Plato’s life in brief
Born around 428 BC in Athens and grew up during the famous Peloponnesian War (430BC – 401BC), a student of Socrates, and the teacher of Aristotle, Plato wrote on a wide variety of topics including Politics, Aesthetics, Cosmology, and Epistemology.
After the death of his teacher in 399BC, Plato left Athens to travel in Europe and Egypt for over a decade, studying various subjects. After returning, he founded The Academy around 387 BC. While there, Plato wrote several literatures including The Republic, The Symposium, The Laws, etc.
Also known as the father of political science, Plato gave various important ideas which include his theory of forms, the theory of justice, philosopher king, etc. which are studied even today.
If Socrates is known as the father of Philosophy (Ethics), who described the meaning of ‘good life’, Plato is known as the ‘father of political philosophy’ because he was the 1st person to describe ‘what constitutes an ideal state.’ What constitutes a good political life? What is the idea behind the state? what are the ethics of the political class?
The biggest contribution of Plato is ‘The Theory of The Philosopher King.’ According to him, that state is ideal, where philosophers are the rulers. In the words of Plato, “Until philosophers are the rulers or rulers learn philosophy, there is no end to the predicament of human life.”
Perspective of Plato as a thinker
He is highly imaginative, romantic and utopian thinker. Plato is very radical (wants to make complete change) in his ideas. He suggests extreme solutions. Like abolishing family and private property. He was criticized for his radical ideas by Aristotle.
Plato is idealist.
Idealism in Politics:
Idealist and Materialists: We differentiate Idealist and Materialist on the basis of conception of reality.
Idealist : Example Socrates & Plato. For them Idea is real.
Materialist : Example Karl Marx. For materialists matter is real. In the words of Karl Marx “Idea/Ideology is false consciousness.”
Materialist and realists.
Realism is used in the specific sense in Political theory. Machiavelli is known as ‘father of Realism’. He was the 1st person to establish that politics is not ethics.
Idealists and realists.
Idealists: Plato, Socrates, Gandhi. For them politics and ethics should not be separated. / Gandhi has criticized Machiavelli a lot.
Realists: Machiavelli. In the words of Machiavelli, “In politics, ends justify the means.”
Idealism in political theory also denotes following aspects.
|For them Idea is real. (Matter vs Idea (God))||Vs Materialism|
|Whole is prior to part. (Social interest over self interest.)||Vs Individualism|
Idealists have no concept of rights, only concerned with duties. No separation between Politics and Ethics e.g. Gandhi, Socrates, Plato etc.
Concern of Plato as thinker
Plato belonged to Athens. The kingdom was in bad condition. It was also defeated by Sparta. Athens was once the most prominent state, Plato wanted to know the reasons behind the downfall of Athens. He had great love for his motherland and he wanted to make Athens an ideal state.
What was problem in Athens according to Plato?
According to him Athens was not a single city. There were two cities, the city of rich and the city of poor. Ruling class was extremely rich whereas majority was poor. Hence despite patriotism, the morale of the people was down. Hence it became vulnerable to the external threats.
What was the reason behind the bad state of governance in Athens?
According to Plato, the real factor behind such a state in Athens was ‘the ignorance’ of the ruling class. They were ignorant about their responsibilities. They were ignorant of the fact that ‘public offices are not for private ends’ (corruption). Thus the lack of good governance is because of corruption and corruption is because of ignorance.
Ruling class in Athens was running after money and power. It is because of their ignorance they were thinking that money and power is an ultimate source of happiness. Since ruling class was running after money and power others also followed them. Hence the entire society was corrupt. It made Athens internally weak and so externally vulnerable!
What are the problems in running after money and power?
Money and power are limited in nature, hence bound to create conflict. According to Plato we should run after the things which are unlimited and which are of permanent nature e.g. Knowledge, Character, Beauty.
Hence Plato’s prescription is the institution of ‘Philosopher King.’
Dialectics, He has written in the form of Dialogues. Where Socrates is the main character.
Source of Influence on Plato.
1] He was influenced by Socrates view i.e. ‘Knowledge is Virtue.’ which means ‘ignorance is vice.’ If Athens has to become a virtuous state, it has to be ruled by knowledge.
