Ideal Society Plato's Republic Versus Sir Thomas More's Utopia Research Paper

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¶ … Society: Plato's Republic vs. Sir Thomas More's Utopia

Plato's the Republic is founded on justice and harmony as the hallmarks of its society and in the choice of its philosopher-rulers. This concept reflects in all its practices surrounding government and leadership, military, citizenship, education and religion. In contrast, Thomas More's Utopia revises the restrictiveness in the Republic by eliminating authority and norms, drawing from the same, but inaccurate, assumption that the human being recognizes and possesses goodness and will work for it collectively with others in society. Utopians mistakenly believe that an unrestrained, pleasurable existence is the good life.

The ideal society is a natural preoccupation, especially among philosophers. Plato saw that society as inherently and unavoidably founded on justice for its social and political concept. In his major work, "The Republic," he describes justice as harmony between internal and external realities or conditions. The balance within the soul of each man creates that internal harmony and internal harmony is projected outside to establish external harmony in the state (Book Notes 2004, 433e). Plato perceived this balance of internal and external balance as proceeding from the virtuous, just or good person, but that such a person must and is assumed to live in an already just society or state. In his mind, external justice is impossible without a pre-existing internal justice in each member of society or state. Social justice can develop only out of just individuals, who in turn, will not be happy living in an unjust society (Book Notes 433d-e). It is with the consciousness of the innately fallen nature of man and the mixture of Plato's principles expressed in the "Republic," Ovid's "Golden Age" features and seasoned with Christian doctrines that Thomas More concocts his concept of Utopia (Spark Notes 2004). It is a laboratory experiment or a new menu that he tries out for taste. He takes what is preferred in one doctrine and adds it to the preferred doctrines or portions of the other beliefs or concepts. The merger becomes the dreamland called Utopia (SparkNotes). These two ideal societies are compared according to their respective principles on government and leadership, military, citizenship, education and religion.

Government and Leadership

Plato argues that human beings cannot function separately or individually in acquiring or performing common tasks they need. Thus, they form communities for the achievement of common objectives, with each person specializing in particular craft or goods to offer the communities (Kemerling 2001). The formation and separation of different functions and specializations he views to be the elements of a worthwhile and lasting society. He figures that this society would consist of distinct classes -- farmers, builders, teachers and others -- according to their contribution to the common good, which is the common goal of the community or society. Since Plato believes that only the wisdom of good rulers provides the key to the success of the city-state, these rulers or kings must first be philosophers. Therefore, only those children who demonstrate a philosophical temperate will eventually develop the competence to rule, as they are those who can detect fact from illusion and distinguish between abstractions and concrete reality. Plato's philosophy singles out those philosophers who detach themselves from the senses and immerse themselves in mental activities against mere and idle dreamers. He is aware of the prevalent public disfavor towards philosophers, but Plato insists that the ideal society depends on the wisdom of these philosophers to put and maintain order in that society. What's more, such philosophers are born, not made. In that case, Plato's schools were tasked only to identify and train those promising children to become philosopher-kings of the future for the good of society (Kemerling).

Utopia, on the other hand, is based on rational thought, communal property, optimum productivity, no class distinctions, no greed for wealth or money, no poverty, a minimum of crime and immorality (SparkNotes 2010). Utopia is neither a dictatorship nor a democracy. There is no constituted unit of authority, except the Prince whose prerogatives are not absolute. Utopia is frankly a commonwealth, but a commonwealth of nameless and faceless masses. There is no such popular thing as the cult of personality or individuality. While everybody enjoys the fruits of a sustaining society, everybody also loses his or her identity (SparkNotes).

Military

In "the Republic," soldiers are among the guardians appointed to secure society. The others are rulers to settle internal conflicts and leaders to govern (Kemerling 2001).

But choosing the right individual for the responsibilities depends on the provision for the proper education for the guardians of society or the state (Kemerling). In the Utopia, the people are the police and the soldiers themselves. There is no fixed authority. They decide collectively on punishment.(SparkNotes 2010). The greatest public punishment is slavery, which Utopians view as most horrifying as death. When the offender or slave revolts, the authorities or the Utopian society itself treats him as a wild and destructive beast who must finally be put to death. But if he or she accepts his or her punishment quietly or patiently or becomes too burdened by the penalty, he can still merit the Prince's forgiveness. Pardon is the Prince's sole prerogative, but granted only through the people's intercession. The offender can then, be set free, or at least merit a reduction of sentence (SparkNotes).

Citizens

Plato argues that human beings cannot function separately or individually in acquiring or performing common tasks they need. Thus, they form communities for the achievement of common objectives, with each person specializing in particular craft or goods to offer the communities (Kemerling 2001). The formation and separation of different functions and specializations he viewed to be the elements of a worthwhile and lasting society. He figures that this society would consist of distinct classes of citizens -- farmers, builders, teachers and others -- according to their contribution to the common good, which is the common goal of the community or society (Kemerling). Thomas More retains Plato's stringent methods in guarding and guiding children to grow up into upright citizens (SparkNotes 2010). While Plato focuses on the political aspect of a society in his "Republic," Thomas More extends farther than that aspect to cover the entire social structure in suggesting social reform (SparkNotes).

Education

In the Republic, Plato proposes an elementary education curriculum, which balances physical training with musical performance and basic intellectual development (Kemerling 2001). It also requires strict censorship of literary reading materials among children whose developing mental faculties can be dulled by these materials or whose over-active participation in dramatic presentations can expose them to the mistakes and flaws of tragic heroes. Most importantly, he views that absorption in fiction can weaken one's awareness and primacy of the truth. He emphasizes that education and training are only for children who will be future guardians of the state and whose performance at the elementary level will indicate their qualification for intended tasks later in society. Each society should then design and develop its own educational system, which would sort out and train the children for these responsibilities, according to their demonstrated abilities in school. Plato also believes that children should be raised and educated by society rather than by their parents in the interests of the state, which should screen them according to a curriculum. A simple course on breeding, nurturing and training of children enrolled in the guardian class would replace the natural pleasures of family life and directed towards the continuation or development of a city-state. Neither does he leave this duty to the spontaneous and risky control of natural parents and to the perils of young people's focusing their attention and energy into the pursuit of wealth and fame and away from developing intellectual faculties, which are more rigorous. Hence, he stresses that these select children should be provided with the best education that consists in a regimen of increasing levels of strict mental disciplines in the course of these children's lives (Kemerling).

When a violation of laws happens in Utopia, the families of the couple suffer bad reputation, because it reflects on the parents' or families' failure to discipline and teach their children properly (SparkNotes 2010). Responsible parenthood to the Utopians consists in eliminating or taming the children's sensual appetite (SparkNotes).

Religion

In the Republic, God is represented as the Good. Plato believes that the knowledge of that Good is the highest goal of all education (Kemerling 2001, 508e-509d). In his opinion, it is not a mere awareness or acquiring of particular benefits and pleasures. It is acquaintanceship with the Form of God or the Good itself. In the same way that the sun enlightens one in perceiving things in the visual world, the Form of the Good also serves as the ultimate standard by which the reality and value of everything are established. The apprehension of reality happens in different degrees according to the nature of the object perceived. That apprehension or perception of reality differs from mere opinion. That standard thus establishes what things belong to… [END OF PREVIEW]

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