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Plato and Aristotle

By Levi Clancy for Student Reader on

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Numerous experts in modern time regard Plato as the first genuine political philosopher and Aristotle as the first political scientist. Plato and Aristotle each had ideas in how to proceed with improving the society in which they were part of during their existence. It is necessary therefore to analyze their different theoretical approaches regarding their philosophical perspectives. The main objective in Plato's philosophy is a creation of a perfect society. He constructs a foundation for a utopian society in his book "The Republic". The purpose of his thought process was to cleanse his society of the woes he felt plagued it and construct a new one. Plato lived during the Peloponnesian War, which consequently lead to the end of the Athenian democracy. He had eyewitness account of his mentor's (Socrates) trial and execution. Bitter and angered by the political corruption that gripped the Athenian democratic government, he disengaged from participating in politics. He strongly felt that neither a moral individual nor a state that is rational could be established in a democratic environment. Plato felt that the common man wasn't intelligent or capable of dealing with concepts that influence the state such as economics, policy of foreign affairs and other relative matters. He viewed political incumbents in Athens government as being elected for matters that were irrelevant to main factors that affected the state. Another danger was that excessive liberty for the people of the democratic society could potentially lead to anarchy. In Plato's perfect society, he forged ahead to eliminate the disease (pluralism of friendship) that plagued the human character and society (Class Notes). Essentially, Plato wanted to establish the perfect form of society, linked by one single entity. Plato's perfect society would consist of three basic groups, which are Guardians (Gold), Auxiliaries (Silver), and the Artisan (Bronze). The highest of these classes are the gold people, which consist of rulers and non-rulers. Those that are rulers are society's decision & policy makers and non-rulers occupy levels of civil servants. The fundamental prerequisite to becoming a genuine philosopher is to have knowledge of forms, thus enabling you to know the truth. Plato's theory of the forms is partly logical and part metaphysical. Armed with the truth, he believed that philosophical ruler will always make the right decision, and rule with total wisdom, justice and virtue. The rulers, he felt, wouldn't posses any money or property, they would be free of desires, excesses, and vices. The Auxiliaries (Silver) are people of strength, courage, and military capacity; they occupy a small sector of society. All auxiliaries would be subjected to a series of tests, which will check their powers of resistance to self-interest, pleasure and other temptations. The last level, Artisan (Bronze), are the workers which might be composed of farmers and artist, essentially non-skilled workers. They would produce all the consumable and non-consumable goods deemed necessary for consumption and the continued economic viability of the society. Plato whole-heartedly felt that if ever the bronze or iron people rule the state would collapse (Class Notes). He sought to establish the concept of the gold class having wisdom, thus they should be wise and good rulers. It was imperative that those who rule be philosophers and skilled in areas that pertained to the interest of the state.

Aristotle, unlike Plato, was not focused or concerned about the idea of a perfect society, instead he wanted to improve upon the one that he was part of during his existence. Rather than develop a framework for a society that is perfect, he suggested that society should, in it self, strive to utilize the best system it can attain. He felt that utopia was abstract and superficial. It wouldn't allow for realistic problem solving solutions. He felt that Plato's view of a strict overhaul of society in general wasn't necessary. He believed that society was at its optimum and you can only improve upon the existing one. Aristotle's disagreed with Plato in regards to allowing one particular class to govern the state politically for indefinite period of time. He felt that to not allow interaction among the various classes would inhibit those who posses the ability to engage in political life, an injustice. He feels Plato's structure of classes is politically incorrect for the state. He quotes "It is a further objection that he deprives his Guardians even of happiness, maintaining that happiness of the whole state which should be the object of legislation", ultimately he is stating that those who rule (Guardians), sacrifice their happiness for control and absolute power. Those who are of the gold class, lead such a rigid life, that it will become necessary to impose the same strict way of life on those being governed. He places the idea of moderation on a high pedestal. Many individuals come to favor the concept of moderation because it is flexible, part liberal and part conservative. Plato's ideal society is so difficult to conceive that Aristotle believes that no human being can achieve its rudimentary requirements. He decided to express in the "Republic" how men should conduct it self in a perfect society and what attitude they should posses. In retrospect, Aristotle felt by using real world experience along with real people, he can see first hand how and what way can he improve society.

Plato and Aristotle both agreed on justice and viewed it objectively; that is it controls the belief a life of good nature would be provided for all people no matter their ranking in society. Aristotle's states " In democracies, for example, justice is considered to mean equality, no oligarchies, again inequality in the distribution of office to considered just". Plato views the idea of law and justice as what sets the standard for society's behavior in a state.

Aristotle puts emphasis on the institution of the polis or civilized community. The polis was structured to allow the average individual in society to participate in political matters. This institutional forum is not the city-state or the community, but merely the larger of the two entities. It is rather a partnership between households, clans, and villages for the sake of a fully developed and self-sufficient life. The polis enables those individuals who naturally posses moral intellect and wisdom an opportunity to rise to higher positions (Class Notes). Justice is the political good within the polis, and it must promote the common interest of the people of the state. What is seen as good must be distributed and regulated through out the state. The law is also the regulating factor that arises from equal and free people in civil institution. The well being of a society is solely based upon the connection between the effort in which the citizens of the state adhere to the law of the land. A good citizen of the state will posses prudence, moderation, and justice, and above all to rule and be ruled.

His belief contradicts Plato theory of one controlling class, governing the political matters and decisions that effect the state. The Theory of Democracy that Aristotle states is that democracy is a "perversion" form of government of "polity" (Class Notes). He clearly states "The people at large should be sovereign rather than the few best". Plato on the other hand, wouldn't permit citizens to engage in public participation concerning governmental issues, as Aristotle would have enjoyed. Plato also felt that public judgments of disapproval and approval were based on emotional belief, instead of factual knowledge. He believes that if a revolution occurred it would happened within the corridors of the palace, hence palace revolution. This type of revolution happens when there is a transmission of power from one holder of power to another. Aristotle perceives such an event occurring between the wealthy and less fortunate in society. He feels to prevent such actions, one must participate in them. Plato thinks that in a utopia a disgruntled group of Guardians will emerge and disengage themselves from the ruling law of the state. He feels that an oligarchy two things may initiate a possible revolution: the first one is the ruler and their offspring would grow to be weak, sympathetic, and second is that the number of poor individuals will grow larger and there for be taken advantage of by the ruling class. Aristotle states that to know the factors that caused the revolution, which destroys the constitution, is to also know the principal of effect, which in turn ensure its preservation.

Aristotle and Plato also have contrasting views on ethics, psychology and metaphysics. In regards to ethics, Aristotle believes that virtue is necessary for happiness, while Plato says virtue is enough for happiness. The psychological difference between the two is that Plato feels the body is a prison for the soul; body and soul are two different entities, capable of maintaining independence from one another. As for Aristotle, he claims that the body and soul are two different things, one consisting of matter the other form. He sees everything in the universe being composed of matter and form, so its not surprising that he perceives human being are too. To him form is simply the way matter is arranged. For example, a cat is composed in a feline way; that's what makes a cat. Human being for that matter, have a unique method of structure, too; that's their form. In fact, Aristotle strongly feels that nothing in existence can be without form and matter. If you eliminate its structure and form you have nothing left. So for Aristotle, the concept of soul without body or body without soul is incoherent. In regards to form, Plato expressed how things should be through utilizing vague language and poetry.