2] Pythagoras According to Pythagoras, the entire universe is based on Mathematical Principles. Theory of souls. Soul is a Indian concept not used by western scholars, it is believed that Pythagoras got the idea of soul from India.
3] Heraclitus. According to him “Change is the characteristic of this world.”
4] Parmenides. Along with change, continuity/permanence is also the characteristic of this world.
Plato’s ‘theory of soul’ – myth of metals.
There are two aspects of our personality. 1.Physical 2.Spiritual (Soul).
The soul is a permanent feature of our personality. Every soul has three elements: 1.Reason 2.Courage 3.Appetite.
However, all souls are not similar. Some are inferior and some are superiors souls. There are three categories of persons, based on the dominant characteristic of the soul.
Persons of Gold: In such a person reason dominates. Such persons are rare.
Men of Silver: Persons in whom Courage dominates.
Men of Copper: persons in whom Appetite dominates
[ Plato believed in the concept of natural inequality.]
The function of the soul: To guide us in what is right and what is wrong.
The physical body is the decaying part whereas the soul is a permanent part. When our physical body ends, the soul does not end, it goes back to the Kingdom of God. When the soul looks at worldly things, the soul recollects all that it has seen in the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is the Kingdom of Perfection. Soul recollects and compare.
Since Every soul is not equal, hence every soul is not capable of comprehension in an equal sense. Persons in whom reason dominates can comprehend the idea of perfection to the maximum extent possible.
Since God is an idea, the idea cannot be seen, but we cannot say that idea does not exist. The idea can be understood only through reason. Hence only those who have reason can establish the Kingdom of God on this earth.
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Theory of Idea.
He wants to create an ideal state. To create an ideal state, one needs the idea of the ideal state.
Since idea cannot be seen, it can only be understood by the use of reason. Hence the person in whom ‘Reason’ dominates i.e. Philosopher King can create, the ideal state.
What is idea?
Scholars have classified the reality into two types. 1. Matter 2. Idea. Matter is Physical, so can be understood through the use of sensory organs like eyes, ears etc. e.g. Money. Idea cannot be understood through the sensory organs. It can be understood only through the use of reason. e.g. Honesty.
Matter belongs to the world of change. Whereas Idea belongs to the world of permanence. Idea is the perfect manifestation because it belongs to the world of God. Matter belongs to this world, this world is a world of imperfections. His theory of Idea is based on the Socrates’s Theory of Knowledge
Sophists vs Socratic
The term Sophism comes from the word Sophia, which denotes Knowledge. Sophists can be considered as the first political educationists.
In Athens education was privatized. Hence education was the privilege of the rich. Sophists were charging money for education. Since their livelihood was dependent on the rich, they defined good life in terms of money and power.
According to sophists, money and power is a source of the good life. They were teaching how people can come to power. According to them, the ruling class should possess, the skill of oratory, which means the ability to influence public opinion.
|Sophists are materialists. (Money and power is a source of good life.)||Socratic are Idealist. (Honesty is preferable to money earned by unfair means.|
|Sophists are Realists : They believe that ‘What is’ should determine ‘What ought to be.’||Socratic are Idealist: They believe that “Ought” should not be derived from “What is”, rather we should try to shape “What is” on the basis of “What ought to be”|
|For them Individual is an end. (Part is priority over whole.)||Society is an end. (Whole is prior to part.)|
|Society is conventional or creation of humans.||Man is by nature a social animal. And Hence society is natural. (organic)|
|Contractual theory of state||Organic theory of state|
Socrates’ view on Sophists.
According to the Socrates, Sophists were not doing justice with their own profession. The responsibility of the teacher is not to tell what one wants to hear, rather what one should hear.
According to Socrates, ruling class need to have real knowledge. It is not enough to know how to come to power. It is also important to understand what is the duty of the ruling class. If sophists think that money and power is a source of good life, they may be ignorant about, what constitutes good life.
Allegory of caves.
Plato uses many stories to explain his position.He uses “Allegory of Cave” to show the difference between real knowledge and the illusion of knowledge.
3-4 persons are sitting in the cave (denotes Ignorance), the hands of these persons are tied, and they cannot move out. They are sitting with their back towards the mouth of the cave.
