Plato and Aristotle on Democracy

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Aldi Myteberi

Question 1.

Democracy is a form of government where people choose leaders through elections and social construct that are based on the equality of everyone within the state. It is a form of government were majority and public opinions combine to choose leaders with respect to the social structure of a particular society, taking into consideration the social laws, rules, traditions, norms, values, and culture. Plato and Aristotle tow of the most influential figures in Greek philosophy. Both Plato and Aristotle were big critics of democracy as a poor form of government. Aristotle’s views about democracy hold that democratic office will cause corruption in the people, if the people choose to redistribute the wealth of the rich they will end up destroying the state and since the people have no knowledge about governance when they elect rulers they will err. In Plato’s thoughts on democracy were that it causes the corruption of the people through public opinion and creates rulers who do not actually know how to rule but only know how to influence the public. The main question that arises from such an observation is that do these forms of criticism hold true today? The most significant example of democracy today is that of the United States of America. According to Aristotle, who writes in his book “Nicomachean Ethics that “ Democracy is the least wicked since its perversion of the constitutional type of government is only small”. Aristotle’s criticisms however are mostly based on hypothetical scenarios and types of democracy. To him a democracy which is ruled by law with a people who are not utterly degraded in not that bad a form of government and actually seems to praise it “that if the people are not utterly degraded, although individually they may be worse judges than those who have special knowledge as a body they are as good as better”. In Aristotle’s eyes the worst type of democracy is a Demagoguery, in which everyone’s voice is equal and the rule of the majority has a greater authority then the law. In this type of lawlessness where the masses gain more power than the law. “the demagogues make the decrees of the people override the laws, by referring all things to the popular assembly”. Aristotle believes that a charismatic leader will eventually be able to control the opinions and feelings of demos so well that he will become a virtual tyrant over the people. “at all events this sort of democracy, which is not a monarch, and no longer under the control of law, seek to exercise monarchical sway, and grow into a despot: the flatterer is held in honor, this sort of democracy being relatively to other democracies what tyranny is to other forms of monarchy. The decrees of the demos correspond to the edicts of the tyrant”. The Tyrants then rule like masters of the people instead of first claimed to be. Aristotle brings to light another major problem, that of allowing poor people to share public office. His main concern was that poor people did not have sufficient education to hold state office, and this factor will cause them to become criminals. They will become criminals because they are so poor and responsible for such great and big things that they will desire then for themselves. Aristotle was against excluding the poor from public office. If the poor are excluded completely they might be used to turn against the rich “for a state in which many poor men are excluded from office will necessarily be full of enemies”. Plato as we mentioned above views democracy as a system of government where public opinion shapes the ideas and views of the citizens “are not the public who say these things the greatest of all Sophists? And do they not educate the perfection young and old, men and woman alike, and fashion them after their own hearts?” Plato believed that it is undesirable that the public exaggerate the praise for both what they think is good and the shame for the bad “there is a great uproar, and they...
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