Plato’s Notion Of Philosopher King, And Nigerian Leaders, A Comparative Analysis

Project and Seminar Material for Philosophy

Plato’s Notion Of Philosopher King, And Nigerian Leaders, A Comparative Analysis

Table of Contents

  • Title
  • Certification
  • Dedication
  • Acknowledgment
  • Table Of Contents
  • Introduction

Chapter One

Plato’s Notion of Philosopher King

  • 1.1 Plato’s biography
  • 1.2 What is a State?
  • 1.3 Theories of the Origin of the State
  • 1.3.1 The Divine Theory
  • 1.4 The Social Contract Theory
  • 1.4.1 Thomas Hobbes and the social Contract Theory
  • 1.4.2 John Locke and the social contract Theory
  • 1.4.3 J.J. Rousseau and the social contract Theory
  • 1.4.4 The Force Theory
  • 1.5 The Natural or organic Theory
  • 1.6 The State: The need of having the state
  • 1.7 The ideal State: The true state, according to Plato
  • 1.8 Laws; The Ideal way of ruling the people, according to Plato

Chapter Two


  • 2.1 The notion of leadership
  • 2.2 Mahatma Gandhi, an example of a true leader
  • 2.3 Great leaders of history
  • 2.4 Qualities of a good leader

Chapter Three

The Problem of Leadership in Nigeria

  • 3.1 Leadership; Nigeria style
  • 3.2 Executive lawlessness
  • 3.3 Election and political instability
  • 3.4 Religious crisis
  • 3.5 Economic crisis

Chapter Four

Plato’a Republic, as a Panacea to Nigeria’s Leadership Problemsl A Comparative Analysis

  • 4.1 Education
  • 4.2 The philosopher king

Chapter Five

  • 5.0 Evaluation and conclusion
  • Bibliography

Chapter One

Plato’s Notion of Philosopher King

1.1 Plato’s biography

Plato, one of the greatest philosophers of the world, was born in Athens in the year 427Bc, of a distinguished Athenian family. His father was named Ariston, and his Mother, Perictione.

Plato came from a distinguished family with many political connections. Through his stepfather, he had a link with Pericles, who gave his name to the great age of Athenian history. Plato received the normal education of a Greek boy, learning to read and write and study the poets. More important, he grew up in a city of war. The Peloponnesian War, which began just before his birth lasted until he was twenty-three, and ended in defeat and humiliation of Athens. During the later course of the Peloponnesian War, (it was highly probable that Plato fought at Arginusae in 406), it can hardly have failed to strike Plato that the democracy lacked a truly capable and responsible leader, and that these were easily spoiled by the necessity of pleasing the populace.[1] Platos final abstention from home politics no doubt dates from trial, and condemnation of his Master and friend, Socrates; but the formulation of his conviction that the ship (State), needs a firm pilot to guide her, and that this pilot must be one who knows the right course to follow, and who is prepared to act conscientiously in accordance to that knowledge, that can hardly fail to have been laid during the years when Athenian power was passing to its eclipse[2]. Plato applied himself to the study of painting and writing poems, dithyrambics at first and afterwards lyric poems and tragedies. He lived in the flourishing period of Athenian culture, and must have received a cultured education. His relatives in the Oligarchy of 403/4 urged Plato to enter the political life under their patronage, but when the Oligarchy started to pursue a policy of violence and attempted to implicate Socrates in their crimes, Plato became disgusted with them. Yet the democrats were no better, since it was they who put Socrates to death and Plato accordingly abandoned the idea of political career. Plato was present at the trial of Socrates, but was absent from the death-scene of his friend and master, due to an illness. Here is Platos account, in his seventh letter, written when he was an old man, of his experiences during these years when he was a young man of about twenty-eight. Here is the account;

I had much the same experience as many young men. I expected, when I came of age, to go into politics. The political situation gave me an opportunity. The existing constitution, which was subject to widespread criticism, was overthrown and a committee of thirty given supreme power. I thought of they were given to reform the society and rule justly, and so I watched their proceedings with deep interest. They tried to incriminate my old friend Socrates, whom I should not hesitate to call the most upright men them living, by bringing him forcibly to execution. When I saw all these and other things as bad, I was disgusted and drew back from the wickedness of the times[3].