Fire is burning inside the cave. When people and other objects, outside the cave pass through, they observe the shadow of these objects on the wall of the cave. Since they have not observed the real objects, they consider shadow as real.
By chance the chain of one person gets broken. He runs out of the cave. He enters into the sunlight. Initially he feels pain in his eyes but later on realizes what he was observing was the illusion of reality, rather than reality. He realizes that the real world is more beautiful than the world of illusions.
Sunlight is a symbol of real knowledge. Whereas fire cannot give real light. Such person goes back inside the cave, and explains the reality, other prisoners make fun of him. Other prisoners are extremely reluctant to leave their bondages and to come in sunlight.
It shows that people prefer to live in the den of ignorance, develop their comfort zone. The person, will push these persons forcibly in the sunlight and gradually they also realize the reality.
The person who is pushing is a teacher.
“Reality is the shadow of Idea.” – Plato
Above statement comes from Plato’s theory of Ideas where he explains the nature of reality. He has established that idea is the ultimate reality. The context of his theory of idea can be found in his concern with the state of Athens. According to him, Athens was in a bad shape, because the ruling class was ignorant, running after money and power. They were ignorant about what constitutes happiness in true sense. His theory of Idea is based on Socrates theory of Knowledge. Socrates has established that the real knowledge is the knowledge of Idea. Real knowledge is conceptual and cannot be challenged.
Plato has applied the theory of Knowledge to his understanding of reality. Nature of reality has been a matter of debate among scholars. Some believe that matter is real, they are called as materialists. (Sophists) for Plato, the view that matter is real is “rhetoric”. If we apply dialectics we will be able to understand that idea rather than matter is real.
According to Plato, Idea is the perfect manifestation and belongs to the world of permanence. (World of God). Money and power can bring satisfaction to the physical body but honesty brings satisfaction to our soul. According to him, we take worldly things as real and worldly pleasures as ultimate happiness, only because of our ignorance. To show that “reality is the shadow of idea”, he gives ‘Allegory of Cave.’ When we consider worldly pleasures as ultimate happiness, our position is similar to the prisoners in cave. However when we get true knowledge, symbolized by the sunlight, then only we will realize that what we consider real was just the illusion of reality. Thus Plato wants to teach the ruling class the meaning of true happiness. The real happiness constitute in serving the citizens, rather than fulfilling one’s self interest. It is our ignorance and short sightedness, if we assume that our interest is different from the interest of our people.
We can find remarkable similarity in the views of Plato and ancient Indian scholar Kautilya. Kautilya mentions in ARTHASASTRA, “In the happiness of the subjects, lies the happiness of the King.” We can also quote Pandit Nehru who held that – “Who will survive if India dies?” the message is that if ruling class will continue to serve their interest at the interest of the people, they will harm their own interest in the long term.
Plato’s Theory of Justice
Justice is the most important concept in political philosophy. According to John Rawls, “Justice is the first virtue of social system, just like truth is the first virtue of any system of thought.” Justice is considered as precondition for ‘Harmonious co-existence.’
The Nature of Concept of Justice as explained by Plato.
Plato does not treat the concept in a narrow legalistic sense, he treats the concept in the broad sense denoting the right conduct. We can find similarity between Plato’s treatment of the concept of Justice and the Indian concept of Dharma. The Indian concept Dharma implies the right conduct. Indian texts describe the Dharma of each Varna (Class), it also describes Rajya Dharma. Plato in his theory of Justice also explains Justice in terms of duty of the different classes living in the state.
Methodology used by Plato
In deriving the theory of Justice, Plato has used the methodology of dialectics. He engages various characters in the dialogue and derives the meaning of Justice.
REPUBLIC is the most famous work of Plato where he gives the theory of Ideal state/ constitution of Ideal state. The subtitle of the republic is “Concerning Justice.” According to Plato, justice cannot involve the idea of harming someone. The idea of justice is linked to the satisfaction of soul, our soul is never peaceful when we harm someone. There is a possibility of wrong application because it is not easy to identify, who is our enemy and who is our friend. We may end up harming our true friend.
The Plato’s REPUBLIC is in the form of dialogue between various characters. Thrasymachus represents a sophist character. Glaucon represents contractual / pragmatic theory.
