Scientific Essay, 2009, 76 Pages
Plato was born in Athens in 427 B.C. Until his mid-twenties, Athens was involved in a long and disastrous military conflict with Sparta, known as the Peloponnesian War. Although cherishing the hope of assuming a significant place in his political community, he found himself continually thwarted. Plato could not identify himself with any of the contending political parties or the succession of corrupt regimes, each of which brought Athens to further decline. The son of wealthy and influential Athenian parents, Plato began his philosophical career as a student of Socrates. When the master died, Plato travelled to Egypt and Italy, studied with students of Pythagoras, and spent several years advising the ruling family of Syracuse. Eventually, he returned to Athens and established his own school of philosophy, the Academy. Plato tried to pass on the heritage of a Socratic style of thinking and to guide students’ progress through mathematical learning to the achievement of abstract philosophical truth. 1 The pre-Socratic philosophers were mostly interested in cosmology and ontology; Socrates’ concern was the opposite. In 399 when a democratic court voted by a
1 Fine, Gail (ed): Plato I: Metaphysics and Epistemology and Plato II: Ethics, Politics, Religion and the Soul . Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999
His Academy, which provided a base for succeeding generations of Platonic philosophers until its final closure in 529 B.C, became the most famous teaching institution of the Hellenistic world. Mathematics, rhetoric, astronomy, dialectics, and other subjects, all seen as necessary for the education of philosophers and statesmen, were studied there. Some of Plato’s pupils later became leaders, mentors, and constitutional advisers in Greek city-states. His most renowned pupil was Aristotle. Plato died in c. 347 B.C.
The ideal state, according to Plato, is composed of three classes. The economic structure of the state is maintained by the merchant class. Security needs are met by the military class, and political leadership is provided by the philosopher-kings. A particular person's class is determined by an educational process that begins at birth and proceeds until that person has reached the maximum level of education compatible with interest and ability. Those who complete the entire educational process become philosopher-kings. They are the ones whose minds have been so developed that they are able to grasp the Forms and, therefore, to make the wisest decisions. Indeed, Plato's ideal educational system is primarily structured so as to produce philosopher-kings. Plato associates the traditional Greek virtues with the class structure of the ideal state. Temperance is the unique virtue of the artisan
class; courage is the virtue peculiar to the military class; and wisdom characterizes the rulers. Justice, the fourth virtue, characterizes society as a whole. The just state is one in which each class performs its own function well without infringing on the activities of the other classes. Plato divides the human soul into three parts: the rational part, the will, and the appetites. The just person is the one in whom the rational element, supported by the will, controls the appetites. An obvious analogy exists here with the threefold class structure of the state, in which the enlightened philosopher-kings, supported by the soldiers, govern the rest of society.
According to Plato, an ideal state possessed the four cardinal virtues of wisdom, courage, discipline and justice. One of the most fundamental ethical and political concepts is justice. It is a complex and ambiguous concept. It may refer to individual virtue, the order of society, as well as individual rights in contrast to the claims of the general social order 4 .
In Book I of the Republic, Socrates and his interlocutors discuss the meaning of justice. Four definitions that report how the word “justice’’ is actually used are offered. Cephalus suggests the first definition. Justice is “speaking the truth and
4 Berki, R.N: The History of Poliical Thought: A short Introduction. London: Dent. 1977. p.156
After presenting his statement, Thrasymachus intends to leave as if he believed that what he said was so compelling that no further debate about justice was ever possible (Ibid, p.26). In the Republic he exemplifies the power of a dogma. Indeed he presents Socrates with a powerful challenge. Yet, whether or not what he said sounds attractive to anyone, Socrates is not convinced by the statement of his beliefs. Beliefs shape our lives as individuals, nations, ages, and civilizations. Should we really believe that justice [obeying laws] is really the good of another, the advantage of the stronger and the ruler, harmful to the one who obeys, while injustice [disobeying laws] is in one’s own advantage? The discussion between Socrates and his interlocutors is no longer about the meaning of “justice.” It takes the whole remainder of the Republic to present an argument in defense of justice as a universal value and the foundation of the best political order.
Plato’s political Philosophy is a blend of rigorous social nihilism and political affirmation. The nihilism springs from his desire to cleanse the political State of all the influences he saw as destructive of political unity. The mission of the Political community is the means whereby all the native powers and excellences of the individual are brought to fruition 11 .
11 Nisbet,R. The Social Philosophers. New York: ThomasY crowell Co. 1973.p25
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