Plato founded the Academy in 285Bc, near the sanctuary of the hero, Academus. The Academy may rightly be called the first European university, for the studies were not confined to philosophy proper, but extended over a wide range of auxiliary sciences like Mathematics, astronomy and the physical sciences, the members of the school joining in the common worship of the muses. Youths came to the Academy, not only from Athens itself, but also from abroad. Plato, through his Academy, aimed at producing statesmen and not demagogues.[4] Besides directing the studies in the Academy, Plato himself also gave lectures and his students took notes. It is important to note that these lectures were not published, and that they stand in contrast to the dialogues, which were published works meant for popular reading. We possess Platos popular works, his dialogues, but not his lectures Until his death in 348/7Bc, he (Plato) lived in Athens, where he continue his activities in the Academy. He died at the age of eighty.

1.2 What is State;

This is a question that is not easy to answer because, the state has been conceived of in different ways and from varying perspectives. It will therefore be necessary to attempt an elucidation of the concept of the state in general. Thus, its characteristics, and its aims as buttressed by its functions with a view to disambiguating it. Some people have conceived of the state via its characteristics and nature, while others have conceived of it in terms of its functions and aims. To answer the question what is a state, we will try to describe what the state is in terms of its characteristics and in using the Aristolian principle of the “function category” (Aristotle, Nichomeclean Ethics) and how it function to achieve its aim.

In the history of political philosophy, there have been two broad notions of the state. First, is the classical notion, which sees the state in minimal sense? The second is the modern notion, which sees the state in an ultra minimal sense. In this case the state performs the limited functions of preventing theft, fraud and promotion of contract and agreements, and guards against the use of force[5]. This conception can be interpreted in two ways. It could mean what the state was in classical sense. This conception in any case would be anachronistic and obsolete because such conception no longer tallies with modern state structure, with its complexities of functions and problems. This conception should be understood to mean what the state ought to be  in his ideal sense. If this were the case, such a conception would be unrealistic. This is because to give only this function to the state is not at all that is needed to confront most of the problem it is likely to face in modern sense especially within the context of international legal political and economic systems[6].

The state now performs or is expected to perform from a moral perspective, redistributive function, which makes it transcend a mere minimal sense. Moreover, the ability to perform more than minimal function is one of the basis for moral evaluation of a state in the international scene. To some extent therefore, Nozicks conception is either morally unrealistic or simply amoral in that sense. In this discourse we have decided to uphold the modern conception of the state, a view which sees   that state, as performing or being expected to perform more than mere prevention of fraud and theft, the enforcement of contracts and agreements, and guarding the use of force. When a community as a group of people, desires political independence, it becomes a nation. When it finally gains that political independence, it becomes a state. Any political independent group of people is a stat. Usually a nation state is made up of people occupying a definite territory, sharing a common language, common customs, traditions, religion, and race. In the modern world, such a nation state is very hard to come by. The reason being that, even in the apparently homogenous nations, there are differences which might be such that the issue of a common language, the people of Ugboha may not have much in common with the people of Iruekpen senatorial zone even though all of them speak Esan. A state can be defined as politically independent, territorially defined, group of people, possessing a government that is subordinate to none other, and monopolizing the coercive instrument of compulsion in the enforcement of its decisions. It has been asserted that though there may be differences in the functions, aims and nature of the state, there are still certain basic characteristics that are common to all the states, which either jointly or singularly designates them as states. Liberal individualists want to insist   on defining a state as or something reminiscent of a people living in a given territory under one law with a single governmental system extending to all of them, and to no one else, are then members of a state. But the state as an institution does not embrace all the roles in which they are but only political or legal roles[7].

1.3 Theories of the Origin Of State

Many thinkers have been concerned with discovering how state originated. Perhaps, this quest stemmed from the perplexing questions; has anyone the right to govern?

Many answers have been given but for easy understanding, we shall discuss them under the following heading: the speculative and historical theories. The Speculative include; Divine Theory, and Force Theory. The Historical Theories include: Social Contract and Natural Theory.

