Aristotle's Politics

SHADOWS ON THE SUN: THE IMPERFECTIONS OF PLATONIC POLITICAL THEORY

SHADOWS ON THE SUN: THE IMPERFECTIONS OF PLATONIC POLITICAL THEORY

by, Michael Jin

December 5, 2004

Plato and Aristotle both reject the moral relativism of the sophists and address the question of how man can achieve absolute virtue. In The Republic, Plato constructs an existence proof, a kallipolis that produces philosopher-kings who grasp the eternal Good and rule benevolently. Aristotle discusses the kallipolis at length in The Politics, but much of his criticism concerns implementation. Still, Aristotle makes at least one worthy criticism of the theory, charging Plato with inappropriately misusing holism in assessing the happiness of the state. But Aristotle likewise fails to solve the underlying problem of ensuring complete happiness for all individuals; he ultimately constructs a political theory fundamentally similar to that of Plato.

Plato postulates a tripartite soul with appetitive, spirited, and rational parts, corresponding to the producers, guardians, and rulers in the kallipolis (The Republic 435c-441c). Such a construction poses an apparent internal inconsistency. The guardian class, for instance, may represent only the spirited part, but individual guardians still possess all three soul parts. The inconsistency...

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