Sophists argument on Justice
Sophists represented the rival tradition of Socrates. According to Sophists, “Man in prior to Society.” Society is conventional, created by man for his convenience. It is natural for man to give preference to his self interest over the interest of the society.
The means of good life is Power. Justice is the interest of the strong, it also means ‘Might is right.’ Those who are in power, whatever rules they make become justice.
The ruling class makes rules in their own interest. In many situations, it is preferable for man, not to follow rules. In this way man can serve his interest much better.
Thus, we see the earliest idea of ‘Civil Disobedience’ in the works of Thrasymachus (Sophist character in REPUBLIC). According to him so long, laws serve our interest, we should follow the laws but there is nothing wrong in disobeying the law which go against our interest.
So, the two prominent messages in the views of Thrasymachus are that power is a means for good life & it is not necessary to obey all the rules.
Response of Plato
Plato is unable to provide a very strong counter argument to the thoughts of Thrasymachus. The reason being, Thrasymachus tells ‘What is’. However Plato gives following arguments.
1] ‘Ought’ should not be derived from ‘is’. It is true that in nature, might is right but it does not mean that, it should be the principle to be followed.
2] If we follow “Might is Right.”, there cannot be peace and harmony in the society. We should not forget that it is a necessity of man to live in the society. Nature has not made man self sufficient. It is natural for man to live in the society.
3] “Is” should not determine “Ought”.
4] It is a fact that some men commit murders, however it would be illogical to accept that “We ought to commit murders.” It doesn’t appeal to the reason.
5] The values governing social life have to be based on reason, reason suggests that “Might is right” cannot be the principle of social life.
6] The soul of the person, who disobey the law can never be as peaceful as the soul of the person who follows law.
7] Power alone cannot give good life, reason is more important.
Thus Plato suggests how we ought to live in the society and lays down the foundation of ethics. There is a difference in the way we live in nature and the way we live in the society. In nature we are guided by our instincts, passions or appetite. In society, we ought to be guided by reason. It is true that man in animal, but it is also true that man is social animal, different from other animals.
Glaucon’s arguments. [contractual theory / pragmatic theory. ]
According to Glaucon, Justice is the interest of the weak. It means that those who were weak, could not defend themselves from the strong hence they came together, entered into the contract.
Powerful agreed that they will not harm the weak. Weak agreed not to criticize powerful, in return of the protection they give.
Plato has two objections.
This theory suggests that state is contractual / artificial / man-made.
It is wrong to think that only weak require the state, both strong and weak require to live in the state.
[ Plato uses State, Society, Justice interchangeably. ]
Features of Idea of Justice derived so far.
Justice is the feature of society. The idea of Justice has linkage with the satisfaction of the soul. Just soul is a happy soul. We need reason to understand Justice. Justice is necessary for good life. Hence Justice is a virtue. Justice is a virtue of all virtues. Or Supreme Virtue.
Achievement of all forms of excellence, is dependent on Justice. Why? When there is a justice, there is a peace and only then there can be excellence. Justice has to do with the duty. Just soul is a happy soul. Both weak and strong require justice, because even the strongest person is never strong enough.
Plato’s own theory of Justice.
The purpose of Plato is to make Athens an Ideal State. (State is an individual writ large) Ideal state has to be based on THE IDEA of Justice. i.e. Perfect Idea of Justice.
Perfect Idea of Justice cannot be understood by observing the worldly ideas, because this is the world of imperfection. The perfect Idea of Justice will be God’s Idea of Justice. It can be understood by listening to the soul. Soul is a part of god.
To define Just soul, we have to understand the purpose of Justice. Justice is a virtue / excellence. To achieve excellence, we need peace and harmony. The person in whom Reason dominates over Courage and Appetite can live in peace with others. Persons in whom Appetite dominates will always be in conflict with others. Thus the God’s idea of Justice is, reason should dominate over other two elements.
Idea of Justice in the state should be the application of the Idea of Justice found at the level of individual i.e. reason dominating Courage and Appetite. And it can be applied by categorizing people on the basis of the qualities of soul / Spiritual Qualities. There are three qualities: men of gold, silver, copper.