1.3.1. The Divine Theories

The Divine theorist believer that the state is in a way divinely ordained and as such demands absolute obedience from all within its confines. He wrote lucidly: Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers for there is no power but of God; the powers that be, are ordained by God. One is understandably reluctant to accept this command in its entirety. What of the powers of field marshal Idi Amin Dada, when he was the undisputed ruler of Uganda? What do we say of the powers of Emperor Bokassa, the sole ruler of the short lived Central African Empire? Did God also ordain these? After all, as they lasted, they were one of the powers that be. It follows from the above, that if we accept this view of state, we are asking for absolute and dictatorial government in which the rights of the citizens are completely ignored. In fact, to stretch this further, individuals have no right to assert their rights because they have none, and they cannot revolt against an unjust government because God ordains it. Perhaps, this type of doctrine is best suited to the colonized peoples, who must,

like sacrificial lambs, follow their colonial masters. Having said this however, it will not be out of place to stress the point, which, this theory tries to make, though in a most unwelcome way. No government in the world over can last long unless the governed regard it as a vital aspect of their lives and frown at its overflow. In a way, government should be regarded as a sacred cow to be challenged and overthrown only in very serious cases.

1.4 The Social Contract Theories

The social contract theorists were group of philosophers who believes that men, at a point in time, freely (out of their volition) agreed to bind themselves together under a government and each person is duty bound to keep to the terms of this agreement. One may make haste to ask; why is this theory called social contract theory? The theory is so called because it depicts the element of mutual agreement. We shall discuss three of the theorists in this chapter.

1.4.1 Thomas Hobbes and Social Contract Theory: A Review

Hobbes (1588-1679), English philosopher preferred an absolute government to the political instability and near anarchy that characterized the England civil war period . Hobbes lived in about 17th century in England, when civil war occasioned by political and class differences, devastated the country and made life insecure for everybody. He therefore, imagined from insecurity and brutality accompanying the civil war, what the world would be like without order government. In his words, mans life was nasty, brutish and short. It was a state of insecurity and a state where might was right. As can be seen from Hobbes description of the state of nature it was in fact a description of the civil war period.

In Hobbes opinion, man realized that the only way out of his problem was to surrender to his natural rights; his right to rule himself to a leviathan and every other man was to do the same. The leviathan then became absolute ruler. The rule of the leviathan could not take its character unless the surrender of natural rights was
absolute and irrevocable. What is important to note is the contact between them and the leviathan. This means that they had no rights and the leviathan had no obligations. The leviathans power was absolute and the subject has no right to revolt. This was precisely what Thomas Hobbes wanted to achieve. He felt that the British people had no right to revolt against their king. What strikes one first about Hobbes’s theory of the state is that he approaches the subject not from a historical point of view, but from the vantage point of logic and analysis.

1.4.2 John Locke and the Social Contract Theory

John Locke (1632-1704), lived through the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and used the same social contract theory to prove that the English people had the right to overthrow King James II and invite William of Orange to take over the throne. In his Second Treatise of Government, Locke begins his political theory as Hobbes did, with a treatment of the state of nature But he described this condition in a very different way, even making Hobbes5 the target of his remarks. `

For Locke the state of nature is not the same as Hobbes war of all against all. On the contrary, Locke says, men living together according to reason, without a common superior on earth, with the authority to judge between them is properly the state of nature”. Put differently, Locke drew a picture of a state of nature in which man had certain natural and inalienable right to freedom of life and property. Mans problem was not how to escape from the state of nature, but rather how to maximize the enjoyment of all the rights that nature had given him. He made an agreement, this time not with his fellow man but with the sovereigns authority. The agreement made was in two folds. It was binding on both the sovereign and the subjects. Hence the sovereigns power was limited to the terms of the agreement, and as long as he protected the lives, property and freedom of the subjects, the subjects would continue to accept his authority. But once the sovereign failed to perform this crucial function, the subjects were free to seek alternative arrangement. Hence, the agreement is limited and revocable. Locke was, therefore, calling for a constitutional government not as absolute government as Hobbes. Yet both men used social contract to arrive at two different systems of government.

1.4.3. Jean Jacques Rousseau And The Social Contract Theory

In J.J Rousseaus social contract, man surrendered himself and all his rights absolutely but not to an individual, not even to the government which is only an agent of the sovereign . The sovereign is the General Will of the people or the community or the state as a collectivity. By making this absolute surrender, each man secured for himself, true liberty because, the interest of the community is the real interest of each of us, even though sometime we tended not to see it as such. Rousseau regarded social contract as an art of association or union by which men decide to leave their original state and establish together in a new form of life, with the purpose of preserving their person, freedom, and properties and realizing themselves to the fullest . The social contract in Rousseaus arrangement is obviously a solution of sort to a pressing problem of malaise that men encountered at a critical point in time.
Succinctly, Rousseau formulated the problem thus;

The problem is to find a form of association which will defend and protect with the whole common force, the person and good of each while uniting himself with all, may still obey himself alone and remain as free as before.

