Plato against democracy

5.5 Analysing Plato’s argument

Now answer the following questions, based on Plato’s argument, writing your answers down if you wish.

  1. Plato argues that ruling is a distinctive skill. Do you agree?
  2. Plato argues that it is rational to leave the exercise of skills to experts. Do you agree?
  3. A standard definition of democracy includes the idea that in a democracy the people rule. Do you think this is accurate?
  4. Plato argues that the people are not expert rulers. Do you agree?
  5. Plato argues that from these premises it logically follows that democracy is irrational. Do you agree that this follows?
  6. Do you believe that democracy is irrational?

Note that if you answered Yes to Questions 1–5, but No to Question 6, you are caught in a logical contradiction! That is to say, you have agreed that the premises of Plato’s argument are true, and that the conclusion logically follows from the premises (which means that logically the conclusion must be true), but you also deny the conclusion. This is a contradiction. Philosophers fear contradicting themselves, and for good reason. If two beliefs (or sentences) contradict each other then they can't both be true. One of them must therefore be false. If you are caught in a contradiction, it is not always easy to find your way out, but to make your beliefs consistent you must change at least one of your answers. If you are in this position, which one would you change?

Note that a consistent set of beliefs is simply a set of beliefs that does not contain self-contradiction. This is not enough to prove that the beliefs are true; rather it shows that it is possible that they are all true. For a contradictory set of beliefs, by contrast, it is impossible that they are all true.

Individual activity: Analysing Plato’s argument

To see that you have understood, consider the following two sentences:

  1. Fido is a dog
  2. All dogs have four legs.

Now try to think of a third sentence which, when added to the first two, will render the three together inconsistent.

  1. Fido does not have four legs (or something else that entails this, such as Fido has six legs).

To make a consistent set, assuming sentence (3) is true, either sentence (1) or sentence (2) will have to be modified. How could this be done?


  1. Fido is not a dog (or a modification which entails that Fido is not a dog, such as Fido is a spider).
  2. It is not the case that all dogs have four legs (or a modification of this).