Introduction Two great philosophers existed during the Golden Age of Greece and the Hellenistic age, Plato and his equally famous pupil, Aristotle. Both developed structured theories and dialectic of what comprises good government and these theories were influenced by the theories of form they held. While Plato stressed that the ideal regime acts as a standard by which other regimes are judged, Aristotle concerned himself primarily in the best form of government. In light of their differing approaches, this essay will compare and contrast their notion of rulership.
Focus will be on their views of: rulership and goodness, the nature of rhetoric, and the importance of knowledge in achieving wisdom. Aristotle was born in a small northern Greek town of Stagira in 384. He was born into a family of substantial wealth, and though his father died when he was a young boy, his uncle Proxenus, and other family members were charged with making sure the boy had an adequate educational background. At the age of seventeen, Aristotle left Stagira for Athens, to begin his studies at the Academy under the tutelage of Plato. This was a significant turning point in the thinking and life of young Aristotle.
Later in life, Aristotle would teach his own students from a school he called the Lyceum, and in many aspects, the Lyceum shared common structures with Plato's Academy. The Academy was oriented to a more private operation, unlike the Lyceum, embracing almost an exclusive mentality, while the Lyceum attempted to embrace a public friendly orientation. As Aristotle grew as a philosopher and public figure, other differences emerged between the student and his teacher. While Aristotle attempted to bridge a vast educational gap, Plato's considerations and teachings focused on the elemental considerations of philosophical and political thought: "metaphysics, epistemology, logic, ethics, political theory" and primarily, philosophy. While Aristotle would pursue mathematics, the scientific, social inquiry and a vast study of the cosmos, Plato's considerations were more limited, though the teacher always respected the study of other men's achievements in education. Though the teacher and the student had a deep affection and respect for each other, Plato and Aristotle were divided on a number of different considerations, especially related to their concepts of rulership and their views on the necessity of rhetoric and knowledge.
Their political considerations regarding the nature of the state and their overall perspectives on leadership were points of disagreement between the two philosophers, especially in considering the impacts of rhetoric in the role of leadership. Aristotle stayed under the educational tutelage of Plato for 20 years, even in his disagreement, until Plato's death in 347. In order to understand the impacts that the Academy had on Aristotle's development as both a philosopher and a political theorist, it is necessary to consider the differences and similarities between Aristotle and Plato. Plato never expected that Aristotle would embrace every doctrine without question, but primary to Plato's teaching was instilling in Aristotle a quest for knowledge and the capacity to pursue wisdom. Rulership and Goodness For Plato, one of the most essential lessons that he hoped to demonstrate was that human nature could also be morally problematic. Plato struggles with his capacity to reconcile society and necessary societal constructs with ethics and morality, two issues he often found void in politics, especially after the death of Socrates.
These questions were posed in considerable length within the text of Plato's Republic, in which Plato used the character of Socrates to design his discourse on politics, goodness and ethics. In Book II of Republic, Socrates recognized that man exists within a developed civilization. Human character leads men into communal living situations, in which there is both a need for leadership and a need to address the welfare of the totality. In his discourse with Adeimantus, Socrates constructs a city by demonstrating the needs that men have which bring them into community. Because man have some skills, have some crafts, but most men do not have the capacity to provide for all of their needs, men live in community as a means of meeting the needs of all of the citizens. The blacksmith tools for the farmer, the farmer grows the food, and by the exchange both men are fed.
Plato valued political constructs by comparing rulership to a craft (Book I, 341 c-342 e). He contended that man must demonstrate special knowledge of leadership, just as a weaver must demonstrate special knowledge of a basket and the process by which a basket can be derived. It is not enough to determine rulership based on might, because physical strength has little to do with the necessary elements of civilization and of rulership. Just because a person a person has the reeds does not mean they can weave the basket. Plato recognized that man's capacity to attain goodness existed within the polis, and that man could only embrace the necessities of life, including a focus on ethics and morality, based on these social constructs. Though Plato often disagreed with the elemental premise of political action, he clearly embraced social constructs as an imperative for man's capacity to live communally.
For Aristotle, Plato's considerations regarding the capacity of man to achieve goodness appeared more of a philosophical consideration than anything applicable within life in the polis. In Book I, Chapter VI of "Nicomachean Ethics", goodness under the concept presented by Plato suggests almost an unattainable element, and it was Aristotle's contention that man's greatest capacity was in embracing those things that could be attained, rather than living in pursuit of what could never be. Similarly, Aristotle also recognized that goodness in and of itself had very little applicable or intrinsic value. Aristotle criticized Plato's arguments based on his belief that there was little substance to recognizing something as good; instead, goodness only existed as a value determined within specific social and societal situations.
While each person has the capacity to attain goodness, each person does not have the capacity to construct goodness outside of the realm of what the society as a whole embraced. Rhetoric Plato and Aristotle shared some similar considerations regarding the nature of rhetoric, and the fact that it offered considerable impact within the social structure and for the leaders of the polis. But in the totality of their discourses regarding rhetoric and leadership, the teacher and his student differed on a number of specific points. Plato's thoughts on rhetoric are based in his first contention: that rhetoric itself is not a part of an art or craft, but instead a habit. "The orator need have no knowledge of the truth of things; it is enough for him to have discovered a knack of convincing the ignorant that he knows more than the experts." Rhetoric, Plato argued, was designed to direct man, to devise a means for shaping the perceptions of others, and often appears in the form of flattery.
