Aristotle and Plato's beliefs concerning role of government?

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Aristotle and Plato's beliefs concerning role of government?
CaptainEmohead
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Posted Oct 14, 2007 - 11:07 PM:
Subject: Aristotle and Plato's beliefs concerning role of government?
After reading the Republic, Nicomachean Ethics, and parts of the politics, it is moderately clear what Plato/Aristotle believe the best types of governments are and outlines how they are to operate and exist very thoroughly.

However, what do you think they believed the role of government ought to be? And "to take care of the polis," is although arguably a correct answer, is too broad, and much more detailed opinions would be appreciated.

Plato seems to be more of a "big government" individual, with his guardians thesis. And I'm still having trouble deciding where Aristotle is going with his "polity" idea.
PeeGee
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Posted Oct 19, 2007 - 4:19 PM:

I thought I replied to this thread...I must've changed my mind.

I read the Republic and if I can get an audiobook I will try to understand Nicomachean Ethics (it's impossible to read for me). My interpretation of the book is that the Philosopher Kings exist to promote a just society, but to which end? It almost seems like there's no final end -- that the society will exist in perpetuity in some sort of political perfection.
__RavErz__
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Posted Oct 27, 2007 - 2:31 AM:

Well Plato and Aristotle had different views on how the Government works and its purpose. Plato I believe was more of an idealist who claimed that we should have a large centralised government with power in the hands of few (or even one). Hobbes describes some of Plato's ideals in the Leviathan. Basically there should be a ruler and everyone gives up their rights to the government (although some rights remain intact) through a social contract. Now I think Plato believes that the role of the government is to maintain peace and order and keep people out of the state of nature since the state of nature is not a good life (think cave men, wars among men etc). This was again explained by Hobbes.

Aristotle's views I think were more to do with that the government is needed to maintain piece but human's still have certain rights and certain insitutions should remain intact. Aristotle believed that the government was there merely as a means of protection and security for the people. There will always be anger but aristotle still acknowledged goodness in humanity and thus believed there didn't need to be a massive centralised government that took control of everything and everyone and controlled who could own property and who couldn't and exactly which property good be owned by the people etc,

Plato's "Big Government" ideal is well I guess right as how it is put but the way the Governemnt runs is that it is controlled by just one or very few people. I think Plato did hint at a very few but more than one person and it was Hobbes who undoubtely said one person to run.
PontificatingChauncy
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Posted Oct 27, 2007 - 4:44 AM:

Plato believed in what today is called the 'Nanny State'. According to my interpretation of Republic, the state would be charged with assigning each person their respective trade (standing army, king, farmer), assesing and filtering the line of succession to keep the 'philosopher' in 'Philosopher King' and in housing the government employees.
Plato/Socrates believed that only with exteme preparation could a person usefully live their life: but it takes many years to become well enough prepared, and by then you're so old as to be useless. So it was just easier to train your rulers to be practically and academically prepared philosophers and let them do the thinking for you.
Maybe if Socrates hadn't been executed by vote... raised eyebrow
Chato
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Posted Oct 27, 2007 - 12:25 PM:

PontificatingChauncy wrote:
Plato believed in what today is called the 'Nanny State'. According to my interpretation of Republic, the state would be charged with assigning each person their respective trade (standing army, king, farmer), assesing and filtering the line of succession to keep the 'philosopher' in 'Philosopher King' and in housing the government employees.
Plato/Socrates believed that only with exteme preparation could a person usefully live their life: but it takes many years to become well enough prepared, and by then you're so old as to be useless. So it was just easier to train your rulers to be practically and academically prepared philosophers and let them do the thinking for you.
Maybe if Socrates hadn't been executed by vote... raised eyebrow


Plato laid out the guidlines for a "just" Fascist State. He wanted total control of life from birth to daeth, organised censorship, etc, etc. You can call this a nanny state - I call it a totalitarian state.

But the Republic was not written to be taken literally. He wanted to stimulate discussion and by gosh he certainly succeded in that.

Dave
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Posted Oct 27, 2007 - 2:36 PM:

Aye 'the open society and it's enemies' by Karl Popper pretty much destorys Platos arguments... well worth a read!
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Posted Oct 27, 2007 - 2:39 PM:

I just found a practice essay (basically the writing up of disjoined notes made in lessons)I did for my AS exam... you might find it of use

c) Assess whether Plato’s Philosopher rulers should rule.

