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Old Saturday, May 07, 2011
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Post Western Political Thought---Plato

Plato


Introduction
Plato was born in Athens in 427 BC when the civilization of ancient Greece was at the zenith of glory and eminence. He belonged to royal blood of aristocracy, from his mother’s side he was related to Solan, the law giver. He made efforts to discover the eternal principles of human conduct i-e justice, temperance and courage which alone imbibed the happiness to the individual and stability to the states. In 399 BC, the turning point came in the life of Plato, the defeat of Athens by Sparta made him to despise democracy.
He wandered abroad for twelve years in Persia, Egypt, Africa, Italy and Sicily in the hours of disillusionment, absorbing wisdom from every source and tasting every creedal dogma. Then he returned to Athens and opened an academy. He wrote about 36 treaties all in the form of dialogues. His academy became the best school in Athens.

Work of Plato
“The Republic” is the most important and authentic work of Plato. It was about political philosophy, ethics, education and metaphysics.
Other works of Plato include: “The Politicus”, “The Apology”, “The Meno”, “The Protagoras”, “The Gorgias”, and “The Critias”.


The Republic and Plato


“The true romance of the Republic is the romance of free intelligence, unbound by custom, untrained indeed by human stupidity and self will, able to direct the forces, even of customs and stupidity themselves along the road to a national life.” (Prof. Sabine)

The Republic is an excellent product of Plato’s maturity. It is a major contribution to political philosophy, education, economics, moral aspects of life and metaphysics.

Plato’s Republic known as “Respublica” in Latin is translated from Greek word “Politeia or Polity” which means a political constitution in general. It is an achievement of comprehension, perfection and universality of thought. It presents a picture not of any existing state in Greek but of an ideal state in which weakness of the existing states were to be avoided.

Rousseau said, “The Republic is not a mere work upon politics but the finest treatise on education that ever was written.”

Main feature of the Republic is the virtue of knowledge. Plato was of the view that different classes and individuals had different capacities for the attainment of virtues. The labor class showed the least capacity. Philosophers were the best entitled to rule the state because of their superiority in virtue. Plato considered justice to be the supreme virtue and his ideal state be dwelt with it. We can say that the Republic is his master piece. Plato’s Republic is the crowning achievement of art, science and philosophy.

According to Baker, “The mainspring of the Republic is Plato’s aversion to contemporary Capitalism and his great desire to substitute a new scheme of Socialism.”

Criticism
The Republic contains a good deal of criticism on contemporary institutions, opinions and practices. The Republic represents a strong protest against the teachings of Sophists and the existing social and political corruption.

Plato stresses that state should not be an assembly of corrupt and selfish individuals but be a communion of souls united for the pursuit of justice and truth and also for the welfare of the people.
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Plato’s Ideal State


“Until philosophers are kings or the kings and princes of this world have the spirit and the power of philosophy and political greatness and wisdom meet in one, cities will never rest from their evils.” (Plato)

The Republic of Plato is interpreted as Utopia to end all Utopias, not because it is a romance, but because he constructed an ideal state in it. He compares the construction of an ideal state with an act of an artist who sketches an ideal picture without concerning himself with the fact whether individual characteristic features of imaginative picture are to be found anywhere or not? In the same way, Plato never thought of the possibility of the institutions of his ideal state, being capable of ever becoming a reality. He never thought of the impracticability of this idea concerning his ideal state.

Plato built his state on the analogy of an individual organism. He believed that the virtues of an individual and of the state were identical. He was of the view that an individual presented almost the same features and qualities on a smaller scale as society on a bigger scale.



Features of an Ideal State

1.Rule of Philosophy
Plato was of the view that in an ideal state the philosopher-ruler should be prominent. He should has a broaden vision of unity of knowledge. Philosopher-kings are immune from the provisions of law and public opinion.

2.No unqualified absolutism
Though, neither, there is any restraint of law nor of public opinion over philosopher-rulers but that is not an unqualified absolutism. It is not all despotism, because rule of philosophy is not free from the basic articles of the constitution.

3.Control over the education system
Philosopher ruler should control the education system in an ideal state.

4.Justice in ideal state
Justice is the main feature of Plato’s Republic and it is also present in his ideal state. Justice is the bond which binds every member of society together. It forms a harmonious union of individuals.