In just state Men of Gold will rule over Men of Silver and Copper. In just state every class will perform the function according to the spiritual qualities of the soul. Men of reason should rule/make laws. Men of Courage should ensure the security. Men of Appetite should be involved in the task of production. All should perform the function for which they are naturally suited. In this way they will achieve excellence.
It is also important that they should not interfere in the task of the other. Justice results from each element in society doing its appropriate task and doing it well.
Thus the two fundamental principles of Justice are 1) Functional Specialization, it means proper stationing. 2) Non-interference.
In modern phrase, traditional theory of justice is equivalent to sense of duty.
Characteristics of Justice
Justice is supreme virtue. Justice is righteousness. Justice is quality of soul. Justice is duty. Justice results into harmony. Being Just means performing the task for which we are naturally suited. Just man does not interfere in the task of the other. Just state is where, society is divided into three classes, each perform the task according to the natural attributes and not interfering in the task of the other. Only in the just state excellence, peace and harmony is possible
Why all classes will accept the above theory of justice?
According to Plato, state is ‘inter-dependence.’ No one is self-sufficient. Man of reason will be dependent on, man of courage and man of appetite. Similarly the other classes are also dependent on each other.
Hence Plato believes that each class, will recognize the importance of the other class, and treat the members of other class with respect and feel obliged towards them.
Four cardinal virtues
|Class||Dominant trait||Befitting virtue|
“State is individual writ large.” – Plato
In literal sense it means State is a bigger version of individual. If state is a CAPITAL letter, individual is small letter. He means to say that, nature of the state will depend on the character of the individuals.
He makes this statement when he is deriving the principles of Justice. He wants to derive the perfect idea of justice. Perfect idea means God’s idea. Hence tries to understand the idea of ‘Just soul.’ Just man is in who Reason dominates over courage and appetite. He believes that principles applicable at the level of individual can be applied at the level of state. State is a bigger form of individual. Plato wants to convey that ethics and politics are not independent of each other. Principles of politics to be based on ethics.
Plato explains the idea of Just soul. Just soul is one in which Reason dominates over courage and appetite. Such souls are just because they can live in peace and harmony with the others. Only such persons are capable of leading life of virtue. Since Plato believes that State is a bigger form of individual, he recommends that the principles of justice found at the level of individual can be applied at the level of the state. Hence the just state is where, each person performs the task, according to the spiritual qualities of soul, not interfering in the task of the other. In Just state reason will dominate over courage and appetite, in the similar manner like in a just man Reason dominates over the other two elements.
Thus for Plato the principles governing life of a individual i.e. Ethics and principles governing the state i.e. Politics, cannot be different from each other. The idea of good life and the good political life cannot be separate from each other.
Plato wants to tell that nature of state will be shaped by the character of citizens living in the state. Hence he also suggests that “State does not come out of oak or rock, it inheres in the mind of the people living in the state.”
Thus for Plato Athens cannot become virtuous state, until and unless its citizens are virtuous. According to him, ‘temperance / self-control’ is also a virtue. Even Pandit Nehru held “Who will survive, if India dies?”
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Theory of Education
The theory of education is linked to his theory of justice. In Just state, everyone is to perform the task according to his natural aptitude / spiritual qualities of the soul. And to find the spiritual qualities, Plato devised a system of education. In his system of education there is a process of filtration.
Plato’s concept of class is also different from Indian concept of caste. Caste was hereditary i.e. based on birth. Class is based on worth. Plato’s class can be compared with Indian concept of Varna.
Source of Influence.
Plato has observed the system of education found in Athens, also observed the system of education found in Sparta. He combines good features of both the systems.
1] Education was privatized which means only rich could afford, Plato did not liked the system. He was very much impressed by the system found in Sparta. i.e. State sponsored system / Universal education.
2] According to Plato, state is essentially Pedagogic which means imparting education is one of the most important functions of the state. Education is the primary means of socialization. If state wants obedient citizens, education system plays the critical role.
3] In Athens only males were allowed to get educated, whereas women were deprived from the education. On the other hand, there was no discrimination against women in Sparta. This characteristic of Sparta was also liked by Plato.
4] In Athens there was neglect of military education whereas in Sparta, all citizens received military education. Plato appreciated the compulsory military education.
