GOVT161_Essay - GOVT 161 4/22/08 Thresholds of knowledge...

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GOVT 161 4/22/08 Thresholds of knowledge When does one know enough to know what is best for the community? A government often legitimizes itself by making the claim that it knows what is best for its subordinates. In this essay I will analyze the responses of three political theorists to the question of when a person is justified in deciding that he or she knows what is best for another. I will also present how the answer to this question leads to each philosopher’s ideal form of government and examine how each is legitimated by the possession of different amounts and types of knowledge. Plato believes that each person is suited to do one thing and by doing that thing they are fulfilling their potential and leading a moral life. Plato would therefore argue that a person is justified in assessing what is best for another if and only if he is suited to do so, if it is his essence to do so. In his most famous work, The Republic, Plato describes three basic classes: The public, the auxiliary, the philosopher kings, each suited to a certain function. The largest class by far is the public. Each member of the public is made to farm, smith, or work in some other capacity. The auxiliary is comprised of soldiers who protect the community and serve as a tool of the third and final class, the philosopher kings. This class of people, which Plato entitles the “philosopher Kings,” is characterized by great wisdom and capacity for logical reasoning, attributes which are largely absent in the other two classes. Instead the masses are driven by appetite, needs and wants. Their more basic drives lead them to be self interested and myopic. Whereas, the philosopher kings transcend human desires and are in a better place to pass judgment or to make decisions which affect a great number of people. Furthermore, Plato believes 1
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GOVT 161 4/22/08 that the philosopher kings have the ability not only to transcend their own biases but to transcend the empirical world itself. The philosopher king therefore has the power to observe the essential realm, where the average person is merely privy to that which he can see or otherwise detect with his five senses. Everything in the world, abstract or tangible, has a single essence, which itself may be manifested in myriad ways. For example, a triangle can have infinite combinations of side lengths, colors, materials, levels of perfection, but there is only one essence of what a triangle is. Anyone can look at a triangle and tell you that it’s a triangle, but only those with a higher capacity for reason can distill a triangle down to its essence. This example may be trite but when we try to analyze a more abstract concept like “good” or “evil” it becomes clearer that more intelligence is required. Arguing that a philosopher king has the capability to know what good and evil are in their essential
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This essay was uploaded on 02/20/2009 for the course GOVT 161 taught by Professor Ikramnick during the Spring '08 term at Cornell University (Engineering School).

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GOVT161_Essay - GOVT 161 4/22/08 Thresholds of knowledge...

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