Plato’s and Cicero’s life and Political Ideas

Categories: Socrates

Between 429-347 BCE, were the period of Plato and his ocean of philosophical dispositions and carried the most deep-seated political, social and intellectual thoughts. His questions raised the consciousness of intellectuals, students and general people making them think every aspect of their life from new and fresh perspective. As said by Alfred North Whitehead, “All Western philosophy consists of footnotes to Plato. ” (Garvey 7) Plato was a student of Socrates and teacher of Aristotle, and naturally in his works there is a reflection of Socrates thoughts and ideologies.

But while remembering, Plato we should not forget Cicero, 106-43 B. C. who was himself part of many of the political developments of his time. He was not only a philosopher but also an orator, lawyer and politician. He laid more importance to politics over philosophy. His philosophical works came about only in the period when he was forced to refrain himself from politics. Though he was neither considered as exceptional thinker nor we can see any originality in his works yet his thoughts on various aspects of philosophy exerted tremendous influence on many thinkers after many years to come.

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His popularity rose in 19th century. There is no comparison between Plato and Cicero as they were both of different ages and had their own distinct attributes, yet if we give deep thoughts into their philosophical works what we get is what we call slight deviations in their thoughts on Politics. Plato was born in Athens during 428-7 B. C. E but there is no certainty about this date because according to Diogenes Laertius, Plato was born in the same year when Pericles died.

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He was also considered to be six years younger than Socrates was and his death came when he passed the youthful years of his life-at the age of 84.

If according to Apollodorus’ version, the death date of Plato is correct then his birth date should lie between 430 or 431 but Diogenes put his birth in 429. Diogenes further said that if Plato was the twenty years old at the time of Socrates murder in 399 then his year of birth should be 427. These years between 429-347 B. C. E is considered to be very appropriate, whereas, Cicero was born on 3rd January 106 BC in Arpinum, as Arpino today. It is a hill town situated 100 kilometres towards south of Rome.

This small Italian got Roman citizenhsip in 188 B. C. and began to speak Latin rather than their language Volscian before they were enfranchised by Romans. The assimilation of nearby Italian communities into Rome laid Cicero’s future as a Roman statesman, orator and writer. Though he had a great mastery over Latin rhetoric and composition but Cicero would never from him heart considered himself as a “Roman” and he was aware of this fact through out his life. During this period of Roman history, it was considered as cultured to able to speak both the Greek and Latin languages.

Like many of his contemporaries, Cicero also got education in Greek rhetoricians, and their most influential teachers of their time was also Greek. His knowledge of Greek language enabled him to translate many of its theological concepts into Latin brining maximum number of common people into the world of Greek philosophical thoughts. He was so inclined towards the study of Greek culture and language that he would be called by the other boys as “Little Greek boy”, yet it is his obsession with the Greek language that made him tied to the traditional Roman elite.

The family of Cicero belonged to the local class of nobles known as domi nobles, but without any tie with the Roman senatorial class. Cicero was only connected to Gaius Marius, the most popular person born in Arpinium. In 80 B. C. , he led the most popular faction during civil war against optimates of Lucius Cornelius Sulla. Cicero’s father was a knight who would compensate his personal life by reading books. His mother was Helvia who was a very good housewife. (Clayton Online edition) Plato’s was also fortunate to be born in a noble family of Athens. He was the son of Aristone and his mother’s name was Perictone.

He got his nickname from the wrestler’s broad shouldered physique. He was expected to follow the family’s tradition of politicians but when he witnessed that Athens entered into conflict with Sparta during Peloponnesian war, he aliented himself from politics and at the age of twenty, joined the School of Socrates. Socrates main ambition was to seek the truth and further explore on the issues like virtue and pity. He also critcised religious and political institutions but allegations began to be levid against him from all corners as he was charged for corrupting the mind of youths.

Plato captured the nerves of the society at large and pened down his earnest views followed by Apology and Crito. When Socrates died, Plato opened his academy in a grove which was considered to be sacred to the demigod Academus, near Athens. The importance of Academy grew when Aristotle became its student. Astronomy, Mathematics, and Philosophy were the subjects taught in the Academy.

