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In Euthydemus, Plato says that "the politician’s art and the kingly art were the same" (ἔδοξε γὰρ δὴ ἡμῖν ἡ πολιτική καὶ ἡ βασιλική τέχνη ἡ αὐτὴ εἶναι, 291 c 4–5).

I have difficulty understanding the distinction between the politician's art and the kingly art. What is kingly art, after all?

Clarification would be much appreciated. Thanks in advance!

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  • See 291c: "We took the view that the statesman's and the monarch's arts were one and the same." Maybe relevant the fact that the in Greece of Plato's time there were different city with different "rules". Feb 1, 2023 at 11:27
  • I have another translation: We felt that the statesman's and the monarch's arts were that we are looking for. Feb 1, 2023 at 14:27
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    Plato's ideal of ruler/statesman is that of a philosopher-king. As a philosopher the ruler can fathom the laws and as a king he can enforce them.
    – Nikos M.
    Feb 1, 2023 at 16:21
  • This paper is interesting: 'The discourse of kingship in classical Greece' bmcr.brynmawr.edu/2020/2020.11.17 It's worth saying that for Plato politics meant politika, 'affairs of state'. I would interpret 'kingly arts' in relation to expectations of high aristocracy (being an exemplar), & good decision making
    – CriglCragl
    Feb 1, 2023 at 18:20

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You are right that the distinction between the politician’s art and the kingly art is obscure. The immediate context of the dialogue does provide a partial answer but it’s important to understand the dialogue as a whole and in the context of other dialogues in order to understand this remark.

We learn from Socrates about Cleinias’ proposal that generalship is the supreme art. The problem is that:- “… When they (sc. generals) have hunted either a city or an army, they hand it over to the politicians—since they themselves do not know how to use what they have hunted…” (290d)

The idea that political and kingly art are the same is a hypothesis, arrived at while Socrates and Cleinias were considering whether the “kingly art” is “what provides and produces happiness”; they supposed that the statesman's and the monarch's arts were one and the same and, comparing medicine, which produces health, and agriculture, which produces food, they ask what the political/kingly art produces?.

They had no answer. Socrates continues:- “So then I myself, Crito, finding I had fallen into this perplexity (aporia), began to exclaim at the top of my voice, beseeching the two strangers as though I were calling upon the Heavenly Twins to save us, the lad and myself, from the mighty wave of the argument, … ” (Euthydemus, 293a)

There’s no return to the relationship between politics and kingship.

The essential point is that they never consider the difference between the two, only the hypothesis that they are the same. Since you need a king to practice the art of kingship, there is a problem in democratic or oligarchical states. It would make sense that the art of politics is simply the art of kingship in a state that has no monarch and vice versa.

So what are we to make of this?

Plato’s project in this dialogue is not to understand politics or monarchy. It is to show up Euthydemus and Dionysodorus, who are professional teachers, skilled in eristic argumentation – what we would now call sophistry. It is, essentially, a satire, but framed by the serious issue that Crito is considering whether to place his son with them; this adds to the bite. By the end of the dialogue, Socrates has to persuade him to “be reasonable, Crito, and do not mind whether the teachers of philosophy are good or bad, but think only of philosophy herself. …. ” (ibid, 303a).

Jowett’s introduction to his translation treats it as something of a historical relic, on the grounds that we now understand logic and have no problem seeing through sophistical tricks. I think there’s more to it than that.

As the dialogues around the trial and death of Socrates show, it was very important to Plato that he rescue Socrates’ reputation, as well as articulating his own philosophical project as distinct from his tradition. He needed to distinguish philosophy very clearly from rhetoric on one hand (see Gorgias) and sophistry on the other – and that’s what this dialogue is about.

Socrates experiences aporia himself, is on the receiving end of sophistry, and ends up defending himself with the weapons that Euthydemus and Dionysodorus use against him - unsuccessfully.(303a) The difference in terms of the drama is that for Euthydemus and Dionysodorus dialogue is a game and their aim is to win. But Socrates is sincerely interested in philosophy; this is not a game to him and he is not simply trying to win. Socrates’ aporia here may or may not have actually been shared by Plato as his thought developed; but either way, his readers will know that the questions raised here are not abandoned, like an old football, but followed up (Republic, Statesman, Laws).

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I don't think that is same. If you read little bit before, they talks about and art of liras making and art of liras playing. If you have (a talent) you have to play the washing board music better then someone unskilled playing at Stradivarius's violin, so you don't need Stradivarius's violine or Stradivarius art, if you are able to art music playing. Basileus(king) is not every politican, cuz Basileus has divine origin and his soul is immortal, not like ordinary politican's souls. How someone get it art skill, from birth or not(they talk), Socrat told that he use his soul as a tool to perception any knowledge, and Plato said same(upper 296):

"Then answer me once more, said he, do you know what you know, by means of something, or is this not the case?"

"I do, said I, by the soul.".

But “Corinthos, son of Zeus”, this mean that Corinthos has a divine immortal soul, that is why he able to king's art, king's art is not same as political art , cuz king is affects to all and ordinary politicians and may be there souls(?). King art is a(dialectic) skill to know cause of the divine knowledge. But is king better then perfect politican? Something like this, but thay can't ask this cuz “Corinthos, son of Zeus” and the soul is a tool needed for perception future knowledge/experience.

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Plato saw statesmanship as the master art as it places all other arts in the proper relationship with each other. This is a philosophical notion.

He also sees monarchy as one of the best forms of government and tyranny as the worst.

Putting the two together he argues that the philosopher-king is the best form of government.

This might seem like an ideal that isn't approached in reality. However, one can argue modern democracies are of this form. The academy, in it's widest form informs democracy - take for example the IPCC reports on climate change which has had a huge influence on global governance everywhere - and a prime-minister is an elective monarch.

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  • monarch is one lead in one state, that doesn't wish to rule, but he must. tyrant is someone who wishes a power, and rules till die. i don't think that global management is compare with Plato's ideas, but it is on your scruple. Feb 18, 2023 at 22:35
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In any book on greek history (for example, Hermann Bengtson "History of Greece") there is an explanation on how the Greek city-states came to be from archaic monarchies, many times with an intermediate step of oligarchy or tyranny.

At the time of presocratics and Plato, the basileus and his relatives, of ancient king lineage, were merely cosmetically recognized and had no politic power. Therefore probably the distinction is between the aristocracy manners and those required to properly rule a city-state, which in Plato's time need not be related.

Take his own example, he was related to aristocracy but uninterested in political affairs in practice (with respect to the democracy of Athens of course, maybe with another form of government, such as what he depicts in his writings, he would have been interested).

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