Rawls Criticism of Plato’s Ideal City
Plato and Rawls both developed a framework for creating ideal and just societies. This paper will argue that Rawls would disagree with aspects of Plato’s society and Rawls’ criticism of Plato’s vision of a just society is persuasive. First, it will summarize Plato’s vision of a just society, the ideal city. Then, it will outline Rawls’ idea of a just society and show that Rawls criticizes Plato’s idea of rule by the guardians by arguing that man will always be self-interested, individuals should have equal opportunities, and has individual rights that should be protected. It will also assert that Rawls’ arguments against Plato’s vision are persuasive. In Plato’s Republic, Plato claims that the ideal city should use a model of justice as harmony, because each person doing one’s own job and not interfering creates justice and keeps the city running in harmony. He states, “The result, then, is that more plentiful and better-quality goods are more easily produced if each person does one thing for which he is naturally suited, does it at the right time, and is released from having to do any of the others” (Plato 45). In saying this, he shows that he believes that separation of duties is the best way to create a just city. There are three distinct classes of people, the producers, auxiliary, and the guardians, and each class has its own singular purpose. Plato argues the guardians are the only class that is fit to rule, because they have the knowledge of the good, and can choose what is best for the city. Rawls presents a different view of a just society, with the idea of justice as fairness. Rawls first criticism of Plato’s ideal city is that the guardians have exclusive control over the rest of the community because humans are self-interested and therefore would base political decisions on what would create the best outcome for themselves. Rawls claims that “the principle for an individual is to advance as far as possible his own welfare, his own system of desires (Rawls 23)”, which explains that he believes any person is interested in what benefits them the most. Plato may refute this claim by stating that the guardians are completely just and know what is best for the city because of their knowledge of what is good. However, Rawls believes even the most just person, would try to direct the political, social, and economic aspects of the city in a way that would put themselves in the best position with less regard for the welfare of those being ruled. The guardians will have desires just as any other human, and may not be happy or able to live a good life if they deny all personal interests. I believe this is a persuasive criticism, because people usually do act in self-interest, and expecting one group with total rule to act completely justly and without abusing the power is unrealistic. Rawls instead believes that people who know nothing of their characteristics or standing in life should choose the policies of the society. These people would be able to make decisions without prejudices, and because they know nothing of themselves would be compelled to choose principles that create the best outcome for the people in the lowest standing in the society. They would choose the outcomes that best suit these people because of self-interest because of the chance that they would be in this position. I believe this is an insightful process for lawmaking, and would create a more just society than the political structure of Plato’s ideal city. The one drawback to this theory is that it is impossible for people to not have any idea about themselves and to be able to decide matters without any bias. However, I still believe this argument is persuasive because Rawls does not believe this state of mind could ever exist, but instead this model gives a basis for how one in a position of power should think about issues. Another criticism Rawls would have with the rule of Plato’s guardians is that...
Cited: Plato. The Republic. Trans. G.M.A. Grube. Rev, C.D.C. Reeve. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1992.
Rawls, John. A Theory of Justice. Original Edition. Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1971.
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