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Aristolte Plato Social Contract

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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.

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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.

Aristotle describes six form of government; the “three true forms: kingly rule, aristocracy, and constitutional government, and three corresponding perversions- tyranny, oligarchy, and democracy. ” (Jowett 2000: 147). The difference between the two categories is simply determined by the nature of the ruler and this links the two philosophers together. According to Aristotle, a constitution is just when it benefits everyone in society and unjust when it benefits just the needy. When a single person rules, it is a monarchy if the leader is good and a tyranny if a leader is bad.

It is an aristocracy if the leaders seek virtue and an oligarchy if they don’t. Since the leaders define a good or bad government, they are extremely important in defining Aristotle’s view of the ideal government. The ideal ruler for Aristotle are educated citizens who are middle-aged and middle class who understand the needs of the state and only govern and make laws that benefit the overall utility for the state. They need to pursue virtue and the greatest happiness for all of society. They must also work to limit the size of the “city-state” because it becomes harder to control individuals and maintain a stable government.

Aristotle prefers to keep it to the size where everyone can meet in one assembly, preferably to keep the harmony and stability that exists when everyone is on the same page. To Plato, philosopher kings run the ideal government and act as basically a pure and good monarch that possesses the right qualities, a list, which virtually never ends. The philosopher king is a person that has a completely just soul and would be able to organize a state that is completely just. To link the philosopher’s ideas, Aristotle also believes that this monarchy run by a perfect ruler would be ideal, but he doubts its feasibility.

In Aristotle’s opinion, people have to look at the state as a group of individuals (example: middle Sonksen 4 class) because that one person (philosopher king) does not exist. Aristotle then moves on to talk about governments that could realistically exist. Both Aristotle and Plato both agree states exist for a reason and therefore have a purpose. The states are ultimately made up of individuals and in order for any state to be legitimate, there must be responsibilities that a state must uphold and fulfill.

Aristotle proves this point by explaining the relationship between individual and state. According to him, “The proof that the state is a creation of nature and prior to the individual, when isolated, is not self-sufficing and therefore he is like a part in relation to the whole. ” (Jowett 2000: 29). As a result, individuals cannot exist as sovereign beings themselves and because of the fact humans are inherently “political animals,” they must belong to a state in order to receive necessities and meet Mother Nature’s requirement to survive. This brings in he question of how exactly humans interact with each other in a state and whether or not it is possible to create a completely just state. According to Plato, a city-state must exist for the greater good and the philosopher kings must exist for the greater good. As a result, when the citizens are bound together, society can remain just and people can be happier; a main goal of the state. In the Republic, Plato asks “isn’t the first step towards agreement to ask ourselves what we say is the greatest good in designating the city- the good at which the legislator aims in making the laws- and what is the greatest evil? (Grube 1992: 136).

He then answers with a question; “when all the citizens rejoice and are painted by the same successes and failures, doesn’t this sharing of pleasures and pains bind the city together? ” (Grube 1992: 136). As a result, the philosopher kings will rule free from faction and will be guided by the idea of the common good and will for the greatest utility for the entire community so that the nation will not be internally divided by conflict or social clashes. Plato Sonksen 5 irmly believes in this education process that will train his philosopher kings and therefore finds a link with Aristotle. Aristotle also believes that education, preferably a public one rather than private, will help sustain a good political order and will help create that middle class, middle-aged ruling class that governs. From this education becomes an important responsibility for the state. It appears Aristotle wants to use education and governance by elders to help make the next generation superior than the previous one.

Once the state’s responsibilities are defined, then the individual ones start to surface. Once the state is created and in place, each citizen then assumes an individual responsibility to contribute to the state. According to Aristotle’s definition of a citizen, an individual has a responsibility to be active and a part of the political process. He says in his Politics, “But the citizen, whom we are seeking to define, is a citizen in the strictest sense, against whom no such exception can be taken, and his special characteristic is that he shares in the administration of justice, and in offices. (Jowett 2000: 101). When these citizens exist, the state can then focus on the true greater good because everyone has a stake and true justice can be achieved, and they do it because it is simply their duty to be part of the state. This seems to differ from present thought and explains some of the conflict prevalent in the United States’ and of democracy because citizens were officeholders to drive the greater good of the state, not to derive wealth from its citizens that politicians have managed to do by making the citizen’s job a paid career.

Instead, and linking back to Aristotle, Plato’s ideal city is based on four virtues: wisdom, courage, moderation, and justice and individuals should be responsible for pursuing these virtues for the inherent quality of the state. Due to the fact that human beings are intrinsically not vicious in their nature and are social animals, they are incapable of living alone Sonksen 6 and therefore must pursue these virtues for the overall benefit of the state. They do this by only doing their own work that they are born to do and thus achieving justice and increasing the level of justice in the state.

Plato says “It turns out that this doing one’s own work- provided that it comes to be in a certain way- is justice… and that this is what was left over in the city when moderation, courage, and wisdom have been found… And of course we said that justice would be left over when we had found the other three. ” (Grube 1992: 108). Through the responsibilities of the individuals, the state becomes able to take the ideal form discussed in the two texts. Plato’s Republic and Aristotle’s Politics may have been written thousands of years ago but they still apply to today’s conversation of the best forms of social and political organization.

Each brilliant author presents arguments on what each believe is an ideal state and an ideal philosophy in terms of leadership, citizenry, and responsibility. Through various definitions of wisdom, knowledge, and virtue, Plato and Aristotle are able to come up with their respective conclusions. Sonksen 7


Grube, G. M. A 1992 Plato: Republic. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company. Jowett, Benjamin 2000 Aristotle: Politics. New York: Dover Publications, Inc.

Cite this Aristolte Plato Social Contract

Aristolte Plato Social Contract. (2017, Jan 30). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/aristolte-plato-social-contract/

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