Plato v. Aristotle Plato’s Ideal State



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Plato v. Aristotle

Plato’s Ideal State

In The Republic (360 B.C.E), one of the most important philosophical treatises of the ancient world, Plato describes the ideal aristocratic state and how rulers and citizens should behave in order to maintain a place where justice, wisdom, beauty, poetry and music would be exalted.

In Plato’s perfect place the philosophers rule. There is censorship, obedience to authority, death penalty and no exclusive relationship. Some might argue that it is impossible to be happy without freedom but Plato demonstrates that the true slavery is that of the spirit imprisoned by tyrant senses, and, only through a model of government which ensures that the imperfections of the physical existence do not dominate the soul’s will, can citizens attain true freedom and happiness.



Plato and the Aristocratic State

In Plato’s ideal state, there are three main classes – magistrates who rule the state selected from the guardian class, warriors (the "militaries"), and artisans (musicians, smiths, cooks, poets, etc.).

The guardian class is constituted of philosophers who are concerned with the moral values of the citizens and therefore, they are the ones who decide the principles of education, control the censorship of music and poetry and guarantee the prosperity of the state.

The leaders selected from the guardian class must be the most virtuous and compromised with the morality of the citizens. Since they are philosophers, they can distinguish between people's real needs and people's illusory needs, which often corrupts the soul, thereby leading to immorality and unhappiness. So, the main role of the guardian class is to make sure all citizens grow spiritually and morally. Because of that, there must be death penalty for the citizens who infringe upon certain laws and censorship of certain kind of music and poetry.

The "militaries" cannot have any possessions and all their needs must be provided by the fellow citizens. They are warriors who obey the rulers and protect the state. Finally, the artisan class must subject to the upper classes, knowing that every law and every rule is projected only to make them virtuous, and, therefore, happy. For Plato, there's no happiness without moral virtues.
Women and Children in Plato's Ideal State

Women, according to Plato, are equal to men and can do the same things as men, so, they should also work to serve the population. Men and women reproduce but do not get married or live together as there can be no exclusive relationships – all women belong equally to all men, who, in turn, also belong to all women.

The children are raised by slaves in the first years and educated by the state according to their natural skills. So, if a child demonstrates ability for combats, for instance, he or she must be educated to become a warrior, and if a child is sensible for music, he or she must be educated to become a musician and so on.

According to Plato, marriage and family ties are harmful because citizens become attached only to a certain group of people — their biological families — instead of regarding the whole community as a large family. If there are no family ties, people will work to serve the whole community, in which their biological families are also included. The artisan class, however, is allowed to maintain family ties.


Music, Arts, Literature and Poetry

Music and arts were very important to Plato. In Plato’s perfect world, every person is educated to appreciate music and contemplate arts. Plato argued that some kinds of music and poetry should be censored and only those which speak of the good actions of the heroes could be appreciated. Music, literature and poetry which blame the gods for all bad things that happen have to be banned, so that people know they are responsible for their actions.

Words like "hell" or "purgatory" to describe Hades, the mythological underworld, are completely extinguished from the vocabulary as the afterlife is to be understood as a transitory state of mind that emerges from a person’s consciousness after death. It's not viewed as a physical place that should be feared.

The Importance of Gymnastics

According to Plato, gymnastics are important to perfect the body, which is a tool to bring the ideas to life. A weak body cannot serve the state, so, for Plato, gymnastics has to be a part of every citizen’s education.

A virtuous soul without a strong body makes a fragile man, just as a strong body without a virtuous soul makes a fool. Beautiful bodies remind the soul of its origins and therefore, inspire people to search for eternity and completeness, as explained through the concept of Platonic love.

Plato's Perfect World

Sometimes it is hard to understand Plato's concept of the ideal state because today's society is not based on virtues, but money. The ultimate goal of the capitalist world is not to grow spiritually and produce a community of virtuous citizens, but to make people materially richer (sometimes at the expense of others!).

So, the Platonic state can only be understood if one abandons the materialistic view of the world and embraces the philosophy which says that the physical world is transitory and the purpose of life is to perfect the soul. Without this thinking, the Platonic state becomes just another absolutist nation.

Aristotle on Politics

Aristotle (384  322 BC) was a disciple of Plato in the Athen's Academy but founded his own center of studies in 336 BC  the Lyceum  which gave birth to the Peripatetic School. Such was his greatness as a thinker, that he was called by Philip II of Macedon to be the tutor of Alexander the Great.

Unlike his master, who philosophized about the world of the ideas, Aristotle focused on the practical aspects of life and his political treatise, The Politics, remains until today, one of the most important theories studied in Political Science.



Zoon Politikon – Man is a Political Animal

Zoon politikon is an expression used by Aristotle to define men's nature – man is a political animal. According to Aristotle, politics is the only way that can lead men to excellence when it comes to community life.

Among animals, only men can articulate language in order to determine the just and unjust, the good and the evil, act according to moral and intellectual principles, and therefore, politics is a human property.

Aristotle on Happiness

Aristotle said that the whole precedes the part or the society precedes the individuals. It means that the political institution is not a result of human creation, but humans are a product of the society. Although some animals gather in communities for instinctive reasons, in order to satisfy their needs such as protection, reproduction, food, etc; men also need the community to fulfill their potentials as a well organized society will provide conditions for its members to develop moral, intellectual and physical virtues, without which people cannot reach their ideal as humans.

So, from this perspective, what is considered good for one person has to be also good for the whole community as the common wellness will, in all cases, provoke individual wellness as well, creating a perfect system of social harmony  there is no individual happiness without public happiness. The objective of politics, according to Aristotle, is to provide the best ways to guarantee people's happiness.

Aristotle's theory says that some people cannot govern themselves and therefore, they need someone to govern for them, these people are slaves by nature and should work to the free men — warriors (militaries), priests and magistrates — the only ones who can exercise citizenship and become virtuous.



It's important to point out that the concept of slavery in ancient times was quite different from what is considered slavery today. Slaves had the right to medical care, sheltering and even retirement, and being a slave was not necessarily a pejorative thing, as slaves were often given important tasks such as tutoring the children. Aristotle understood that in every society, it is natural that some people are slaves Slaves need the master and the master need the slaves, so it is a fair deal for both parts. When all component of a family (constituted by father, mother, children, free men and slaves) are acting according to their nature, then each one of them is happy and the whole is harmonious. This same principle can be applied to the society. Aristotle's perfect society, then, is that which allows all its members to be happy by providing the ways through which all people can exercise the potentials that correspond to their nature

Which philosopher’s “Ideal” State would you prefer to live in? Explain why? - 350 words


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