Born in Northern Greece, Aristotle’s father was a court physician to the king of Macedon where Aristotle himself would be requested by King Philip II to tutor his son Alexander (who grew up to become “Alexander the Great”).
Aristotle, one of the most influential thinkers in philosophy including political theory is also known as the legendary Greek philosopher, logician, scientist, and student of Plato. Aristotle studied in Plato’s Academy in Athens. Plato being the student of Socrates and also known as the father of political theory helped educate and shape the mind of young Aristotle who then became known as the first political scientist.
It was the diverse atmosphere in which Aristotle was raised, along with his education and then his many travels that gave him the depth of being able to experience and see the good and the faults in the world. Aristotle saw philosophy within the physical world. He believed that our truths came from physically breaking down systems and examining them to understand them. He had experience with traveling and seeing different world regimes. Aristotle believed one had to break things down empirically and scientifically.
Thus gaining his title of political scientist who used scientific methods to analyze and conclude his beliefs, thoughts, and opinions. Aristotle believed that one must think critically and rationally using inductive reason and an empiricist approach. Aristotle studied over 100 regimes and analyzed which ones were the strongest, how they functioned, and which best served the people. He concluded that the best type of government regime was that of one with a strong middle class to balance the upper and lower classes to create the most stable and just society.
He believed that this regime would be a combination of aspects from a polity (an elected government that has the majority of the common people’s best interest), aristocracy (rule by the rich but with the people’s interest in mind), and monarchy (a single ruler if there is the potential that that city has a qualified ruler as such which Aristotle admits is rare and can easily turn into tyranny).
Aristotle felt that most people did not have enough intelligence or power to handle running the government so it is best to put those in power who do. In his work, The Politics, Aristotle is explains that a city is made up of many people, many individuals who possess different views and values.
It is the diverse group of the city that makes it a city. If a city were to become more and more a unit then it would lose its uniqueness in opinions and make up and defeat the entire definition of a city. Aristotle believes that people are entitled to their own thoughts, opinions, and ownership. He states in his work (Politics, page 40-41) that is not in the nature of a city to be a unit. Aristotle believes that cities are made up different parts and different entities that work together as a whole.
They do not function as one but rather work together. Aristotle states that extreme unification of a city is not a good thing. Aristotle states that “The city exists for the sake of a good life”, meaning that a city is there to function as an outlet to meet the needs of each of its citizens. Each citizen has his own need to be met. Aristotle realizes that what makes one person happy may not make the other happy. “It is obvious that a city which goes on becoming more and more of a unit will eventually cease to be a city at all. A city, by its nature, is some sort of plurality” (Aristotle, p. 39).
Aristotle is arguing that if a city becomes more and more unified then only one voice is heard and it will then lack the very unique components of different voices, functions, and views that made it a city in the first place. Aristotle believed that a cities purpose was to enhance plurality, a diversified city that comes together to function. Known as the first political philosopher, Plato saw all physical things to be illusionary, to be “a shadow of reality” (Simile of a Cave) and he stated that humans are falsely led by their senses. Because of this, according to Plato- only a society lead by Philosophers is a just society (Republic 473-475).
Plato believes that philosophers are the only ones to seek out absolute truth and justice and will therefore be more educated and more inclined to make the best decisions for the group. At the same time Plato thought that every person had the potential to obtain reason, truth, and knowledge by “stepping out of the cave and seeing the “light”. Plato believed that if people were educated properly then they would make good decisions. He believed people’s basic nature to be good. Whereas Aristotle tended to more of a realist and knew that some people did not have it in them to “reason” or to “see the light”.
In his book, The Republic, Plato discusses his belief in creating a city like utopia where there are no classes and everyone shares everything including women, children and property. Plato’s views are a bit unrealistic because he seems to not take into consideration human nature. Humans are naturally competitive and with time would become more individualistic. Plato would not agree with Aristotle’s passage that a city that grows into a unit will eventually cease to be a city. Plato on the contrary would state that the more of a unit the city becomes, the more of Utopia it will be with everyone in common thought and agreement, common ownership of land, animals, and women.
Plato’s ideal city was that of a Utopian that would be governed by philosophers. He desired a perfect society with no problems where people were happy. His society would consist of three classes: rulers, auxiliaries and laborers. The rulers would be the philosopher kings, would always rule the state. The auxiliaries (warriors) would defend the state and the laborers would be responsible for material production of goods needed by the state. Plato believed that the philosopher kings should run the state being that they are the wisest and best possible candidates.
Plato was completely molded by his teacher Socrates, taking on all of his thoughts and philosophies whereas Plato’s student Aristotle took on many of his own conclusions and thoughts many times contradicting Plato’s. Plato was more of a dreamer while Aristotle was more of a realist. Where Plato sought out the “Utopia ideal situation”, Aristotle sought out how to better the current situation. Another difference about Aristotle and Plato’s approach is that Plato is more focused on the perfection of the world and how people come to know about this. While Aristotle focuses more on the observations in nature and he knows not everything in nature is perfect.
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. He believed that society should strive to utilize the best system it can attain. He felt that utopia was unrealistic and pointless. It would be best that society was at its highest potential and you can only improve upon the existing one. Therefore the unity of a city would diminish the individuality and different components that uniquely make up a city, thus in the end the destruction of the very meaning and function of what a city ought to be.