The above is to say that the problem which social contract sets out to solve is clear. To this end, Rousseau was quick to observe that for the above to be possible,

Each of us puts his person and all his power in common, under the supreme direction of the General will and in our corporate capacity, we receive each member as an individual part of the whole.

The dynamics of Rousseaus social contract implies that act of association creates or plays up moral and collective body when is called in his terminology, the state when passive; the sovereign when active and a power in relation to other bodies like itself.

Who is this sovereign one may ask? The idea of the sovereign according to JJ Rousseau is more or less a metaphysical entity hence; it is not visibly identifiable in an individual in the state. The sovereign, in Rousseaus scheme should not be interpreted to mean Monarch or legislative capacity. In this vein, the sovereign is not the government, which, if it is admitted, may be tyrannical; it is more or less metaphysical not fully embodied in any form of visible organs of the state. It follows in the light of the above, that individuals in so far as they are parties to the social contract are indeed members of the sovereign. How can this be?

1.4.5 The Force Theory

The fullest expression of this theory is found in the saying that Might is right. It traces the origin of the state to conquest and coercion. The powerful ones impose their rule over the weaker ones. Hence, the state is essentially evil because it is borne out of injustice. One of the characters in platonic Dialogue endorses this view.

Government exists principally to protect the interest of the dominant group in the society. Consequent upon this, they enact laws in their own interest and punish and coerce those who do not obey and conform simply because, they possess the power to do so. Karl Marx also sees the state in this light. To him, the state is nothing but the executive committee of the bourgeoisie. This state is therefore, nothing more than a machine for the oppression of one class, by another. One fundamental fact of all governments is being preached by force theory. Government, no matter their characterizations, governs according to their own conceptions of what public interests are. These public interests as they see them invariably turn out to be the interest of the governors themselves. It is an indubitable fact that by our human nature, it is often very difficult for us to clearly draw clear- cut line between our private or class interest and the interests of our community.

As part of the contribution of this theory is the timely warning it gives that government tends to govern according to their own interest and that more often than not, they do not pretend to justify their rule. Therefore, every effort should be made to keep governments within limit. On the other hand, the force theory exaggerates the selfish propensities of human nature. Certainly, men are selfish, but under certain conditions or circumstances, human selfishness can be controlled. However, not all men can allow their selfish interest to override their concern for public interest. By characterizing all human beings as utterly selfish, the force theory sows the seed of mutual distrust between the governors and the governed. As a follow up, it should be noted that where honesty is not rewarded and appreciated, definitely, corruption would be promoted.

1.5 The Natural or Organic Theory

The Natural theory of the origin of state is associated with Aristotle. This is so because, he sees the family as the association established by nature for the supply of mans everyday wants. In the process of time, the wants and needs of the family transcend the subsistence and immediate reach of the family. Several families then unite to advance their common interests. An association of families unites to form villages as their wants multiply. In like manner and for the same purposes, several villages came together to form a state. Hence, the state has its origin and justification in the expanded needs of the families that make it up . The state is then the creation of nature, and is by nature a political animal, born to live in the state. Man, family, villages are all parts of the state. A thorough understanding of this theory brings out clearly the point, that mans nature has not at any time, given him any choice between government and no government this question has been settled by mans nature once and for all. Man lives and exists only in a state. Outside the state, he has no life. In addition, the theory highlights the importance and sacredness of the state as the preserver of man. Man should, therefore regard the state with due respect and should do everything required of him to ensure the survival and prosperity of the state. On the negative side, the theory presents a too simplistic view of the state and so leaves out of the account, the rights and obligations of the governors and the governed. It therefore follows that if state is natural, then man becomes incapable of shaping it .

