Aristotle vs Plato

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 30 October 2016

Aristotle vs Plato

Aristotle and Socrates and Plato’s beliefs have similarities mainly evident in their denouncement of democracy for the state. The views of Socrates expressed and written by his pupil Plato are vastly philosophical in nature and he promotes the idea of questioning life to achieve insight. The philosophers who possess the absolute truth are the best equipped to rule society according to Plato and his Allegory of the Cave. Conversely, Aristotle takes a more political science approach of discussing and analyzing various constitutions to determine the best form of government, where the rational beings in a society are the natural rulers.

Aristotle promotes the idea of rule based on law rather than simple superiority. The differences in these beliefs are important because of the implications of Aristotle’s writings, which provide a way for citizens and statesmen to utilize philosophy in politics and the state. Consequently, information in Politics is seen again throughout modern politics. The similarities of Aristotle’s beliefs expressed through his writings in Politics to the beliefs of Plato and Socrates expressed in the recorded dialogues of The Republic are centered mainly on a fear of democracy.

Aristotle asserts that only those who are concerned with virtue and good government should be the leaders in a society or community (CP 325). In Book III of Politics Aristotle describes what the role of the majority should be in politics, By means of these considerations, too, one might solve the problem mentioned earlier and also the related one of what the free should have authority over, that is to say, the multitude of the citizens who are not rich and have no claim whatsoever arising from virtue.

For it would not be sage to have them participate in the most important offices, since, because of their lack of justice and practical wisdom, they would inevitably act unjustly in some instances and make mistakes in others. (CP 325) Through this view, Aristotle expresses his distrust of a total democracy that is parallel to the ideas of his mentors. Plato attacks democracy and describes the disbursement of political freedom to the masses as an intoxication of wine, claiming that a democratic city “gets drunk on too much unmixed freedom” (Plato).

Plato details the filtration of this “drunkenness” from society disobeying rulers trickling down to the son disrespecting the father and eventually “equal rights in relations between the sexes” (Plato). Plato and Aristotle share this skepticism of democracy. The limitation of freedom, liberty, and equality not only with regards to mistrust of democracy but also in terms of denial of citizenship and justification of slavery are commonalities in the teachings of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Plato accepts slavery throughout The Republic, because he often deems whole groups of people unworthy of freedom.

Aristotle’s justifies slavery through the characteristic of rationality; he claims that there is a condition of “natural slavery” where when one being is rational and the other is not, there is a natural master-slave relationship (CP 309). “For if something is capable of rational foresight, it is a natural ruler and master, whereas whatever can use its body to labor is ruled and is a natural slave” (CP 309). These justifications of slavery make neither Plato nor Aristotle egalitarians. Aristotle and Plato both express the importance of excellence, each in different ways.

Plato believes that humans are working towards excellence when they are pursuing that which they are best suited for based on the division of men into three classes: lovers of wisdom, victory, and profit (Plato). Aristotle claims that the excellence of human beings is achieved through their participation in the state, and performing their functions in society, he relies less on the caste system of Plato and more on the capability of the individual. Socrates and Plato illustrate the idea of the unawareness of humanity and its lack of enlightenment through the Allegory of the Cave.

In this analogy, Plato presents a society of prisoners living in a “cavelike underground dwelling” where they have been chained foot and neck since childhood (“PLATO,? ALLEGORY? OF? THE? FORMS? FROM? THE? REPUBLIC”)). The prisoners can only see a wall directly in front of them and behind them is a fire; between the prisoners and the fire is a road that people walk along carrying things on their heads, including figures of men and animals made of wood, stone, and other materials which cast shadows on the wall in front of the prisoners (“PLATO,?

ALLEGORY? OF? THE? FORMS? FROM? THE? REPUBLIC”)). Some of the people on the road talk, creating echoes in the cave. The prisoners regard these shadows and sounds as reality, as it is all they have ever known of the world. Plato and Socrates then present the situation of a prisoner who escapes from the cave, and after adjusting to the light, realizes the true nature of reality and “after that he’d contemplate the heavenly bodies and heaven itself by night, finding starlight and moonlight easier to look at than sunlight and the sun” (“PLATO,?ALLEGORY? OF? THE? FORMS? FROM? THE? REPUBLIC”).

