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Plato’s Concept of War: Learning to be Decent
In spite of the fact that the mankind has been leading wars all the history long, the periods of peace and quiet changing with the devastating fights, most philosophers take the humane approach when considering the idea of war, thus regarding the latter as inappropriate.
Among them was the great Plato, who understood that even the resilience of the world could not take constant battles one changes with another. Claiming that war can be neither just, nor rescannable, he claims it to be one of those inevitable but destructing things.
In his early works, Plato seemed to take the position which nowadays could be called a humanistic one, considering that the states at war are destined to face terrible disorders. Plato considered that there were actually no winners in this game, for even the states which win the war are to face the devastation, the famine and the misery of the war.
Plato’s logic was that both countries are destined in be in ruins as the war ends, and the tasted of victory would be far too bitter to triumph. In his dialogue with Alchibiades he says that he finds the war unjust and contradicting human’s nature. Arguing Achibiadus back his reasoning of war as an action completely unjust, he says:
Soc.: Now, what of this? Whom will you advised the Athenians to wage war against, those behaving unjustly, or those practicing the just things?
Alc.: What you are asking is a terrible thing; for even if someone had it in his mind that war ought to be waged against those practicing the just things, he would not admit to it, at least.
The sarcasm of Socrates cannot but be admired. With controversial statements he pushes his opponent to thinking that war is an unjust witch with an ugly face, a thing which has nothing to do with humanity and decency.
Augustine: Leading a Christian War
Whenever there is a need to balance the justice between the states, either ruler has to resort to strict measures and to call people to protect their homeland and fight for the ideas which they appreciate most. According to Augustine, war can be used as a defense mechanism against the invaders or a weapon to fight with for people’s beliefs and faith.
Augustine’s doctrine suggests that war can be just, and, moreover, that it has to be just. In his understanding, the sacred idea of protecting the homeland and the faith from the pagans and the unfaithful means more than the earthy life. The ideas of Augustine proclaim fighting for justice, and it seems that he was more than determined to win in his fight. Considering the just war as the means to restore the peace on the earth, he interpreted the idea of war as the idea of serving the homeland and the religion of the forefathers.
Taking into consideration Augustine’s understanding of peace and the peace in a state, it is possible to presume that Augustine considered war as another means of piece-making:
Because the name “peace” is also frequently used with respect to things which are subject to death, where there is certainly no eternal life, we prefer to call the end of this city, where its highest good will be, “central life” rather than “peace”.
Thus, Augustine was gear up for war much more than Plato with his ideas of justice as peaceful problem-solving. Understanding that people are quite unlikely to submit to the other faith and other state ruler without struggling, Augustine considered war the only way to convert the unfaithful. To be more metaphorical, his idea of war was the position of a stronger state, while the mild ideas of Plato were the position of the strongest state.
The Two Ideas Compared
Considering the viewpoints of both philosophers, it is necessary to say that Plato’s arguments on leading the war clash with the ideas of Augustine in quite a conflict. In contrast to the weighed and reasonable ideas of war which Plato suggests, Augustine molds the basis of the war ideology on the idea that war can be a means to achieve piece.
In contrast to Augustine, Plato thinks that prudence and strategic thinking is the key element of war: “Don’t you know that when we make war we begin to wage war after accusing each other of some affront and what term we use when we begin?” Plato wants to analyze the war, making it closer to a chess game where the leaders have to think logically and make its course more predictable.
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A brilliant strategist, Plato emphasizes the importance of the soldiers as the layer of society which will help the rulers to achieve the glory and to make the lives of the citizens safe. As a philosopher, Socrates understands that every element in the chain of state life is important; once letting one element loose, the chain will get broken for good. Thus, Plato’s strategy-and-order structure sounds as a well-thought idea of a state.
In contrast to Plato, Augustine suggests something completely different. What Augustine makes prior for the state is the faith and the religion. In Augustine’s understanding of the duty of the Christians, the latter are supposed to fight for their ideas as hard as they can. Avoiding expressing his ideas of what makes a just war, Augustine still made it clear that the three elements of justice must be present to call war a decent fight.
“The three jus ad bellum criteria of rightful (or legitimate) authority, just cause, and right intention, and even hint at the connection between the latter come to be called jus in bello”. Thus, Augustine admits that war can be just, and he insists that there are certain elements which make it such.
Owing to the fact that “Augustine was never elaborate in his comments on just cause”, it is possible to suggest that the great philosopher was more of a tactician, while Plato was a strategist, which predetermined the difference in their understanding of war. Nevertheless, the great theories of the ancient philosophers survived the time testing and reached our epoch.
Denying the possibility if just war, Plato’s ideas prove not a bit less important than the ones of Augustine, and vice versa. The ideal war is impossible, so people had better start making the ideal peace.
Reighberg, Gregory M., Henric Syse and Endre Begby. The Ethics of War: Classic and Contemporary Readings. New York, NY: Blackwell Publishing, 2006. Print.
- . Reighberg, Gregory M., Henric Syse and Endre Begby. The Ethics of War: Classic and Contemporary Readings (New York, NY: Blackwell Publishing, 2006), 22
- . Reighberg, Gregory M., Henric Syse and Endre Begby. The Ethics of War: Classic and Contemporary Readings (New York, NY: Blackwell Publishing, 2006), 78
- Reighberg, Gregory M., Henric Syse and Endre Begby. The Ethics of War: Classic and Contemporary Readings (New York, NY: Blackwell Publishing, 2006), 22
- Reighberg, Gregory M., Henric Syse and Endre Begby. The Ethics of War: Classic and Contemporary Readings (New York, NY: Blackwell Publishing, 2006), 81
- Reighberg, Gregory M., Henric Syse and Endre Begby. The Ethics of War: Classic and Contemporary Readings (New York, NY: Blackwell Publishing, 2006), 82