Comparison of Plato and Aristotle's Political Theories
To compare the political theories of two great philosophers of politics is to first examine each theory in depth. Plato is regarded by many experts as the first writer of political philosophy, and Aristotle is recognized as the first political scientist. These two men were great thinkers. They each had ideas of how to improve existing societies during their individual lifetimes. It is necessary to look at several areas of each theory to seek the difference in each. The main focus of Plato is a perfect society. He creates a blueprint for a utopian society, in his book The Republic, out of his disdain for the tension of political life (Hacker, 24). This blueprint was a sketch of a society in which the problems he thought were present in his society would be eased (Hacker 24). Plato sought to cure the afflictions of both human society and human personality (Hacker 24). Essentially what Plato wants to achieve is a perfect society. Aristotle, unlike Plato, is not concerned with perfecting society. He just wants to improve on the existing one. Rather than produce a blueprint for the perfect society, Aristotle suggested, in his work, The Politics, that the society itself should reach for the best possible system that could be attained (Hacker 71). Aristotle relied on the deductive approach, while Aristotle is an example of an inductive approach (Hacker 71). Utopia is a solution in abstract, a solution that has no concrete problem (Hacker 76). There is no solid evidence that all societies are in need of such drastic reformation as Plato suggests (Hacker 76). Aristotle discovers that the best possible has already been obtained (Hacker 76). All that can be done is to try to improve on the existing one. Plato's utopia consists of three distinct, non-hereditary class systems (Hacker 32). The Guardians consist of non ruling Guardians and ruling Guardians. The non-rulers are a higher level of civil servants and the ruling is the society's policy makers ( Hacker 32). Auxilaries are soldiers and minor civil servants (Hacker 32). Finally the Workers, are composed of farmers and artisans, most commonly unskilled laborers (Hacker 32). The Guardians are to be wise and good rulers. It is important that the rulers who emerge must be a class of craftsmen who are public-spirited in temperament and skilled in the arts of government areas (Hacker 33). The guardians are to be placed in a position in which they are absolute rulers. They are supposed to be the select few who know what is best for society (Hacker 33). Aristotle disagrees with the idea of one class holding discontinuing political power (Hacker 85). The failure to allow circulation between classes excludes those men who may be ambitious, and wise, but are not in the right class of society to hold any type of political power (Hacker 85). Aristotle looks upon this ruling class system as an ill-conceived political structure (Hacker 86). He quotes "It is a further objection that he deprives his Guardians even of happiness, maintaining that happiness of the whole state which should be the object of legislation," ultimately he is saying that Guardians sacrifice their happiness for power and control. Guardians who lead such a strict life will also think it necessary to impose the same strict lifestyle on the society it governs (Hacker 86). Aristotle puts a high value on moderation (Hacker 81). Many people favor moderation because it is part-liberal and part-conservative. There is so much of Plato's utopia that is undefined and it is carried to extremes that no human being could ever fulfill its requirements (Hacker 81). Aristotle believes that Plato is underestimating the qualitative change in human character and personality that would have to take place in order to achieve his utopia (Hacker 81). Plato chose to tell the reader of his Republic how men would act and what their attitudes would be in a perfect society (Hacker 81). Aristotle tries to use real men in the real world in an experimental fashion to foresee how and in which ways they can be improved (Hacker 81). Both Plato and Aristotle agree that justice exists in an objective sense: that is, it dictates a belief that the good life should be provided for all individuals no matter how high or low their social status (Hacker 91). "In democracies, for example, justice is considered to mean equality, in oligarchies, again inequality in the distribution of office is considered to be just, " says Aristotle (Hacker 91). Plato sees the justice and law as what sets the guidelines for societal behavior. Aristotle puts emphasis on the institution of the polis (Hacker 77). This institution is not the state or society merely the larger unit of the two (hacker 77). Neither Plato nor Aristotle found it to be necessary to distinguish between the state nor society and therefore it is difficult to define polis (Hacker 77). The polis was set up to allow political participation on the part of the average citizen (Hacker 80). This contradicts Plato's theory of one ruling class controlling the political power and all decisions that effect the entire society. The theory of Democracy that Aristotle derived states that democracy is a "perversion" form of government of "polity" (Hacker 92). Aristotle said, "The people at large should be sovereign rather than the few best" (Hacker 92). Plato would never allow the full public participation in government as Aristotle would like. According to Plato public judgments of approval and disapproval are based on belief and not on knowledge (Hacker 59). Plato thinks that is a revolution were to take place it would be a palace revolution (Hacker 64). A palace revolution occurs when there is a power transfer from one power holder to someone else. Aristotle sees the cause of revolutions originating with either the rich or the poor (Hacker 102). He feels that the means of preventing revolutions is to anticipate them (Hacker 107). Plato thinks that in a utopia a disgruntled group of Guardians will emerge and break from the rules (Hacker 63). He thinks that in an oligarchy two things may happen to spark a revolution: the first being the ruler and their offspring grow to be weak rulers and too sympathetic, the second is that the number of poor grows larger and suffer exploitation at the hands of those in power over them (Hacker 64). Aristotle states that to know the causes which destroy constitutions is also to know the causes which ensure their preservation (Hacker 107-108). Plato and Aristotle alike were two men who had ideas on ways to improve existing society. Plato, a political philosopher, was in the pursuit of philosophical truth (Hacker 114). Aristotle was concerned with the citizen and the design of political institutions (Hacker 114). They both had well thought out ideas and plans on how to build a better society. Both Aristotle and Plato have had a tremendous impact on political scientists of today. Aristotle helped to developed some democratic ideas. In conclusion these men were great thinkers. Their opinions on society and its functions were quite different, but they both had the same intention, to build a better way of life for the societies they lived in and for the societies that would come to be in the future. Works Cited Hacker, Andrew. Political Theory: Philosophy, Ideology, Science. New York: Macmillan, 1961.
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