"Relationship Between Law and Politics" by Dr. Miro Cerar
As he says in Nicomachean Ethics at b30, "The end [or goal] of politics is the best .. The community brings about virtue through education and through laws . He compares the individual's relationship with the city to the relationship of a. Although the Republic, the Statesman, the Laws and a few shorter dialogues are . there is a relationship between conceptual analysis and critical evaluation of beliefs. The goals of these conversations are not merely linguistic, to arrive at an . Here's a closer look at politics and law, why they're different, and is not a law but it will often identify new laws needed to achieve its goals.
Put simply, these kinds of knowledge are distinguished by their aims: The productive and practical sciences, in contrast, address our daily needs as human beings, and have to do with things that can and do change.
Productive knowledge means, roughly, know-how; the knowledge of how to make a table or a house or a pair of shoes or how to write a tragedy would be examples of this kind of knowledge.
This entry is concerned with practical knowledge, which is the knowledge of how to live and act. According to Aristotle, it is the possession and use of practical knowledge that makes it possible to live a good life.
Ethics and politics, which are the practical sciences, deal with human beings as moral agents. Ethics is primarily about the actions of human beings as individuals, and politics is about the actions of human beings in communities, although it is important to remember that for Aristotle the two are closely linked and each influences the other.
The fact that ethics and politics are kinds of practical knowledge has several important consequences. First, it means that Aristotle believes that mere abstract knowledge of ethics and politics is worthless. Practical knowledge is only useful if we act on it; we must act appropriately if we are to be moral. Aristotle believes that women and slaves or at least those who are slaves by nature can never benefit from the study of politics, and also should not be allowed to participate in politics, about which more will be said later.
But there is also a limitation on political study based on age, as a result of the connection between politics and experience: Aristotle adds that young men will usually act on the basis of their emotions, rather than according to reason, and since acting on practical knowledge requires the use of reason, young men are unequipped to study politics for this reason too. So the study of politics will only be useful to those who have the experience and the mental discipline to benefit from it, and for Aristotle this would have been a relatively small percentage of the population of a city.
Even in Athens, the most democratic city in Greece, no more than 15 percent of the population was ever allowed the benefits of citizenship, including political participation.
Athenian citizenship was limited to adult males who were not slaves and who had one parent who was an Athenian citizen sometimes citizenship was further restricted to require both parents to be Athenian citizens. Aristotle does not think this percentage should be increased - if anything, it should be decreased.
Third, Aristotle distinguishes between practical and theoretical knowledge in terms of the level of precision that can be attained when studying them. Political and moral knowledge does not have the same degree of precision or certainty as mathematics. Therefore, in a discussion of such subjects, which has to start with a basis of this kind, we must be satisfied to indicate the truth with a rough and general sketch: However, the principles of geometry are fixed and unchanging.
The definition of a point, or a line, or a plane, can be given precisely, and once this definition is known, it is fixed and unchanging for everyone. However, the definition of something like justice can only be known generally; there is no fixed and unchanging definition that will always be correct. This means that unlike philosophers such as Hobbes and Kant, Aristotle does not and in fact cannot give us a fixed set of rules to be followed when ethical and political decisions must be made.
Instead he tries to make his students the kind of men who, when confronted with any particular ethical or political decision, will know the correct thing to do, will understand why it is the correct choice, and will choose to do it for that reason. Such a man will know the general rules to be followed, but will also know when and why to deviate from those rules. I will use "man" and "men" when referring to citizens so that the reader keeps in mind that Aristotle, and the Greeks generally, excluded women from political part icipation.
In fact it is not until the midth century that organized attempts to gain the right to vote for women really get underway, and even today in the 21st century there are still many countries which deny women the right to vote or participate in political life.
The Importance of Telos I have already noted the connection between ethics and politics in Aristotle's thought. A discussion of this concept and its importance will help the reader make sense of what follows. According to Aristotle, everything has a purpose or final end. If we want to understand what something is, it must be understood in terms of that end, which we can discover through careful study.
If you wanted to describe a knife, you would talk about its size, and its shape, and what it is made out of, among other things. But Aristotle believes that you would also, as part of your description, have to say that it is made to cut things. The knife's purpose, or reason for existing, is to cut things.
This is true not only of things made by humans, but of plants and animals as well. Suppose you were to describe an animal, like a thoroughbred foal. You would talk about its size, say it has four legs and hair, and a tail. Eventually you would say that it is meant to run fast.
