws in speech and in writing.[7]

This seems to be the case because the laws could never be “one complete and hardy thing”[8], and so could never be extended to encompass the whole of human living, but must ultimately leave it up to custom to fill in the particularities of application essential to the survival of any written code of behavior. Not all of the ailments of the city are treatable by a change in the laws, especially when they concern the very foundations of legal compliance: the customary habits of the people.[9] And this is due, in part, to the dynamic volatility characteristic of custom and opinion. Where law is a thing which is firm insofar as it rules by a unity of action, there opens between it and custom a categorical chasm, which when crossed imprudently endangers the benefit of each.

So the customs, necessary for the efficacy of the laws, must be fixed firmly, by some extra-legislative means, in those members of the city responsible for their preservation and defense. Such a firm conviction in the sanctity of the law, and the word of the lawgivers, Socrates identifies as political courage.[10] But, for all this, how the guardian is a philosopher, or needs a philosophic nature, is increasingly mysterious. Philosophy has, it would seem, a need of returning to the image of the city, to rule according to what is good and beneficial. But how can a class (the guardians), so coached in the art of deference to those who know but do not reveal — the rulers preferring to speak to the people through the likenesses they can understand — produce a child of philosophic aptitude; one who is eager to learn for the sake of learning, and look beyond the applications of the laws (judgments) to the law itself (and beyond still)?

Again the haunting of literal evidence suggests a precarious path into the city in speech, occasioned only by the coincidental convergence of power and philosophy in one person. Unified in a single voice, philosophic rule stands as the only mechanism whereby the city may be appropriately organized, so that each part will do (and know) its proper function. But these are still philosophers born of accident, not culture; and their empowerment is even more surprising and seemingly unnatural.

In a subtle, but important, variation of Plato’s vision of the necessary union of philosophy and politics[11] Socrates says,

... neither city nor regime will ever become perfect, nor yet will a man become perfect in the same way either, before some necessity chances to constrain those few philosophers who aren’t vicious, those now called useless, to take charge of a city, whether they want to or not, and the city to obey [or listen]; or a true erotic passion for true philosophy flows from some divine inspiration into the sons of those who hold power or the office of king, or into the fathers themselves.[12]

The call on the philosopher is clearly one which imagines that she will not be perfected without her participation in ruling. The occurrence of such a rule is made extremely doubtful by her natural reluctance, and by the probabilistic scarcity of favorable conditions. The necessity of overcoming these seems almost insignificant when placed against the magnitude of their obstruction. The natural reaction of the philosophic nature to a corrupted political environment is pictured as being entirely, and understandably, inimical to participation.[13] Indeed, it seems as though ruling itself is a thing unnatural to the philosophic disposition, even where the political culture is open to such a regime.

[We must compel the philosophers to reenter the culture of the many, telling them] ‘So you must go down, each in his turn, into the common dwelling of the others and get habituated along with them to seeing the dark things [i.e. ambiguities]. And in getting habituated to it, you will see ten thousand times better than the men there, and you’ll know what each of the phantoms is, and of what it is a phantom, because you have seen the truth about fair, just, and good things.’[14]

The benefits for the city seem clear. But the benefits for the philosopher seem no better than the occasional inconvenience of ruling. The image even explicitly requires a ruling class that would rather not rule, but who possess a powerful enthusiasm for things more true and good.[15] There is something of a necessity that philosophers rule the city in speech. But what sort of necessity is this? Surely it is not natural necessity that compels them to rule. To a large extent, the philosophic nature does not in practice govern human interactions or behavior. This is confirmed by any examination of the realities of politics, or social behavior generally. But it is Plato’s contention that this nature — the philosophic nature — is never so perfected as when it does govern behavior; and conversely, that human action, both private and public, is never so well governed as it is by the philosophic nature (the knowledge of what is good and true in human living).

By remaining embedded in the literal valence of so many words, something is clearly being missed. What motivates the philosopher to become political? What does philosophy really need of politics?

