Category: Works of Plato

Statesman (Politicus)

The dialogue Politicus belongs to the last period of Plato's literary output. The subject of this dialogue is the definition of the political man-statesman.

Time of writing , dramatic form of the dialogue and persons of the dialogue

 Almost all researchers recognize as likely time of writing of the dialogue the period 367-360 BC, the time which elapses between the second and the third trip of Plato in Sicily. Politicus follows chronologically the Sophist, which is stated in the beginning of the platonic text (258b). The Sophist makes a systematic application of dichotomous division as one of the main elements of the dialectical method. This method covers a wide area in the Politicus as well, which demonstrates the deep philosophical affinity and the chronological succession of the two dialogues. Politicus belongs to the platonic tetralogy Theaetetus, Sophist, Politicus, Philosopher. Theaetetus, the initiator philosophical place of this tetralogy, results in a controversial position on the definition of knowledge. Theaetetus will continue to explore the definition of the sophist and the nature of being in the Sophist , having the Eleatic Stranger as interlocutor. Eleatic Stranger will lead a new dialectical investigation in the next dialogue Politicus with Younger Socrates as interviewee (probably personifies a student of the Platonic Academy). It is reasonably assumed that in the last dialogue of tetralogy, the Philosopher, the reins of the debate would revert to Socrates, interviewed by this time the Younger Socrates. However, the Philosopher was never written. Politicus, also, is the link between the Republic  and the Laws. The philosophical reason stemming from the unreachable ideal-world of viewing of the Good and from the Separate species-Forms (Republic → first voyage) now attempts in the unfavourable world of decay -through scientific cathodic dialectic- (Politicus → second voyage) to be turned into tangible political action, diagnosing the eternal essence of participating in the political-perceptible things.

Structure of the dialogue

Preamble: The Subject of the dialogue is the definition of the political man (257a-258b).

I. The Definition of the political man as shepherd of the human herd. Review of this definition (258b-277d) 1 The Division of Science 258b-262a 2 The Digression on the Method 262a-264b 3 Repeat of the Division and Critic. Opponents of the political man (264b-268d) 4 The Myth of Cosmic Periods - The Teaching Conclusion of the Myth (268d-277c)

II. The Example of Weaving (277d-287b) 1 The Definition and the Use of Example (277d-279a) 2. The Weaving and its opponents (279a-281d) 3. Supporting Arts of Weaving (281d-283a) 4 The proper measure (283b-287b)

III. Definition of the political man. The Royal Weaver (287b-311c) 1 Subordinate Assistants and Antagonists of the political man (287b-291b) 2 Actual Antagonists of the political man (291b-c) 3 Science as a Criterion of Merit of the political man - The Legality as Alternate Criterion (291c-303d) 4 The Great Assistants of the political man (303d-305e) 5. The Connective Project of the Royal Weaver (305e-311c)


 I. Definition of Politicus as shepherd of the human herd. Review of the definition. From the beginning of the dialogue Socrates delivers the reins of research to the Eleatic Stranger with the assistance of a young apprentice, the Younger Socrates. The dialectic should now be removed from the subjective influence of Socrates and gain objective-scientific underpinnings. The current "enemies" are not the old sophists and politicians but the sophistic practice of the new schools of philosophy, which makes the rational reasoning impossible and steers thinking process to the vacuity field. In this new threat Plato argues a new method (the "Synagogue" and "Division") and the Platonic contemplation becomes autonomous to some extent by the "dogma" of the theory of Ideas, passing from an idealistic to a more reasonable phase. The logical division as a new phase of the dialectical method tries to distinguish the true nature of a notion-concept from its simple part. The concept intersected in two parts, of which only the one is kind and form of it, while the other remains just a part with no distinguishing feature. The difference of test-defined concept is what determines the process of successive divisions always to the right until the ultimate no-divided form (ἄτμητον εἶδος). These rational dialectical discriminations results to the attempted first definition of the Political-Royal man: the Political or Royal man is shepherd of human herd, and possesses the science of custody-distribution of human, which is mandatory in nature and exerts intense influence on the recipients of this custody in order to achieve their biological maintenance. In this specific definition two serious controversies are raising (267c: first controversy → Other craftsmen can claim the custody of the human herd, 268a-c: second controversy → while the pastor has fully custody of the flock, the politician-statesman 'shared' the custody of his people-citizens with other artisans), the answer to which is the famous Myth of cosmic Periods (268d-274d). The alternation (a) of the divine and (b) of the self rotation of the universe, with all its results, leads to the third and final controversy of the first definition (third controversy → the divine shepherd and the shepherd of lambs has different ontological nature in comparison to his flock and because of this he is superior, while the political man-shepherd is in the same ontological level with his people-citizens), which leads to the formulation of a second definition: Political art is defined as (agelaiokomiki, ἀγελαιοκομική) the custody conducted to the human herd, freely offered and freely (voluntarily) accepted, and the man exercising this custody is the true king and statesman (276e).

II. The example of Weaving (277d-287b) The example of weaving is used to penetrate the research from the apparent to the substantive, from the appearance-image (φαίνεσθαι) to the form-substance (εἶναι) of the political act. The weaving is a type of connection (281a) and should be distinguished from the arts with which it closely works than those with which it has affinity. In all things -as in dialectic- two major arts are distinguished, the first is the synthesis and the second is the separation. Weaving is the art of engaging the weft and the warp. The analogy of weaving in the political level is the art of proper measure, the measuring art (μετρητική τέχνη). The proper measure is indistinguishable from relativity, it is the proper measure between excess and defect (ὑπερβολή and ἔλλειψις).

III. Definition of the Political Man (Statesman). The Royal Weaver (287b-311c) The criterion of discrimination of a true political man from the other craftsmen-antagonists and imitators of his art (sophists, demagogues) is the knowledge of the proper measure between hyperbole and lack, namely measuring art, which is an extension of the philosophical method of logical division and confirms the inextricable relationship between philosophy and politics. Therefore, under this scientific criterion the only true political man-statesman and the only true form of government is the one where it is not the conventional laws that govern but the wise Royal Man (294a). But because such a statesman does not exist naturally in human societies, the Law should be defined (the written legacy of governance rules of the political scientist) as a criterion of proximity of constitution to the excellent, whereas lawlessness as a criterion of removal from the excellent - fault. So we arrive to the following classification of regimes:


Domination ofLaw


One Governor

  1. Basel

4. Tyranny

Few Governors

2. Aristocracy

5. Oligarchy

Many Governors

3. Democracy with


  1. Democracy without


The development of the project of the Royal Weaver (political man-statesman) in the field of political act follows. The political interweaving, through the knowledge of political science and the application of the proper measure, of the opposite trends of human nature, which are expressed through the virtues of prudence and courage - is the main factor in achieving political correctness in both the private and public life. This is the perfect end of the majestic fabric of the Political Act (311b: Τοῦτο δὴ τέλος ὑφάσματος εὐθυπλοκίᾳ συμπλακὲν γίγνεσθαι φῶμεν πολιτικῆς πράξεως) - the proper harmony of all members of the city to the optimal final order, which is defined by the political science and is determined by the specific nature of political individuals and the overall political creation.

Author: Ilias Vavouras
  • Μαυρόπουλος, Θ. Πλάτων Πολιτικός. Θεσσαλονίκη, 2010.
  • Campbell, L. The Sophistes and Politicus of Plato, a rivised text and english notes. Οξφόρδη, 1867.
  • Rowe, C, Plato Statesman. Warminster, 1995.


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