This is the horse's telos, or purpose. If nothing thwarts that purpose, the young horse will indeed become a fast runner. What is it that human beings are meant by nature to become in the way that knives are meant to cut, acorns are meant to become oak trees, and thoroughbred ponies are meant to become race horses?
According to Aristotle, we are meant to become happy. This is nice to hear, although it isn't all that useful. After all, people find happiness in many different ways. However, Aristotle says that living happily requires living a life of virtue. Someone who is not living a life that is virtuous, or morally good, is also not living a happy life, no matter what they might think.
They are like a knife that will not cut, an oak tree that is diseased and stunted, or a racehorse that cannot run. In fact they are worse, since they have chosen the life they lead in a way that a knife or an acorn or a horse cannot. Someone who does live according to virtue, who chooses to do the right thing because it is the right thing to do, is living a life that flourishes; to borrow a phrase, they are being all that they can be by using all of their human capacities to their fullest.
Human beings alone have the ability to speak, and Aristotle says that we have been given that ability by nature so that we can speak and reason with each other to discover what is right and wrong, what is good and bad, and what is just and unjust. Note that human beings discover these things rather than creating them. We do not get to decide what is right and wrong, but we do get to decide whether we will do what is right or what is wrong, and this is the most important decision we make in life.
So too is the happy life: And this is an ongoing decision. It is not made once and for all, but must be made over and over again as we live our lives. Aristotle believes that it is not easy to be virtuous, and he knows that becoming virtuous can only happen under the right conditions. The community brings about virtue through education and through laws which prescribe certain actions and prohibit others.
And here we see the link between ethics and politics in a different light: Lawgivers make the citizens good by inculcating [good] habits in them, and this is the aim of every lawgiver; if he does not succeed in doing that, his legislation is a failure.
It is in this that a good constitution differs from a bad one. The translation we will use is that of Carnes Lord, which can be found in the list of suggested readings. This discussion is by no means complete; there is much of interest and value in Aristotle's political writings that will not be considered here. Again, the reader is encouraged to investigate the list of suggested readings.
However, the main topics and problems of Aristotle's work will be included. The Politics, Book I a. Doing so requires him to explain the purpose of the city. Aristotle says that "It is clear that all partnerships aim at some good, and that the partnership that is most authoritative of all and embraces all the others does so particularly, and aims at the most authoritative good of all. This is what is called the city or the political partnership" a3 See also III. In Greece in Aristotle's time the important political entities were cities, which controlled surrounding territories that were farmed.
It is important to remember that the city was not subordinate to a state or nation, the way that cities are today; it was sovereign over the territory that it controlled. Notice that Aristotle does not define the political community in the way that we generally would, by the laws that it follows or by the group that holds power or as an entity controlling a particular territory.
Instead he defines it as a partnership. The citizens of a political community are partners, and as with any other partnership they pursue a common good. In the case of the city it is the most authoritative or highest good. The most authoritative and highest good of all, for Aristotle, is the virtue and happiness of the citizens, and the purpose of the city is to make it possible for the citizens to achieve this virtue and happiness.
When discussing the ideal city, he says "[A] city is excellent, at any rate, by its citizens' - those sharing in the regime — being excellent; and in our case all the citizens share in the regime" a Indeed, it is the shared pursuit of virtue that makes a city a city. Certainly almost everyone wants to see law-abiding citizens, but it is questionable that changing the citizens' character or making them morally good is part of what government should do.
Doing so would require far more governmental control over citizens than most people in Western societies are willing to allow. Having seen Aristotle's definition of the city and its purpose, we then get an example of Aristotle's usual method of discussing political topics. These opinions the Greek word isendoxahowever, are not completely true. They must be systematically examined and modified by scholars of politics before the truths that are part of these opinions are revealed.
Because Aristotle uses this method of examining the opinions of others to arrive at truth, the reader must be careful to pay attention to whether a particular argument or belief is Aristotle's or not. In many cases he is setting out an argument in order to challenge it. It can be difficult to tell when Aristotle is arguing in his own voice and when he is considering the opinions of others, but the reader must carefully make this distinction if they are to understand Aristotle's teachings.
It has also been suggested that Aristotle's method should be seen as an example of how political discussion ought to be conducted: In this case, Aristotle takes up the popular opinion that political rule is really the same as other kinds of rule: This opinion, he says, is mistaken.