II. Aristotle’s epimeleia

The dilemma faced here, granting that it is one Plato explicitly recognizes and implicitly responds to, is one not yet directly resolvable. To find a way through its tangled branches, and navigate the steep terrain, there is need of a new bearing. Aristotle, motivated by some of the same concerns (and much the same conception of the end of philosophy) as Plato, explicitly confronted the mixture of philosophy and politics.

... there is a dispute among those who agree that the most choiceworthy way of life is that accompanied by virtue as to whether the political and active way of life is choiceworthy, or rather that which is divorced from all external things — that involving some sort of study, for example — which some assert is the only philosophic way of life.[16]

A look to what is shared and distinct between the Platonic and Aristotelian approaches to this question, and the answers provided by Aristotle, will bring some light to bear on the difficulty of philosophical-political motivation. And as the image of Aristotle is sharpened, we should not be surprised if something new appears in that of Plato’s city in speech.

Aristotle begins from a conception of the natural culmination of human potentialities, which is found only in social living. It might be thought that such a beginning solves the problem for Aristotle, though cheaply and without sufficient argument. After all, if the philosopher is a person, and all persons are most fully actualized (and thereby ‘happy’) in social living, then the philosopher would be happier in the company of others, in a way which was at least social if not political. Fortunately, the arrival at the teleological ‘necessity’ of social living is neither so direct, nor so simple. Even if this were the place where Aristotle begins, there would still be a great distance between the appropriateness of social living, to the moral imperative that philosophy enter the political realm.

Like Plato’s Glaucon, Aristotle locates the beginnings of social living in the drive for human self-sufficiency. For both, the satisfaction of the barest of necessities, including food, shelter, and reproduction, requires that humans form households. Individually, persons are not well suited for prolonged survival in a less than ideal environment.

To divert a glance ahead momentarily, it is striking that the condition of the isolated person, in a strange and unfriendly world, mirrors the condition of the philosopher in the unjust regime. Both must devote their whole being to the mere sustenance of their tissue, but forever remain starkly vulnerable to the temperament of their neighbors (human or otherwise). They can never rest with the confidence that tomorrow there will be food again.

However, even the household falls short. Glaucon and Aristotle consider the mere satisfaction of necessities insufficient for fine living. A person spending every moment at work, with no time or energy for any task other than staying alive, is without joy or hope. A person must live in common to survive; but a person must live in a city to do more than survive. Not unimportantly, Glaucon considers the other extreme of the simple concern for necessities as also motivating the move to the city: that excesses of material sustenance corrupt our senses, and sow the seeds of such discontent as when no material wealth will suffice to quell the drive for more. The city is articulated expressly as that smallest aggregation of personal resources sufficiently diverse to perpetuate itself through time with minimal effort — while avoiding the polar hazards of famine and excessive luxury.

The city stands as the supreme achievement of human self-sufficiency, and so “belongs among the things that exist by nature”; and because there is no other condition (of partnership) which enables a greater realization of personal potential, “man is by nature a political animal.”[17] What it means to be a political animal is still largely undetermined, except that it carries with it the essential characterization of persons as being most perfectly situated when a participant — meaning both a contributor and beneficiary — in a polis.

It is from this position that Aristotle comes nearest Plato’s master thesis concerning the nature of justice. Because persons are essentially social, and the most noble arrangement of social living is political, there is a convergence of good for the individual and good for the city.

... [It] is impossible to act nobly without acting [to achieve] noble things; but there is no noble deed either of a man or of a city that is separate from virtue and prudence. The courage, justice, and prudence of a city have the same power and form as those things human beings share in individually who are called just, prudent, and sound.[18]

The process of habituation and bringing the individual into customary thinking are central here, as they were in Plato’s concern for the training of the guardians. The notions of courage, prudence, and justice receive their first breath of meaning from the social fabric in which they are customary. And we come to these meanings first by becoming accustomed to their appearance, and befriending the likeness of their forms. Only much later are we prepared (even capable) to dig into these likenesses to discover their truth. And yet, their real truth is critical for us, even before the faculty of discernment is up to the task of opening their nature to the intellect. Real virtue is essential for an adequate protection of all else.

