HCJ: Discussions from my seminar paper: Plato’s Utopia and Aristotle’s Politics

Plato’s Utopia

(1) The young must be taught that evils never come from the gods, for God is not the author of all things, but only of good things. (So who is the creator of the ‘bad’ things?)

(2) Homer speaks of “inextinguishable laughter among blessed gods” and Plato asks how a schoolmaster is to reprove mirth effectively, if boys can quote this passage? (The philosophers are limiting knowledge so that the people can’t challenge them – when actually the reason they believe to be superior is because they are the only ones who see the world as it is – ironic?) Also the young are to see no ugliness or vice.

(3) Plato decides to banish all dramatists from his city. (However, they encourage culture, and drama is a large part of that?)
“We will fall down and worship him as a sweet and holy and wonderful being; but we must also inform him that in our State such as he are not permitted to exist; the law will not allow them.” (He admires them but banishes them?)

(4) The training of the body is to be very austere. No one is to eat fish, or meat cooked otherwise than roasted, and there must be no sauces or confectionery. People brought up on Plato’s regime, will have no need for doctors. (All illnesses don’t come from uncooked meats and fish and indulgences – flawed argument?)

(5) There is a curious argument about war, that it will be easy to purchase allies, since the “city will not want any share in the spoils of victory.” (They allow their allies to indulge in wealth but not themselves?)

(6) Deformed children, and children of inferior parents, “will be put away in some mysterious unknown place, as they ought to be.” (Death?)

(7) There is to be no marriage between a father and daughter or mother and son; in general, but not absolutely, marriages of brother and sister are to be prevented. (Russell thought that if Plato had thought this out more carefully, he would have found that he had prohibited all marriages, except the brother-sister marriages which he regards as rare exceptions.) (If nobody knows who’s child is who’s, or brother and sister, then how can they know not to be incestuous?)

(8) God has created men of three kinds, the best of gold, the second best of silver, and the common herd of brass and iron. (Plato does not believe in material wealth although God has created man in relation to gold, silver, brass and iron?)

(9) The fundamental question in ethics and politics: Is there any standard of ‘good’ and ‘bad’, except what the man using these words desires?

(10) Is there objective truth or falsehood in such a statement as ‘pleasure is good’ in the same sense as in such a statement as ’snow is white?’

(11) Thrasymachus (a sophist of Ancient Greece best known as a character in Plato’s Republic): “There is no question of proving or disproving the only question is whether you like the kind of State that Plato desires. If you do, it is good for you; if you do not, it is bad for you. If many do and many do not, the decision cannot be made by reason, but only by force, actual or concealed.” What are we to say of scientific innovators like Galileo, who advocate an opinion with which few agree, but finally win the support of almost everybody?

Plato’s Utopia: many of its provisions, including some that we should have thought quite impracticable, were actually realised in Sparta. It would have been feasible for a band of Platonists to establish the Republic on the shores of Spain or Gaul but chance led Plato to Syracuse, a great commercial city engaged in desperate wars with Carthage. In the next generation, the rise of Macedonia had made all small States antiquated, and had brought about the futility of all political experiments in miniature.

Aristotle’s politics

(1) People should not marry too young, because, if they do, the children will be weak and female and if women are common, who will manage the house? (Contrast to Plato and female equality but similarity in dismissal of weak children?)

(2) The right age for marriage is 37 (precise?) in men and 18 in women. (Contrast to Plato: mothers are to be between 20 and 40, fathers between  25 and 35).

(3) Children should be conceived in the winter(?) when the wind is in the north; that there must be a careful avoidance of indecency, because “shameful words lead to shameful acts”, and that obscenity is never to be tolerated except in temples, where the law permits even ribaldry.

(4) From birth, some are marked out for subjection, others for rule; the man who is by nature not his own but another man’s is by nature a slave. Slaves should not be Greeks, but of an inferior race with less spirit. (Similar to Plato – the rulers of the city will manipulate the lots on eugenic principles.)

(5) Plato’s communism annoys Aristotle. It would lead, he says, to anger against lazy people, and to the sort of quarrels that are common between fellow travellers. It is better if each minds their own business. (Plato: “in everybody doing his how work and not being a busybody: the city is just when trader, auxiliary, and guardian, each does his own job without interfering with that of other classes”. (Is this not the same ideal?)

(6) Benevolence and generosity are virtues, and without private property they are impossible. (Why?)

(7) Aristotle thought that if Plato’s plans were good, someone would have thought of them sooner. (Could equally say this about Aristotle?)

(8) How large should a State be? Aristotle says a State ought to be large enough to be more or less self-sufficing, but not too large for constitutional government. However, Russell points out we are told both that it should be self-sufficient and that it should have an export and import trade, which seems an inconsistency?


About brackenstockley

Contributor to the JusticeGap and WINOL. Currently studying journalism at the University of Winchester (Year Three).
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