Plato (427-347 BCE) & The Republic
was long assumed to be a student of Socrates simply because Plato
writes as much in many of his dialogues. As Socrates is about to die,
Plato has Socrates ask where the young Plato is, to which another
student replies that Plato was sick and thus could not be there at the
time. Scholars now are critical of this, and think that Plato had a
habit of writing himself and his family into Socrates’ circle in his
dialogues. Because they are our best sources on Socrates, it is
difficult to tell whether or not Plato’s older cousin Critias or Plato
himself were actual students of Socrates or whether they were simply
influenced by this figure who became quite famous following his trial
actual name was Aristocles, but according to the story his wrestling
instructor named him Platon or “Broad” because he had a wide figure.
This may be merely a story, because Plato was known to have a wide
“breadth” of knowledge covering all subjects of ancient thought.
Plato’s father died when he was young, and his step-father became the
Athenian ambassador to the Persian royal court (remember that Persia was
a great source of ancient world cosmology at the time).
after his attempts to become an established playwright, after his
dialogues about Socrates had gathered some fame, Plato founded his
Academy in 385 BCE, an open area near a tree grove where he, his
students and other lecturers would teach and debate matters of
philosophy and cosmology. Academy in fact means “porch”, an open area
in front of a building, a fact it took scholars long to understand for
they believed that the Academy must have been a building itself.
Scholars made a similar error looking for the famed Library of
Alexandria (an Egyptian center of ancient world knowledge), when in fact
the Library was a shelf that ran along a hall that connected two
Plato’s Republic, Socrates debates with others on justice and the Good.
Socrates debunks several common views, then constructs an ideal model
of the city. The well ordered city is compared to the well ordered soul
(3 layers in their places). Thus, the Good is proper order of the
elements (perfectly in accord with ancient cosmology). The Timaeus,
which is supposed to be the discussion the day after the Republic, has a
student of Socrates named Timaeus lecture on the cosmos, showing
Plato’s particular views on cosmology. Just as the individual is a
microcosm to the city, the city is a microcosm to the cosmos, and again
the elements must be separated and put in their places. The cosmos is
ordered in its unfolding, producing the ideal order of the soul and the
city. One should order the self and order the city the way the cosmos
are ordered. Both are supposed to have been written about 360 BCE.
the Republic opens, Socrates talks to several “interlocutors” and
argues against their concepts of justice at a social gathering (read:
wine party). Polemarchus argues that justice is paying debts, helping
friends and harming enemies. Socrates argues that in some situations,
helping friends and harming enemies are wrong. Thrasymachus argues that
justice is ‘the good of the stronger’. Glaucon similarly argues that
without threat of punishment, no one would do good. Socrates argues
that the strong will corrupt themselves if they only act for their own
interests and not for the good of the whole. Remember the politics of
the time- Many tyrants came and fell, one by one.
is challenged to give a positive account of justice, not just defeat
opponents. Socrates argues that first they must construct the ideal or
just city, and this will show how the ideal or just individual should
be. Essentially, the just city is a caste system, with a three-fold
division. This division corresponds to the physical human being and the
Head is fire/reason/rulers,
Heart/chest is air/spirit/police,
Hands/Stomach is earth/desire/workers.
individual, city and cosmos form a continuum, a set of Russian dolls.
Notice that authority and the good come from above, evil to be ordered
argues (in reading) that each person is best suited to one thing, and
should be assigned this one job. He argues that we will lie to the
people and tell them a Phoenician story, which is that the classes are
based on metals. The police and philosophers are made of silver and
gold, so they are suited to be put above the others.(Why lie? Because
the common will not understand philosophy, Plato’s system…this
corresponds to the cave, where most will never leave, and need puppets
to see anything).
is sacrificed for the common good: no private property or partners or
children, for any of the three classes. Socrates argues that the ruler
who grabs for themselves will not be happy, filled with “horrid pains
and pangs”, and will physically and mentally fall apart. This tyrant
will never “taste true freedom or friendship”. Because this is not the
order of the cosmos, it will not stick and will fall apart.