... men do not acquire and safeguard the virtues by means of external things [such as material affluence], but the latter by means of the former, and that living happily — whether human beings find it in enjoyment or in virtue or in both — is available to those who have to excess the adornments of character and mind but moderately in respect to the external acquisition of good things, rather than to those who possess more of the latter than what is useful but are deficient in the former.[19]

Turning now to the question of the usefulness, or merit, of philosophy in a good regime: Aristotle distinguishes two sorts of knowledge (although a third, poiesis, is identified elsewhere) relevant to the apprehension of true virtue. Philosophy is understood as that practice devoted to the perfection of the intellect; and as such it is a distinctively passive knowing, likened to the perfection of seeing, which can only concern the elimination of obstruction and discernment of what strikes it. It is the nature of theoretical knowledge (epistémé) that it be essentially passive with respect to its proper object. Practical knowledge (praxis), on the other hand, is essentially active. It is a knowing which is the practice of its reality. And to this knowing, is commonly associated the discipline of politics.

Aristotle initially confines the political realm to praxis. Politics is the practice of living well together. It is everything necessary and good for such living. It seems merely concerned with the behaviors productive of commodious accommodation. But is there need of anything more in politics? Need politics contain an inactive, as well as this active, knowing? The proponents of philosophy are credited with objecting that such a picture equates politics with ruling, as though there were nothing to politics apart from holding sovereign dominion over slaves. And it seems there is nothing noble or praiseworthy in such dominion, just as there is nothing particularly charming in picking up a hammer. But this would mean that politics is neither noble nor praiseworthy in itself. And this contradicts the initial praise of political life.[20]

The error in such thinking, according to Aristotle, where by sovereignty is imagined simply as ruling, is the failure to recognize the essential mixture of action and inaction (or activity and passivity) in political living. He closely mirrors Plato’s description of the rule of the philosophers in the just regime[21], saying that

Among similar persons nobility and justice are found in [ruling and being ruled] in turn, for this is something equal and similar. [To assign] what is not equal to equal persons and what is not similar to similar persons is contrary to nature, and nothing contrary to nature is noble.[22]

Later, he reinforces this notion, and adds that this partaking in ruling and being ruled is the proper participation of each person, insofar as they are equal with the rest (or the ruling body), in fulfilling her contribution to a just constitution.[23] But this does not yet involve the philosopher, according to her philosophic nature. The steady emphasis on the action, and the role of inaction qua inaction, does not treat seriously the manner of action appropriately said of philosophic discourse. As discourse, is must be active. But as action, it is notable for being for the sake of nothing other than itself.[24] And here Aristotle begins the task of showing not merely the compatibility of politics and philosophy, but the mutual interdependence of their thriving.

Under the umbrella of active science, philosophy is making its way into the political. But two things make this an extraordinary achievement. The first is that, unlike the literal image offered by Plato, the mastery of the political sciences is a universal responsibility among the participants in the regime. There is no stratification according to intellectual prowess, as seems to occur in the Republic. While not every citizen may be a guardian, or a craftsman of a given trade (though most would be craftsmen of some sort or another), all citizens, in virtue of their capacity to reason, partake in ruling and being ruled.[25]

The second feature of this breach into philosophy, which is significant for our task at hand, is the placement of the self-sufficient sciences (those which aim at nothing beyond their own activity) prior to the wholly instrumental sciences. With this one shift in orientation (quite common in Aristotelian thought) the practical sciences are rendered (properly) auxiliary to the theoretical sciences. Work serves leisure. War serves peace.[26] Politics serves philosophy?

The extension is tempting, but alas, false. Philosophy is, in a sense, the art of being at leisure. And so it might seem fitting that it should hold such high honor. It is that discipline, the perfection of which insures justice and moderation are kept not under compulsion of death, but under compulsion of life.[27] Philosophy renders the just and moderate life the clearly preferable life. But the placement of politics in the service of philosophy miscasts the other party for Aristotle. Politics is not merely the art of achieving a noble and just community. For Aristotle, it is the life of that community itself. The city’s life is politics. Philosophy, if some relation to politics were to be demanded, would have to be explained as an analogous art in the individual. But this remains misleading. Politics is the realm of human being. Philosophy is the perfection (or care) of life for life, or the soul for the soul.

