Plato's Criticisms of Democracy in the Republic

Social Philosophy and Policy 24 (2):70-89 (2007)

Authors
Gerasimos Santas
University of California, Irvine
Abstract
Plato's antidemocratic theory of social justice is instructive once we distinguish between the abstract parts of his theory and the empirical or other assumptions he uses in applying that theory. His application may have contained empirical mistakes, and it may have been burdened too much with a prolific metaphysics and a demanding epistemology. An attempt is made to look at his theory of social justice in imaginary isolation from empirical mistakes and from his metaphysics and epistemology. It is then argued that some of Plato's proposals and criticisms of democracy are well worth our attention, especially in the case of governing. His attempt to separate ruling and wealth and to establish economic floors and ceilings for his ideal city seems especially instructive in view of problems in these areas that modern democracies have experienced. Isolating his theory of social justice from his epistemology and metaphysics may be more problematic. Still, Plato's insistence that superior wisdom is the central virtue of rulers is instructive, and in this respect some modern defenders of democratic justice, such as J. S. Mill and John Rawls, have leaned some in Plato's direction. Finally, Plato's criticism of democratic free choice of occupation is less persuasive. Footnotesa I wish to thank the other contributors to this volume, and its editors, for many helpful comments.
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DOI 10.1017/s0265052507070173
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