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March 2, 2017 / Congau

Philosophers Running for Office

A philosopher running for office? He would hardly be a philosopher if he did. A philosopher is in search for the truth while a campaigning politician pursuing the truth would ruin his chances of election. People don’t want to hear the truth; already the ancient Socrates discovered that, and in these days that is more obvious than ever.

Yet, Plato, the faithful pupil of Socrates, wanted the philosophers to become kings, didn’t he? Yes, he did, but they would turn to politics very reluctantly, being forced against their will to abandon their quiet contemplative life. They would have no personal ambition and only their knowledge about the good and just society would oblige them to sacrifice themselves. That is hardly the attitude of a politician who is trying to get elected in our democracy where the lure of a high office is seen as the ultimate token of success.

The philosopher king could never be a ruler in a democracy and be dependent on popular acclaim. The truth cannot be attained by a vote. He would then have to rule against his own better judgment and implement a policy that would lead away from what he knew to be the ideal.

Such a business minded approach is acceptable for a man of the world who is satisfied with making the most of that imperfect matter he is given. But a philosopher is the constructor of harmonious theories that will fall apart the moment an inconsistency is introduced. He could be an absolute monarch, indeed, he would have to accept that job were it offered him, but in the world of democracy he would be an utter misfit. In fact, he would cease to be a philosopher the moment he stepped into it. A philosopher qua philosopher could not accept a compromise.

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