Discuss Plato’s notion of best state. Why did he criticize democracy?

Plato asserts that societies have a tripartite class structure corresponding to the appetite/spirit/reason structure of the individual soul. People differ in their abilities and capacities. They can be grouped into three classes:

  1. Some best suited to be labourers, carpenters, farmers etc. In them the appetite dominates.
  2. Others who are adventurous, strong, brave and in love with danger, these form the protective part of the state, in them spirit dominates.
  3. Some who are intelligent, rational, self-controlled, in love with wisdom, the governing part, rational part of the soul.

According to this model, the principles of Athenian democracy (as it existed in his day) are rejected as only a few are fit to rule. Instead of rhetoric and persuasion, Plato says reason and wisdom should govern.

Criticism of Democracy

The rulers in democracy are not chosen because of their character, but because of their manners, voice, handsome appearance etc. They are like cooks who claim to know what the best food is needed for a patient, whereas a physician must be the one to decide it. However Placing supreme power in the hands of a specially trained elite would be desirable only (1) there were irreducible difference in men’s intellectual capacities, (2) if these differences could be discovered early in life, (3) if there is a truth about politics that can infallibly be known; and (4) the elite, knowing what is good for all, would act on its knowledge. As we know there is very little chance of this and Plato’s ideal state will always remain a utopia whose ideal is questionable.

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