... in the first instance, the superintendence of the body must necessarily precede that of the soul; next comes that of appetite; but that of appetite is for the sake of the intellect, and that of the body is for the sake of the soul.[28]

Politics is the necessary context of education. Philosophy is its natural end; and by it, education, and civic life generally, is filled with meaning (as this is the proper role of a telos).

III. Apologia — the political psyché

Philosophy is for Plato something more than it was for Aristotle. This is not to say that Plato ought to be considered a truer philosopher than Aristotle, but that the discipline of philosophy is where Plato begins. Philosophy is the context of meanings. It is the investigation and apprehension of significations. The philosophical temperament is what constitutes the human capacity to reach beyond the immediacies of sense perception, and into the realm of pure relations. Philosophy is context. Or, it is the mastery of context, if considered a pseudo-art.

There is a hint here of what has happened to compel the philosopher to rule. Philosophy, as the proper stimulation of the intellect, is appropriate to any soul, which has as a part an intellectual capacity. The city of speech was founded as the supreme allegory of the soul. Justice in the city of speech is an ordering by the philosophically educated judgment, of the many (eros) and the moral auxiliaries (thymos) — playing the part of the moral emotions[29] (eg. shame, indignation, spite, tenacity, etc.) — such that a harmony of purpose prevails over the whole, uniting the plurality of wants and desires into an integrity of oneness. A look back into the dynamics of a just soul, to see how the intellect is compelled to rule, can give a better picture of the role of philosophy in harmonious living.

But first a more adequate treatment of the nature of philosophy is needed, to clarify its boundaries and motivational impact.

The philosopher eschews any desire of the particularities of instantiated participants in formal beauty, valuing only that beauty which is therein instantiated. She is not satisfied with the ‘cuteness’ of imperfections essential to real world objects. Indeed, she is hateful of the ambiguity essential to the things which are said to be beautiful; but looks instead to the unity behind their varied exposition of the form. Real particulars must of necessity be formally ambiguous, admitting of contradictory natures (eg. both beautiful and ugly), by their essential relatedness. By being located spatially and temporally (among a veritable plethora of ways) their value is dependent upon the nature of particular juxtapositions.[30]

It would seem that from this, and other comments concerning the nature of a philosophic disposition,[31] the philosopher would naturally be repulsed by worldly affairs. However, it is not obvious that this is necessary. Indeed, we only glimpse the true through particular manifestations, and likewise enjoy the apprehension of true beauty occasioned by some physical participant in its form. It seems that the philosopher truly does love the body, if only for that soul it instantiates and calls into presence.

Admittedly, this is a love of body in a very peculiar sense. However, peculiarity, under the eye of convention, is not reserved to the reconfiguration of the aspect of materialism under philosophy, but extends directly to the foundationalist metaphysic which drives not only the intellect, but the entire soul.

... [I have said elsewhere] that the idea of the good is the greatest study and that it’s by availing oneself of it along with just things and the rest that they become useful and beneficial. ... [But of this good,] we don’t have sufficient knowledge of it.[32]

The characteristic form of knowing applicable to the idea of the good deserves far more attention than may adequately be supplied here. However, it will suffice to notice that this knowing is essentially not a complete knowing, though of all forms of knowing it is called the most proper. The apprehension of the idea of the good is only possible (in the conventional non-Platonic sense) by an intellection from its effects. It is that by which intellection occurs. It is that by which apprehension (whether sensory or intellectual, it is cognitive) occurs. And it is that force which “gives power to the one who knows.”[33]