1.6 The State; The need of having the State

Platos political theory is developed in close connection with his ethics. Greek life was essentially communal like, lived out in the city-state, so that it would not occur to any genuine Greek that a man could be a perfectly good man if he stood entirely apart from the state, since it is only in and through society that the good life becomes
possible for man and society meant the City State. According to Plato, state grows out of the nature of the individual, so that the individual comes logically prior to the State. The State is a natural institution, natural because it reflects the structure of human nature. For a philosopher like Plato, then who concerned himself with mans happiness, with the true good life for man, it was imperative to determine the true nature and function of the State. If the citizens were morally bad men, it would indeed be impossible to secure a good state, but conversely, if the state were a bad State, the individual citizens will find themselves unable to lead the good life, as it should be lived. Aristotle believes that the State exists for an end, and this is the supreme good of man, his moral and intellectual life. The origin of the State is a reflection of peoples economic needs, for says Plato, a state comes into existence because no individual is self sufficing, we all have many needs .

Our needs require many skills, and no one possesses all the skills needed to produce food, shelter, and clothing, to say nothing of the various arts. There must, therefore, be a division of labour, says Plato, for more things will be produced and the work more easily and better done, when every man is set free from all other occupations
to do, at the right time, the one thing for which he is naturally fitted, Peoples needs are not limited to their physical requirements, for their goal is not simply survival, but a life higher than animals. Plato was not a man to accept the notion that there is one morality for the individual and another for the State. The State is composed of individual men and exists for the leading of the good life. There is absolute moral code that rules all men and all State. Plato did not look upon the State as personality or organism that can or should develop itself without restraint, without
paying any attention to the moral code or law, nor is it the source of its own moral code. The State, says John Locke exists as a safeguard to the natural rights of individuals which they cannot guard through their own power.

1.7 The Ideal State. The True State According to Plato

Plato, while talking about the State, meant it to be the ideal state. According to Plato, this ideal Sate will not be democratic, rather authoritarian. He believes that this ideal State will be an example on how other States will be built. In this ideal State, Plato divided the citizens into three classes, namely, the guardians, the auxiliaries or the soldiers and the common people. These correspond to the three parts of the Soul in Platos psychology. These three parts are Reason, Spirit and Appetite. The guardians are the rulers of the State, the auxiliaries are to defend the State, and the common people are to provide the material need of the State. The guardians-the-rulers are to be philosophers. They are to undergo a long and rigorous educational programme before taking up any official assignment. The guardians embody the spirited element of the soul and the highest class, the rulers, represents the rational element. These guardians, according to Plato must be the best men in their class, intelligent, powerful and careful of the State, loving the State and pursuing the true interests of the State without thought of their own personal advantage or disadvantage. They must be trained to know who the real enemies of the Sate are. The common people of the State are the farmers, hunters, and fishermen. They are seen as the lowest class of the State. It is when there is harmony among the three classes, will the Ideal State be achieved, and for harmony to exist there must be justice. Each class should fulfill its role efficiently and not interfering in the roles of other classes. Plato believes that for the guardians-the-ruler-the philosopher kings-to rule very well, they should not have private families, so as not to be attached to the different families. Everything should be in common, wives, children houses etc. Plato does not believe in democracy. To him, talking about democracy is like everybody coming to direct the ship. It is only those who have undergone special training and education in philosophy can rule a State i.e. the ruler must be a philosopher king. Democracy (understood by Plato as the rule by mob) is, The worst of all lawful governments, and the best of all lawless ones. According to him, the best form of government is aristocratic state. He believes that after their rigorous training, they must have been prepared to rule, and discern good from bad. The ruler must be the philosopher king.

1.8 Laws: The Ideal Way of Ruling the People, According to Plato

In the composition of the Laws, Plato seems to have been influenced by the personal experiences. The says that the best condition for founding the desired Constitution will be had if the enlightened Statesman meets with an enlightened and benevolent tyrant, since the despot will be in a position to put the suggested reforms into practice. Plato was clearly influenced by the history of Athens, its rise to the position of a commercial a maritime empire, its fall in the Peloponnesian War. His experience at Syracuse would have shown him at least that there was a better hope of realizing the desired constitutional reforms in a city ruled over by one man than in democracy, such as in Athens. He says that a state in which the law is above the rulers, and the rulers are inferior to the law, has salvation and every blessing which the gods can confer. The laws, says Plato, is meant to govern everybody; the rulers, soldiers and common people. Laws are seen as the guardian that guides and directs the state. Laws are formed for the good of the entire state.

