Comparative Characteristics of Plato and Aristotle

Two of the most well known philosophers of all time are Aristotle and Plato. These two philosophers disagreed on many things and approached the same ideas in different ways. The major point I am going to discuss is that Plato cannot accept Aristotle’s claims that all states are natural and all citizens are capable of participating in politics.

In Book one of Politics, Aristotle describes how the state came into existence and believes that all states are natural. He believes that there is a natural pairing of those dependent on one another for survival. The relationships are the master and slave and male and female pairings. The female is paired with the male because of reproductive purposes. The master and slave relationship is because they complete one another. It is natural for a master to rule, and natural for the slave to be ruled. The master and slave are paired together because they will be individually forced to perform certain tasks that they are not intended to do.

The first part that comes from the combination of the male and female and master and slave pairing is the household. The household makes sure that daily needs are satisfied. The next part is the city or town. The city or town helps obtain a greater degree of satisfaction, more than the typical daily needs. The final part is the polis or state, which is completely self-sufficient, and is created from a combination of the city or town. The state is the final form because it accomplishes complete self-sufficiency, which is the goal of all human associations, and helps people reach the reason of their existence, which is happiness. “Every state exists by nature because they are the completion of associations arising from essential human pairings”. (Politics).

When it comes to Plato, Plato describes the perfect state and believes that his perfect state is the only truly natural form of polis. Plato reaches this conclusion explaining what characteristics this ideal city would have. Plato states first that the polis comes into being because no person is completely self-sufficient. “An ideal state will exist when each person does only what he is naturally suited for in order to guarantee the best quality work” (Plato Republic). The main goal of the ideal state is for the city as a whole to be as happy as nature allows. Plato concludes that “this ideal city centered on strict specialization based on natural talent is completely good” (Plato Republic).

Plato believes that a good city must have four virtues. Wisdom, moderation, courage, and justice. Plato states that wisdom is located in the ruling class. Moderation is found in all of the people apart of the ideal state. Courage is located in the guardian class. Justice is the virtue that holds the city together, everyone in the city should be doing what they are naturally suited for. Plato argues that a state can only be natural if it contains these four virtues.

Plato and Aristotle have different views on nature and its relation to the state. However they also have different views on citizens being able to participate in politics. In Politics, Aristotle states that man is meant for political association because he has the faculty of language. “Humans alone possess the capability to judge good and evil and things of that nature. This capability of thought and language is responsible for the creation of a family and a polis because man naturally groups together based on these common perceptions of just and unjust, good and evil” (Politics). Since the polis owes its existence to the faculty of language, every member of a polis has the capability of ruling and passing judgment on political affairs. Aristotle states that all citizens are a member of a polis. The definition of a citizen Aristotle gives is, “someone who holds a judicial or deliberative office in his state for any fixed or unfixed amount of time, a state being any group of people large enough to be self-sufficient” (Politics). Aristotle’s believes that every man who may become a citizen is born with the capability to participate in politics.

Plato on the other hand since he believes that everyone does what they are naturally suited to do; he argues that the person who is naturally suited to rule should rule. He states that the ruler of the ideal state must be a philosopher king. “The philosopher must be king because the ruler of an ideal state must know what is best for the people, what is best is overall happiness of the city which is achieved through justice, therefore, he must know justice and if one is to know justice he must obviously be a lover of learning”(Republic). Plato believes that these philosopher kings must have true knowledge in order to rule for the benefit of the polis. Plato believes that philosopher kings are the only people capable to dictate politics in Plato’s ideal state.

It is evident that these two philosophers have very different perceptions on the topic of politics. Plato just cannot accept Aristotle’s view on politics that all citizens are capable of participating in politics. If he did then the concept of how the ideal state is founded, would crumble and fail to be justified. The concept Plato believes in forces politics to become a skill that must be mastered. A skill that requires a specific type of person naturally suited for that task. If Plato accepted that every citizen has the capability to participate in politics then the entire system he believes in would collapse.

Aristotle and Plato’s have different perspectives on these two topics I have talked about. Aristotle claims that all states are natural and all citizens are capable of participating in politics. However Plato disagrees with both of Aristotle’s claims. Plato believed that every single person apart of the state should have a defined role they are most suited for. When it comes to participating in politics Plato believes that the only person allowed to be in charge of a state should be a king of philosophy.

In conclusion, these are two of the most influential philosophers of all time. Even though Aristotle was Plato’s most prized student they still had some different thoughts when it came to political theories. Overall they both rejected each other’s ideas and theories when it came to creating the perfect city or town.