But something else lurks in the corners of Socrates’ explication of the idea of the good which deserves our attention. It seems clear from the metaphor of light used in the allegory of the cave, and following, that the process of learning philosophy, of becoming philosophical, is a process of habituation, or explicitly “accustoming” one’s whole being to the way of life involved. The philosopher is therefore, to the degree that she remains contemplating the idea of the good, individually and culturally alienated from her political (or non-philosophical) context. All of this is especially clear in Socrates’ treatment of the two “disturbances of the eyes”, where the philosopher must become reacquainted with the culture of the many, in order to be of use,[34] and from the following discussion of being “turned around from that which is coming into being together with the whole soul until it is able to endure looking at that which is and the brightest part of that which is.”[35] The transition between philosophical and popular cultures is a holistic transition, requiring a reorientation of one’s whole being. They are two discourses; two languages; two worlds. What most superficially identifies the philosophical, as distinct from the popular, is the radical localization of discursive context. Philosophical culture is explicitly and essentially unpopular; it is individual, forever reminded of the singularity of each participant and the subject matter of their common voice.

It seems that once again we find the language of philosophical aristocracy creep in upon a discussion of epistemic conversion. And for the moment, we might play the game, and notice that the philosopher, if he is to rule, must be both philosophic and warlike. Socrates says, “our guardian is both warrior and philosopher”.[36] This closely parallels Aristotle’s demand that the citizen-ruler excel in both practical and theoretical knowledge. The Philosophic Ruler must know strategy and the end of human action.

But reading again, where Socrates proposes that “our” guardian be well equipped for combat (i.e. disputes), and a lover of the true (maintaining moral commitment), he seems to be insisting that we should be firm in our convictions, skilled at the art of mortal combat (the battle of what is right and true, against what is false and corrupt), and open to the light of correction. When he says that the philosophic soul is, by nature, “a rememberer, a good learner, magnificent, charming, and a friend and kinsman or truth, justice, courage, and moderation,”[37] it may be appropriate to locate each of these virtues in the nature of the intellect; even though this dampens much of the Socratic/Platonic realism regarding the variability of aptitude between persons regarding philosophy.

But assuredly, every soul, by the nature of it being a soul, seeks the true good, and to that extent yearns to participate in the philosophic enterprise.

Now this [the true good] is what every soul pursues and for the sake of which it does everything. The soul divines that it is something but is at a loss about it and unable to get a sufficient grasp of just what it is, or to have a stable trust such as it has about the rest.[38]

However, if there is, by the natural endowment of every soul, a philosophic nature in each individual, how is it that so few are ruled by such a nature? Or, to bring the question precisely in line with the question of political rule, how could the philosophic nature be compelled to rule?

For this difficulty, Socrates supplies a clear answer. To stimulate the philosophic nature, and summon its intervention in ruling, the soul must be subjected to objects for which the senses are plainly ill equipped to judge:

... the ones that do go over [to stimulate both a sensation, and its opposite] I class among those that summon the intellect, when the sensation doesn’t reveal one thing any more than its opposite,...[39]

The philosophic nature is compelled by the vision itself to intervene on its behalf. Pulled into service by the indeterminacy of erotic judgement, this nature cannot be understood as intellect alone. The intellect apprehends, discerns, and calculates. But what does it love of what it sees? Does it fully see if it does not love? Intellectual sight is a loving.

For the sake of not watching the desecration of truth, the philosopher is compelled to enter the realm of the many. The philosopher suffers the indoctrination of learning the ways of the appetites so that the beauty she sees will not go uncherished. This is the calling of philosophy in the soul.

In the state there is only this one difference: no soul (of normal competence) is without the capacity to see, and love the true. The difficulty expressed in the Republic regarding the establishment of philosophic rule should be taken into account. Most persons will not have such a constitution as will enable them to become a philosopher-citizen. But most will have the capacity to learn. The appetites can only learn by habituation. But the souls ruled by appetite can pass beyond.

Philosophy is the home of politics for Plato. It is the context of the dialectical emergence of true community. The philosophers do take turns in ruling. Measuring their words, their meanings, and their conversations against the distant glow of Being. Politics, as the emergence of persons into full humanity, must, for Plato’s Socrates, and Aristotle, be in love with wisdom.

Fundamentals of Political Theory
PHIL-505-01, Georgetown University
Fall 1991
(© David Foss, January 7, 1993)

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Last modified August 27, 1998

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