argues (and the interlocutors naively agree as simple yes men) that if
they separate out the police and educate them as best as can be, and
then take the philosophers out of the police and educate them as best as
can be, no injustice will be possible. There is the simple belief that
the order itself will generate justice throughout the whole. The
police and philosophers will thus never be greedy or unjust to the
people below. Plato elsewhere argues that this is how the Egyptians in
Thebes did it: elevating priests as a class- he also says to imitate
Sparta as well separating out the warriors.
also suggests banning all art (music, poetry and theatre) that is
counterproductive, which pretty much means everything that isn’t
impressing the highest good and order. The youth are to be taught that
they must improve themselves for the good of the state, and that the
gods never to injustice or desire.
Allegory/Analogy/Story of the Cave describes the masses and the assent
of the philosopher/king beyond opinion of the earthly realm to knowledge
of the heavenly and eternal realm, showing why the philosopher alone
should have authority. Everyone is chained in a cave, watching shadows
of puppets/models carried before a fire at the mouth of the cave. The
people think that the shadows are reality, the real things. The one who
escapes first sees that the shadows are shadows of puppets, and sees
the fire that casts the shadows. Coming out of the cave and past the
small fire, the seeker is at first blinded by the sunlight. The seeker
first sees real things outside of the cave, and realizes that the
puppet/models were just copies of the real things. Then the seeker can
get adjusted and see that the sun is the cause of all these things, and
that the world of the cave is a poor copy of the world outside the cave.
This is the realization of the forms and then the
all/light/reason/consciousness that produces the forms which are copied
in the cave below. This is opinion to belief (cave) to knowledge to
reason (outside). Notice that the city is a device for creating
philosophers who comprehend the true forms of things for the benefit of
all below, and that the body is similarly a device for creating thought
in the head for the benefit of the body below.
a final thought, note that Plato’s republic is nothing like what we
consider a republic to be today. People rise based on intelligence and
merit, not by voting. Plato was quite opposed to having the people aka
“the mob” elect leaders based on popularity. Like Confucius, Plato
believed that a system of dictatorship downwards based on merit and
achievement was best.
Aristotle (384-322 BCE) & The Politics
student and the tutor of Alexander the Great and Ptolemy, Aristotle is
one of the most famous and influential of Greek philosophers. He was
primarily interested in biology and speciation, but his works on the
soul (mind, self), Logic, Ethics and politics became more important than
his works on the animal kingdom. He was a central influence on the
origins of Christianity, Islamic thought and European thought in the
middle ages. While he is sometimes called the first scientist and the
first logician, his views on these subjects expanded ancient world
cosmology and were not the birth of these subjects. Aristotle has been
claimed by the West as a founder, but the Islamic world also considers
him one of their own and he is depicted in different ways depending on
who does the illustrating (see the beautiful Islamic image in the
Wikipedia article that portrays him as a very dark skinned holy sage for
an interesting counter to Renaissance paintings).
conception of virtue and human purpose is entirely in line with ancient
world cosmology. He believes that everything has a single purpose for
which it is intended. It is as if the cosmos, Being itself, is a big
mind that creates things for particular uses, and individual beings
thrive if they are serving their purposes (ergon in the Greek, or
“work”, “job”). We are reasonable to the degree that we see the purposes
of things, serve our own natural purpose and use things in accord with
their natural purposes. This is known as the teleological view, as the
study of purpose is called teleology. Notice that teleology is very big
with more traditional people today (including evangelical Christians)
but modern Philosophy and Science have broken from this view and find it
Aristotle, having oneself in the proper stack and order is being in
accord with one’s nature, and this means putting theory and
soul/intellect on top and putting each lower element of our minds and
bodies in the service of the highest part of the mind, the intellect,
which corresponds to the highest good of the cosmos itself. Just as the
intellect should be pursued because it is the best and highest part, the
good itself should be pursued simply in itself and for no other
purpose. Aristotle does believe that the human individual will
naturally flourish and be happy if they are stacked up right and in
accord with the human purpose of intellectual activity, but this is
secondary and the byproduct of serving ones purpose.
