The Republic

When the Last Puzzle Piece Will Not Fit: Plato and Aristotle's Functionalist Definitions of Human Nature and Purpose

Not all are equal in Plato's Republic or Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics and Politics. Plato and Aristotle argue that people possess a certain natural ability that determines their role in society. The fundamental character of one's soul, in part, determines this natural ability. As not all humans have the same capabilities, Plato and Aristotle are proposing that the hierarchical social organization purportedly based on merit is ideal. This view of human purpose serves as the cornerstone for their arguments. Plato organizes his ideal city, or kallipolis, around this principle. Aristotle extends this view to the extreme in his discussion of slaverywhich he argues that this almost subhuman class is part of a natural, harmonious order. It may seem that Plato's kallipolis and Aristotle's conception of slavery would be ideal entry points for further investigating their conceptions of human nature. Readers should consider that what they present as objective, self-contained arguments about human purpose, may in fact be defined to justify the proposed social organizationone of inequality and "natural" hierarchy. While Aristotle and Plato may present their views on the human soul as biologically determined...

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