The Beliefs and Views on Philosophy of Plato & Aristotle

The role of philosophy is envisioned and refined throughout the works of both Plato and Aristotle, each of them coming to their own ideas on how philosophy should be utilized within the polis, and what an ideal polis would look like. Each comes up with completely different ideas of how the polis should be setup, run, and cared for, and at the same time keeping basic principles of the notion of philosophy intact, along with requirements of who may truly philosophize correctly. Also the idea of full circle justness from philosophy by the few is a key piece to Aristotle’s belief in philosophy coinciding with politics. To compare Plato’s views of philosophy and polis governmental structure to Aristotle’s, would show neither of them the respect they deserve. However one can delineate the differences and similarities between the mentor’s and the students’ thoughts and ideas, because they are the products of evolutionary political theory. The evolution of the thought process begins with Socrates and his teachings upon Plato, who takes these new ideas, interprets them and shapes them into his own beliefs. Plato passes on his teachings, inspired by Socrates, to Aristotle who creates his own opinions and ideas. Plato’s and Aristotle’s views should not pitted against each other, they should be seen as string of continuous thought that undergoes a conformational revision brought on by new ways of thinking. This evolution of thoughts and principles belonging to the role of philosophy in the polis and the influence upon politics is how Plato’s and Aristotle’s views should be interpreted.

In the Republic Plato creates a dialogue using Socrates as his vessel; to lay out what he believes would be an ideal polis. One of his main points in this dialogue is the creation of a ruling class known as the philosopher kings. This class of people is put through the rigorous course of weeding out the non-worthy to find a core group of elites that can handle the intellectual requirements that belong to the duties of the philosopher king. “… and their kings must be those among them who have proved the best in philosophy and with respect to war.” – Socrates Republic (Bloom 543a). With the establishment of the caste system, Plato believes in the principle of specialization; meaning do work that you are best suited for. An example of this would be if you are a farmer it’s not your job to think about justice or to philosophize, your job is physical labor not intellectual enlightenment. Also Plato believes that you can only be successful in one career path, only produce one fine thing and not many. “Surely we were in agreement, if you remember, that it’s impossible for one man to do a fine job in many arts.”- Socrates Republic 374a (Bloom 51). So even if the farmer had an interest in philosophy it would not matter because his specialization is in farming, and not in philosophy as a philosopher king would do. This notion of specialization is a fundamental principle in Plato’s polis. Plato’s idea on philosophy is further proven in book V with the following passage.

“It’s necessary in my opinion… to distinguish for them whom we mean when we dare assert the philosopher kings must rule… That it is by nature fitting for them both to engage in philosophy and to lead the city, and for the rest not to engage in philosophy and follow the leader.”- Socrates, Republic (Bloom154)

Plato clearly lays out the case that the role of philosophy in the polis strictly belongs to that of the ruling philosopher kings. With Plato’s theory of a utopian idealistic polis, philosophy is kept to a predetermined class of people, an elitist class, which strictly limits the advancement and evolution of the polis’s thoughts, and society as a whole.

            The belief in philosophy as an elitist affair can be seen between the thought processes of both Plato and Aristotle. Only by whom and by what means are the two philosopher’s opinions differing in determining who compiles the elitist’s class. Plato believes in a very cut and dry, no deviation approach on who is worthy enough to philosophize and rule the polis. Aristotle’s view is much more complex with much more reasoning behind whom and why a certain man is qualified to philosophize. Both men do agree upon the idea that man can only put forth maximum effort upon one task to achieve the optimum results for the duty being undertaken. It is clear though, that Aristotle does not give into the strict caste type belief that philosophy belongs solely to the ruling class.  Structural principles of human existence are defined to show how Aristotle determines who should be the one who philosophizes in the community. These principles are political animal, leisure, work, and the rule over man. These principles will clearly outline who is qualified and who must philosophize to continue to be just and temperate.

Aristotle argues that all persons are naturally born with the desire to philosophize and that before man becomes part of a structural societal control system he has the virtue of pure philosophy. “It is evident from these considerations … that a human being is by nature a political animal,” Aristotle, Politics (Reeve 4). Aristotle gives the reasoning for this by saying that unlike animals we are given the abilities to contemplate thoughts and ideas, and of good and evil.

                        “It is also clear why a human being is more of a political animal than a bee or any other gregarious animal. Nature makes nothing pointlessly, as we say, and no animal has speech except a human being… But speech is for making clear what is beneficial or harmful, and hence also what is just or unjust.” Aristotle, Politics (Reeve 4).

In this context it is clear that Aristotle believes by virtue of creation that all men have the ability, want, and desire to philosophize. That the main belief on the division of man and beast is the ability of cognizant thought process. This ability allows man to create and practice activities that are beneficial and bring pleasure upon him. Before this can be accomplished work has to be done to secure the opportunity that will allow man to leisure without worry of sustenance.

 “Leisured activity is itself held to involve pleasure, happiness, and living blessedly. This is not available to those who are working however, but only to those who are engaged in leisured activity. For one who is working is doing so for the sake of some end he does not possess.” Aristotle, Politics (Reeve 229)

This leisure can only come once work has been accomplished. The term work is a parallel to our modern day variety of views on retirement and or financial success. The resemblances of work to our thoughts of retirement continue to appear, this time as a metaphor between peace, war, and leisure. Seeing that war is drawn out over time, so is the process of work; peace and leisure become the end products of both. “For as has been said repeatedly, peace is the end of war, and leisure of work”- Aristotle, Politics (Reeve 218).

