Compare and Contrast of Democracy From the Viewpoints of Pericles Plato and Aristotle Term Paper

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The classical features of Greek democratic tradition was an emphasis on disbursing political power among all citizens, and the participation of all citizens was seen as essential both to the well-being of the state and the citizen himself. This tradition is embodied in aspects of the political philosophies of Plato and Aristotle, as will be indicated in an exploration of certain of the themes that recur in Greek political philosophy, such as the question of justice and the nature and meaning of citizenship. Democracy was more immediate and direct in the Greek context, with the relatively smaller population better able to meet to debate and decide issues and so to have a clearer tie to the democratic process. As Lakoff (1996) writes,

The Athenians, who brought democracy to its highest early development, understood it to mean the self-government or autonomy of the community or polis. Although they also came to appreciate the need to respect the autonomy of the individual, they restricted this form of autonomy to male citizens, and generally believed that the autonomy of the polis took precedence over that of the individual (Lakoff, 1996, p. 37).Get full Download Microsoft Word File access
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Term Paper on Compare and Contrast of Democracy From the Viewpoints of Pericles Plato and Aristotle Assignment

Pericles was the leader of the Athenians during the Peloponnesian War. Plutarch wrote about the Greek political leader and compares him to Fabius Maximus, who fought against Hannibal, saying that they are "men alike, as in their other virtues and good parts, so especially in their mild and upright temper and demeanor," and further notes that each was "most useful and serviceable to the interests of their countries" (Plutarch, 1909, p. 37). Another historian who wrote about Pericles was Thucydides. Thucydides lived c.460?c.400 BC and was an Athenian. He is considered by many to be the greatest of the ancient Greek historians, and his work had a profound influence on the development of historical writing. Although he was a relative of the great soldier and statesman Cimon, Thucydides was also an admirer of Cimon's political opponent, Pericles, even though the two had been in opposition and Pericles had been key in the younger man's ostracism (Stockton, 1990, p. 39). He returned from exile after the war ended in 404. Thucydides began writing his History of the Peloponnesian War in 431 when the great war broke out. In some ways, he was as much a journalist as a historian. He believed that the war would prove epochal and that his account would possess permanent value because such significant conflicts were bound to occur in future epochs "so long as human nature remained the same," and he was clearly correct in these assessments. The speeches he inserted into his history, brilliantly conceived and written, probe deeply into human motivation and explain the policy of states in terms of human psychology. Thucydides was the first Greek to write contemporary history but was deeply indebted to Herodotus for his conception of the fundamental importance of historical writing. Unlike Herodotus, however, who considered it his duty to repeat what people said without necessarily subscribing to it, Thucydides made every effort to authenticate the facts he reported, and he shows unusual sophistication in his awareness of the way that witnesses often misremember what they have seen. Although an admirer of Periclean democracy, Thucydides was not a democratic ideologue. He approved of the curtailment of the democracy in 411, for instance, and he even found the oligarchic constitution of Chios admirable.

In statesmen he valued above all intelligence and foresight, qualities possessed by his heroes Themistocles and Pericles. Generally, his History is remarkable for its objectivity, although his treatment of Sparta and Athens shows that he greatly admired the qualities attributed to the Athenians?

inventiveness, daring, and aggressiveness. The History is incomplete as far as the war is concerned because it ends abruptly with the narrative of the events of 411 BC. It is more important as an example of what a history can be.

The democracy of the time is marked by the fact that it is administered by people who are "not permanent career officials, but ordinary citizens giving up their time to the service of the state" (Burn, 1949, p. 50). Thucydides indicated something of the nature of democracy when he wrote of the funeral oration by Pericles for the dead from the war, in which it was stated,

Our form of government does not enter into rivalry with the institutions of others. We do not copy our neighbors, but are an example to them. It is true that we are called a democracy, for the administration is in the hands of the many and not of the few. But while the law secures equal justice to all alike in their private disputes, the claim of excellence is also recognized; and when a citizen is in any way distinguished, he is preferred to the public service, not as a matter of privilege, but as the reward of merit (Thucydides, 1900, 2.37).

Service in the military for the protection of the homeland was part of democracy, and the dead are being praised here for their service, expected of and given by those of all ranks and social status.

Kimball (2000) states that this speech indicates the two major themes of Athenian democracy:

It outlines the advantages of Athenian democracy, a bold new system of government that was not simply a political arrangement but a way of life. There were two keynotes to that way of life: freedom and tolerance, on the one hand; responsible behavior and attention to duty on the other. The two, Pericles insisted, go together: We Athenians are "free and tolerant in our private lives; but in public affairs we keep to the law" -- including, he added in an important proviso, "those unwritten laws" -- the lawlike commands of taste, manners and morals -- "which it is an acknowledged shame to break." Freedom and tolerance, Pericles suggested, are blossoms supported by roots that reach deep into the soil of duty (Kimball, 2000, p. 83).

Athenian democracy was much praised and would also be emulated, contributing to the later development of democracy in the United States, though further shaped by ideas about how to govern through a republic rather than direct democracy because Periclean democracy is also seen as an example of tyranny by the majority. The element of tolerance, though, would temper that idea, depending on how it was achieved and how assiduously it was protected.

Plato would consider the elements of democracy and would reject much of what he saw in that form of government because he also saw dangers in it because he gave more power to the idea of a degree of oligarchy based on ability. Much of Plato's theory of politics is found in the Republic, and the city referred to there by Socrates can be seen as any state. The primary subject of the Republic is justice, examined in broad terms:

The Republic is probably the most elaborate monograph on justice ever written. It examines a variety of views about justice, and it does this in a way which leads us to believe that Plato omitted none of the more important theories known to him. In fact, Plato clearly implies that because of his vain attempts to track it down among the current views, a new search for justice is necessary (Popper, 1963, p. 49).

Socrates indicates that the reason human beings come together to form a state in the first place is because human beings have certain needs which can only be fulfilled by the presence of other people, and in the properly administered state the individual is enabled to fulfill his or her needs:

The healthy city satisfies the primary needs, the needs of the body. The proper satisfaction requires that each man exercise only one art. This means that everyone does almost all his work for others but also that the others work for him (Strauss, 1987, p. 43).

In the Republic, Socrates speaks of the relationship between the individual human soul and the society of which the individual is a part. The dialogue in this instance is designed to make a moral statement about the nature of the state and its relationship to the individual. Socrates finds from the first that there is a relationship between the individual and the state which can be analyzed and which can illuminate other concepts:

propose therefore that we enquire into the nature of justice and injustice, first as they appear in the State, and secondly in the individual, proceeding from the greater to the lesser and comparing them (Plato, 1982, p. 9).

For Socrates, the maintenance of harmony requires that the individual fulfill his or her moral duty by obeying all of the laws of the state, and the individual owes the state this allegiance because there is an implicit agreement between the individual and the state -- the individual enjoys the benefits of being part of the state and in turn has an absolute duty to live up to the laws of the state.… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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