In Plato’s Republic the ideal state is one which is ruled by Philosopher Kings. The definition of a Philosopher for Plato is one who loves true knowledge and so has understanding of the forms.

To ensure the right Philosophers are chosen a candidate would have to go through a life time of training and practical experience until, at the age of 50, he shall “put in good order both the polis and themselves for the remainder of their lives, taking turns with the others”. Protecting the state would be auxiliaries, men and women who have courage but also a philosophical nature so that they do not seize power from the rulers. To ensure that they are not corrupted the guardians (auxiliaries and rulers) would not be allowed to obtain wealth. Nor would they need to, argued Plato, as Philosophers love wisdom and auxiliaries love honour. Below these are the people who are simply expected to work and satisfy their pleasures.

To ensure cohesiveness the family unit would be replaced amongst the guardians with a eugenic breeding system where only the most suitable would be able to breed, and offspring would be raised communally. Also there would be a strict hierarchy of power enforced not just by customs (a young man must respect an older man) but by the education and segregation of the different classes. However the ideal is that citizens would look upon their rulers as protectors and the guardians would look upon the citizens as fellow guardians. In short the state would behave like one cohesive unit, making it formidable to its enemies.

criticisms from a moral perspective

Essentially the workers are the slaves of the guardians; they have no say in the direction of the state and no freedom of criticism. Plato’s fear of change is so much so that all religious, legal and educational innovation would be suppressed via censorship and propaganda. Although Plato does say that class advancement would be possible education and power would be very much in the hands of the rulers and so this this would be rare. Plato avoids use of the word slave but his scorn for the “tender-hearted” abolitionist Athenian democrats and his low opinion of democracy certainly point a distrust of the commoners.

The allowable infanticide for deformed and illegitimate (For Plato this would mean having children outside the mating festivals or outside the deemed appropriate age) children as well as the break up of the family unit is also disturbing.

For all Plato’s discussions on justice, his conclusion is the direct opposite of what we mean by the term today (or by the Greeks of his time). Instead of equal treatment before the law, an eradication of natural privileges and the equal share of the advantages as well as disadvantages of citizenship, Plato seems to mean by justice “that which is in the interest of the state”. This can use used to justify pretty much whatever the rulers decree.

Plato justifies this by showing how the alternative- individualism (a social theory favouring freedom of the individual) is invariably selfish. However this is false as you can have selfish collectivism (an example being class interest) as well as altruistic individualism.

It is also dangerous as the morality of the state (if there is any such thing) tends to be considerably lower than that of the average citizen, so it is therefore much more desirable that the morality of the state be controlled by the citizens rather than the rulers.

It also could be argued that the idea that because a class is racially, morally, intellectually or educationally superior to another doesn’t necessarily gives them the right to rule.

Criticisms from a practical perspective

Firstly the idea that the rulers and the auxiliaries would solely be interested in wisdom and honour seems too idealistic. There would come a time when they would realise that they could use their position to rule for selfish means turning the state into either a timocracy, oligarchy, plutocracy or tyranny. As the famous saying goes “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”.

Leaders are rarely intellectually or morally superior and often inferior to most. It is dangerous to put all our political effort on the faint hope that we shall be successful in obtaining excellent or even capable leaders. Experience has taught us that instead of asking the question “who should rule?” we should ask the question “how can we best organise political institutions so that bad or incompetent rulers are prevented from doing too much damage?”.

But probably the biggest practical problem of the Plato’s system of government is that of succession i.e. how will power be transferred from one ruler to the next? The nominating of a successor is plagued by to many unforeseen circumstances, and besides how can a ruler know that the next will carry on the reforms necessarily?

Plato is very vague on the subject and seems to say that understanding of the forms guides a ruler’s decision making. But this is ludicrous, how will knowing the “truth” behind the world translate into viable policies. Considering that at least 9 of Plato’s associates or pupils turned into tyrants (over half of which were murdered by their friends) shows the confusion over what was meant by Plato. This is a major blow to Plato’s theory as if the next ruler doesn’t carry on the same policies then all the sacrifices made will be pointless (much like the Russian revolution).

Plato is also vague on how the philosophers would rule. But considering the “philosopher kings” are described as not as humble seekers of truth but knowers of truth, and that they are described as demigods, I expect there would only be a single ruler.

