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For the Canadian band, see The Philosopher Kings. For the 2009 documentary film, see The Philosopher Kings .
Philosopher kings are the hypothetical rulers, or Guardians, of Plato's Utopian Kallipolis. If his ideal city-state is to ever come into being, "philosophers [must] become kings…or those now called kings [must]…genuinely and adequately philosophize" (The Republic, 5.473d).

In Book VII of The Republic

Plato defined a philosopher firstly as its eponymous occupation – wisdom-lover. He then distinguishes between one who loves true knowledge as opposed to simple sights or education by saying that a philosopher is the only man who has access to Forms – the archetypal entities that exist behind all representations of the form (such as Beauty itself as opposed to any one particular instance of beauty). It is next and in support of the idea that philosophers are the best rulers that Plato fashions the ship of state metaphor, one of his most often cited ideas (along with his allegory of the cave). "[A] true pilot must of necessity pay attention to the seasons, the heavens, the stars, the winds, and everything proper to the craft if he is really to rule a ship" (The Republic, 6.488d). Plato claims that the sailors (i.e., the people of the city-state over whom the philosopher is the potential ruler) ignore the philosopher's "idle stargazing" because they have never encountered a true philosopher before.

Relationship to the rest of The Republic

The entirety of The Republic can be understood as a treatise on education, political thought, philosophy, or psychology. The entirety of the work is concerned with how to raise the guardians, or ruling class of the Kallipolis, effectively.


Karl Popper blamed Plato for the rise of totalitarianism in the Twentieth Century, seeing Plato's Philosopher-kings, with their dreams of 'social engineering' and 'idealism', as leading directly to Stalin and Hitler (via Marx and Hegel). In addition, Ayatollah Khomeini is said to have been inspired by the Platonic vision of the philosopher king while in Qummarker in the 1920s when he became interested in Islamic mysticism and Plato's Republic. As such it has been speculated that he was inspired by Plato's philosopher king and subsequently modeled elements of his "Islamic Republic" based on it.

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