Mindbites: Plato’s Justice and The Philosopher Kings

Plato was an idealist. He envisioned a utopian state of being where the Guardians or ‘Philosopher Kings’, a particular class within the Greek Polis, were the sole carriers of the necessary characteristics needed for the governance of a ‘just’ society. He strongly believed that given the required knowledge, which meant being censored from the explicit material contained within Greek Art and Mythology, they would be able to better transform the ‘soul’ of the Polis ensuring the preservation of a ‘just’ environment that provided equal opportunity for all its citizens.

Plato was born during the wake of the Peloponnesian War. The war struck as a result of a tug-of-war for power between Sparta and Athens. The aftermath of the war left the city-states bankrupt and demoralized. As a result, the obsolete idea of a ‘just’ city-state had gradually deteriorated. Through the Republic, Plato conveys his idea of how a ‘just’ political community should be formed and maintained. In essence, Plato fantasized that incorporating his idealistic views of ‘good’ and ‘justice,’ through the Guardians, into the Polis would dramatically rejuvenate, and maybe even to a large extent, renovate a society that was deteriorating morally, economically and socially.

The Guardians were a specialised class of people who carried, what Plato believed was, the optimal characteristics required to govern a ‘just’ society. During that era, Greek states prohibited other classes – this would exclude the Guardians, from actively taking part in the state’s politics. It was a belief at the time that the role one fulfilled within the Polis was dependent on the family’s occupational lineage. Socrates interpreted, in the Republic, that ‘a person’s nature is defined by the art for which he is suited for,’; hence, the role of governance was particularly reserved for the Guardians. This role required specialist skills and natural born talent that would assist in the daily administration and reproduction of a ‘just’ society. In order to qualify as a Guardian, it was crucial to be courageous, wise and moderate. Having these characteristics would isolate men and women of the upper strata in the Polis, permitting them to further undergo the ‘Guardian’s education’. Willingness to acquire this level of education defined, what Plato deemed to be, a philosopher. He goes on to state, in the Republic, that philosophers or Guardians have exclusive access to the ‘Forms,’ the paradigmatic ideologies that exist beyond all material existence. This supports the idea of the ‘ship of state’ metaphor, “[A] true pilot must of necessity pay attention to the seasons, the heavens, the stars, the winds, and everything proper to the craft if he is really to rule a ship”. This argued that only the Guardians were fit enough to ‘pilot’ or govern a Greek Polis that had the ultimate desire of attaining justice, as they were ‘experts in attaining the political good’. Any member of the Polis, citizen or non-citizen, who surpassed their occupational lineage by going into the wrong class, was said to corrupt the group. Such meddling would cause the group to lose its integrity within the Polis.

The Guardians were made to sacrifice their personal interests, as an act of self-discipline, which would promote freedom through liberty and not license, within the Polis. Plato believed it was imperative that the Guardian class not be enticed by materialism. In order to avert such an act, Plato proposed that the children of the Guardian class be raised communally, which would build a sense of commitment amongst the members. This would eradicate any signs of partiality enabling the community to achieve the greater good of the Polis, as first care would be given holistically. It was mentioned in Book Five of the Republic, a family with personal preferences and attachments was unjust. In Book Three, Plato distinguishes ‘family’ as an obstacle to ‘equal education’ and ‘equal opportunity’ for all the members of the Guardian class. Plato even condemned the purchase of private property by the Guardians. Having a selected few whom were detached from materialistic pleasures govern the Polis would ensure a consistent policy, which would trail in one route that would ensure the functioning of a ‘just’ society. Plato thought that true freedom came when an individual could self regulate under the laws of the state or Polis.  Therefore, it was essential that the Guardian class self regulate in a responsible manner, as this would promote freedom through liberty and not license. Here, license was when citizens indulged in activities that would satisfy their personal wishes and desires. License discouraged the construction of a well-ordered state. Such discipline would develop, according to Plato, a collective personality that is in “harmony,” in the sense that the members of the Guardian class would not instill aims that diverge from their true purpose, which was to transform the Polis into a utopian paradise for its citizens. For the Guardians to adhere to their materialistic possessions in pursuit of their happiness and self-pleasure was deemed unjust. By solitarily focusing on the good of the Greek city-states would lay their happiness, ‘because pursuing the good of the city is a worthwhile part of their own future’.

