Philosophers v. Poets in Plato's The Republic

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The Republic is a philosophical treatise concerned primarily with the question of justice and with the living of a just life. Its principal emphasis, then, is on the conduct of individuals. In contrast to poets, philosopher possess wisdom in the sense that they are masters of their craft, though they go wrong in thinking that their special expertise extends to matters outside the scope of the craft.


In contrast to philosophy, poetry does not imply self-knowledge and self-control. If the disavowal of knowledge is in fact the disavowal of wisdom or expertise, we can see how that disavowal is compatible with the particular claims to knowledge which Socrates makes. Socrates identified wisdom first with self-control and then with justice and the rest of virtue. On questioning poets about their expertise, "'Until philosophers are kings, and political greatness and wisdom meet in one, and those commoner natures who pursue either to the exclusion of the other are compelled to stand aside, cities will never have rest from their evils" (Plato 123). Plato found that poets in fact lacked the wisdom which they claimed, and were thus less wise than Socrates, who was at least aware of his own ignorance. Socrates had a divine mission to show others that their own claims to substantive wisdom were unfounded. "Behold, he said, the wisdom of Socrates; he refuses to teach himself, and goes about learning of others, to whom he never even says Thank you" (Plato 12). ...
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