Seattle Analytic Philosophy Club Message Board › Is it time for a society governed by Analytical Philosophers?

Is it time for a society governed by Analytical Philosophers?

George C.
GeorgeCarter
Seattle, WA
Post #: 1
In this day-in-age there is general dissatisfaction with the American political process and a widening chasm between the political left and right. There are growing ranks of American workers displaced by technology and (neo-conservative and neo-liberal promoted) globalism. The political system is widely viewed as corrupted due to financial backers and powerful special interests, and by demagogues who capitalize by waging national fratricide between different classes. The seeds for a new social order may have already been sown. Considering the chronic economic malaise, according to Marx and conflict theory this is fertile soil for socialist revolution and consolidation of State power which we are arguably in the midst-of.

Plato's Ideal State of philosopher rulers is an alternative societal direction – and depending on your interpretation of the Republic – this state would be ruled by the wisest, most-incorruptible men and women philosophers-scientists (analytical philosophers). At the center of State would be the ruling guardianship of philosopher purists who had attained the highest level of virtuosity and wisdom. They would administer and manage a society of lesser castes or classes. These include the auxilaries (military)trained in justice, capitalists (businesses) and the iron underclass of laborers and “nannies” and the like. Society would be managed as to maintain happiness in the overall state and for the goal of the state to reach cognitive and genetic perfection of the higher classes. The attainment of truth and knowledge and wisdom – presumably through science according to Plato’s prescription for educating the gold students and the philosopher class - would be the highest aspiration. In essence, Plato is proposing a society governed by the wisest people with scientific, analytical, reasoned minds.

Now, I have read a number of criticisms of the Ideal State. Most commonly, Plato’s vision is described as tyrannical or fascistic because of it’s rigid social conformity and emphasis on intellectual-scientific freedoms of thought and not on political freedoms that could cause disharmony in the State. Liberals describe the caste system as being inhumane while conservatives decry the communistic undertones of the guardian class – which holds no property and lives meagerly according to the tenants of Socrates. Political restraints are placed on all castes except the highest order of cognitive, philosopher – who pay for this privilege by living by a strict code of virtues.

Anyone care to comment on the viability of forming the Ideal State? I’ve included links to a couple short essays that briefly outline the Ideal State.

http://www.literary-a...­
https://www.fictionpr...­
Victor M.
user 12752879
Seattle, WA
Post #: 185
Political restraints are placed on all castes except the highest order of cognitive, philosopher – who pay for this privilege by living by a strict code of virtues.
George,

It's important to stress that economic constraints are placed on this highest class of philosopher/rulers in Plato's scheme. Essentially, these would be treated like indigents in a humane society (as opposed to ours): fed, clothed, cared for at public expense but frugally---all the better to keep them honest (not because society is cheap but because it goes with being incorruptible that you have no taste for wealth).

The practical problem:

How do you propose we keep these two forms of power separate, as Plato himself insisted:

1. moral power, the power to command moral authority, to basically inspire people to do the right thing (because the holder of this kind of power is quite literally the best the human species has to offer)

and

2. material power, the power to force people to do the right thing if they aren't inspired.

Readers of Plato often miss his point that if these two are not absolutely kept separate, if we cannot segregate them so that the people with moral power are never the same people with material power and vice versa, his vision is not realizable this side of the grave. (E.g. rich people should not be allowed to vote, and those who vote should not be allowed to get rich. Plato was saying we need both kinds. What corrupts is when they coexist in the same person.)

It's a cliche, but material power corrupts and it doesn't have to be absolute power to do so (as the saying goes). A little power corrupts a little. And that's all it takes when it becomes a mass phenomenon to ruin Plato's picture. Something Plato was well aware of. I think he meant his picture to be something toward which human moral and political development should work---perhaps forever. Not as a program achievable in a foreseeable number of generations. After all, he was writing over two thousand years ago. I would argue that progress toward anything resembling the rational society he envisioned has been glacial. Perhaps we should be talking evolutionary time here, not historical time.


George C.
GeorgeCarter
Seattle, WA
Post #: 2
Victor,

There are two threats to the Ideal State. One is an internal, personal struggle in individuals of the ruling class and the other is an external war waged on the philosopher class by lesser classes. The leadership will be tempted into corruption and injustice, since it is part of human nature - as you point out. Examples of the external threat: the underclass caste will no doubt be convinced of it’s victimhood and rise out for equal justice led by power-hungry politicians and tyrants –which was arguably Plato’s greatest fear- and the capitalist class which will exert its influence and money to corrupt and control.

Plato describes sporadically his prescribed use of social engineering and manipulation of the masses – Allegory of the Cave – not only to mold the perceptions of the lesser classes to obey but to also mold the cognitive minds of the ruling class or caste (the gold class) to be pure and incorruptible. I think any reality can be formed given the proper controls and enough police. After all our society includes censorship, propaganda, and threat of force to keep most of us within the narrow boundaries of our own liberal social construct and buying into the consumer model. How many other realities have been explored over the course of human history? Anything is possible, I believe - including Plato's Ideal State.