5] In Athens there was emphasis on the study of Mathematics, Logic which develops the rational faculties of mind. Plato incorporated it in his scheme.
6] In Athens there was no control of State over education. i.e. What is being taught to the citizens, on the other hand there was a strict control by the state (Censorship in Sparta). Plato does not approve they system of Athens and believes that there should be the strict control and watch over what is to be taught.
Plato’s scheme of education.
He gives very elaborate scheme of education. He has emphasized on the development of all the components of the personality. i.e. Mental, Physical and Spiritual. He emphasized on both – the theoretical and practical education.
1st Stage: Primary Education (Zero to Six years)
First gymnastics, for physical development. Music for mental development. Moral stories for character building.
2nd Stage: Secondary Education (Six to Twenty Years)
All general subjects, History, Geo, Physical Military education.
1st filtration. At the age of 20.
Of those who pass the test i.e. Show capacity to study further will be promoted, rest will join the producer class.
1st Stage: 20 to 30 Age.
The level of subjects will increase. Focus will be on Mathematics, Geometry, Literature.
Those who show the aptitude for further learning will be promoted, and the rest will join soldier class.
2nd Stage: 30 to 35 years.
In this stage dialectics will be taught.
3rd Stage: 35 to 50 years.
Fifteen years of practical training. Thus at the age of 50, person becomes eligible for becoming the ruler.
Many philosophers will be produced, at the same time.
How to select who will be Philosopher King or Queen.
According to Plato, philosopher has no lust for power. He has love for knowledge. Philosophers will be reluctant to govern or rule, hence people will request them to accept the duty as a part of obligation towards the state. Hence for the limited period, they will accept the responsibility one by one. Philosophers are sacrificing their love for Knowledge for the sake of the duty towards the state. Philosopher king is a symbol of knowledge and sacrifice. In the words of Plato, “Those states are best governed where rulers are reluctant to govern(man of reason because he understands that money and power is not the source of good life), rather than the states where rulers are eager to govern.(Those who are men of appetite, those who have lust for power and money.)”
“Those states are best governed where rulers are reluctant to govern.”
This statement is serves as a justification for the institution of Philosopher king. Athens was in bad shape and Plato believed that the ignorance of ruling class was responsible.
Philosopher King is a symbol of knowledge and sacrifice. He has gone through the 50 years of education and has proven capacity of reason. Since he is a man of reason, he will be able to do justice. He will not run after worldly pleasures rather try to achieve the good life. He will have least motivation to misuse his power and authority.
Hence Plato suggests that “those states are best governed where rulers are reluctant to govern.”
Plato’s diagnosis is correct but prescription is not right. One of the major flaw of Plato is he ignores human psychology. It is true that those who are eager to come to power may have lust for power and money, but the solution cannot be worse than the disease. It is proven fact that person cannot perform any task well for longer duration if he or she does not have interest in his work. We can think of some other legal, institutional measures to deal with the corruption of the ruling class.
Theory of Communism
“If education is the primary machinery, to create the ideal state, communism is the supplementary machinery.”
Plato’s communism is rejection of private ownership and support for common ownership. He suggests communism of property, communism of family, marriage and wives.
He proposed communism to tackle the problem of corruption. Communism is a supplementary or secondary mechanism to address corruption. Education is the primary mechanism. He believes that if ruling class are men of reason, they will understand what constitutes good life, they understand that money and power is not the source of good life.
He proposes communism as a additional safeguard, he does not want to take any chance though he primarily relies on the reason of the ruling class but he believes that even philosopher is a human being.
The soul of all human beings have three elements. Reason, Courage and Appetite. Though philosopher is a man of reason, yet he has appetite too. There is always a possibility that in a particular situation his appetite may dominate over his reason. Plato does not want to take any chance. (Wants to avoid even the slightest of possibility of the ruler getting corrupt.)
Features of Plato’s communism
It is meant only for the guardian class. Ruler & Soldier class (Auxiliaries). Because they have power, they can go corrupt. Communism for producer class is neither possible nor required. They are men of appetite, and hence they cannot control their desires. Also because they are not in power, they will not have opportunity to be corrupt.
The guardian class will not be allowed to own private property.
