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Ancient Political Theory Term Paper

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Updated: Nov 22nd, 2019

The most well known philosophers in the world are Plato and Aristotle. These two men developed some of the well known philosophical works that are in used today by various philosophers and scholars. Despite having similar thoughts and opinions on politics, their views contradicted with each other where Aristotle criticized Plato’s view on politics. The Republic is a Socrates dialogue that was written by Plato in 380BC dealing with the definition of justice and order in a city that was deemed to be just and with just people.

The Republic has been viewed by many scholars to be Plato’s best known literary work as it incorporates intellectual and historical works based on ancient political theory and philosophy. Plato’s Republic however faced some sharp criticism from Aristotle wrote in his literary work known as Aristotle’s Politics written in eight books. This term paper will focus on Aristotle’s criticisms of Plato’s view on politics based on his Politics Book II.

The original idea of politics stemmed from Socrates and it was then taken up by Plato in his anthology of the Republic where he based his views on the subject on moral knowledge and abstract reasoning rather than experience and concrete living. By developing different aspects of politics, Plato’s Republic became the most important Socratic dialogue that was ever written explaining the theory of politics.

His writings dealt with the souls of human beings which were termed to be the levels where individuals made choices on what they wanted to become in future. The Republic described justice as the ultimate form of being human and the ideal that every human being should strive to achieve in life (Plato, 2009).

Plato understood justice to encompass more than social virtues that dealt with the relationships between people. He viewed social virtues in justice as those that made it possible for people to build their own regimes whether social or political and achieve happiness after building these regimes. Plato’s Republic therefore became a political piece of literary work that dealt with the social virtues that individuals should have to achieve happiness and social contentment with their lives.

Plato viewed politics in social regimes to be the attempt of an individual to restore order or disorder in their life. He stated that it was impossible for a person to restore order in their social life if they did not introduce the concept of order in their lives in the first place. People who lacked order could not be able to lead others effectively unless they led themselves first (Plato, 2009).

Politics provided an individual with a way to express themselves based on the order that existed in their lives. According to Plato, politics became an important part of a human being’s mind as man cannot live alone given that all human beings are social animals that need interaction to survive.

This meant creating laws from an individuals rational nature that would be used to manage and maintain order within a regime. Such a view on politics became an ultimate concern for many philosophers including Plato as they struggled to bring this view of politics forward to the world (Plato, 2009).

Aristotle, who was an apprentice of Plato at the Academy, criticized Plato’s view on politics in Politics II 1-5 by focusing primarily on the regime and the highest goals of justice, while Plato’s view was focused on the individual’s social virtues and how they impacted on politics.

Aristotle’s Politics focused on the justice goals and also how people within a society and housing unit had to live together to form a united regime. The family households in social regimes were highly respected as people originated from these households. The goal of the family unit therefore became that of achieving as much unity as possible within a regime or city (Aristotle, 2006).

The politics that Aristotle focused on two areas that contemporary philosophers acknowledged to be political philosophy and ethics. Political philosophy according to Aristotle dealt with the politician or law giver formulating the appropriate constitution for their regime. Aristotle’s definition of a constitution was a certain order or law that would be used to govern the inhabitants of a city state.

Once the constitution would be in place, the politician or law giver would take the appropriate measures to ensure that it would be maintained. It is the duty of law maker who in this case are known to be politicians to bring bout changes in the regime politics when necessary. To add on, the politicians have a responsibility of ensuring calm in the regime. This involved enduring laws, customs and social institutions on behalf of the city states inhabitants (Aristotle, 2006).

This meant that the politician’s social life was not considered during the making of the constitution and whatever order or disorder they were experiencing in their lives was not considered when the laws were developed for the states inhabitants. This view according to Aristotle’s Politics differed from Plato’s views of politics in the regime where he stated that law givers had to first create order in their lives before their decided to create order within their regimes.

Plato would defend Aristotle’s criticisms on his view by stating law givers as any other human beings face order and disorder in their lives. Before they embark on restoring order within their regimes through the creation of laws and constitutions, they would have to first restore order in their lives before they embark on such exercises (Aristotle, 2006).

While Aristotle saw that every regime was made up of a community, Plato saw a community to be made up of an individual with a higher authority on the order of life. Aristotle stated that every community was established with the sole purpose and goal of achieving some good. His views on the appropriate leaders for these communities differed from those of Plato when he stated that one leader or ruler would be enough to benefit a social or political regime.

This saw the development of the various theories of leadership which were identified as Aristocratic style of leadership or aristocracy, polity, democratic leadership, tyrannical leadership and oligarchy. The order of leadership according to Aristotle was identified to be aristocracy, polity, democracy, oligarchy and tyranny which was the last order of leadership (Aristotle, 2006).

