Why did Plato think women could be legitimate political guardians?

To Plato the role of the state, or republic, was to create a philosophical utopia within a community, this republic was to achieve this through many different factors - Why did Plato think women could be legitimate political guardians? introduction. Plato himself despised democracy, “Dictatorship naturally arises out of democracy, and the most aggravated form of tyranny and slavery out of the most extreme liberty. ” [1] He instead wanted to have a hierarchical government at the head of which would be a ‘philosopher king’ and under him the government would consist of well trained philosophers who would guide, protect and rule the state and it’s people.

Everyone in Plato’s utopian state was of an equal status, whether they were rich, poor, man, woman or child, Plato argues that for his utopia to work the people of the state have to act as one community each with their own personal job suited to them, if someone doesn’t perform their job then the state would crumble but if everyone performed their jobs and to their best efforts then what could be achieved would be a harmonious state where everyone could co-exist happily.

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As mentioned at the very top and with the key role within Plato’s hierarchical society was of course, ‘The Philosopher King’ This person was to make all the decisions and would of course make the right decisions, for him or even her to come to such a high position of power they would have to be able to ‘perceive the truth’ or in other words the good or the best decision for everyone within the Republic.

The Philosopher King would become almost like a God themselves and their duties included contemplating the good, the world of harmonious order and have a constant companionship in the divine order of the world, He or she had to be able to see the way the world was and by doing all these and through their perceptions be able to guide the utopian state correctly and wisely.

The object of the philosopher king or ‘main goal’ was to create a society which heaven would approve of and therefore one the god’s approved of, his or her philosophers were to help upheld their laws and ideals, that had been set by the republic, the people underneath the king being the ‘guardians’ in other wise the guardians of the republic.

Their job was to protect, serve and uphold the values of the Republic and also to protect the king, these people had been trained since early childhood and could only become guardians after rigorous training and an extensive education, they were well educated in many fields such as math’s, warfare and physical training and were the best of the best. In other words they were groomed for childhood and also had to observe battles so they would be able to fight in their later years if needed and also learnt a wide range of music and poetry and they’re were 5 stages in their education.

They best from each group would go on to the next and then the next where they would learn more and more difficult things, for example they later learned science and also strict physical and military training, this was of course expected of the women as well as even they would have to eventually guard the city. They’re education lasted until they were around 50 where it was then believed that they had been educated enough and thoroughly enough to be able to do their jobs effectively, they were now perceived as ‘philosopher rulers’ and would be able to guide, protect and do their duty in politics, philosophy and guiding and ruling the state.

Like the philosopher king they should also be able to “see the good” [2] a thing which was a very important value to Plato and his republic because without it they would not be able to know what was best for the state and its citizens. As mentioned above Plato believed that every person had a place within his society, and this of course had to include women, they too had their own role to fulfill within Plato’s Republic and it wasn’t just to breed for future generations, although they were obviously used for this as well.

Women were needed if the Republic was indeed going to work and so that a perfect utopia could be achieved because you can’t achieve a perfect state if not everyone is involved or does their fare share of the work. Plato believed that they shouldn’t just be subjected to the ‘oikos’ or family life and homemaking but to be used, just as everyone was, as a part of a well oiled machine. They were allowed to be educated and could take up roles within society that would be traditionally thought of as male only areas, this included that of the guardian.

Plato believed that everyone should be used to make a community work and women as well as men should be used to this effect, as a benefit to the community rather then just as an individual going after individual ideas, “there is no occupation which bears on the administration of a community which belongs especially to women or to men” [3]. The role of a guardian as mentioned in their education and duties were exactly the same for women as it was for men, they were equals. This included warfare, politics and ruling and guiding the state and its citizens.

Obviously this idea was completely new to the Ancient Greece of this period, women weren’t educated, only male citizens could take part in the democratic state of the time and there were not any women who would perform the same tasks or jobs as men, especially one of such high status. They were confined to the ‘oikos’ and rarely left their duties there unless it was to take part in religious ceremonies, women were under strict rule, and so Plato’s ideas in this period would have been very radical, if not seen as insane or a joke.

Women to the Ancient world were seen as the ‘weaker sex’. However Plato does agree on this point, and there is truth in the matter, women are generally weaker then men, though some women may be stronger then a weak man, but he still believed that they could still do the same jobs as men with the same results and achievements and viewed them as generally equal to each other on many levels.

But Plato was indeed a realist and therefore he understood that women were perhaps not as strong as men and although they could perform the same tasks in those areas where strength would perhaps be needed, he understood that women might not be as equal to men in those circumstances, “They should share in everything” He said “The only qualification is that we’re dealing with a physically weaker sex: The males are stronger. ” [4]

As the guardians had to be educated so thoroughly it is obvious that Plato believed that knowledge would form the key foundations to a perfect state, therefore if he wanted the state to work and if he believed men and women should perform the same jobs within the state then obviously they had to educated exactly the same as the men were, and in exactly the same educational fields, otherwise how would they be able to perform their jobs that Plato believed they were able to do? Therefore, if we’re going to use the women for the same purposes as the men, we have to educate them in the same way. ” [5] They would be educated in philosophy, maths, war and all the other subjects that the guardians were expected to undertake. Plato also believes that women might even be better at men at certain subjects or ideas, this meant that they were also not to be treated any differently either.

Plato believed this because he believed the men and women who were training to be guardians would be of equal status in knowledge for example, even if they were of different gender, Therefore they shouldn’t be treated differently because of their sex but in a difference of talent, “Differentiation in treatment between one guardian and another should be based on difference of talent, not on difference of sex” [6].