I think it is important to separate the vice of greed from the vice of power of force, as they are related but addressed in subtly different ways by Plato. Greed or appetite appears to be a universal vice that Plato believes can be conditioned-out through a life-time of austerity, proper education and training, and a rigorous selection process to find and hone the Guardians – and from them the philosopher king or queen. Plato proposes that the absolute ruler should be reluctant to rule or not interested in ruling. Furthermore, the politicians and tyrants, who are most predisposed to this “immorality” of power of force would be denied their armies by careful management of the iron underclass.

Assuming that such a system can be constructed, and that a pious class of Guardian philosophers can be raised, educated, and brought into service of governing the society, I think the next logical question would be: should Plato’s Ideal Society be created? It is a society pining to reach human perfection and to have complete knowledge and know absolute truth-through the actions and safeguards of the ruling scientist philosophers. Does not a capitalistic system accomplish the same thing – by financially rewarding the best minds to innovate and invent, and by providing paying clients with technologies to genetically improve their children –and genetically perfect their germ lines. In many ways, are we not already emulating Plato’s Ideal Society? We manage the unrestrained underclass by subsidizing them with redistributed money and freshly-printed dollar bills - which I believe is consistent with Plato.
Victor M.
user 12752879
Seattle, WA
Post #: 186
There are two questions here, as I see it.

One is whether we can “mold” people in any very deep way---let alone the one Plato envisioned in The Republic.

The other is, even if it is possible, ought we to? (I may address this question in another post.)

On the first question, I am not as sanguine as you. Mess with people’s minds, manipulate their behavior big time, yes. But frankly I don’t think anyone gets “formed” in any but a superficial way by these efforts. If people get manipulated, it’s because there is something they see in it for themselves, because on some level they want to be manipulated, they are in on the game. The deep-seated propensities of the manipulated are little different from those of the manipulators. Manipulation is a game they play. “You can be on top for now. Until I get sufficiently fed up with it. Then we’ll take turns.” The manipulators get “formed,” too, to the extent anybody does.

Nothing in what I say denies that real individuals suffer in this game or that others gloat about it. (And, in the end, that’s why we are motivated to discuss this at all, I assume.) Here I am addressing how it looks like in the aggregate, historically, in the “fullness of time.”

Plato seemed to think we were specialized beings, with specialized resources to bring to the table. They way it is with bees. Some bees are good at this, some at that. Organize things so the work of the hive gets done most efficiently, he suggests. The political mess in the Greek city-states that Plato was reacting to, where every kind of government was being tried nearby and failing royally---government by tyrant, government by privileged few, government by the many, all degraded rapidly, and nothing but luck seemed to explain the short-lived success of any. He thought we might think our way to a sensible, more enduring, solution based on rational order. “Bees do it...” why can’t we?

He rightly saw that the problem was not so much the form of government as human nature. Our unruly impulses might be trained to accept the rule of reason, he believed. He didn’t see hope anywhere else for anything but more of the same. Smart, well-meaning, incorruptible people should run things. What could make more sense than that?

But, as you note (before we even get to the resistance of the “ruled”), there is a problem with internal dissension among the philosopher/rulers. Why is that? These are the cream of the crop. And they do not agree with each other? Aren’t they supposed to be in tune with some real objective kernel of eternal wisdom? Whatever it is, you would think, it should synchronize their thinking, set them seeing eye to eye.

We might respond that not all philosopher/rulers are equal. Some are better, more right, than others. We might sort them into the “super duper smart” and the “merely smart.” Put the first kind in charge. Well, who are they? Can we agree about that? And don’t you have to be among them even to know this? Wouldn’t you have to be super duper smart even to know you really are super duper smart and not just the victim of high self-esteem?

The practicality of determining who the ideal Platonic philosopher/rulers ought to be boggles my mind. I bet even Plato himself would not have thought himself up to snuff. I am a great admirer of Plato for being among the first to attempt to think this through. But an occupational hazard of a philosopher is that you are a romantic about wisdom (as the word “philosopher” suggests), which means you lose interest in politics because it has nothing at all to do with wisdom. Even if the philosopher feels a moral obligation to have something constructive to say about politics because of its worldly efficacy it is going to be grimy, about managing base impulses, not so much about edification.
George C.
GeorgeCarter
Seattle, WA
Post #: 3
Victor,

You raise many interesting and discussion-worthy issues, but for the sake of space here’s just a couple thoughts in response.

"He rightly saw that the problem was not so much the form of government as human nature."

I agree. Plato understood the corruptibility of human nature and used it to deconstruct human political institutions. In each form of government, he found weaknesses that would lead to injustice and result in the collapse of the state. And greed is arguably viewed by Plato's as the worst, reoccurring, universal vice that unravels oligarchies and reduces them to democracies; and the greed of the underclass gives rise to unscrupulous politicians and tyrants. The Ideal State was therefore Plato's attempt to rid the ruling class of this fundamental weakness in human nature - by creating a State governed by incorruptible Guardians and Philosopher. I believe this to be one aspect of Plato's ideal state.

