Plato and Aristotle, focus on Aristotle and the State
For both Plato and Aristotle, the state works in the interest of the common good. Plato's city-state is a well-defined
structure in which all citizens neatly inhabit the niche to which they are best suited. In this plan, people stay true to
their assigned niche; they very rarely move. Their tasks and lives are unchanging, but Aristotle questions this conception
of an ideal, unchanging state. For Aristotle, the state is not fixed, but an on-going project. Most Americans believe in Aristotle's
Aristotle's idea of the universal "good life" sees the human individual seeking of the good as part of the
state seeking the good--the state and the individual are together in prosperity because the good state allows citizens to
achieve the good life. Therefore, a state cannot be separated from the practical reality of the people who constitute it humans
are inherently political/social (Aristotle's Politics) and are not niche-driven humans of Plato's Republic.
Aristotle does believe in idealism. All forms of organization are not equally valid. Rather, he argues that there are
standards that are more right...more just. Nevertheless, these ideals must be balanced by what is possible. Artistotle argues:
"We should consider, not only what form of government is best, but also what is possible and what is easily attainable
by all" (Politics).
The task of implementing Plato's Republic would eventually lead to chaos; an excessive utopia could never be realized.
But, equipped with the idea that all states are "works in progress," and various means of government may be used
to achieve "the good," humans are happily seeking the good life. Plato's system is prescribed (and unattainable--a
dream vision), while Aristotle's non-system allows humans to be involved in achieving the good state--the good state for them,
and warns of the problems of the bad state--of how monarchy may devolve to tyranny, aristocracy may devolve to oligarchy,
and polity may devolve to democracy. Therefore, Aristotle sees humans as active participants in the making of their own civic
Aristotle's conception of the state is not egalitarian;all are not equal but rather some are better than others. He believes
in individuality of those who, by personality, want to govern and those who, by personality, want to be led. However, the
warning always exists that those who want to be led may grow to want to lead if they see/recognize an inequality of voice.
Revolution springs from the desire of "lesser" men for equality.