Social Contracts and Responsibility
The best and brightest of history’s philosophers have dedicated great amounts of time to describing the best forms of social and political organization with the hope of discovering the best way of life for humanity. Aristotle and Plato are certainly no exception. The teacher and the student, defined by each other’s works, have taken historical and groundbreaking positions that have greatly influenced politicians and future thinkers. No one writer of the Western World has been able to produce as much conversation and controversy as the writings of these two authors. Aristotle’s Politics and Plato’s Republic give vast amounts of insight into people and society’s behavior and ideals. Aristotle even makes references and criticisms of his teacher in his work forcing modern day academics to analyze both arguments and come up with different inferences. Subjects such as justice, governance, happiness, and inherent human nature are described and argued in both books and have direct impacts to the way individuals think and the way people live today. Both Plato and Aristotle have their own opinions as to what defines an ideal state and that the means of a state is to provide justice and to maximize utility for its citizens by instituting power and control through leaders that pursue wisdom, virtue, and knowledge. Although there are links between the two philosophers, each takes a unique approach to the question. Aristotle and Plato go into great detail describing the characteristics of an ideal government and what political and social aspects form bad constitutions. Within this debate, much of the author’s perspective on other aspects such as wisdom, justice, and moderation take Sonksen 2
form and help the reader understand what Plato and Aristotle truly believe as to the nature of humanity. In today’s world, democracy, a “government of the people, by the people, for the people” is the best and most coveted form of government in existence. Plato, however, couldn’t disagree more and believes democracy to be an extremely toxic form of government that stems from possessing some of the above bad characteristics of government. He warrants his argument by saying, “When a young man, who is reared in the miserly and uneducated manner we described, tastes the honey of the drones and associates with wild and dangerous creatures who can provide every variety of multicolored pleasure in every sort of way, this, as you might suppose, is the transformation from having an oligarchic constitution within him to having a democratic one.” (Grube 1992: 230). Plato fears that the government will be run by the needy and greed will take over driven by the power of the appetitive part of the soul causing polarization between classes and disunity among the state. Although freedom is a virtue for Plato, Plato fears democracy because it eliminates the presence of an authoritative force, and to Plato, that is very dangerous. Plato believes that although human nature is not intrinsically aggressive, people are fundamentally irrational and are susceptible to in-balance of their souls and thus prefers a government that is administered by a philosopher king or a ruler that is inherently good, just, and virtuous. In addition, Aristotle also disagrees with the idea of democracy because democracy would be run by the needy for the needy, implying that the wealthy would either be driven out of the nation or in direct conflict with the lesser off citizens resulting in instability, injustice, and revolution. Although Aristotle doesn’t give one clear winner, government, in Aristotle’s view, should be run by what he calls citizens or people with the ambition and ability to pursue virtue. These citizens should also be popular in number and a Sonksen 3
member of the middle class to avoid social strife present in democracy and oligarchy....
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