Politics of Plato and Aristotle


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 

 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 

 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.


Quotes: Search by Author