It would no doubt be difficult for some to imagine the life of the Guardians. The Guardians - raised communally and under master Guardians and Philosophers and not knowing their natural parents; educated in sport, military, mathematics, and science - as to hone their minds to seek knowledge, understand truth, and be protectors of the State; not allowed to own property; and for the Philosopher rulers to emerge from this elite class. At least this is a common interpretation of the Guardian class. Only the candidates with the greatest intellect and morality would survive the process to claim the Guardianship. I've been told that the military academies have based their training on The Republic -which seems entirely plausible to me. Certainly, a Guardian would be infinitely less vulnerable to the corruption caused by greed or the pleasures than a politician or tyrant, who is nurtured in our reality that promotes gluttony and impulsiveness and consumerism.

"Plato seemed to think we were specialized beings, with specialized resources to bring to the table. "

I see no fault with Plato here. He wants to put the best people in those positions for which they are best suited so they can reach their full potential or perfection- and presumably to benefit the State in the highest production and efficiency. Each person has some talent, so why not place people where they will do most good for themselves and the State. That happens in our own capitalistic society albeit somewhat inefficiently, doesn’t it?

Now, Plato does not merely want the best talent to fill the appropriate positions, but he calls for the creation of castes to separate out the various groups of workers and leaders – based on cognition or what Plato describes as the reasoned versus irrational minds. Each caste has it’s own type of work and duties – which Plato does little to elaborate-on except for perhaps the gold class. But what I think defines Plato is his use of genetic, inherited traits to organize his society – which has led some to describe Plato as the world’s first eugenicist. I am sure such notions are uncomfortable for those who subscribe to our current liberal (politically correct) orthodoxy of “all men/women are created equally”.

Plato believe smarts are passed on by genetic inheritance. But he also understands limits to his model – and admits that “silver and silver can beget gold on occasion”.
I feel that Plato has merely codified what is happened in our new technological-scientific society -which is economically-stratifying largely along cognition. In general, the smartest people become doctors, engineers, lawyers, and other professionals and these tend to be the best paid people in society. According to some noted population geneticists and political scientists, the cognitive separation will only become more definitive because of the isolation of the various cognitive communities; professional versus underclass. And because gold begets gold and iron begets iron.

That is why I find Plato so compelling – he combines human nature, genetics, political and social science in ways that were revolutionary in his time and heretical in our time and self-evident in the future.

But the question remains: Is it time to initiate the establishment of Plato’s ideal society governed by analytical philosophers?
George
user 74564852
Kirkland, WA
Post #: 99
But the question remains: Is it time to initiate the establishment of Plato’s ideal society governed by analytical philosophers?
Good question. The scientific approach to the answer is to start experimenting, either by setting aside a city or a state or by looking into history to for similar circumstances. Another rich source of information is modern business organizations.



George
user 74564852
Kirkland, WA
Post #: 100
Personally, I prefer federalism. And I'd rather my state ruled by "poor corrupt official" like Renault. I'm dead serious.
George
user 74564852
Kirkland, WA
Post #: 101
"Nine-tenths of the activities of a modern Government are harmful; therefore the worse they are performed, the better. In China, where the Government is lazy, corrupt, and stupid, there is a degree of individual liberty which has been wholly lost in the rest of the world." -Bertrand Russell, 1922
George C.
GeorgeCarter
Seattle, WA
Post #: 6
"The scientific approach to the answer is to start experimenting, either by setting aside a city or a state or by looking into history to for similar circumstances. Another rich source of information is modern business organizations."

Of course, that is the scientific answer! But why hasn't such a city-state been attempted? Certainly, Plato's Republic has been cited as an inspiration for everything from the United States' form of republic-style government to the Neoplatonists and early Christian thinkers -eager to embrace Plato's writings about a virtuous life and universal divine truths. But no society to my knowledge has embraced the notion of governing by scientist-philosophers.

I believe the reason for this to be: no ruling body would be willing to give up its wealth in exchange for power. Every governing body or ruler, save perhaps Servius Tullius has succumbed to human greed and chosen to have wealth and power. As Diogenes points out - there are no honest ( or at least selfless) rulers to be had in a human society. I believe we are devoid of any similar states to use as a model for the Ideal State simply because such a society has never been tested. Compound this with the fact scientific-analytical philosophers are only a recent phenomenon. Everyone seems quite happy or at least happy enough to be consumers and/or recipients of free money to risk an entirely new system of governance of Guardians and philosophers.
George
user 74564852
Kirkland, WA
Post #: 106
Thanks, George. I think you started a great topic.

But why hasn't such a city-state been attempted?
If I'm not mistaken, the ancient Greeks did just that. And the Greek city states, as a whole, were as close to a science lab in social study as one could get. That was where Plato's Socrates got his data. Judging by the Greeks' intellectual achievement, I can't wait to see the world disintegrate into city states again.

Certainly, Plato's Republic has been cited as an inspiration for everything from the United States' form of republic-style government ...
Correct me if I'm wrong. The United States was inspired by Montesquieu more than anyone else.

But no society to my knowledge has embraced the notion of governing by scientist-philosophers.
Befo­re we decide who should govern, can we find out why we need government in the first place and what problems only the government can solve? It is very uncomfortable to be bossed around.

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