A lack of censorship towards the explicit material contained within Greek Art and Mythology would eradicate liberty and encourage freedom through license, causing the Polis’ moral values to disintegrate. Plato considered Greek Arts to be dangerous as most Greek Gods within that era were infamous for criminal activity. Plato resisted teaching the Guardian Class of these myths and legends due to the bad behaviour executed by the Gods. The Gods were known for ‘making war on other gods, plotting against them, or fighting with them’; they were also known for more severe crimes like rape and incest. The knowledge exposed to the Guardians was strictly on attaining human excellence and virtue, which would lead them to enlightenment. Obeying these educational boundaries set by Plato would sculpt the ‘souls of the citizens’ in the most optimum way possible. Sacrificing freedom towards artistic material meant that members of the Guardian class were not allowed to educate their children, as they would have intended. Plato considered this to be in favour of the children, as he strongly believed that young minds were incapable of judging right from wrong and thus would make incorrect decisions that would, in effect, harm the Polis. According to Socrates, in the Republic, such sacrifices are beneficial as they are required in the pursuit of perpetual justice for the city-state. Plato states that a member of the Guardian class has completed his education when he or she has understood the notion of ‘good’ as that will help them in creating order in the state. However, this is rather ironic as Plato is not fully aware of the meaning of ‘good’ himself.

Abiding by the rules and regulations set out by Plato, the Guardian class would be able to capture the Polis within an ideal state of being. Plato was not a Democrat; he was more in favour of an Aristocratic constitution. For Plato, a democratic system encouraged license, which was not a true form of freedom. He believed a system of voting would enslave citizens to their own personal desires causing them to being to demand what is most favourable for themselves, rather than the Polis. Through this, Plato developed the concept of ‘causation,’ which he believed operated in the physical world.  ‘Causation was a principle of same cause, same effect’. The idea was that a ‘just’ action conducted by the Guardians would ‘preserve or help produce the just condition of the soul’ within the other members of the Polis, gradually transforming the Polis into a ‘just’ society. A consistently administered regime was required in order to maximise the level of justice within the ‘souls of the citizens,’ which could be achieved through communal accordance and the realization of equal opportunity for all citizens within the Polis. ‘Political justice requires the absolute subordination of artistic beauty and family and human eroticism’.

Plato’s vision of the Polis was to ‘radically purify’ human nature to the extent where the physical world could parallel the transcendental sphere. He strongly believed that this vision could be turned into reality only with the aid of qualifying Guardians. Plato aimed to construct an idealistic world that paralleled a transcendental sphere, with the aid of a small group of people called the Guardians or ‘Philosopher Kings.’ The Guardians were a specialized class of people who carried, what Plato believed was, the optimal characteristics required to govern a ‘just’ society. As an act of self-discipline, it was required of this particular class to sacrifice their personal interests in order to promote freedom through liberty within the Polis or Greek city-state. However, Plato believed a lack of censorship towards the explicit material contained within Greek Art and Mythology would damage the integrity of citizens, encouraging them to be arrested by their personal desires and act in accordance to it, even if it was harmful to the state. Plato strongly believed that only by abiding the rules and regulations set out by him could the Guardian class be able to capture the Polis within an ideal state of being, turning his vision into reality. Nonetheless, even though Plato desired an Aristocratic constitution to uphold within the Polis, condemning access to Greek Art and Mythology along with segregating and restricting the Guardians did not act as a favourable solution. A society that was already economically and socially deteriorating would influence a change in the political constitution. Aristocratic governance was no longer considered ideal, as the war had acted as a catalyst to a polarized estate, financially and morally. This would have eventually caused the state to succumb to tyranny. Hence, segregating the Guardians from the masses would not be an ideal solution for the states renovation. The circumstances of that era forced the people living inside of the Polis to put themselves in first preference over the city-state.

Candid Chat 2017

19961304_10156505768058066_3771441034138944544_n

A photo of some of the amazing individuals I met while in Japan.

I have been away from the blog-o-sphere for a while now – traveling, exploring, learning, living and loving. It has been a wild journey filled with mountains and valleys, but I have to admit I feel as though I have come to the other side refreshed and renewed. Now, I am ready to share just a few of the lessons I learned during my hiatus.

  1. If you can believe it, you can envision it. If you can envision it, you can achieve it.

In 2017, I had the great privilege of receiving an award that allowed me to explore Japan, all expenses paid. Those who know me knew of my ardent desire to travel to Japan and immerse myself in its rich history and culture. And, of course, indulge in its delicious cuisine.