The Policy and law making process
In fact, each of these kinds of rule is different. To see why, we must consider how the city comes into being, and it is to this that Aristotle next turns in Book I, Chapter 2. The first partnerships among human beings would have been between "persons who cannot exist without one another" a There are two pairs of people for whom this is the case. One pair is that of male and female, for the sake of reproduction. This seems reasonable enough to the modern reader. The other pair, however, is that of "the naturally ruling and ruled, on account of preservation" a Here Aristotle is referring to slavery.
By "preservation" he means that the naturally ruling master and naturally ruled slave need each other if they are to preserve themselves; slavery is a kind of partnership which benefits both master and slave.
We will see how later. For now, he simply says that these pairs of people come together and form a household, which exists for the purpose of meeting the needs of daily life such as food, shelter, clothing, and so forth. The family is only large enough to provide for the bare necessities of life, sustaining its members' lives and allowing for the reproduction of the species. Over time, the family expands, and as it does it will come into contact with other families. Eventually a number of such families combine and form a village.
Villages are better than families because they are more self-sufficient. Because villages are larger than families, people can specialize in a wider array of tasks and can develop skills in things like cooking, medicine, building, soldiering, and so forth which they could not develop in a smaller group.
So the residents of a village will live more comfortable lives, with access to more goods and services, than those who only live in families.
The significant change in human communities, however, comes when a number of villages combine to form a city.
A city is not just a big village, but is fundamentally different: It reaches a level of full self-sufficiency, so to speak; and while coming into being for the sake of living, it exists for the sake of living well" b Although the founders of cities create them for the sake of more comfortable lives, cities are unique in making it possible for people to live well.
Today we tend to think of "living well" as living a life of comfort, family satisfaction, and professional success, surrounded by nice things. But this is not what Aristotle means by "living well". His particular concern is with the free men who are citizens. Humans are not capable of becoming gods, but they are capable of becoming beasts, and in fact the worst kind of beasts: Outside of the context of life in a properly constructed city, human happiness and well-being is impossible.
There is therefore a sense in which the city "is prior by nature to the household and to each of us" a He compares the individual's relationship with the city to the relationship of a part of the body to the whole body. The destruction of the whole body would also mean the destruction of each of its parts; "if the whole [body] is destroyed there will not be a foot or a hand" a And just as a hand is not able to survive without being attached to a functioning body, so too an individual cannot survive without being attached to a city.
Presumably Aristotle also means to imply that the reverse is not true; a body can survive the loss of a foot or a hand, although not without consequence. If the history that he has described is correct, Aristotle points out, then the city is natural, and not purely an artificial human construction, since we have established that the first partnerships which make up the family are driven by natural impulses: For the city is their end….
From the very first partnerships of male and female and master and slave, nature has been aiming at the creation of cities, because cities are necessary for human beings to express their capacities and virtues at their best, thus fulfilling their potential and moving towards such perfection as is possible for human beings.
While most people today would not agree that nature has a plan for individual human beings, a particular community, or humanity as a whole although many people would ascribe such a plan to a god or godsAristotle believes that nature does indeed have such a plan, and human beings have unique attributes that when properly used make it possible for us to fulfill that plan. What are those attributes? Man, the Political Animal That man is much more a political animal than any kind of bee or any herd animal is clear.
For, as we assert, nature does nothing in vain, and man alone among the animals has speech For it is peculiar to man as compared to the other animals that he alone has a perception of good and bad and just and unjust and other things of this sort; and partnership in these things is what makes a household and a city a8.
Like bees and herd animals, human beings live together in groups. Unlike bees or herd animals, humans have the capacity for speech - or, in the Greek, logos. Here the linkage between speech and reason is clear: This knowledge makes it possible for human beings to live together, and at the same time makes it possible for us to pursue justice as part of the virtuous lives we are meant to live.
Other animals living in groups, such as bees, goats, and cows, do not have the ability to speak or to reason as Aristotle uses those terms.
Of course, they do not need this ability. They are able to live together without determining what is just and unjust or creating laws to enforce justice among themselves. Human beings, for better or worse, cannot do this. Although nature brings us together - we are by nature political animals — nature alone does not give us all of what we need to live together: And yet the one who first constituted [a city] is responsible for the greatest of goods" [a29].
