Contemporary Thinkers: Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aguinas
Question #1 : Please discuss the political organization of the Greek city- states, particularly Athenian democracy at the time of Pericles, Plato, and Aristotle. Also discuss the backgrounds of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle and the fate of the Greek city-states historically.
During the time of Pericles, Plato, and Aristotle, Greece was divided into city-states with a wide variety of constitutions, ranging from Sparta's military dictatorship to Athens' direct democracy.
Most city-states had about 300,000 people, each divided into one of three classes : citizens, metics, or slaves. The citizens represented a total of one - third the population. The members of this class participated directly with politics in the various institutions, and decisions were derived by popular vote, known as direct democracy. This class was further divided into three councils : Assembly of Ecclesia, Council of 500, and the Council of 50. The largest council was the Assembly of Ecclesia, which was a body of all male citizens over the age of twenty. The Council of 500 consisted of 500 members, chosen from lottery and election from the Assembly of Ecclesia. The Council of 50 was made up of 50 members chosen from the Council of 500. The second class of people in the city-states was the Metics. This class was made up of people that were not citizens, either because they were not born in the city-state, or they were prevented from being citizens. The third class were the slaves. These people were captured from wars and subject to serve the city-state without pay. The interesting observation in the organization of the Greek city-state is that only one-third the population had any power. The other two thirds (made up of metics and slaves) were subject to the decisions derived by the citizens, and contained no power nor voice in the political system. Athenian Democracy had such a division of classes. This democracy had a minority who ruled over the majority, each citizen participated directly in the affairs of the city. The Greek city-state contained a body of up to 500 jurors who would try cases.
There also existed a body of ten elected generals who would oversee foreign policy and war. One such elected general of Athens was a political idealist, Pericles. Pericles had singular control of the Athenian democracy and was involved in a war against Sparta and its allies that was concluded in 446- 445 B.C.. After peace was declared, he tightened Athenian control of the empire. "He crushed major rebellions, imposed democratic government, dispatched colonies of Athenian citizens to strategic areas, and made tribute collection (the main source of Athenian wealth) more efficient. Convinced of the inevitability of war with Sparta and the Peloponnesians, Pericles made an alliance with Corinth's enemy, Corcyra , knowing that it could lead to armed hostilities. He refused Sparta's demand that he revoke the Megarian decree, which denied Megara access to the harbors of the empire. These actions led to the Peloponnesian War . Pericles, who was relying on the fleet and the empire's resources, planned to avoid a pitched battle with the Peloponnesians and to abandon the countryside to them. He fell victim to the plague, however, never to know that the war he initiated would result in the disastrous defeat of Athens. "(GME "PERICLES")
Socrates, was a Greek thinker whose work marked a decisive turning point in the history of philosophy. He invented a method of teaching by asking questions (the Socratic method), pioneered the search for definitions, and turned philosophy away from a study of the way things are toward a consideration of virtue and the health of the human soul. Socrates believed that to do wrong is to damage one's soul, and that this is the worst thing one can do. From this it follows that it is always worse to do wrong than to be wronged, and that one must never return...
Cited: 1. (E.E.)Introduction to Political Thinkers William Ebenstien and
Alan O. Ebenstien Harcourt Brace College Publishers ©1992 by Holt, Rinehart and
2. (NAB) The New American Bible for Catholics World Catholic Press ©1970 by the
Confraternity of Christian Doctrine
3. (Manning) Dr. Kerry James Manning
4. (GME) Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia ©1995 by Grolier Electronic Publishing,
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