And no right to have private family. According to Plato, family is a bigger evil. It is for family that people go for earning money by unfair means. Family not only leads to corruption, it also leads to nepotism. Marriage will be controlled by the state. Who will marry whom will be decided by the state. Every person will not be allowed to marry, state will decide. Only ablest of Athenian men and ablest of Athenian women will be allowed (eugenic purpose). He wants to create the best race.
Once the child is born, after few months, will be taken in the custody of the state. It will tackle nepotism. Ruler will not be able to identify who is his child thus he will treat all children as his child. It will also lead to liberation of women. Women are unable to perform their duties towards the state or play role in the affairs of the state because they are absorbed in the affairs of the family and taking care of child.
Critical Evaluation of Plato’s Communism by Aristotle
Aristotle is not only the greatest disciple of Plato, he is also the greatest critic of Plato.
|Perfectionist, wants to create an ideal state.||Believes is the principle of “golden mean” / Moderation. He does not talk about best state, rather best practicable state// Ethics In the views of Aristotle, one should not sacrifice good for the sake of best. The reason is, best is unachievable.|
|Plato is Extremist, Radical, Goes for extreme solutions. e.g. To tackle corruption, he suggests abolishment of private property.||Aristotle is conservative. He wants to preserve the institutions, customs and traditions. He prefers to rely on the collective wisdom of ages rather wisdom of one person.|
According to Aristotle, it is true that property leads to the corruption, but property also has many constructive implications. Property is a source of motivation. It gives sense of achievement. Those who own property are men of reason. Those who have property will prefer stability. Property is itself a virtue, property is a source of charity. Hence Aristotle suggests that it would not be a good idea to deprive ourselves from the virtues of property.
He very strongly disapproves Plato’s theory of communism of family. Plato’s ideas are not progressive, rather taking us back to the barbaric ages. It is true that family leads to nepotism, but as a institution family has lot of importance for the society as well as person. Family is source of emotional stability.
Thus Aristotle has criticized Plato’s suggestions, considering the remedies as worse than the disease itself.
Plato’s communism vs Modern communism.
|Plato’s Communism||Modern Communism|
|Associated with Plato||Modern communism is associated with the ideas of Karl Marx.|
|Plato is idealist||Marx is materialist.|
|Plato wants to create an Ideal State and believes in the supremacy of the state.||Marx considers state as an instrument of exploitation, wants to end the state.|
|Plato expect citizens to sacrifice their interests for the sake of the state.||Marx calls for revolution against the state.|
|Plato divides the state into three classes||Marx wants to abolish classes.|
|Nowhere Plato supports violence.||Marx is a supporter of Violence.|
|Plato considers Idea as the ultimate reality.||Marx considers ideas as ‘false consciousness.’|
|Plato proposes communism even in regard to wives and family.||Karl Marx talks communism only in terms of means of production i.e. economic terms.|
|Both believed that private property is an evil. Both give the concept of class.|
|Similarities between Plato and Marx are very few and superficial. Whereas the differences are fundamental.|
Conclusion: Thus the similarities are superficial and differences are fundamental.
Theory of Philosopher King.
“For no law or ordinance is mightier than knowledge.” – Plato [ Ordinance: public opinion in this context. ]
Athens was in bad shape because it was ruled by the ignorant. Hence Plato’s solution is rule of knowledge. Philosopher is a symbol of knowledge and sacrifice. He has proven abilities. Philosopher King will have absolute powers. There are no limitations on his power of either public opinion or law.
However Plato does prescribe one limitation. Philosopher King can take any decision without considering law or public opinion, but he cannot change the constitution of the republic.
He need not to be concerned about the public opinion or the book of laws. Philosopher King is a man of reason, he is a symbol of sacrifice. It will be foolish to question his wisdom. In Plato’s words “It will be foolish to limit the expert practitioner of medicine with the book of medicine.”
“Law is a reason without passion.” Aristotle has justified the rule of law over the rule of person. According to Aristotle, not only law and reason are same, but rule of law has many advantages over the rule of person.
In reality it will be almost impossible to find the ‘Philosopher King.’ Philosopher King is a utopia, in reality it will become the rule of tyranny. Wisdom of many is preferable over the wisdom of one person. Law represents the collective wisdom of ages. It is true that rule of law may have some limitations, law may be rigid or it may be silent in some situations.
