Aristotle and Plato
Instructions: While Aristotle agreed with Plato that the Polis existed for the good life, his views on what the good life entailed and how it was best to be guaranteed differed significantly. (Discuss)
Attainment of Good Life
Both Aristotle and Plato were in agreement that justice could only occur in an objective sense, in that it should dictate the general belief that all persons should be provided with good life regardless of their social status. The polis was hence established to promote citizen participation in the political environment. Nevertheless, Plato and Aristotle were not in agreement on what pertains good life, even as the latter supported the formation of the polis while the former objected such a move. Plato believed in one ruling class holding the ultimate power to control the society, making all the decisions without consulting members of the society (Mukherjee and Ramaswamy 118). On the other hand, in his theory of Democracy, Aristotle believed that a good life entailed allowing the larger part of the public sovereignty as opposed to a few and hence allowing the ordinary citizens an opportunity to participate in the decision making process (Inamura 61). Plato differed with this aspect of allowing the public to fully participate in the government as advocated for by Aristotle. Plato argued that the judgments of disapproval or approval as made by the public were not based on knowledge, but on belief. As such, he believed that allowing public involvement in government would interfere with the actual attainment of justice.
Aristotle and Plato were also in agreement on the importance of virtue in attaining a good life. Nevertheless, Plato considered virtue, such as knowledge, the only important thing in attaining such a life (Mukherjee and Ramaswamy 120). Plato held the Socratic view that knowledge was a virtue and that an individual who knew good would undoubtedly do good. This is formed the basis for his support for the elite class ruling the society as they were knowledgeable and he believed that they would fairly distribute justice as they understood what justice was all about unlike the mob, who would replace reason with beliefs and jeopardize and chances of getting justice (Aristotle 128). Plato believed that once one had attained knowledge as a virtue and was considered to be wise, then the rest of the virtues would follow, what he considered as the unity of virtues. To him, attaining such virtues was sufficient for one to gain happiness or a good life.
On the other hand, Aristotle had a whole different
concept of a good life and strongly opposed the unity of virtues (Aristotle 55). He believed that by
knowing what was good, one was not necessarily going to do good. As such, he argued
that one could only be virtuous by habituating themselves to a certain virtue.
In other words, Aristotle held that individuals could be knowledgeable about virtues,
yet fail to practice such virtues. In addition, as much as he agreed with Plato
that wisdom was the strongest virtue, he differed on the point where Plato
thought that wisdom could lead one to gaining other virtues. Aristotle also
argued that by being virtuous one was not guaranteed of a good life, especially
in the case where one needs other citizens to attain such a good life and
happiness (Inamura 67). In this sense, he
believed that a good life was a social, objective, public life of good fortune
and success, and that it did not have much to do with an individual’s inner
feelings. He believed that the community in which one lived was more important
than the individual and aspect that could explain his support for participation
of the public in the government and in making decisions and he purported that
progress could only be achieved if it was propelled by the community.
Aristotle. Politics. Trans. Benjamin Jowett. New York: Dower Publications, Inc., 2000.
Inamura, Kazutaka. Justice and Reciprocity in Aristotle’s Political Philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015.
Mukherjee, Subrata and Sushila Ramaswamy. A History of Political Thought: Plato to Marx. 2nd. New Delhi: PHI Learning Private Limited, 2011.