Few years of his life, Plato spent in travelling gaining more knowledge in the other parts of Mediterranean whereas rest part of his life was spent in Athens until he died in 347 B. C. Ralph Waldo Emerson, a great American essayist, philosopher, a poet and a leader of Transcendentalist movement of the nineteenth century evoked, “Plato is philosophy, and philosophy, Plato, at once the glory and the shame of mankind, since neither Saxon nor Roman have availed to add any idea to his categories. ”—(Emerson, Spiller, Ferguson Slater & Carr 23) Plato understood politics from the angle of justice and democracy. His aim was to give the rulers the main principle of what constituted real politics. For Plato, politics was an application of what metaphysics and ethics considered as true.

His ideal world was something which was true, good and therefore virtuous. He gave to the world the best mouth piece of the study of human behavior and his relation with society. His “Republic” was his ideological stand point whereby he posed number of questions and pondered their answers in the light of various assumptions and dynamics of society. His main question comes from the light of what is good and bad in their world-Why should we be good and why in this cruel world, wicked are more happy and successful?

To find out the answer to this question, Plato had to invite the whole community-the Polis. In other words , if you can find out the right direction to form polis which is healthy then the importance to individual happiness is ruled out. For Plato, justice is a base which could only be frutifully gained by bringing about balance in wisdom, courage and temperance. For Plato, even an ideal state can be self desructive. Plato posited the view that even ideal state where all have equal rights could also be destructive and it could be happen in turn by the very basic concept on which democracy stands.

Though Republic, the Statesman, the Laws are three main political dialogues of Plato, and they developed their ideologies on the basis of what today is termed as conceptual analysis-in other words clarification of the basic principles on which politics stands and its importance. For Plato, this conceptual analysis was a preliminary stage for further critical evaluation of thought processes. According to Plato, making right decisions on the administration and making right choice between peace and war are the two most crucial initial steps of good politics.

Such decisions could not be left into the hands of public only but by good orator. Cicero’s works included fifty speeches, around thousand letters to friends and associates, among them the several of his works included rhetorical theories and twelve out of them are on philosophical topics. These display great intellectual thoughts that deepen Cicero’s conviction that both the philosophy and rhetoric are independent to each other and are very important for human life and society. His works on philosophy stand witness to the rhetorical techniques and style of Roman oratory.

The political philosophy of Plato was largely based on speculations about ideal state. Though he did conceptualize his points by imploring upon the city-states of Greece and events in current political scenario, yet his discussions evolved largely around what he and other intellectuals thought to be ideal states. The essence of his ideological state lied in the needs of the man on the individual level and on the whole and these needs of the man joined them together to work for the common goal. The members that make the society could be divided into different classes according to their particular work criteria.

As according to Plato, in man, there are two different souls in the same way in the society also, there are three different classes: philosophers, warriors, and producers; one of which belongs to the rational souls and the rest two belong to the irrational souls and each class has its own particular role to fulfill. For e. g. philosophers run the state, warriors defend it and producers cultivate their skills to produce the materialistic goods needed by the state. On the other hand, much of the Cicero’s political thoughts followed Aristotle concept of ideal state.

For Cicero, there were three main forms of government; monarchy, aristocracy, and the constitutional state, but he also believed that there is every scope of perversion in each form of government, which emerges from those who do not have regard for the public good. Not one form of government is perfectly good. Instead Cicero prescribed what is known as composite form of government with the principles of monarchy, aristocracy and democracy. This form of government today is known as Common Wealth form of Government and Cicero termed as the Res Publica, literally known as “The People’s thing.

His composite republic is based on the monarchical principle, also known as consuls; the aristocratic is likened to the Senate of Rome, which performs both the legislative and executive functions. The democratic principles are tribunes referred to as committees (comitia) in ancient Rome. Rather than revolutionary or politically visionary, Cicero was being considered more as a “political conservative” who was eager to preserve the Roman Republic against the designs of Julius Caesar, Mark Anthony, and Octavian whose aim was to make Rome into their own personal empire.

But Cicero did not succeed in preventing Roman Republic from collapse and was murdered by the followers of Mark Anthony. (Marcus Cicero, Section 12). Cicero’s law was based on these two: “That true law was reason, That good is always good, that bad is always bad and in traditional Roman values. ” (Simmons Online) He criticized all other form of constitutions for breaching the rights and interests of people and conveyed that political system should provide legal rights to every one equally but give electoral, legislative and judicial rights in accordance to their merit and wealth.