A few years prior to 2017, I had attempted to plan a trip to Japan. I was young and slightly impatient (side note: young and impatient are not synonymous here) and felt the urge to break out of the bubble I was living in. I was ambitious, but also naive about what it would take to materialize this venture. Slowly, I saw this dream crumble before my eyes and it was not just saddening, but highly frustrating. I felt as though the moment I conceptualized an idea or dream, I had to materialize it instantly, which in reality does not always occur. This really hammered my self-esteem and I decided to put this dream (along with some of my other dreams) on the back burner so I could continue participating in the rat race we call life.

The years passed, I continuously dreamt about Japan. I would see Japanese movies and anime. I would occasionally visit Japanese restaurants. It was as though my mind was calling out to the universe, telling it that I was ready. One day, I sat comfortably in the corner of my room watching From up on Poppy Hill – a beautiful anime movie by Studio Ghibli. The story was set in Yokohama Port in 1963. I was enamored by its beauty. At the end of the film, I couldn’t stop talking about it. I told my parents and a few close friends that it would be a dream come true to visit this city someday and overlook the port.

After a few days, I received an email in my inbox. The email called out students who were keen on representing the university and the country on a cultural exchange to – you wouldn’t believe it – JAPAN! I couldn’t believe my eyes. I took my glasses off and gave it a little wipe – and, nope, I wasn’t imagining things. This was real!

Then, as is always the case, self-doubt – my friendly foe – crept in. It listed all the reasons why I would never get an opportunity like this. “I wasn’t good enough,” it said. When my parents heard about the email, they pushed me to apply right away. “It has always been your dream to go to Japan. You won’t know unless you try,” they said.

Lo and behold, June 2017, I was in Japan! I was able to check off everything I wanted to do from visiting Mt Fuji and Matsumoto Castle, traveling across Kamakura to eating with chopsticks in a traditional Japanese restaurant in Fuchu. But, most definitely, one of the greatest moments of my life had to be when I traveled alone (with very little Japanese speaking ability) to Yokohama and saw the town hall and the port. I was living my dream! I was inside my dream! I was extremely grateful!

2. Don’t be afraid to RISE at your own pace. It takes courage to believe and determination to pursue your dreams!

I am an ambitious person. I guess I have always been, but I didn’t always like this trait about myself. Of course, I cannot say the same thing now.

I have never liked comparing myself to people. I always believed it took the attention away from realizing my own gifts and talents as well as that of others. I think the culture we live in today makes it seem as though there are not enough opportunities for everyone out there and that is wrong!

In all honesty, I do not think I was ready to go to university at 19. There, I said it! But, that is what I, at 19, was expected to do – attend university straight out of high school. I know that once I graduate, there will be an expectation to get a job promptly, preferably in my field of study. Then, there will be an expectation to find love and raise a family. The pressure is immense – to follow this path to the tee. I felt so bad for wanting something else out of my life, for myself.

In 2015, I made the decision to take a gap year. It was daunting – to do something contrary to the norm, yet so satisfying. This was the year that my career as a motivational speaker really took off. I received so many opportunities in different fields. I found myself breaking free from all my self-imposed limitations, yet I had this fear of talking about my decision of taking a gap from study. I didn’t want to be judged, which invariably happens. And, most importantly, I did not want to be labelled any particular way so I remained mum, as much as I could.

In hindsight, I wish I hadn’t. I know today that it is okay to want something different out of your life, for yourself. People will have a thousand opinions. They will have something to say when you are “unsuccessful” and they will also have something to say when you are successful. So, your best bet is to stay true to yourself and your dreams. You are better off pursuing your dreams with passion, integrity, and determination. You can never go wrong if you do!

And, if you need a break to revive yourself, re-find your passion then there is no harm in that either. You will only come back ready, and stronger than before.

“Live life like everything is rigged in your favour” – Rumi

You can find more Candid Chat posts here: 

For Candid Chat 2015 (End of Year Edition) click here

For Candid Chat 2015 (Mid-Year Edition) click here

For Candid Chat 2014 click here

For Candid Chat 2013 click here

~ An Ode to My Grandfather ~

Screen Shot 2018-04-06 at 10.16.31 AMSo, here is a small poem I wrote to celebrate the light that was my grandfather:
Hold a candle to the night
Its light will soar in the sky
Its light will illuminate the stars
Its light will make the moon dance with glee
Its light will guide men stranded at sea
A single candle against the night
Let it shine brightly for the whole world to see

Fondly remembered, dearly missed and loved – always and forever!