However for Aristotle, “one should not sacrifice good for the sake of best because best is unachievable.”
Plato himself modified his views, in the light of the criticism of Aristotle. In his book ‘The Laws’, Plato reestablished the rule of law. Hence it is said that Aristotle’s ideal state (Rule of Law) is Plato’s second best state.
We should acknowledge the wisdom of the makers of the constitution in India, who did not approve the rule of person over the rule of law. There are many other developing countries where the rule of person has been given importance over the ‘rule of law.’ e.g. Iran. The supreme leader of Iran, can be compared with Plato’s Philosopher King. The rule of a person has ultimately resulted into a sort of dictatorship.
Assessment of Plato
Plato is an enemy of Open Society.
Open society means democratic society. Karl Popper in his book “Open Society and its Enemies.” calls Plato, Hegel and Karl Marx as enemies of open society. In the Vol 1 of his book, he has shown that Plato’s theories have the dangerous tendencies towards totalitarianism. He believes that Plato’s readers have been under ‘Spell of Plato’. He ca lls Plato as “Enemy of Open Society” on the basis of three arguments.
Essentialism is linked to Plato’s ‘theory of ideas.’ Plato has established that idea/essence form absolute reality. He made us to believe that essence is supreme knowledge, he disregards the reality of this world. He divorced us from the reality and forced us to think about some reality, which is beyond the understanding of common man.
Plato does not give importance to the individual, sacrifices individual in the name of collectivity.
Historicism means ideological use of history. Presenting history in the manner which serves political purpose. Plato has given the life cycle of a ideal state. Ideal state will decay into the rule of the soldier class. (timocracy) which will decay into the rule of rich. (Aristocracy). Thus Plato suggests that to prevent the decay, there is a necessity of the rigid and strong control of the philosopher king.
All the totalitarian leaders reflect above ideas. e.g. they establish the primacy of state/nation/race over individual. To justify their rule, they rely on the creation of myths, presenting myths as ultimate reality. They give the law of decay and suggest that if people do not want decay or postpone decay, they will have to make sacrifices.
Plato as first Feminist.
Feminists are those who demand gender equality and gender justice.
Despite coming from a highly patriarchal society, Plato never believed that women suffer from any natural disabilities either in field of education or in the field of governance. He gives equality of opportunity to women. His scheme of communism where state takes the custody of the child, also has liberating influence on women.
Whether Plato was first feminist or not, remains a matter of debate, those who think that Plato cannot be regarded as feminist believe that, for feminists, the main objective is liberation of women. Liberation of women was not the primary aim of Plato. He aimed to make women free so that their talent can be utilized in the service of the state.
Though it will remain a matter of debate, whether to call Plato as first feminist but we can ignore that Plato was the first person in the western world to recognize that women do not suffer from any natural disability. He even gives the idea of the philosopher queens, which itself is a very revolutionary idea.
Plato is father of political philosophy.
Plato is philosophy, philosophy is Plato.
The entire western political philosophy is nothing but footnotes to Plato and Aristotle.
“One can be either Platonic, or anti-Platonic, but can never be non-platonic.” (You can either like Plato or dislike him, but cannot ignore him.) – Karl Popper.
Above statements show the importance of Plato in the tradition of western philosophy. Plato is known as the father of political philosophy. On the basis of Socrates’ theory of Knowledge, Plato has developed his ‘theory of idea’. Thus he lead the foundation of the systematic study of ideas. Plato was the first person to give the idea of the ideal state. He wanted to show how our life will be if we can establish the ideal state. He has discussed the ideals of the ruling class. He has shown that the knowledge of philosophy is not just for the benefit of the philosopher, it is to be used in the service of humanity. Besides political philosophy he has also given an elaborate scheme of education. Plato’s republic is not only masterpiece in political philosophy, it is recognized as one of the best books written in the field of education also. Plato’s greatness is acknowledged not only by his supporters but even by his opponents. Karl Popper who is one of the greatest critic of Plato, has acknowledged influence of Plato. According to Popper, “One can be either Platonic…” Thus he shows that the influence of Plato’s ideas is such, that we can either like him or dislike him, but it is not possible to ignore him.