Plato’s view on the order of leadership was that the most virtuous and honorable leader should be allowed to rule, a type of leadership that was referred to as timocracy.

Plato’s order did not encompass many orders of regime rule as described by Aristotle as the order of leadership after timocracy was oligarchy which Plato viewed to be better than democracy and tyranny.

When it came to improving a social or political regime, Plato noted that there was no possible was of improving a regime under such leadership orders as things within the city state would always be deteriorating rather than mending themselves. Change within a regime was therefore a circumstance that was uncontrollable in nature as it began with the corruption of the state’s inhabitants (Plato, 2009).

Aristotle’s views differed from those of Plato in this matter as he viewed regimes to be non linear in nature which meant that situations could go from worse to better and from better to worse.

He comprehended the fact that a social or political regime could mend itself given that the natural divisions that existed within the society caused the deterioration of the regime rather than corruption. Aristotle also noted that the various forms of justice and injustice within the city state resulted in the dissolution of a regime instead of the society’s corruption (Aristotle, 2006).

Plato’s regime under such an argument was therefore viewed to be one that involved the individual person and the regime while Aristotle’s view showed that the development of the state could be achieved without the involvement of an individual. Plato’s view of the social or political regime was pessimistic because of his assertions that the state would continue to deteriorate over time while that of Aristotle was optimistic in nature because he saw the state of the regime to improve for the better (Plato, 2009).

Aristotle saw the creation of a regime or a city to be an unplanned activity that only occurred once communities or social classes that shared similar interests came together.

Plato on the other hand viewed the formation of a city to be a process that was planned by ensuring that everything was in order before the regime or city could be formed. In explaining the aspect of unity within a regime, Aristotle set a lower limit for the kind of unity that a city could have given that the city or regime was made up of people that had different views, values and social virtues.

He therefore noted that unity within a city was different in kind because of the various beliefs that people held within that city. According to Aristotle, equality and justice were deemed to be the most important factors in determining unity within a city while Plato viewed the order in an individual’s life to be the main determinant of unity within a social or political regime (Aristotle, 2006).

In his description of a city that has unity, Aristotle noted that as the city advanced and become more unified in achieving a common goal, it became more of a household rather than a city as human beings came from households and family units. The household therefore became more of a unity than a regime and the individual person became more unifiable than the household.

Unity within the city according to Aristotle was therefore deemed to emanate from the household and any disunity within the household would lead to disunity in the city or regime. Plato’s views on unity within a city differed from those of Aristotle in that the unity of a city would be determined by the unity of the individual human being (Aristotle, 2006).

Plato’s Republic held the view that unity within a city could only be achieved through the establishment of unity of substance as a standard of measuring unity within a city. Unity of substance according to Plato was a degree of unity that a city or regime aimed at achieving to ensure that successful levels of unity were achieved.

Aristotle criticized Plato’s view of unity within a city by stating that such unity would become too much as it would no longer focus on the city but on the human being. Aristotle noted that human beings were not born with the ability to live full human lives but they needed moral virtues and the cultivation of their intellectual capabilities to achieve growth within a social regime.

Such intellectual cultivation according to Aristotle could only take place within a political community where a human being required a city to live a full human life. Humans could only be able to perform their highest actions within a city which means that a city was prior to an individual (Plato, 2009).

Aristotle’s criticism of Plato’s the Republic in Politics II focused on political regimes and cities by stating in general that it would be a dangerous activity to leave the governance of a city to a single social class within the regime. Plato held the opinion that regimes were better managed if only one type of social class governed the city regime. Aristotle viewed this system of governance as depriving the city’s inhabitants of any form of happiness thereby defeating the purpose of association in the social regime.

Aristotle also criticized Plato’s views on property within a city or regime by stating that every city had the provision to protect its citizens from relations with neighbors. Plato was of the opinion that cities or regimes required vast territories for their citizens that had no safe provisions for relations between neighbors (Aristotle, 2006).

Other areas of Plato’s work that were criticized by Aristotle included generosity within the city or regime where Plato argued that generosity should be viewed as a guiding principle towards achieving wealth within the regime. Aristotle criticized these view as generosity could not be used as measure that determined the wealth an individual acquired within a social regime.

Generosity according to Aristotle was a measure of kindness that could only be given by an individual who did not expect any form of wealth or benefit in return. Such criticisms and differing views on politics and justice within the society showed that the world’s greatest philosophers held different views on the concept of politics.

References

Aristotle, W.E., (2006). Politics. Middlesex, UK: The Echo Library.

Plato (2009). The republic. New York, US: Kaye Dreams Novel Art.

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