Philosophical Foundation of Aristotle’s Political Theory – Essay

Aristotle criticised Plato’s state as an artificial creation, built successively in three stages with producers coming first and thereafter followed by the auxiliaries and the rulers. As an architect, Plato built the state. Aristotle, on the contrary, regarded the state as a natural organisation, the result of growth and evolution.

He says that if the numerous forms of the society before society were natural, so was natural the state as well. With Plato, Aristotle does recognise the importance of the state for the individual, and also, like Plato, considers the state like a human organism, but unlike him, he does not think of the state as a unity. For Aristotle, the state was a unity in diversity.

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Aristotle did not agree with Plato on the notion of justice, for he, unlike Plato, found justice more in the realms of enjoying one’s rights rather than performing one’s duties. For Aristotle, justice was a practical activity virtue and not doing things in accordance with one’s nature.

Plato’s justice was ethical in nature while that of Aristotle it was juridical or more specifically, legal in nature. Plato’s justice was, as Aristotle believed, incomplete in so far as it dealt predominantly with duties, and more or less ignored rights.

In other words, Aristotle labelled Plato’s justice as moral in nature since it gave primacy to the performance of one’s duties.

Aristotle did not approve of the three classes of Plato’s ideal state, especially the guardians having the political power with them. He disagreed with the idea of one class (guardians consisting of the rulers and the auxiliaries) enjoying all power of the state.

The failure to allow circulation, says David Young, “between classes excludes those men who may be ambitious, and wise, but are not in the right class of society to hold any type of political power.” Aristotle, he continues, looks upon this ruling class system as an ill-conceived political structure. Plato, in his Republic did not consider laws as important.

He was of the opinion that where the rulers were virtuous, there was no need of laws, and where they are not, there the laws were useless. Aristotle realised the significance of laws and held the view that rule of law was any day better than the rule of men, howsoever wise those rules might be. Even Plato realised the utility of laws and revised his position in his Laws.

Aristotle doubted if Plato’s community of wives and property would help produce the desired unity. Rather, he regards these devices as impracticable for communism of property created conflicts while that of the family led to a system where love and discipline within the family would evaporate.

By providing communistic devices, Plato, Aristotle felt, had punished the guardians and deprived them of intrinsic love among the members of the family. Plato’s communism created a family of the state which, according to Aristotle, led to a point where the state ceases to be a state. Sabine says: “A family is one thing and a state is something different, and it is better that one should not try to ape the other.”

Aristotle’s criticism of Plato, violent as it is at times on grounds mentioned herein, is a matter of fact. But there is the other fact as well and that is that there is a Plato in ‘Aristotle. Foster says: “Aristotle the greatest of all Platonists that he is. Is permeated by Platonism to a degree in which perhaps no great philosopher besides him has been permeated by the thought of another.” Every page which Aristotle writes bears the imprint of Plato.

In fact, Aristotle begins from where Plato ends up. “The ideas, expressed by Plato as suggestions, illusions or illustrations are taken up by Aristotle.” It would not be unfair if the pupil is thought to be an extension of the teacher.

Aristotle, instead of damaging Plato’s ideals, builds on them. Ross points out: “But of his (Aristotle’s) philosophical, in distinction from his scientific, works,-there is no page which does not bear the impress of Platonism”.

Both Plato and Aristotle, start with ideal, examine the actual and stop at the possible. There is, in each, a belief in natural inequality, in the dominance of reason over the passion, in the self-sufficing state as the only unit necessary for individual development.

Like his teacher Plato, Aristotle thinks that the ethical perfection of man is possible only in a state and that the interest of the state is the interest of those who constitute it.

Indeed, Aristotle’s criticism of Plato cannot be ignored, and in fact, he had no regrets on that count. Will Durant rightly says: “As Brutus (a character of Shakespeare ‘ulius Caesar) loves not Caesar less, but Rome more, so Aristotle says dear is Plato, but dearer still is truth.” So writes Ebenstein (Great Political thinkers): “Plato found the corrective to his thinking in his own student.”

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