Comparison of Plato and Aristotle's Political Theories
To compare the political theories of two great philosophers
of politics is to first examine each theory in depth. Plato
is regarded by many experts as the first writer of
political philosophy, and Aristotle is recognized as the
first political scientist. These two men were great
thinkers. They each had ideas of how to improve existing
societies during their individual lifetimes. It is
necessary to look at several areas of each theory to seek
the difference in each.
The main focus of Plato is a perfect society. He creates a
blueprint for a utopian society, in his book The Republic,
out of his disdain for the tension of political life
(Hacker, 24). This blueprint was a sketch of a society in
which the problems he thought were present in his society
would be eased (Hacker 24). Plato sought to cure the
afflictions of both human society and human personality
(Hacker 24). Essentially what Plato wants to achieve is a
Aristotle, unlike Plato, is not concerned with perfecting
society. He just wants to improve on the existing one.
Rather than produce a blueprint for the perfect society,
Aristotle suggested, in his work, The Politics, that the
society itself should reach for the best possible system
that could be attained (Hacker 71). Aristotle relied on the
deductive approach, while Aristotle is an example of an
inductive approach (Hacker 71). Utopia is a solution in
abstract, a solution that has no concrete problem (Hacker
76). There is no solid evidence that all societies are in
need of such drastic reformation as Plato suggests (Hacker
76). Aristotle discovers that the best possible has already
been obtained (Hacker 76). All that can be done is to try
to improve on the existing one.
Plato's utopia consists of three distinct, non-hereditary
class systems (Hacker 32). The Guardians consist of non
ruling Guardians and ruling Guardians. The non-rulers are a
higher level of civil servants and the ruling is the
society's policy makers ( Hacker 32). Auxilaries are
soldiers and minor civil servants (Hacker 32). Finally the
Workers, are composed of farmers and artisans, most
commonly unskilled laborers (Hacker 32). The Guardians are
to be wise and good rulers. It is important that the rulers
who emerge must be a class of craftsmen who are
public-spirited in temperament and skilled in the arts of
government areas (Hacker 33). The guardians are to be
placed in a position in which they are absolute rulers.
They are supposed to be the select few who know what is
best for society (Hacker 33).
Aristotle disagrees with the idea of one class holding
discontinuing political power (Hacker 85). The failure to
allow circulation 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 (Hacker 85).
Aristotle looks upon this ruling class system as an
ill-conceived political structure (Hacker 86). He quotes
"It is a further objection that he deprives his Guardians
even of happiness, maintaining that happiness of the whole
state which should be the object of legislation,"
ultimately he is saying that Guardians sacrifice their
happiness for power and control. Guardians who lead such a
strict life will also think it necessary to impose the same
strict lifestyle on the society it governs (Hacker 86).
Aristotle puts a high value on moderation (Hacker 81). Many
people favor moderation because it is part-liberal and
part-conservative. There is so much of Plato's utopia that
is undefined and it is carried to extremes that no human
being could ever fulfill its requirements (Hacker 81).
Aristotle believes that Plato is underestimating the
qualitative change in human character and personality that
would have to take place in order to achieve his utopia
(Hacker 81). Plato chose to tell the reader of his Republic
how men would act and what their attitudes would be in a
perfect society (Hacker 81). Aristotle tries to use real
men in the real world in an experimental fashion to foresee
how and in which ways they can be improved (Hacker 81).
Both Plato and Aristotle agree that justice exists in an
objective sense: that is, it dictates a belief that the
good life should be provided for all individuals no matter
how high or low their social status (Hacker 91). "In
democracies, for example, justice is considered to mean
equality, in oligarchies, again inequality in the
distribution of office is considered to be just, " says
Aristotle (Hacker 91). Plato sees the justice and law as
what sets the guidelines for societal behavior.
Aristotle puts emphasis on the institution of the polis
(Hacker 77). This institution is not the state or society
merely the larger unit of the two (hacker 77). Neither
Plato nor Aristotle found it to be necessary to distinguish
between the state nor society and therefore it is difficult
to define polis (Hacker 77). The polis was set up to allow
political participation on the part of the average citizen
(Hacker 80). This contradicts Plato's theory of one ruling
class controlling the political power and all decisions
that effect the entire society. The theory of Democracy
that Aristotle derived states that democracy is a
"perversion" form of government of "polity" (Hacker 92).
Aristotle said, "The people at large should be sovereign
rather than the few best" (Hacker 92). Plato would never
allow the full public participation in government as
Aristotle would like. According to Plato public judgments
of approval and disapproval are based on belief and not on
knowledge (Hacker 59).
Plato thinks that is a revolution were to take place it
would be a palace revolution (Hacker 64). A palace
revolution occurs when there is a power transfer from one
power holder to someone else. Aristotle sees the cause of
revolutions originating with either the rich or the poor
(Hacker 102). He feels that the means of preventing
revolutions is to anticipate them (Hacker 107). Plato
thinks that in a utopia a disgruntled group of Guardians
will emerge and break from the rules (Hacker 63). He thinks
that in an oligarchy two things may happen to spark a
revolution: the first being the ruler and their offspring
grow to be weak rulers and too sympathetic, the second is
that the number of poor grows larger and suffer
exploitation at the hands of those in power over them
(Hacker 64). Aristotle states that to know the causes which
destroy constitutions is also to know the causes which
ensure their preservation (Hacker 107-108).
Plato and Aristotle alike were two men who had ideas on
ways to improve existing society. Plato, a political
philosopher, was in the pursuit of philosophical truth
(Hacker 114). Aristotle was concerned with the citizen and
the design of political institutions (Hacker 114). They
both had well thought out ideas and plans on how to build a
better society. Both Aristotle and Plato have had a
tremendous impact on political scientists of today.
Aristotle helped to developed some democratic ideas. In
conclusion these men were great thinkers. Their opinions on
society and its functions were quite different, but they
both had the same intention, to build a better way of life
for the societies they lived in and for the societies that
would come to be in the future.
Hacker, Andrew. Political Theory: Philosophy, Ideology,
Science. New York: Macmillan, 1961.