in matters of politics, Aristotle believes that the city is not
primarily a living arrangement but rather for producing the elite and
the virtuous. Thus, the city is not for making people happy but having
each individual do their natural job. Just like his teacher Plato argues
in his Republic, Aristotle argues that each person must have one thing
they do best and it is therefore best for them to do that thing and that
one thing only. Unfortunately, both Plato and Aristotle argued that
slaves and peasants are meant to serve the aristocracy and women are
clearly meant to serve men (Mill will strongly criticize these views,
one of the first and few outspoken critics of the subjugation of slaves
argues that the ruler/ruled pairing is natural to society and best for
preservation. He identifies the ruler with the head and male, and the
ruled with the body and female. He says that the subjugation of the
woman and slave is in everyone’s best and natural interests. Because a
thing is best if it serves one purpose, its natural purpose, there are
some who naturally should rule and others who naturally should be ruled.
The man rules the wife and children, and the king rules the country.
When he says that non-Greeks are natural slaves, keep in mind he had
the future Europeans to the North and West in mind far more than the
Persians and Egyptians, who he openly admired. He also says that we
imagine the gods to have a king and live in similar ways to human
beings. Note that he is not arguing that the gods are imaginary
(Aristotle was a polytheist) but he is critical, as were many of the
great Greek philosophers) of the gods having human form or human
passions. Later in this section he says that gods are by nature
entirely self-sufficient as they are immortal and do not need to eat.
says that several people (in ruler/ruled pairings) make up the village,
and several villages make up the state. This allows people to do far
more than survive. It allows people to live the good life and maximize
the following of their natural purposes. They can be self-sufficient as
a whole. He famously says, “man is by nature a political animal”.
This does not mean that people collect into villages and cities to be
happy, but rather that they collect because it is natural and best for
them to do so to be what they are. Happiness is not the purpose of
human life for Aristotle. Rather, truth (figuring out the way things
are) is the purpose of human life and the city as a whole.
believes that humans alone have speech and therefore are the only
animal that can know truth and justice. Elsewhere he argues that this
is because humans (more specifically, the males of the superior peoples)
have the highest level of mind/soul and other animals (including women
and slaves) do not possess this potential/faculty. The human alone can
see that the whole is more than the part, and so the city matters more
than the village, the village matters more than the family, and the
family matters more than the individual.
book 2, Aristotle says we must examine the constitutions of many sorts
of states to see which one is the most just. Note that when Aristotle
says “constitution” he is not referring to a document but to the
structure or form of the state. The name of the American document
follows this language, but we think of a document today when we hear the
word, unlike Aristotle who did not live in a time when societies were
based on rule by document. British Conservatives like Burke argued that
America would fail if it did not have a king because a state could not
be ruled by a piece of paper.
criticizes his teacher Plato for arguing that property and family
should be held in common. As the translator correctly points out, Plato
only suggests this for the guardians and philosophers, not necessarily
for the common people (though he does not proscribe it for them either).
He argues that people should not share property or family in common.
Very similar to the Confucians such as Mencius arguing against the
Moists and universal love, Aristotle argues that if we shared everything
and everyone in common people would not care about anything in
particular and this would lead to the ruin of the state, and that we see
people naturally caring about their own family and possessions than
they do about things shared in common. This is odd, because he is also
arguing that the state is superior to the village etc. precisely because
it is the whole and the common.
property, Aristotle believes that generosity and sharing should be
voluntary and not forced. This means that Plato is wrong to suggest the
guardians share everything by law. He argues that the present way of
practice, holding property and family privately, is natural and
beneficial compared to Plato’s radical and revolutionary suggestions in
the republic. Note that Plato is very similar to communism in this
regard as we will see with the Communist Manifesto, and Aristotle’s
objections are very similar to objections to Communism today. Aristotle
argues that there must be a balance of plurality and unity such that
unity does not eradicate plurality.