5.Censorship of art and literature
In ideal state, there should be a complete censorship of art and literature. It is necessary so that nothing immoral things might falls into the hands of the young individuals.

6.System of Communism
Plato was of the view that guardian class should live under the system of communism of property and family. The rulers and soldiers do not possess any property of their own.

7.Equality among men and women
According to Plato, equal opportunities should be given to both men and women for their economic, social, intellectual and political uplift. We can say that Plato was the first feminist of his time.

8.Principle of Functional Specialization
Plato was of the view that due to multiple wants, an individual could not fulfill all his desires by himself alone due to lack of capacity. Thus co-operation among individuals should be necessary to satisfy their mutual desires. Some people are specialized in performing some certain tasks.

Criticism

1.Plato built his ideal state on the analogy of individual and this identification leads to confusion. He failed to distinguish ethics from politics. His ideal state is based not merely on analogy but almost identification between the individual and the state, which is quite wrong.

2.Plato fails to condemn the institution of slavery and regard it as fundamental evil.

3.Plato’s system of communism of women and temporary marriage is detestable and unethical.

4.Plato is a moralist rather than a political idealist. His assumption that the state should control the entire lives of its citizens is false and contrary to human liberty.

5.By the system of functional specialization, Plato tends to dwarf the personality of the individual. There is no possibility of any full development of human personality in his ideal state.

6.Plato completely ignores the lower class in his ideal state which forms the great bulk of population. Such negligence may divide the society into two hostile groups.
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Comparison between Plato and Aristotle


Aristotle, the favorite and most brilliant pupil of Plato, is more conscious of his differences than of the points of agreement with him. The differences which these giants of philosophy were not the outcome of any grudge or ill-will, but reflected their own way of solving the existing problems of their state.

Similarities
1.Both upheld slavery and justified its continuation in true spirit of Greek ideals. Each regarded slaves as an indispensable part of the community for the manual performance and overall development progress of the state.

2.Both despised foreigners and regarded races other than Greeks fit for subjection and bondage and as mentally inferior to the Greeks.

3.Both condemned democracy and wanted to replace it with some sort of constitutional or ideal polity while Plato echoed in condemning democracy, as “What could have been more ridiculous than this mob-led, passion-ridden democracy, this government by a debating society, a mobocracy.” On the other hand Aristotle was of the view that “the people are not capable of self-government.”

4.Both wanted to impose limitations on citizenship. Both taught that all manual labor should be done by slaves or non-citizens.

5.Both opposed the views of Sophists that the state came into birth for the sake of life and continues for the sake of good life. It is this conviction which makes Aristotle a true Platonist.

6.Aristotle’s “Political” is no less a manual for statesman than the “Republic” of Plato.


Differences
1.While Plato draws conclusion through the use of allusion and analogy, Aristotle strikes at the very point with definite and clear-cut dogmas and doctrine.

2.While Plato believes in the abstract notions of justice, virtue and idea. Aristotle judges the speculative fundamentals on the basis of exact comparison and deduces a thought presentable and acceptable even in modern civilization.

3.Where Plato is visionary, imaginative and utopian, Aristotle is logical, realist and scientific in his approach of propounding theories.

4.If Plato believes in the doctrine that the reality of a material thing lies in its idea not in its form. Aristotle believes that reality in the concrete manifestation of a thing, and not in its supposed inherent idea.

5. Plato believed in the phenomenon of unity through uniformity. On the other hand Aristotle was of the view that unity could be achieved through diversity in universe and men.

6. Plato inseparably mixed ethics and politics. He subordinated political theories to ethical considerations. In Aristotle it was quite the reverse. Ethics and politics were not only separated, but the former was made to sub serve the later.

7. Plato was the propounder of new philosophy; Aristotle was a systemiser of already existing knowledge, and made freshly streamlining and fascinating by his powerful influential and charming style for practical adoption for state functions.

“Plato seeks a superman who will create a state as good as ought to be. Aristotle seeks a super science will create a state as good as can be. Thus, all who believe in new worlds for old are disciples of Plato, all who believe in old worlds made new by the toilsome use of science are disciples of Aristotle.” (Maxey)
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