Plato presented his thoughts regarding rhetoric through a discourse between his character of Socrates and Gorgias, a man whose life is based on the essential nature of political rhetoric. Though Plato's intention, and therefore Socrates intention, was not to insult the profession of Gorgias, his discourse clearly presents opposition to Gorgias' work. He states that oratory (eloquent public speech) is "a branch of something which certainly isn't a fine or honorable pursuit. He went on to characterize the orator as a person who is "bold of spirit" and has a "natural aptitude for dealing with men." It was Plato's contention that the persuasive element of oratory, based not in arguable truths but in the convincing element of the orator, related oratory to pandering, or flattery, more than to political discourse.
Plato even went so far as to call it a "spurious counterfeit" of the "art of government." In other words, it was Plato's argument that while political discourse could be related to philosophy if it embraces essential truths, the kind of discourse, the oration, directed by men like Gorgias, did not actually represent government. Aristotle, on the other hand, believed that rhetoric was a necessary construct of politics, and that the discourse that Plato found so apprehensible was an essential to the society in which both men lived. While Plato reflected on the way in which rhetoric flattered and distorted the truth, Aristotle's argument was that rhetoric should embrace logic and provide a forum within which argument could persuade through its use. Aristotle believed that effective rhetoric was the first sign of an effective leader. Plato was clear to distinguish the essential difference between lecturing, especially lecturing that demonstrates the essential truths of philosophy and government, and the oration provided by speakers like Gorgias. While lecturing clearly supports what he considered to be the "art" or "craft" of government, a process that brings together man, oration supported the art of itself, the art of representation rather than of truth.
The differences expressed by Plato and Aristotle regarding the nature of rhetoric did not prevent either man from considering their own logical discourses or allowing for the even flow of information between them. Critics of Aristotle believed that he did not truly appreciate or embrace the elements of discourse presented by Plato, but by considering each one's position, it is easy to see that Aristotle devised his own perspective relative to the constructs presented by Plato. Knowledge Aristotle joined the Academy in pursuit of knowledge, and it has long been believed that he read some of the philosophical discourses of Plato prior to leaving northern Greece for the great city of Athens. Though Aristotle and Plato clearly embraced the same belief in the imperative of knowledge, they shared different perspectives on the importance of knowledge in achieving wisdom and in the way in which knowledge could be utilized in the unification of man. Some have argued that after an initial period of apprenticeship Aristotle gradually moved away from Plato and developed his own distinct philosophical approach.
It was Plato's belief that knowledge was the directive of the ruling class and that the philosophers should direct the course of the polis. In essence leadership, knowledge and wisdom should go hand in hand. Plato constructed the "Allegory of the Cave" in Book VII of Republic as a means of bringing to light his thoughts on the necessity of knowledge and on the correlation between knowledge and wisdom. It is an effective representation of the progression from ignorance to knowledge and knowledge to wisdom. This allegory suggests Plato's initial considerations about man's essence: that man is elementally ignorant and would stay that way if not led away. In other words, Plato's almost skeptical perception of the nature of man suggests that man would chose ignorance over knowledge if allowed to simply demonstrate his free will.
James Wiser presents his view in the following: This life, therefore, is one of tension; the philosopher yearns to participate in and live by the most real; yet there is also the call to remain in the cave. The pull or yearning creates the philosopher's characteristic form; the philosopher is an existence in tension Plato accepted that man could be unified under ignorance or unified under knowledge and recognized the importance of societal constructs in creating an essential mode to lead men out of ignorance. But in essence, Plato never truly constructed any element of education that could lead to the fulfillment of this necessary perception. Although Plato's characterization of Socrates in Republic provided an avenue by which Plato could suggest the necessity of state-provided education, he never actually embraced the concept of meeting the educational needs of the soldiers of Athens. Aristotle would have argued for a more public and applicable consideration regarding man and knowledge.
It is easy for a philosopher to reflect about the ignorance of all men, but harder to apply a concept of public education and of public knowledge to this belief. In Book I of "Nicomachean Ethics," Aristotle argued that Plato's considerations regarding the essential necessity of knowledge and of knowledge of "good" was flawed because he lacked the focus to determine the necessary usefulness of knowledge, especially moral knowledge. While Plato would have argued that knowledge is attainable by all men, but the application of that knowledge is the determinant of wisdom, Aristotle recognized that knowledge was an experiential process and that the young were void of the knowledge necessary for practical wisdom. Aristotle even went so far as to argue that individuals who have theoretical knowledge do not always have the capacity for practical wisdom.
Plato, on the other hand, would have argued that practical wisdom was a direct correlate of knowledge, and that man's capacity to attain and apply knowledge was directly related to the overall perception of wisdom. Conclusion Though Aristotle often differed on a number of major premises, it is clear that his teacher, Plato, has a considerable impact on the life, learning and philosophical development of Aristotle. The considerations regarding rulership and the importance of rhetoric and knowledge presented by these two philosophers reflect similar considerations based on some elemental premises. It is clear that Aristotle's beliefs regarding rulership and the polis was dependent on an understanding of the constructs considered by Plato.
It is important to understand that no instructor offers teachings and its inherent knowledge with the expectation that their students will agree without question all of the dictates taught to him / her . Plato would not have been disheartened by the alterations that Aristotle embraced or the differences that Aristotle argued. Instead, Plato would have recognized that knowledge is an essential progression of understanding and that Aristotle's concepts were an extension of his capacity to learn and his desire to strive for greater knowledge and wisdom. Bibliography Annas, Julia. Introduction to Plato's Republic. (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1981).
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