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Aristotle and Plato Compared

By connect Dec 16, 2009 1220 Words
In the second book of The Politics, Aristotle digresses from Plato’s recommendations and provides a counter framework for what he believes is an ideal state. The best ideal state according to Aristotle is one that is not ruled by philosopher kings. This main feature of rulership is what distances Aristotle from Plato. Is it natural for there to be a group of philosophers ruling? Is it natural that these philosophers must be removed from private life? These are the questions Aristotle deals with in the second book of The Politics. In his book, Aristotle also details the role of women, slaves and foreigners. Plato would definitely be upset with his student Aristotle because of the main fact of his idea of rulership and the removal of the philosopher class. It is important to note that although Aristotle’s ideal state has greater exclusivity of groups than Plato; its benefits are far greater and practical in creating virtuous citizens. This essay will go on to discuss and critically analyze the main features of human nature, communalism, and private property of both philosophers.

Before we encounter Aristotle’s practicable state we must look at Plato’s idea of communalism. Plato highlights that it is philosopher kings who should rule and be removed from private life. His notions are quite extreme because of the mere fact that his form of rulership is one that is stripped from attaining wealth and also familial roles. One can argue that this notion is doomed to fail. If this notion of communalism were to be established in a city-state, citizens would not be able to tell who there biological siblings are, which can evidently lead to incest. Another critique to Plato’s communalism is the fact that citizens would have no attachment each other and can disrupt social interaction. For example, some of the best aspects of social interaction will be eliminated if property was communal. For all citizens must share everything, or nothing, or some things but not others. It is evidently impossible for them to share nothing. For a constitution is a sort of community, and so they must, in the first instance, share their location, and citizens share that one city-state. But is it better to share some things but not others? For the citizens could share children, women, and property with one another as in Plato’s Republic. For Socrates claims there that children, women and property should be communal. (The Politics 372).

Through this quote one can gather the belief that unity is impossible through this communal relationship and is only derived through hard work. This quote is very significant because it explains sharing children and women, and gives the notion that everybody in the city-state is alike, however this is not the case. A city-state is made up of a variety of citizens. Let us use this example in today’s society; will it be possible for the sharing of children, women and property in the city of Toronto? Although this is an extreme example, being that Toronto is a multicultural city; it parallels the city-state on so many levels. Plato would be upset with Aristotle’s ideal state because the majority of Plato’s demands are too far-fetched and cannot be practiced. Trying to make a city-state too much a unity or a household is not a better policy (The Politics 372). The institution of family is natural and the outright removal does not bring about virtue. As civic virtue is most practiced when given individual care and not communal care. Through Aristotle’s natural arguments we begin to see him classify roles for women Aristotle felt that the household consisted of three parts: one is mastership, another that of a father, and a third marital (The Politics 370). “For a male unless he is somehow constituted contrary to nature, is naturally more fitted to lead than a female, and someone older and completely developed is naturally more fitted to lead than someone younger and incompletely developed” (The Politics 370). This criterion proves to be dangerous in a city-state as it provides for domination and a creation of a hierarchy filled with discrimination of gender and age in this society. Slaves are another group of people that seize to exist in Aristotle’s model. Aristotle points that a slave is among things that exist through nature. Although it is not ideal for there to be slaves, it is practical and benefits the city. Plato points out that Greeks should not make other Greeks slave; this gives the impression that it is still okay to have slavery in the city. Noting that anyone who is not Greek are considered Barbarians and worthy of being slaved. Aristotle’s approach was to rationalize the use of slavery, stating that some people are slaves because they are incapable of responsibility. However we cannot dismiss the role of slaves in the city-state. Slaves play a functioning part of society and allow for the working class to have leisure. In trying to obtain an end with good and happiness, it is crucial that the middle class has leisure which allows for a space to “think” and discuss things with others, using practical wisdom in concert with others. Aristotle also justifies slavery as the natural use of their bodies. Questions of morality begin to arise; Are these justifications legitimate? At an individual level it is immoral, however in terms of a well functioning city-state slavery benefits a larger number of people (political process). The benefits are greater because it complements the organic hierarchy; where there are multiple parts that make the city-state function.

Aristotle points out that private property is not only necessary but beneficial in providing for a functioning city-state. This goes against Plato’s appeal for rulership to have a communist lifestyle stripped from private property. Plato seems to be demanding too much and does not take into account that men naturally try to gain access to private property. The mere removal of private property does not seem practical, and Aristotle states that you can have some form of property that is communal. For example, the land might be grown separately, but the crops grown on it are communally stored or consumed; or the land might be owned and farmed communally, while the crops grown on it are divided up among individuals for private use (The Politics 374). Here is why Plato is upset with Aristotle’s features; he uses Plato’s Utopian idea of private property and dissects it to one which can be applied to a practical state.

The major theme of what is “natural” emerges in both philosophers. It is hard to determine what is in our nature and how it effects our political position. Aristotle cleverly uses nature as a way to justify the notions of communalism, slavery, exclusion of women and private property. One can attribute Plato’s anger of Aristotle’s practicable state to his radical change in the aforementioned categories. Although Aristotle’s exclusion of women and slaves are far greater than Plato’s; the benefits applying it to his system of a practicable city-state cannot go unnoticed.

Works Cited

Classics of moral and political theory. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Pub. Co., 2005. Print.

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