Tuesday, March 28, 2000

Plato vs Aristotle

To compare the political theories of two great philosophers of politics is to first examine each theory in depth. Plato is regarded by many experts as the first writer of political philosophy, and Aristotle is recognized as the first political scientist. These two men were great thinkers. They each had ideas of how to improve existing societies during their individual lifetimes. It is necessary to look at several areas of each theory to seek the difference in each. Plato and Aristotle defined the concept and established the philosophical foundations of what may be called ‘rational freedom’. (Boeree) Plato and Aristotle defined the key themes of ‘rational freedom’ and sought to show how these could be embodied in the polity. The most important question discussed by Plato and Aristotle concerns the nature of the relation of the individual to the political community. The human being as a zoon politikon or social animal is not an isolated, autonomous entity but a part of society, living in a social context. (Butcher)  It follows that the flourishing of the individual required a social context that is devoted to realizing the good life. Individuals as social beings realize their essential human potentialities in and through the political community, in relation to rather than as against each other. The principal concern of Plato and Aristotle was to discover the norms and rules that govern the life of the political community as the good life enabling the flourishing of the human individual.
Plato and Aristotle were both philosophers from Greece who criticized democracy as a poor form of government. Plato’s thoughts on democracy were that it causes the corruption of people through public opinion and creates rulers who do not actually know how to rule but only know how to influence the beast, the public. Aristotle’s views about democracy hold that democratic office will cause corruption in the people, if the people choose to redistribute the wealth of the rich they will end up destroying the state and since the people have no knowledge about governance when they elect rulers they will dislike.
Plato prescribed in his communism concerning the abolishment of private property, especially to the guardians and the auxiliaries.  Plato says anything (property) that must be owned by them, must be owned collectively.  This could be as a reason of their societal hierarchy and the tendency to abuse such privilege.
Aristotle on the other hand criticized the abolition of private property, as he recognizes the need to own such even though the private possession of goods must be within certain limits. He therefore preached against the excessive accumulation of goods and advised citizens to use their limited possessions for the benefit of the common good.
   Plato’s republic ideal state supports feminism, in that education for ruling as well as the job for ruling itself should be open to girls and women like the men. Thus, one’s sex is generally irrelevant to ones qualifications for education or employment.
Aristotle declares that the women are normally subordinate to men, for the male is by nature superior and the female inferior. The men rules but the women are ruled.  Thus, Aristotle accepts the customary patriarchal subordination of women to men. (Cohen)
 Plato’s ruling ideology has been summarized as the “rule of the best man” – the philosopher king who alone knows the ideal standards for the state. Also, ruling is a skill; as the best man must be trained to rule. Ruling is also an ideal. (Boeree)
Aristotle’s ruling ideology has been summarized as the “rule of the best laws” – a well ordered constitution which entails good governance.  For him, although ruling is a skill and an ideal as well; it is also a science, although Aristotle understands politics as a normative or prescriptive discipline rather than as a “purely” empirical or descriptive inquiry. (Boeree)
Plato proposes the abolishment of the family in his communism, as he says the guardians and the auxiliaries shall have no wife of their own, but in common. Children should be separated from their parents at birth and raised by the state.  Thus, there will be more unity and fewer disharmonies. (Fowler)
Aristotle disagrees and upheld that the family is the bedrock of the state and fundamental society established according to the law of nature to provide man’s daily needs. (Frede) He despised communism, in his words “Everybody is inclined to neglect something which he expects another to fulfill; as in families many attendants are often less useful than a few”. (Fowler)
 The main focus of Plato is a perfect society. He creates a blueprint for a utopian society, in his book The Republic, out of his disdain for the tension of political life. This blueprint was a sketch of a society in which the problems he thought were present in his society would be eased. Plato sought to cure the afflictions of both human society and human personality. Essentially what Plato wants to achieve is a perfect society.
 Aristotle, unlike Plato, is not concerned with perfecting society. He just wants to improve on the existing one. Rather than produce a blueprint for the perfect society, Aristotle suggested, in his work, The Politics, that the society itself should reach for the best possible system that could be attained Aristotle relied on the deductive approach, while Aristotle is an example of an inductive approach.  Utopia is a solution in abstract, a solution that has no concrete problem. There is no solid evidence that all societies are in need of such drastic reformation as Plato suggests. Aristotle discovers that the best possible has already been obtained. All that can be done is to try to improve on the existing one.
 Plato's utopia consists of three distinct, non-hereditary class systems. The Guardians consist of non ruling Guardians and ruling Guardians. The non-rulers are a higher level of civil servants and the ruling is the society's policy makers.  Auxiliaries are soldiers and minor civil servants.  The workers are composed of farmers and artisans, most commonly unskilled laborers.  The guardians are to be wise and good rulers. It is important that the rulers who emerge must be a class of craftsmen who are public-spirited in temperament and skilled in the arts of government areas. The guardians are to be placed in a position in which they are absolute rulers. They are supposed to be the select few who know what is best for society.  (Butcher)
