Saturday, November 10, 2012

Political Philosophy: Plato

Plato (427-347 BC)
Plato’s life is not well known much less in great detail. All we know is that he was born to an aristocratic Athenian family, spending most of his life in a time of political unrest and political degeneration in Athens. The Peloponnesian War, the wars in northern Greece, the beginning of the Macedonian invasion, and the trial of Socrates took place during his life.

Socrates —the loquacious Athenian philosopher— was Plato’s teacher, close allied, and friend.
During the last fifty years of his life Plato taught and lectured at the Academy —a pleasure-grove— near Athens. The school, once created, was perpetuated by his disciples as a permanent philosophical school for lectures, study, and friendly gatherings of scholars—one such Just was Aristotle.  

Theory of the Forms

Plato's philosophical system is Socrates' doctrine of reality. According to Plato, reality exists only in the ideas of things, in the perfect, permanent, unchanging, self-existent entities—the forms. Changing and imperfect objects of perception underlying the latter are only the superficial appearances of things.
Plato interpreted and developed this theory and its ethical use in the identification of virtue with knowledge of absolute reality. What Plato did was to interpret what Socrates would constantly repeat in his conversations: No one sins knowingly.
All of Plato’s writings are in the form of "dialogues," which are critical and argumentative conversations that appear to have occurred between Socrates, friends, and visiting scholars. Socrates himself disliked writing and never wrote a book.
The state is a cardinal concept in Plato's political philosophy. For him, political theory was an essential part of the overall philosophy: knowledge of the perfect life for humans under ideal conditions was a hallmark goal of all philosophical inquiry, and an understanding of such a life could only be achieved through an understanding of the organic relationships that develop among people in the life of a political community—the polis.
Three of the dialogues are devoted primarily to the topic of the state: The Republic, the Statesman, and the Laws.

The Republic is widely regarded as one of the greatest works of all time, discussing in particular the notion of the state and developing it into a philosophical, ethical and social theory. Plato describes what a community should be like for man to fully realize its highest capabilities. So the dialogue is concerned not only with the projection of an ideal state of society, and it is listed among the political 'utopias', but it also relates to criticism of an actual state of society.

The Statesman and the Laws, probably written several decades after the Republic, present ideas that seem to be in some respects sharply contrasted with the theory of the earlier work. But there is no major disagreement. The Statesman deals mainly with the qualities of the true ruler —an all-wise philosopher— and his job: education and character formation. Plato admits that such a perfect statesman is really available, and that in the actual state, there is no guarantee of good rule to store in the supremacy of "the law" embodied in the traditional public habits of the people.
This principle of the necessary subordination of government to law illuminates Plato's distinction between good and bad forms of government. In the Laws, Plato describes the constitutional rules and arrangements for the administration of a real community, which would be as close as possible —if not mirror— to the ideal city set forth in the Republic.

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