Plato vs. Aristotle


Plato and Aristotle, two philosophers in the 4th century, hold polar
views on politics and philosophy in general. This fact is very cleverly
illustrated by Raphael\'s "School of Athens" (1510-11; Stanza della Segnatura,
Vatican), where Plato is portrayed looking up to the higher forms; and Aristotle
is pointing down because he supports the natural sciences. In a discussion of
politics, the stand point of each philosopher becomes an essential factor. It
is not coincidental that Plato states in The Republic that Philosopher Rulers
who possess knowledge of the good should be the governors in a city state. His
strong interest in metaphysics is demonstrated in The Republic various times:
for example, the similes of the cave, the sun, and the line, and his theory of
the forms. Because he is so involved in metaphysics, his views on politics are
more theoretical as opposed to actual. Aristotle, contrarily, holds the view
that politics is the art of ruling and being ruled in turn. In The Politics,
he attempts to outline a way of governing that would be ideal for an actual
state. Balance is a main word in discussing Aristotle because he believes it is
the necessary element to creating a stable government. His less metaphysical
approach to politics makes Aristotle more in tune with the modern world, yet he
is far from modern.
Plato\'s concept of what politics and government should be is a direct
result of his belief in the theory of forms. The theory of forms basically
states that there is a higher "form" for everything that exists in the world.
Each material thing is simply a representation of the real thing which is the
form. According to Plato, most people cannot see the forms, they only see their
representation or their shadows, as in the simile of the cave. Only those who
love knowledge and contemplate on the reality of things will achieve
understanding of the forms. Philosophers, who by definition are knowledge
lovers, are the only beings who can reach true knowledge. This concept has to
be taken a step further because in The Republic, Plato states that philosophers
should be the rulers since they are the only ones who hold the form of the good.
Plato seems to be saying that it is not enough to know the forms of tables or
trees, one must know the greatest form--form of the good--in order to rule. The
reasoning is: if you know the good, then you will do the good. Therefore,
philosopher rulers are by far the most apt to rule.
In The Republic, Plato builds around the idea of Philosopher Rulers.
Even though it is not his primary point, it certainly is at the core of his
discussion of the ideal state. The question that arises is, \'Why do you need
ideal states which will have philosophers as rulers?\' There are many layers to
the answer of this question. The first thing is that a state cannot be ideal
without having philosophers as rulers. This answer leads to the question, \'Then
why do you need ideal states to begin with?\' The Republic starts with a
discussion of Justice which leads to the creation of the ideal state. The
reason why an ideal state is needed is to guarantee the existence of Justice.
This does not mean, though, that there cannot be states without Justice.
Actually, Plato provides at least two reasons why the formation of a state
cannot be avoided. These are: 1. human beings are not self-sufficient so they
need to live in a social environment, and 2. each person has a natural aptitude
for a specified task and should concentrate on developing it (The Republic, pp
56-62). Although a person is not self-sufficient, a composition of people--a
state--satisfies the needs of all its members. Furthermore, members can
specialize on their natural fortitudes and become more productive members of
society.
States are going to form, whether purposefully or coincidentally. For
this reason, certain rules have to be enacted for the well-being of the state.
The main way to institutionalize rules is through government and in the form of
laws. Plato\'s The Republic is not an explication of laws of the people. It is a
separation of power amongst three classes--Rulers, Auxiliaries, Commoners--that
makes the most of each person\'s natural abilities and strives for the good of
the community. The point is to create a harmonious unity amongst the three
classes which will lead to the greater good of the community and, consequently,
each individual.
The three classes are a product of different aptitude levels for certain
tasks amid various individuals. Plato assigns different political roles