The Republic, by Plato, is one of the most popular works written by a Greek philosopher. It has inspired countless scholars over the years. One of the things that this work of philosophy has done well offers up new and unique ways to look at existing political situations in the world today. Plato wanted to explain why people in Athens had so much political pride and why they defended their political government and constitution so vigorously. The Republic, by Plato, starts with Socrates, a young man defending his views or resign from his role as a teacher.
Socrates begins his story as a young man, just beginning to become interested in philosophy. He is condemned to death for teaching the young men philosophical concepts and considered foolishness. A mob of citizens then murders him just as he gets ready to begin his usual lecture on politics. This is just one of the events in The Republic that show just how deeply the principles of the Republic have roots deep within the city-state of Athens. Throughout the centuries that have since passed, many nations have adopted these principles as their ideal form of government and to guarantee freedom and civic responsibility.
The Republic also shows how those in Athens rose up to condemn the mob’s actions that killed Socrates and other teachers of Socrates’ style of thinking. This group of men included Hippias, a military leader during the reign of Alexander the great, and Charmides, who was the teacher of Zeno of Elea. These two philosophers became rivals for the government of Athens and later helped to found the school of Athens, the Academy. While there, they argued over the definition of marriage. Each believed that it should be between a man and a woman, while the other believed it should be between a man and a woman.
These arguments led to the division of societies into two groups of thinkers or poleis. The aristocratic wing of the Greek city-state, which had been ruling Greece for thousands of years, sought to define what real government was, arguing that it was a group of individuals making choices based on their societal status and individual merit. Meanwhile, the poorer classes were willing to sacrifice their lives to guarantee the freedoms of citizens. The two groups formed the two major groups of political philosophy that exist to this day. The Republic by Plato argues about how to move these philosophies forward, rather than simply being ideas for the masses.
Aristotle argued that people are rational creatures that can make their own decisions. The Republic by Plato further argues that the people are not only rational but in many ways superior to humans. Since these two theories were similar and directly opposing each other, the two philosophies were often at loggerheads for years. The early Republic began with Athens’ founding fathers defending their principles against the aristocratic Plato, while the latter was doing the same against the demos or commoners. As history would suggest, however, the demos eventually won the argument.
The Republic by Plato continues in the same fashion and arguments are against the government rather than the individual. The government is composed of two different groups: the aristocratic class, which controls the government through the majority, and the demos, who are the poor majority that make up the government. Plato believed that there must be some common ground between the two groups because both need the same government to function. Plato wanted a government in which all citizens have equal citizenship, and all their choices are equally valid under the rules of the Republic. The Republic by Plato assumes that a government can only be legitimate if founded on a social consensus. The citizens must recognize this in their actions and thoughts as well as in their government.
The Philosophy of Aristotle sees individual merit and achievement as a natural process through which a person achieves knowledge and skill through trial and error. Individual merit is determined through the ability one has to use one’s knowledge and skill to create something beneficial for others. Aristotle’s philosophy assumes that there must be a natural order to things for order in society and government and among the individuals themselves. The principles of the Philosophy of Aristotle assume that individuals must be free to pursue happiness through merit and that the pursuit of happiness is the only thing that ensures a happy and successful existence.
The idea of a philosopher’s opinion of the government is that a polity must be planned and guided by a body of thinkers, all of whom would accept its responsibility and decide upon its success. These philosophers would then become the public administrators and enforcers of that polity. The arguments of the Republic by Plato are directed against the democracy and egalitarian societies of Athens and Rome. In short, Plato’s belief that there must be a conception of the good life and that the means to attain this must be defined and limited by a body of idealistic philosophy.