v Compare and contrast Aristotle’s and Plato’s ideal state?
As philosophers of the golden age of Greek philosophy, Plato and Aristotle have immensely contributed to political philosophy, aside other areas. In this write-up, we intend to evaluate the points of agreement and disagreement as regards the prescriptions on the ideal state by both these Socratic philosophers.
THE IDEAL STATE
Initially, a state is defined as a “territorial entity divided into government and subject; and claiming within its allotted area, supremacy over all other institutions”. The word “ideal” simply means a “perfected standard”. Hence, an ideal state must be a state that is based on a perfected standard. Plato and Aristotle both prescribed what these perfected standards on which the state be based, should be, according to their metaphysical orientation about man. Though, quite a number, a few points on which they both agree are given next;
COMPARING PLATO AND ARISTOTLE’S IDEAL STATE
i. For both, the end of the state is ethical; as justice is the basis for the ideal state. For Plato, the individual and the state are one, as they both have a tripartite nature of which justice is the result of a sound balance of these three parts. Aristotle asserts that the city-state (polis) comes into being for the sake of life, but exists for the sake of the good life.
ii. Critics of Democracy – Both perceived democracy as the worst form of government. For Plato, democracy is the worst of all lawful (best) governments and the best of all lawless (worst) ones. For Aristotle, “a perverted polity degenerates into democracy (a rule by the mob) which is a bad form of government.
iii. Education: A national concern – Plato prescribed that everyone must be given an equal opportunity in order to prove their mettle as regards where they belong in the social stratification. This is why he established the academy. For Aristotle, there should be laws guiding education as a national concern. For each is a part of the state and the care bestowed on each part, naturally tends towards the care of the whole. Aristotle, like Plato, also established a school “the lyceum”.
iv. Slavery and stratification of citizens -Both considered slaves as properties of their masters and justified the fact that some people are by nature slaves. The fact that both philosophers hail from aristocratic (wealthy) families could be the reason for this. Likewise, as regards the social classifications of citizens, for Plato it is the “guardians”, “auxiliaries” and “artisans”. For Aristotle it is the “rich”, “middle class” and “poor”,
v. Size of the ideal state - Both prescribed that the ideal state be small in size, in order to attain perfection easier. The Greek state (Athens) was relatively small. Also, it happened that the whole of Greece was divided into small city states, of which each had their own autonomous government and ruling system.
CONTRASTING PLATO AND ARISTOTLE’S IDEAL STATE
i. Private property
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 asserts 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 (though not as slaves). Thus, Aristotle accepts the customary patriarchal subordination of women to men.
iii. Concept of ruling
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.
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).
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.
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. He despised communism, in his words “...everybody is inclined to neglect something which he expects another to fulfil; as in families many attendants are often less useful than a few”.
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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.