We must figure out how to live together for ourselves through the use of reason and speech, discovering justice and creating laws that make it possible for human community to survive and for the individuals in it to live virtuous lives. A group of people that has done this is a city: For adjudication is an arrangement of the political partnership, and adjudication is judgment as to what is just" a And in discovering and living according to the right laws, acting with justice and exercising the virtues that allow human society to function, we make possible not only the success of the political community but also the flourishing of our own individual virtue and happiness.
Without the city and its justice, human beings are the worst of animals, just as we are the best when we are completed by the right kind of life in the city. And it is the pursuit of virtue rather than the pursuit of wealth or security or safety or military strength that is the most important element of a city: Slavery Having described the basic parts of the city, Aristotle returns in Chapter 3 of Book I to a discussion of the household, beginning with the matter of slavery, including the question of whether slavery is just and hence an acceptable institution or not.
This, for most contemporary readers is one of the two most offensive portions of Aristotle's moral and political thought the other is his treatment of women, about which more will be said below.
For most people today, of course, the answer to this is obvious: Although it is not widely known, there are still large numbers of people held in slavery throughout the world at the beginning of the 21st century. It is easy to believe that people in the "modern world" have put a great deal of moral distance between themselves and the less enlightened people in the past, but it is also easy to overestimate that distance.
In Aristotle's time most people - at least the ones that were not themselves slaves — would also have believed that this question had an obvious answer, if they had asked the question at all: Virtually every ancient Mediterranean culture had some form of the institution of slavery. Slaves were usually of two kinds: Aristotle himself says that the sort of war that involves hunting "those human beings who are naturally suited to be ruled but [are] unwilling…[is] by nature just" b What is more, the economies of the Greek city-states rested on slavery, and without slaves and women to do the productive labor, there could be no leisure for men to engage in more intellectual lifestyles.
The greatness of Athenian plays, architecture, sculpture, and philosophy could not have been achieved without the institution of slavery. Therefore, as a practical matter, regardless of the arguments for or against it, slavery was not going to be abolished in the Greek world.
This is not to excuse Aristotle or those of his time who supported slavery, but it should be kept in mind so as to give Aristotle a fair hearing. Before considering Aristotle's ultimate position on the justness of slavery - for who, and under what circumstances, slavery is appropriate — it must be pointed out that there is a great deal of disagreement about what that position is.
That Aristotle believes slavery to be just and good for both master and slave in some circumstances is undeniable. That he believes that some people who are currently enslaved are not being held in slavery according to justice is also undeniable this would apparently also mean that there are people who should be enslaved but currently are not. How we might tell which people belong in which group, and what Aristotle believes the consequences of his beliefs about slavery ought to be, are more difficult problems.
Remember that in his discussion of the household, Aristotle has said that slavery serves the interest of both the master and the slave.
Now he tells us why: For he is a slave by nature who is capable of belonging to another — which is also why he belongs to another — and who participates in reason only to the extent of perceiving it, but does not have it" b Those who are slaves by nature do not have the full ability to reason.
Obviously they are not completely helpless or unable to reason; in the case of slaves captured in war, for example, the slaves were able to sustain their lives into adulthood and organize themselves into military forces. They are incapable of fully governing their own lives, and require other people to tell them what to do.
Such people should be set to labor by the people who have the ability to reason fully and order their own lives. Labor is their proper use; Aristotle refers to slaves as "living tools" at I. Slaves get the guidance and instructions that they must have to live, and in return they provide the master with the benefits of their physical labor, not least of which is the free time that makes it possible for the master to engage in politics and philosophy.
One of the themes running through Aristotle's thought that most people would reject today is the idea that a life of labor is demeaning and degrading, so that those who must work for a living are not able to be as virtuous as those who do not have to do such work. Indeed, Aristotle says that when the master can do so he avoids labor even to the extent of avoiding the oversight of those who must engage in it: This would seem to legitimate slavery, and yet there are two significant problems.
First, Aristotle points out that although nature would like us to be able to differentiate between who is meant to be a slave and who is meant to be a master by making the difference in reasoning capacity visible in their outward appearances, it frequently does not do so. We cannot look at people's souls and distinguish those who are meant to rule from those who are meant to be ruled - and this will also cause problems when Aristotle turns to the question of who has a just claim to rule in the city.
Second, in Chapter Six, Aristotle points out that not everyone currently held in slavery is in fact a slave by nature. The argument that those who are captured in war are inferior in virtue cannot, as far as Aristotle is concerned, be sustained, and the idea that the children of slaves are meant to be slaves is also wrong: But while nature wishes to do this, it is often unable to" b3.