But if so how will the ruler know what to do? Plato says they’ll have hands on experience, but if I’m right and there is only one ruler, then debate and criticism would be absent not allowing lesions to be learned. Combine this with Plato’s definition of Justice (“that which benefits the state”) rulers would be allowed to do almost anything to create the ideal state.

Plato believed that change moved things away from their forms, thus his principle aim in his state was to arrest change and move backwards to the ideal. Thus Plato’s society is based on a closed tribalistic one such a Sparta. But today this is impossible to emulate; rapid scientific, cultural and social progression combined with mass media mean that unless there is a nuclear holocaust regression of ideas is impossible.

In conclusion; Democracy is not just based on the principle that the people should rule because they make the right choices or because they are morally better; rather it is based on the idea that general elections and constitutions provide safe guards from tyranny. These safe guards are like fortresses; they must be well designed and well guarded. If these conditions are not fulfilled they wont last, but when they are democracy flourishes and has the potential to last forever.

In Plato’s state the only safe guards are propaganda and censorship. The unity of the state and the goodness of the philosophers are not set in concrete and if either disappears then the state will collapse.

Democracy is not perfect but it’s the best form of government. Compare the countries who have experienced utopian engineers to the democratically elected ones and you can see that quality of life is far higher in the democratic nations.



Edited by Bum_Bandit on Oct 27, 2007 - 2:53 PM. Reason: spellin
Chato
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Posted Oct 27, 2007 - 3:27 PM:

Good post...

It might help to understand where Plato was coming from. Like many Athenian aristocrats he was a great admirer of Sparta. This admiration lies like bedrock beneath his thinking. The Republic of course is no immitation of Sparta, but it has quite a few similarities.

He, like the Spartans, trys to move away from simple Olicharchy, which is derived from birth. Instead he visualises an olicharchy of merit, in other words a Police State based on the merit of the rulers. The rest of the Republic is devoted to ensuring that this state remains stable. The lower classes will be indoctrinated from cradle to grave, and dissension will be harshly punished.

The main reason that so many of Plato's works suvives is because the early Church loved him. He "proved" the existance of God, and this, aside from his talent with words, assured him literary survival.

Yet none of the works of the founders of Stoicism survive. Many of them were far more relevant to our lives than Plato.

Dave
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Posted Oct 28, 2007 - 8:35 AM:

A misconception of Plato is that he argued that it should be ruled by few people. This type of rule he termed "oligarchy", the second state of degeneration. Plato argued that such a state is plutocratic i.e it is ruled by a few wealthy people, or rather ruled by interest of wealth. The ideal state he argued is an aristocracy, i.e. rule by the best, and the aristocrats would be deprived of all property.

Some may argue that democracy is the best (albeit not a perfect) form of government, but Plato argues that it will lack of discipline and tend to corrupt, because it allows people to come to power who are motivated by personal gain rather than public good.

Another misconception is that Plato is for "big government" or totalitarianism. Plato did argue that freedom is a main value of the society, and his main idea with the republic was that power should be kept from the tyrants and be in the hands of the good people, henceforth aristocracy, or rule of the best at the top of the hierarchy and tyranny at the bottom. The size of the government may vary depending on internal and external circumstances i.e. how much law enforcement is required or war is waged against other states.
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Posted Oct 28, 2007 - 9:35 AM:

keda wrote:
A misconception of Plato is that he argued that it should be ruled by few people. This type of rule he termed "oligarchy", the second state of degeneration. Plato argued that such a state is plutocratic i.e it is ruled by a few wealthy people, or rather ruled by interest of wealth. The ideal state he argued is an aristocracy, i.e. rule by the best, and the aristocrats would be deprived of all property.

Some may argue that democracy is the best (albeit not a perfect) form of government, but Plato argues that it will lack of discipline and tend to corrupt, because it allows people to come to power who are motivated by personal gain rather than public good.

Another misconception is that Plato is for "big government" or totalitarianism. Plato did argue that freedom is a main value of the society, and his main idea with the republic was that power should be kept from the tyrants and be in the hands of the good people, henceforth aristocracy, or rule of the best at the top of the hierarchy and tyranny at the bottom. The size of the government may vary depending on internal and external circumstances i.e. how much law enforcement is required or war is waged against other states.


"A rose by any other name would smell as sweet." I can't recall any totalitarian that didn't advocate "freedom." Fascism is a wonderful system that promotes freedom. That's what they say. And Plato advocated a form of Fascism. Nor is it necessary to be a rocket scientist to learn this - Just read the damn book.

Dave
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