As well as equality and being treated the same Plato wanted the guardians to share all the same ideals whether they were male or female, this also included their political views, if guardians had different ideas and especially political views then how could they run a state effectively if they all wanted something different or believed something completely opposite to what they were trying to uphold? It wouldn’t be a utopia but a state of chaos.

Therefore to have them all think alike they would obviously have to be educated exactly the same in precisely the same fields or differences and conflicts would easily arise on how was best to govern, on who would be the best to rule, what was best for the people and other ideas that a guardian was meant to represent and uphold. Women also took part in precisely the same sports as men and also warfare, they had to be equally as fit as they’re male counterparts or how else would they be able to perform their duties as good as the men or perform the same duties?

We shall have to train women also then in both kinds of skill, and train them for war as well, and treat them the same way as men” [7] Plato expected women to stand side by side with the other male guardians and fight for their state and protect it equally as well as the men would, their sturdier children would also be bought along so they could begin they’re education in warfare at the same time as acting as apprentices to the adult guardians they would later become.

All throughout Plato’s republic you see him comparing men and women and he shows that he has the same expectations of women as he does as men, this includes their rewards and punishments, Women were to be treated exactly the same, not just almost the same as men.

Women for example would be given the same rewards for bravery as a man would receive and also wouldn’t be let off punishment if they dropped their weapons or if they deserted their post and deserted the war effort as an example they would lose their position within the Republic just as a man would and they would be demoted to a farmer or artisan status, which in Plato’s Republic was the lowest form of status you could achieve and would be a public shame for someone as high up as a guardian, ”

Anyone who deserts or discards his weapons or does anything cowardly like that should be made an artisan or a farmer. [8] Family life would be the same for all the guardians as well, even though women were traditionally a symbol of the home and motherhood, they would have to follow the rules that a guardian must if they were to do they’re job well, family life was abolished for the guardians, it was seen as a distraction just as sex was.

Many children would not know they’re parents as they were taken away at an early age to begin they’re hard training to become future guardians, in the same respect guardians would also not know who they’re children were as they could then spend they’re time in more productive ways like ruling and protecting the state rather then wasting they’re time to bring up a family, even though this was obviously the traditional role of women at the time they too had to abstain from family life just as sex was only to be used to produce.

Relationships were also not allowed for guardians as it was both distracting and could make you favour or un-favour someone due to your romantic intentions with them, which to Plato was a bad thing for the Guardians as they were they’re only to use their great knowledge rather then distracting themselves with pleasures then doing their duties.

These rules as mentioned for again for both sexes as they were also seen as unimportant to their more important duties that were integral to the community and benefited many people rather then just they individual, “That there’s to be no such thing as a private marriage between these women and these men: All the women are to be shared among all the men. And that the children are also to be shared, with no parent knowing which child is his, or child knowing his parent” [9].

However this did not apply to all guardians as they’re were two classes of the guardians, the rulers and auxiliaries, the rulers remained celibate and followed the above rules where as the auxiliaries acted more as breeder so as to produce future heirs to the guardian line and therefore continue the circle which meant that Plato could achieve his perfect republic.

To some Plato could come across as a feminist, the world’s first and that his views about women’s roles within the community is pro-feminist ideology, however this is not the case, although he did believe women could be just as good as men his main aims were not to liberate women but merely for them to be apart of his society, one that everyone had a place in, in other words it was a way for him to achieve his utopian Republic.

Plato believed that women could make legitimate political guardians, as well as good ones, because they were the same as men, or had the potential to achieve the same as men if they were educated and treated exactly the same way as them then they would then have the same ideals and strengths as men would.

Plato’s republic wasn’t an issue of gender but the potential and ability to guide, rule and protect with their well honed qualifications which would be used within a structured community. Men and women were almost seen as asexual beings they were there to do their job gender didn’t matter in the slightest it was only important if they could perform the job.

The community is the focus point for Plato’s republic as without the public forming one single unity his state wouldn’t work, and if you use every single person within a suitable role then women can not be excluded as they made up a large percent of the population, women had to be included so that the republic ideal could be achieved or else it would fail if everyone did not have an allocated role within the community, women also had to have a job other then family life as Plato realised that they had potential for uses other then this, especially within a community centre, if they were just used as simply ‘to produce’ or be homemakers then they’re were many people who could do that but wouldn’t women also be able to do other jobs as well?

The fact the women were meant to be the weaker gender in Ancient Greek society didn’t matter to Plato because individuals within his fictional society did not matter, it was all about the community and what was the point of just using women to look after families when they could just as easily do a job that a man did and equally as well. It didn’t matter that the guardian role was of such a high status because the women would have been trained the same as the men and therefore had the same ability as men to do the job, which is what Plato believed, that if women were taught something other then how to bring up a family and were taught in precisely the same way then how could they two sexes have any differences?

To conclude Plato believed women could be legitimate political guardians because he believed that they could perform the same job as men if they had the same education and were treated the same and he believed they would be able to the guardian role in the first place because everyone had a slot within a community and without them working towards protecting and ruling the community his idea’s would never work and the Republic would never exist or survive. “The best course is for the men and women to receive the same education, share children, and co-operate in the guarding of the rest of their fellow citizens… whether it involves staying within the community or going out to war. The women should help in the guarding and hunting, as female dogs do. They should share everything as much as the can, and this will not only be the best course of action for them, but is also not incompatible with their nature, as compared with masculinity, and is the kind of partnership which nature intended for the two sexes” [10]

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