We are left with the position that while some people are indeed slaves by nature, and that slavery is good for them, it is extremely difficult to find out who these people are, and that therefore it is not the case that slavery is automatically just either for people taken in war or for children of slaves, though sometimes it is b In saying this, Aristotle was undermining the legitimacy of the two most significant sources of slaves.
If Aristotle's personal life is relevant, while he himself owned slaves, he was said to have freed them upon his death. In Chapter 8 of Book I Aristotle says that since we have been talking about household possessions such as slaves we might as well continue this discussion. The discussion turns to "expertise in household management.
Aristotle uses the discussion of household management to make a distinction between expertise in managing a household and expertise in business. The former, Aristotle says, is important both for the household and the city; we must have supplies available of the things that are necessary for life, such as food, clothing, and so forth, and because the household is natural so too is the science of household management, the job of which is to maintain the household.
The latter, however, is potentially dangerous. This, obviously, is another major difference between Aristotle and contemporary Western societies, which respect and admire business expertise, and encourage many of our citizens to acquire and develop such expertise. For Aristotle, however, expertise in business is not natural, but "arises rather through a certain experience and art" a5. It is on account of expertise in business that "there is held to be no limit to wealth and possessions" a1.
This is a problem because some people are led to pursue wealth without limit, and the choice of such a life, while superficially very attractive, does not lead to virtue and real happiness. It leads some people to "proceed on the supposition that they should either preserve or increase without limit their property in money.
The cause of this state is that they are serious about living, but not about living well; and since that desire of theirs is without limit, they also desire what is productive of unlimited things" b Aristotle does not entirely condemn wealth - it is necessary for maintaining the household and for providing the opportunity to develop one's virtue. But Aristotle strongly believes that we must not lose sight of the fact that wealth is to be pursued for the sake of living a virtuous life, which is what it means to live well, rather than for its own sake.
So at b1 he agrees with those who object to the lending of money for interest, upon which virtually the entire modern global economy is based. Someone who places primary importance on money and the bodily satisfactions that it can buy is not engaged in developing their virtue and has chosen a life which, however it may seem from the outside or to the person living it, is not a life of true happiness.
This is still another difference between Aristotle and contemporary Western societies. For many if not most people in such societies, the pursuit of wealth without limit is seen as not only acceptable but even admirable. At the same time, many people reject the emphasis Aristotle places on the importance of political participation. Many liberal democracies fail to get even half of their potential voters to cast a ballot at election time, and jury duty, especially in the United States, is often looked on as a burden and waste of time, rather than a necessary public service that citizens should willingly perform.
In Chapter 11, Aristotle notes that there is a lot more to be said about enterprise in business, but "to spend much time on such things is crude" b Aristotle believes that we ought to be more concerned with other matters; moneymaking is beneath the attention of the virtuous man. In this Aristotle is in agreement with the common opinion of Athenian aristocrats.
He concludes this discussion with a story about Thales the philosopher using his knowledge of astronomy to make a great deal of money, "thus showing how easy it is for philosophers to become wealthy if they so wish, but it is not this they are serious about" a Their intellectual powers, which could be turned to wealth, are being used in other, better ways to develop their humanity.
In the course of discussing the various ways of life open to human beings, Aristotle notes that "If, then, nature makes nothing that is incomplete or purposeless, nature must necessarily have made all of these [i. Though not a directly political statement, it does emphasize Aristotle's belief that there are many hierarchies in nature, as well as his belief that those who are lower in the natural hierarchy should be under the command of those who are higher.
Women In Chapter 12, after the discussion of business expertise has been completed, Aristotle returns to the subject of household rule, and takes up the question of the proper forms of rule over women and children. This means that it is natural for the male to rule: And just as with the rule of the master over the slave, the difference here is one of reason: There is a great deal of scholarly debate about what the phrase "lacks authority" means in this context.
Aristotle does not elaborate on it. This question cannot be settled here. I will simply point out the vicious circle in which women were trapped in ancient Greece and still are in many cultures.
The Greeks believed that women are inferior to men or at least those Greeks who wrote philosophy, plays, speeches, and so forth did. These people, of course, were all men. What Greek women thought of this belief is impossible to say.
This belief means that women are denied access to certain areas of life such as politics. Denying them access to these spheres means that they fail to develop the knowledge and skills to become proficient in them. This lack of knowledge and skills then becomes evidence to reinforce the original belief that they are inferior. What else does Aristotle have to say about the rule of men over women? He says that the rule of the male over the female and that of the father over children are different in form from the rule of masters over slaves.