Aristotle defines that, in a structured communal entity like a polis, philosophy is a leisure activity          “Courage and endurance are required for work, philosophy for leisure, and temperance and justice for both, but particularly for peace and leisure.”-Politics (Reeve 218). It can be said with Aristotle’s theory that; leisure can only be obtained at the end work, and that philosophy is required for leisure. The requirement of temperance and justice upon peace and leisure is especially important when the determination of who will meet the requirements of philosophy has been established.

As understood before, Plato believes in an elitism role of philosophy only given to the ruling class, Aristotle believes all men created have the ability to philosophize. With that being said Aristotle does not imply that all men should engage in philosophy. Aristotle discusses the relationships by the ruling of one man upon another. He states the differences between the rule of statesman over a citizen and the rule of the master over the slave. Those being that the statesman rules over a naturally free people and a master rules over a population that is not free. (Reeve) The statesman’s rule does not provide a constant sustenance and therefore he must continue to work. The master however has a population of slaves that will produce the work for him, which allows the master the freedom to leisure without worry over necessities. “Hence for those who have the resources not to bother with such things, a steward takes on this office, while they themselves engage in politics or philosophy.”- Aristotle, Politics (Reeve 12). Because slaves are owned by their masters, they only produce work to benefit their master and receive barley enough necessity in return. “For many necessities must be present in order for leisure to be possible… For as the proverb says there is no leisure for slaves.”- Aristotle, Politics (Reeve 218). This population of people can never enjoy leisure for the fact that the fulfillment of necessity is a constant requirement upon doing work for another. With these persons stuck in servitude it is almost guaranteed that, under these guidelines, they will never obtain the ability to engage in leisure, and therefore the chance to participate in philosophy will escape them.

We see that Aristotle does not restrict philosophy to the ruling class of the polis, as Plato does, but just the very opposite, he allows the opportunity of mobility for man to come into and fall out of the role of philosophy in the community. Aristotle similarly to Plato continues with the elitist notion of philosophy, with the requirements of freedom from the perpetual need to work for sustenance, only well off elitists of the polis have the ability to engage in philosophy. The previous examples show the degree of evolution on Plato’s theories of who has the ability of philosophy to that of his student Aristotle.

The determination of who may philosophize creates a new question of the ability for politics and philosophy to coincide with one another. The clear answer is yes. One of the main functions put forth by Plato to his class of philosopher kings was to philosophize justly which will in turn create a just society by the creation of just laws. Plato’s notion of a caste system that divides every polis member into a binding group that was to perform a singular function is in theory a plausible system. In order for the functionality of Plato’s hypothetical polis to work it would require a belief in the system by the people within it. These concepts are some of the first undeveloped foundational thoughts and preliminary beliefs in what will evolve into the creation of “Social Contract Theory”. “The view that a persons’ moral and/or political obligations are dependent upon a contract or agreement among them to form the society in which they live in.” – (Friend). The submittal of trust by the Polites and given to Plato’s political system is in belief that justness will befall on them because of this theory of a societal covenant.

The positive determination that philosophy and politics can coincide together adds the moral question of should philosophy and politics be able to coincide with one another. As before, yes is easily distinguished as the answer to the question. We see in Aristotle’s principle which, allows any member of the society who can fully devote themself to the concept of philosophy, will produce an increase need in temperance and justice within them, this will in turn be mimicked by the city-state.

            “Much justice and temperance are needed, therefore, by those who are held to be doing best and who enjoy all the things regarded as blessings; people like those, if there are any… They will be in most need of philosophy, temperance, and justice the more they live at leisure… It is evident then, why a city-state that is to be happy and good should share in these virtues.”- Aristotle, Politics (Reeve 218)

By this concept, a full circle kind of effect of justice and temperance is pushed back upon the Polites and the city-state itself, and becomes more just and temperate. The most beneficial aspect of the full circle concept is that philosophy and politics are not directly competing against one another, as in Plato’s philosopher king model, and are still existing autonomously.

            Plato and Aristotle, amazing intellectuals beyond their time, have proven that previous thoughts and ideas are not just disregarded and discredited. Every thought, idea, and belief from a mentor is passed along to the student who will take those teachings and mold and shape them into a uniquely altered new thought, with beliefs and theories that have evolved from the origins of the mentor. The evolution of thought continues with every interaction between an academic and the student. This perpetual evolution of thought produces philosophical game changers for future societies by the way that they will function and interact with one another. By looking at history we see that Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle have established the foundations that later philosophers who will build upon and create their own philosophical ideologies from the thoughts and ideas of the previous mentor. Thomas Hobbes influenced by the philosophies and theories of Plato and Aristotle established what we know now as the social contract theory. Hobbes then influenced John Locke with this theory that was derived from the era of Greek antiquity. Today, just as we will do tomorrow, we are operating under the pretenses of the evolved and refined philosophies from all of man that has come before us. Using this explanation we can see the Platonic influence upon Aristotle’s thinking on the role philosophy will play in the polis. Plato and Aristotle are not far off from one another’s reasoning of who should be the ones that should philosophize in the polis. Both agree that the only way to achieve perfection in the art of philosophy is to be solely committed and to not be burdened with any other sort of responsibilities. Plato has been proven of believing in the full integration of philosophical thinking with the political functionality of the polis. Aristotle is shown to support the theory that philosophy has a positive impact upon the polis political structure by virtue of the Polites emulating the philosopher’s just and temperate ways.

Plato and Aristotle, the mentor and acolyte, their beliefs of philosophy as part of the polis are clearly evident and similar. Their belief on who will perform this task is slightly differing while still belonging to the core principles of philosophy in the polis. Philosophy does have the ability to coincide with political thought structure and as argued should coincide with political policies.


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