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Chapter Five

Critical Evaluation and Conclusion

Plato, the great philosopher and thinker, had through his Republic, shown how a true state should be. In his Republic, the ideal state should be perfect and flawless. Critically evaluating some of his outlines about the ideal state, one may begin to see Platos republic as unrealistic. His Republic was criticized by many as a utopia. In his Republic, Plato said that the philosopher King or ruler should not be given the role of an adviser, but should be allowed to rule . He sees the philosopher King as the best person to rule, but more fatal is the objection that the conception of philosopher King encourages us to look for a degree of knowledge and integrity which are in fact not to be found. The knowledge of all human beings is limited, and of any group of them to think that they have the key to all human problems is presumptuous and absurd. That is what the philosopher king is supposed to have; and certain types of doctrinaire are liable to a similar illusion. Yet, to put the government of human affairs into the hands of any class of supposed experts is to ask from them more than they can possibly give. And quite apart from limitations of knowledge, there is moral problem. Power is a corrupting influence, a corruption which few can resist, and on the whole, political leasers are not men of more that an average moral integrity, we are perhaps lucky if they are as good as that. This criticism against Platos system, in fact, is not that it trusts the common man too little, but that is trusts his philosopher Kings too much. No Nigerian leader can be trusted, not because they are not philosopher Kings, rather, because they abuse the authority vested on them by the people. In the Republic, it was recommended by Plato that rulers should deceive those who are unlucky in the eugenically rigged lots at the marriage festivals . He called it, noble lie. Looking at the lucky ones or those born into the ruling class, the charge of racism is even more questionable. Racism is an emotive issue today, and it is important first to state clearly, what it entails. A racist must assume that birth into a particular racial group in itself confers superiority; he must despise other racial groups to a great or lesser extent, and be ready to persecute them or ill-treat them. As Professor Kitto has pointed out, the term barbarian, was not one of loathing or contempt; it was simply a general term for those who did not speak Greek, but made odd bar-bar noises. Plato was, as has so often been observed, temperamentally an aristocrat. And he believed that the qualities needed in his rulers were, in general, hereditary. This hereditary part manifests itself in our country. Our leaders train their children, so as to be able to rule the children of the poor and the oppressed. There is a clear demarcation between the children of the rich and that of the poor. The children
of the former, looks down on children of the latter. In the hereditary class or rulers, the less privileged, who may be more talented than the ruling class is not given a chance to showcase the talent, rather he is suppressed. In other charges leveled against Platos Republic, there is more substance. Plato had little sympathy with democracy, as he had seen it in Athens, nor would he have had much sympathy with any regime in which popular approval was an important factor in selecting those who are to direct the workings of society. According to Plato, if government is, as it must be operated by a chosen minority, then the peoples choice is liable to be a bad choice because he people are so easily deceived. This may show an aristocratic bias; but Platos basic preference was not of an aristocracy in the common sense, but for trained expertise. It is true that he thinks this is likely to be provided by the heredity, guided by eugenics, but expertise and trained ability are the guiding criteria. Mr. Crossman thinks that the result would be a dictatorship of the Virtuous Right. Sir Karl rightly points out that Plato is a utopian and a planner.

Although we have been criticizing Platos Republic, it was not only about politics. A large part of it was about education, and has been a continued source of stimulus to educational thinking. There is a great deal about individual morality- the balance of impulses under the control of reason, the passionate desire for truth, the underlying religious seriousness. We should try to understand Platos criticism and problems, which is a mirage, a product of the kind of idealism, which asks too much of human nature and is then disappointed by what it finds, but he does stand for a set of problems which are real, and to think every society must find its answer.

In conclusion, no state realizes its aim, a good life, without some kind of ideal, an utopia. The major political insights of Plato remain a fundamental legacy to human history and culture. Every state must have an idea of the kind of citizenry it wants and the best form of education to realize it. Nigerian government should learn that. Not everybody is fit for everything else. This is not justifying the Platonic conviction that some are born free and others slaves, it is rather that people have different talents. We can forgo selfish interests and allow people better equipped for particular jobs, to carry them out. It is not right to create a huge state-managed network of selfish delusion, where everyone is almost in a wrong place. Let Nigerian leaders learn from Platos Republic.

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