Aristotle places the rule of male over female in the household in the context of the husband over the wife female children who had not yet been married would have been ruled by their father. Marriage for girls in Athens typically took place at the age of thirteen or fourteen. Aristotle says at a40 that the wife is to be ruled in political fashion. We have not yet seen what political rule looks like, but here Aristotle notes several of its important features, one of which is that it usually involves "alternation in ruling and being ruled" b2and another is that it involves rule among those who "tend by their nature to be on an equal footing and to differ in nothing" b5.
In this case, however, the husband does not alternate rule with the wife but instead always rules. Apparently the husband is to treat his wife as an equal to the degree that it is possible to do so, but must retain ultimate control over household decisions. Women have their own role in the household, preserving what the man acquires.
This is not the same as that of a man, but as with a man nature intends her to achieve virtues of the kind that are available to her: Unfortunately Aristotle has very little to say about what women's virtues look like, how they are to be achieved, or how women should be educated. But it is clear that Aristotle believes that as with the master's superiority to the slave, the man's superiority to a woman is dictated by nature and cannot be overcome by human laws, customs, or beliefs.
This is the case because both women and children "must necessarily be educated looking to the regime, at least if it makes any difference with a view to the city's being excellent that both its children and its women are excellent.
But it necessarily makes a difference…" a The reader should keep in mind that if the word "constitution" is used this does not mean a written constitution of the sort that most contemporary nation-states employ. All of these things depend on the group that holds political power in the city. For example, sometimes power is held by one man who rules in the interest of the city as a whole; this is the kind of regime called monarchy. If power is held by the wealthy who rule for their own benefit, then the regime is an oligarchy.
Biographical information about Plato is fairly scarce. The essence of the constitutional reform which Solon made in B. In the early part of the sixth century Athens was disturbed by a great tension between two parties: On the one hand, because of an economic crisis, many poorer Athenians were hopelessly falling into debt, and since their loans were often secured by their own persons, thousands of them were put into serfdom.
On the other hand, lured by easy profits from loans, the rich stood firmly in defense of private property and their ancient privileges. The partisan strife, which seemed inevitable, would make Athens even more weak economically and defenseless before external enemies. Appointed as a mediator in this conflict, Solon enacted laws prohibiting loans on the security of the person. He lowered the rate of interest, ordered the cancellation of all debts, and gave freedom to serfs.
He acted so moderately and impartially that he became unpopular with both parties. The rich felt hurt by the reform. The poor, unable to hold excess in check, demanded a complete redistribution of landed property and the dividing of it into equal shares. Nevertheless, despite these criticisms from both sides, Solon succeeded in gaining social peace. He introduced a system of checks and balances which would not favor any side, but took into consideration legitimate interests of all social groups.
In his position, he could easily have become the tyrant over the city, but he did not seek power for himself. After he completed his reform, he left Athens in order to see whether it would stand the test of time, and returned to his country only ten years later. Justice for Solon is not an arithmetical equality: For Plato, like for Solon, the starting point for the inquiry about the best political order is the fact of social diversity and conflicting interests, which involve the danger of civil strife.
The political community consists of different parts or social classes, such as the noble, the rich, and the poor, each representing different values, interests, and claims to rule. This gives rise to the controversy of who should rule the community, and what is the best political system. Peace for Plato is, unlike for Marxists and other radical thinkers, not a status quo notion, related to the interest of the privileged group, but a value that most people usually desire.
He does not stand for war and the victory of one class, but for peace in social diversity. Building on the pre-philosophical insights of Solon and his concept of balancing conflicting interests, in both the Republic and the Laws, Plato offers two different solutions to the same problem of social peace based on the equilibrium and harmonious union of different social classes. If in the Republic it is the main function of the political leadership of philosopher-rulers to make the civil strife cease, in the Laws this mediating function is taken over by laws.
The best political order for Plato is that which promotes social peace in the environment of cooperation and friendship among different social groups, each benefiting from and each adding to the common good.
The best form of government, which he advances in the Republic, is a philosophical aristocracy or monarchy, but that which he proposes in his last dialogue the Laws is a traditional polity: The distinct features of democracy are freedom and equality.
