Compulsion, love and the willingness to rule
David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Jack Alan Reynolds
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We are told in Book I (347b-d) of The Republic that good people will not be willing to rule for money or honor. On the contrary, they will have to be coerced, by some compulsion or punishment, to rule. Moreover, in a city full of good men, there will be a competition to see who will be the ones not to rule. So a good or ‘true’ ruler will be one who does not necessarily want to rule. Even stronger: a true ruler will want that he does not rule. We aren’t yet told in Book I who these true leaders are, nor are we told what these true rulers would want to do instead of ruling. Later in the Republic, however, these details are filled in: we are told that the leaders are the philosophers, and that they would much prefer to be living a contemplative life, than ruling cities. Dealing with the Forms alone, in other words, would be preferable to and better than—and would thus make the philosopher happier than—being a leader or a king. Nonetheless, the philosopher will not only be willing to rule, but will see that ruling is compulsory and just (and perhaps compulsory because it’s just). So despite the fact that a philosopher would prefer to not rule, he will do it anyway out of a sort of obligation or compulsion. Yet this explanation of why a philosopher would be willing to rule is prima facie problematic in light of what we are told about justice throughout the rest of the Republic (esp. Books II- IV). Namely, that acting just will result in doing that which is in one’s best interest to do. So, it seems that by ruling, philosophers are not doing what is in their best interest, since what is in their best interest is to live a purely contemplative life, not a political one. Yet leading is nonetheless just. So it seems that, contrary to what Plato claims, justice and self-interest come apart.
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