Aristotle disagrees with the idea of one class holding discontinuing political power. The failure to allow circulation between classes excludes those men who may be ambitious, and wise, but are not in the right class of society to hold any type of political power.  Aristotle looks upon this ruling class system as an ill-conceived political structure.  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," (Hacker) ultimately he is saying that Guardians sacrifice their happiness for power and control. Guardians who lead such a strict life will also think it necessary to impose the same strict lifestyle on the society it governs.  
Aristotle puts a high value on moderation.  Many people favor moderation because it is part-liberal and part-conservative. (Cohen) There is so much of Plato's utopia that is undefined and it is carried to extremes that no human being could ever fulfill its requirements.  Aristotle believes that Plato is underestimating the qualitative change in human character and personality that would have to take place in order to achieve his utopia.  Plato chose to tell the reader of his Republic how men would act and what their attitudes would be in a perfect society.  Aristotle tries to use real men in the real world in an experimental fashion to foresee how and in which ways they can be improved. (Cohen). 
Both Plato and Aristotle agree that justice exists in an objective sense: that is, it dictates a belief that the good life should be provided for all individuals no matter how high or low their social status.  "In democracies, for example, justice is considered to mean equality, in oligarchies, again inequality in the distribution of office is considered to be just,” says Aristotle. (Hacker) Plato sees the justice and law as what sets the guidelines for societal behavior. 
Aristotle puts emphasis on the institution of the polis. (Fowler) This institution is not the state or society merely the larger unit of the two. Neither Plato nor Aristotle found it to be necessary to distinguish between the state and society and therefore it was difficult to define polis.  The polis was set up to allow political participation on the part of the average citizen; this contradicts Plato's theory of one ruling class controlling the political power and all decisions that affect the entire society. The theory of Democracy that Aristotle derived states that democracy is a "perversion" form of government of "polity" (Hacker). Aristotle said, "The people at large should be sovereign rather than the few best" (Hacker). Plato would never allow the full public participation in government as Aristotle would like. According to Plato public judgments of approval and disapproval are based on belief and not on knowledge. 
Plato thought that if a revolution were to take place it would be a palace revolution. A palace revolution occurs when there is a power transfer from one power holder to someone else. (Hacker) Aristotle sees the cause of revolutions originating with either the rich or the poor. He feels that the means of preventing revolutions is to anticipate them.  Plato thinks that in a utopia a disgruntled group of guardians will emerge and break from the rules. He thinks that in an oligarchy two things may happen to spark a revolution: the first being the ruler and their offspring grow to be weak rulers and too sympathetic, the second is that the number of poor grows larger and suffer exploitation at the hands of those in power over them. Aristotle states that to know the causes which destroy constitutions is also to know the causes which ensure their preservation. 
Plato and Aristotle alike were two men who had ideas on ways to improve existing society. Plato, a political philosopher, was in the pursuit of philosophical truth. Aristotle was concerned with the citizen and the design of political institutions.  They both had well thought out ideas and plans on how to build a better society. Both Aristotle and Plato have had a tremendous impact on political scientists of today.
Aristotle helped to develop some democratic ideas and these men were great thinkers. Their opinions on society and its functions were quite different, but they both had the same intention, to build a better way of life for the societies they lived in and for the societies that would come to be in the future.
            When I think about how Plato and Aristotle might speak about the Affordable Health Care Act would be quite interesting.  It is likely they would quite debatable for the two of the.  There are several opinions about this not necessarily good for all and I would say that they both generally agreed that decisions should be made based on how it affects the whole.  This method of health care very dictatorship-like in my opinion and isn’t necessarily good for all.  Plato thought that individuals should be classified, where Aristotle didn’t.  Healthcare before and after the Affordable Health Care Act does classify people based on working status and income.  Although, Plato and Aristotle agree on the concept of an ideal state, they still disagree on deeper issues as Aristotle distanced himself from Plato, who was his mentor, at some point.


Boeree, Dr. C. George. Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Shippensburg University, 2009, accessed November 30, 2013; available from http://webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/athenians.html; Internet.
Butcher, S. H. Some Aspects of the Greek Genius. Port Washington, N. Y.: Kennikat Press, 1969.
Cohen, S. Marc. Introduction to Aristotle. Seattle, WA: University of Washington, 2008, accessed November 30, 2013; available from:  http://faculty.washington.edu/smcohen/433/arintro.htm; Internet.
Fowler, Michael. Aristotle. University of Virginina, 2008, accessed November 30, 2013; available from http://galileo.phys.virginia.edu/classes/109N/lectures/aristot2.html; Internet.
Frede, Michael. Aristotle. Michigan Technological University, 1997, accessed November 30, 2013; available from http://chemistry.mtu.edu/~pcharles/SCIHISTORY/aristotle.html; Internet.
Hacker, Andrew. Political Theory: Philosophy, Ideology, Science. New York: Macmillan, 1961.

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