Democracy can be described as the rule of the free people who govern themselves, either directly or though their representatives, in their own interest. Why does Plato not consider democracy the best form of government? In the Republic he criticizes the direct and unchecked democracy of his time precisely because of its leading features aa. Firstly, although freedom is for Plato a true value, democracy involves the danger of excessive freedom, of doing as one likes, which leads to anarchy.
Secondly, equality, related to the belief that everyone has the right and equal capacity to rule, brings to politics all kinds of power-seeking individuals, motivated by personal gain rather than public good. Democracy is thus highly corruptible. It opens gates to demagogues, potential dictators, and can thus lead to tyranny. Democracy depends on chance and must be mixed with competent leadership b.
Without able and virtuous leaders, such as Solon or Pericles, who come and go by chance, it is not a good form of government. If ruling a state is a craft, indeed statecraft, Plato argues, then politics needs expert rulers, and they cannot come to it merely by accident, but must be carefully selected and prepared in the course of extensive training.
Making political decisions requires good judgment. Who then should the experts be and why? Why does Plato in the Republic decide to hand the steering wheel of the state to philosophers? In spite of the idealism with which he is usually associated, Plato is not politically naive.
He does not idealize, but is deeply pessimistic about human beings. Most people, corrupted as they are, are for him fundamentally irrational, driven by their appetites, egoistic passions, and informed by false beliefs.
If they choose to be just and obey laws, it is only because they lack the power to act criminally and are afraid of punishment Republic, a. Nevertheless, human beings are not vicious by nature.
They are social animals, incapable of living alone a-b. Living in communities and exchanging products of their labor is natural for them, so that they have capacities for rationality and goodness. Plato, as later Rousseau, believes that once political society is properly ordered, it can contribute to the restoration of morals.
Hence, there are in Plato such elements of the idealistic or liberal world view as the belief in education and progress, and a hope for a better future. The quality of human life can be improved if people learn to be rational and understand that their real interests lie in harmonious cooperation with one another, and not in war or partisan strife.
However, unlike Rousseau, Plato does not see the best social and political order in a democratic republic. Opinions overcome truth in everyday life. If philosophers are those who can distinguish between true and false beliefs, who love knowledge and are motivated by the common good, and finally if they are not only master-theoreticians, but also the master-practitioners who can heal the ills of their society, then they, and not democratically elected representatives, must be chosen as leaders and educators of the political community and guide it to proper ends.
They are required to counteract the destabilizing effects of false beliefs on society. In the ideal city there are provisions to minimize possible corruption, even among the good-loving philosophers. They can neither enjoy private property nor family life.
Although they are the rulers, they receive only a modest remuneration from the state, dine in common dining halls, and have wives and children in common. These provisions are necessary, Plato believes, because if the philosopher-rulers were to acquire private land, luxurious homes, and money themselves, they would soon become hostile masters of other citizens rather than their leaders and allies a-b.
The ideal city becomes a bad one, described as timocracy, precisely when the philosophers neglect music and physical exercise, and begin to gather wealth b. Initially chosen from among the brightest, most stable, and most courageous children, they go through a sophisticated and prolonged educational training which begins with gymnastics, music and mathematics, and ends with dialectic, military service and practical city management.
They have superior theoretical knowledge, including the knowledge of the just, noble, good and advantageous, but are not inferior to others in practical matters as well d, e. Being in the final stage of their education illuminated by the idea of the good, they are those who can see beyond changing empirical phenomena and reflect on such timeless values as justice, beauty, truth, and moderation b, b.
Goodness is not merely a theoretical idea for them, but the ultimate state of their mind. If the life of the philosopher-rulers is not of private property, family or wealth, nor even of honor, and if the intellectual life itself seems so attractive, why should they then agree to rule? Philosophical life, based on contemplative leisure and the pleasure of learning, is indeed better and happier than that of ruling the state d.
Plato assumes that a city in which the rulers do not govern out of desire for private gain, but are least motivated by personal ambition, is governed in the way which is the finest and freest from civil strife d. Philosophers will rule not only because they will be best prepared for this, but also because if they do not, the city will no longer be well governed and may fall prey to economic decline, factionalism, and civil war.
They will approach ruling not as something really enjoyable, but as something necessary c-d. Objections against the government of philosopher-rulers can be made. Firstly, because of the restrictions concerning family and private property, Plato is often accused of totalitarianism.
Especially in the Laws he makes clear that freedom is one of the main values of society d. Other values for which Plato stands include justice, friendship, wisdom, courage, and moderation, and not factionalism or terror that can be associated with a totalitarian state. The restrictions which he proposes are placed on the governors, rather than on the governed. Secondly, one can argue that there may obviously be a danger in the self-professed claim to rule of the philosophers.