Cicero’s first book On the Orator laid importance of Oratory in the politics of Rome. Oratory had been part of the Roman politics, and Cicero mainly superimposed its value. His discussions merely revolved around education basically history and poetry with composition of logic, philosophical theory and rhetorical techniques. As said by Stephen Whites’s, “Orator, clearly reflects Cicero’s own proficiencies, unites thorough knowledge of history and law with complete command of in a Romanized version of Plato’s philosopher-rulers”. (White online edition). Both Plato and Cicero wanted education to be based on philosophy to produce best statesman.

While Plato’s more emphasis was on training on mathematical ground and transcendental metaphysics, Cicero wanted many practical programs of instructions designed to cultivate articulacy and civic debate. (White Online edition). His On the Republic is his much thought provoking dialects on leadership and politics. It was almost lost but its first third was recovered in 1820. On the Republic is a challenge of Plato’s Greek political theory based on utopian thoughts. He defined republic as “a peopl’e affair, “(res populi) and people as a community who have joined in to one consensus on their mutual interest.

His other part constitutes his explanation on types of constitutions in classical Greek style and developed the data on the development of Roman institutions; whereas some of the sections which are either lost or preserved in very poor state have in short explanation of Hellenistic debates on the nature and rewards of justice and the discussions on education system of Rome. Yet another of his book On Laws is a sequel to a legal system. Contradicting Plato’s laws, he contended that Rome already had embodied itself much the ideals of law. On Laws truly appeared to be very important in the sense that it contains full account of natural law.

Based entirely on Stoic ideas, Cicero contended that the whole concept of law is already a part of nature with an appropriate order, which could be codified in legislation for final tribunal in a court of law. After these writings, civil war erupted and he did not go further into this, but last of his books summed up his thinking on political grounds by bringing out the importance of morality in public life. In his On Duties which was his epistle to his son, he gave the routes to bestow on the proper code of conduct for Roman nobility emphasizing justice, benefaction and public service.

His entire focus was on the men of high status and their way of dealing with the problems relating to personal ambitions and social obligations. Cicero too always stood on his profound trust on the noblest trait of human beings, which is their humanity and inculcate reasoning power to improve the lives of human beings. His thoughts on humanism are best skewed in his “On the Ends of Good and Evil”. The dialogue herein reflects on the question of what and where is the end of all human actions and the way you attain the happiness.

Cicero agreed with Aristotle and saw that human beings are political or social animals. “But nature has given to mankind … a compulsion to do good, and … a desire to defend the well being of the community …. (Cicero & Rudd R I. 1). ” But the most influential model book was The Republic by Plato. Cicero’s homage to the Republic was found in its expression in the section which was lost but also found its place in his concluding marks of the cosmos and the afterlife (The Dream of Scipio), which reflects the myth of err by the end of the Plato’s end book.

Plato has been directly quoted and or reflected several times. Cicero’s Scipio states that, “Rather than invent a city for themselves as Plato did, he prefers to examine a real historical stance (The Roman Constitution) which comes closet to the ideal”. (Cicero, Rudd, & Powell xvi) But it was also mistake to espouse that, because Cicero had departed from Plato in certain way, his Republic is in very deep sense anti-platonic.

It is further said that “Cicerio’s Scipio was enough of a Platonist to regard philosophy and astronomy as wise man’s true occupation, and to declare that one should take political offices only our of sense of duty or necessity, as Plato’s Guardian do. (I-26-29)( Cicero, Rudd, & Powell 17) There are many similarities between the Plato’s Republic and Cicero, de ra republic. Each formulated on the account of relationship between citizen and state. Both of them discussed on justice, both of them bestowed theory of constitution. Both of them also had mentioned discussion on education and a vision of an after life.

Sharpely too suggested that “Cicero Republic in the sense, Plato’s turned inside out. ” (Cicero& Zetzel 14) In the Republic by Plato, Socrates and his friends are trying to implore and analyze on what should be an ideal city but do not want to analyze the state in which he was living. Plato and Cicero were only mouthpieces in an arena of political thoughts in their respective periods whereas in Cicero’s De re publica, all the comments whether directly or indirectly emphasized on the organization of the state they ought to be living, which was Roman Republic in the final stages.

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Plato’s and Cicero’s life and Political Ideas. (2016, Nov 22). Retrieved from

Plato’s and Cicero’s life and Political Ideas

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