Eventually the prisoner would contemplate the sun and “conclude that this is the giver of seasons and years, curator of all in the visible sphere, the cause somehow of all that he used to see” (“PLATO,? ALLEGORY? OF? THE? FORMS? FROM? THE? REPUBLIC”). The prisoner returns to the cave, only to be doubted and misunderstood by the other prisoners. In this parable, the philosopher is like the prisoner who escapes, and is the person has seen the true reality and has been enlightened to the truth.

Through this analogy, Plato describes who he believes should govern society. Since it is the philosophers who have seen true reality and understood absolute truth, they are the best suited to rule in society. Thus, the consequences of the ideas presented in the Allegory of the Cave are a ruling class of enlightened philosophers who will direct the city towards absolute truth and harmony. The differences between the philosophies of Aristotle and Plato are manifest in Aristotle’s dismissal of the Allegory of the Cave.

Aristotle rejects the idea of an absolute truth, and stresses rationality rather than enlightenment as determining characteristics of a ruling class. Aristotle focuses on the importance of citizenship in Politics and the participation in the state. Aristotle claims that if indeed there are several kinds of constitution, there cannot be a single virtue that is the virtue -the complete virtude -of a good citizen, but that the good man, does express a single, complete virtue, and thus, it is possible for someone to be a good citizen without having the virtue expressed by a good man (CP 322).

Aristotle challenges the idea of absolute governing power of a select class of philosopher kings that is presented by Plato and Socrates and identifies the problems that are raised by such a ruling class. The way Socrates selects his rulers is also risky. He makes the same people rule all the time, which becomes a cause of conflict even among people with no merit, and all the more so among spirited and warlike men. Aristotle assembles and exams constitutions and is in that way more of a political scientist than a philosopher, while Plato and Socrates focused on theoretical and metaphysical questions about the universe and the soul.

Aristotle extends his analysis of constitutions and in doing so reveals serious political problems that would arise from Socrates and Plato’s view of governance. These problems would inhibit the individuals’ ability to participate in the state, something that Aristotle believes is essential to the good of individuals and the good of the community. Aristotle presents the problem of arising factions in Book V of Politics and states that if people have no share in office or are treated unjustly or arrogantly, the start factions and change constitutions (Moschella).

Plato and Socrates believed that the philosophers knew what was best for all, and thus there would be no discontent or revolution. Aristotle’s explanation of factions caused by inequality challenges that notion and even advises increasing the middle class to help dissolve factions (Moschella). Aristotle also disagrees with the idea of the unified state presented by Socrates wherein the nuclear family is rejected and children are transferred throughout the community. Aristotle claims that the more unified a city-state becomes, the less of a city-state is becomes as city-states by definition require diversity (CP 310).

This unity creates problems according to Aristotle who states, “For a household and a city-state must indeed be a unity up to a point, but not totally so. For there is a point at which it will, as it goes on, not be a city-state, and another at which, by being nearly not a city-state, it will be a worse one” (CP 310). The political consequences of the disagreements between Aristotle and Socrates/Plato are a liberalization of the class system, as well as new definition of virtue and purpose in the state.

Aristotle’s description and advice about politics in his work allow for the appearance of a discussion about factions, the consequences of which are manifested many centuries later in the Federalist Papers. Aristotle describes ways to balance the interests of the few with the interests of the many, the interests of minority and the majority, and of the wealthy and the poor through his combination of oligarchy and democracy into polity. Through this idea of addressing factions and political interdependence Aristotle outlines the way to a lasting state.

Aristotle’s claims of law, constitution, polity, factions, and citizenship all have comparability to many U. S. notions of political life; even his justification of slavery is reminiscent of the views of some founding fathers. Aristotle discovered and outlined many elements of early American political thought long before the existence of the United States. Aristotle himself said, “For practically speaking, all things have been discovered, although some have not been collected, and others are known about but not used” (CP 315).

Work cited Moschella, Melissa. “Aristotle’s Politics Study Guide : Summary and Analysis of Book V”. GradeSaver, 01 May 2000 Web. 25 April 2013. Plato, . “The Republic. ” . http://classics. mit. edu/Plato/republic. 10. ix. html, n. d. Web. 22 Apr 2013. <http://classics. mit. edu/Plato/republic. 10. ix. html>. “PLATO,? ALLEGORY? OF? THE? FORMS? FROM? THE? REPUBLIC. ” . N. p.. Web. 22 Apr 2013. <http://public. callutheran. edu/~brint/Arts/PlatoNietz. pdf>.


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  • University/College: University of Chicago

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 30 October 2016

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