Individuals may imagine themselves to be best qualified to govern a country, but in fact they may lose contact with political realities and not be good leaders at all. If philosopher-rulers did not have real knowledge of their city, they would be deprived of the essential credential that is required to make their rule legitimate, namely, that they alone know how best to govern.
As in a few other places in the dialogue, Plato throws his political innovation open to doubt. Their political authority is not only rational but also substantially moral, based on the consent of the governed. They regard justice as the most important and most essential thing e. A political order based on fairness leads to friendship and cooperation among different parts of the city. For Plato, as for Solon, government exists for the benefit of all citizens and all social classes, and must mediate between potentially conflicting interests.
Such a mediating force is exercised in the ideal city of the Republic by the philosopher-rulers. They are the guarantors of the political order that is encapsulated in the norm that regulates just relations of persons and classes within the city and is expressed by the phrase: In the ideal city all persons and social groups are given equal opportunities to be happy, that is, to pursue happiness, but not at the expense of others.
Their particular individual, group or class happiness is limited by the need of the happiness for all. The happiness of the whole city is not for Plato the happiness of an abstract unity called the polis, or the happiness of the greatest number, but rather the happiness of all citizens derived from a peaceful, harmonious, and cooperative union of different social classes.
The philosopher-rulers enjoy respect and contemplative leisure, but not wealth or honors; the guardian class, the second class in the city, military honors, but not leisure or wealth; and the producer class, family life, wealth, and freedom of enterprise, but not honors or rule. Then, the producers supply the city with goods; the guardians, defend it; and the philosophers, attuned to virtue and illuminated by goodness, rule it impartially for the common benefit of all citizens.
The three different social classes engage in mutually beneficial enterprise, by which the interests of all are best served. Social and economic differences, i. In the Platonic vision of the Republic, all social classes get to perform what they are best fit to do and are unified into a single community by mutual interests. In this sense, although each are different, they are all friends. In the Laws a similar statement is made again cand it is interpreted as the right of the strong, the winner in a political battle a.
The answer to the question of what is right and what is wrong can entirely determine our way of life, as individuals and communities.
Law and Political Science (TR020)
They, the wise and virtuous, free from faction and guided by the idea of the common good, should rule for the common benefit of the whole community, so that the city will not be internally divided by strife, but one in friendship Republic, a-b.
Then, in the Laws, the reign of the best individuals is replaced by the reign of the finest laws instituted by a judicious legislator c-d. The skeptic may believe that every adult is capable of exercising the power of self-direction, and should be given the opportunity to do so. He will be prepared to pay the costs of eventual mistakes and to endure an occasional civil unrest or even a limited war rather than be directed by anyone who may claim superior wisdom. In the short dialogue Alcibiades I, little studied today and thought by some scholars as not genuine, though held in great esteem by the Platonists of antiquity, Socrates speaks with Alcibiades.
The subject of their conversation is politics. Frequently referred to by Thucydides in the History of the Peloponnesian War, Alcibiades, the future leader of Athens, highly intelligent and ambitious, largely responsible for the Athenian invasion of Sicily, is at the time of conversation barely twenty years old. The young, handsome, and well-born Alcibiades of the dialogue is about to begin his political career and to address the Assembly for the first time a-b.
He plans to advise the Athenians on the subject of peace and war, or some other important affair d. His ambitions are indeed extraordinary. He does not want just to display his worth before the people of Athens and become their leader, but to rule over Europe and Asia as well c.
His dreams resemble that of the future Alexander the Great. His claim to rule is that he is the best. His world-view is based on unexamined opinions. He appears to be the worst type of ignorant person who pretends that he knows something but does not. Such ignorance in politics is the cause of mistakes and evils a. What is implied in the dialogue is that noble birth, beautiful looks, and even intelligence and power, without knowledge, do not give the title to rule.
Ignorance, the condition of Alcibiades, is also the condition of the great majority of the people b-c. Nevertheless, Socrates promises to guide Alcibiades, so that he becomes excellent and renowned among the Greeks b-c. He or she is perfect in virtue. The best government can be founded only on beautiful and well-ordered souls.
In a few dialogues, such as Phaedo, the Republic, Phaedrus, Timaeus, and the Laws, Plato introduces his doctrine of the immortality of the soul.