Student Blog: What Informs Our Idea Of a Good Society?

The Seminal Readings course forms a special part of the ALU student experience. For six weeks in a student’s first year, the community dives into intense readings and provocative discussion. In the process, they sharpen their critical thinking and analysing skills and explore questions that all leaders grapple with. In the first two weeks of Seminal Readings the entire community pauses – there are no classes or other responsibilities – and students immerse themselves in the course and come together as an intellectual community. Each day during this second week of Seminal Readings, students will share reflections on the texts and their journey.

Following the theme of Seminal Readings II, The Good Society, our discussions on the second day centered around a piece by Plato titled The Republic, Book VII, and a paper published by the Kenyan government, entitled African Socialism and its application in Kenya. Both pieces present two different views of what a good society should look like.

In Plato’s piece we picked up from where we left off in Seminal Readings I with a conversation between Socrates the philosopher and his student Glaucon about the Allegory of the Cave. Together they set out to design the ideal State that would be led by a generation of elites referred to as the “Philosopher Kings.” According to Plato, not everyone is fit to rule because most people would be easily tempted to go after power instead of fulfilling their duties to society. Socrates goes on to suggest that few individuals should be selected from their young age and carefully trained to become the guardians or Philosopher Kings. They would receive an education based on mathematics and dialectics- sciences that are meant to take them from a “state of becoming” to a “state of being.” At the end of their education, Socrates believes these chosen ones would have gained knowledge of the Truth and perfect enlightenment to rule over society, using their wisdom to seek and do good.

In contrast, the reading about African socialism builds on two main concepts, political democracy and mutual social responsibility. Based on the concept of political democracy, everyone has the right to partake in political activities as long as they are citizens of age. According to mutual social responsibility, the State, Kenya, is portrayed as a family with a collective responsibility towards the growth and prosperity of the State. The State which takes the position of a parent, has “the obligation to provide equal opportunities to all its citizens, eliminate exploitation and discrimination, and provide needed social services such as education, medical care and social security…”

The question we had to reflect on was, “What informs our ideas of a good society?” Or “how do we decide what a society should look like?” Beside Plato’s concept of the Philosopher King, or Kenya’s view of African socialism, there are many other ideologies and principles that can be taken into account when building a society, such as capitalism and communism, to name a few. Each principle has its tradeoffs and its impact differs from one society to the next My thoughts are that before any decisions are made, we need to ask ourselves, “Is this concept applicable and sustainable in the long run?”, “does it address the needs of the society as a whole?” and “Are the tradeoffs worth it?”


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