Plato Aristotle and the Funeral Oration Term Paper

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Plato Aristotle Pericles

Although the organization of the Greek city state of Athens is often idealized in modern culture as being the birthplace of democracy, the truth is that many major figures in Greek history objected to the Greek form of government. Classical democracy, as it is known, was perhaps most eloquently endorsed by Pericles in his "Funeral Oration," and documented by Thucydides. Yet perhaps the two most influential figures in Greek history, Plato and Aristotle, viewed democracy as an unjust or corruptible way to run a society. Whereas Plato objected to democracy upon largely theoretical grounds arising from his conception of justice, Aristotle believed that justice was not the only concern in forming a society but that practical stability was also a key requirement. Ultimately, both Plato and Aristotle end up condemning democratic society and embracing some form of monarchy as the best possible organization of society, yet they justify this in very different manners.

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Pericles' understanding of the city and its relationship to the individual is almost entirely an ideological one. Although the individual has certain obligations to the state, these obligations are led by reasoning, as well as reverence for particular values and virtues that, to Pericles, set the Athenians in apart from their contemporaries. Essentially, the things that Pericles believes make Athens great all stem from their commitments to truth, honor, and virtue. So, it is to these abstract concepts to which the individual Athenian owes his allegiance; not to some particular prince, or aristocratic order. In this way, when an Athenian dies in defense of his city, he dies so that the ideals that uphold his society might live. To Pericles, such is the model of society that Athenians should strive for, and that foreigners may envy, and additionally, learn from.

TOPIC: Term Paper on Plato Aristotle and the Funeral Oration Assignment

The city of Athens, also, tends to contribute to the general happiness of the individual; Pericles states, "And we have not forgotten to provide for our weary spirits many relaxations from toil; we have regular games and sacrifices throughout the year; our homes are beautiful and elegant; and the delight which we daily feel in all these things helps to banish sorrow," (Thucydides). So, the state is brought to the conclusion that providing for those who are unable to provide for themselves is a logical consequence of recognizing their humanity. Furthermore, the city's beauty and its monuments stand as reminders to the otherwise wary citizens that their way of life is worthy of protection. In other words, there is a bargain between the city and the inhabitants: the inhabitants promise devotion to the city, if the city promises to provide escape from the hardship and unhappiness associated with chaos. Pericles believes that this is the fundamental premise upon which cities are formed, and that the responsibility of Athenians is to carry this line of reason out to its utter extent.

Overall, Pericles' vision of society is one that it uniformly devoted to the rules of morality. As a result, Athens exhibits many characteristics quite unique to the world around it. Athens is not closed to foreigners; as a collective, the people do not act before sufficiently weighing the consequences; and, policies are adopted not for the considerations of momentary gain, but instead, out of reflections upon the general good. He says, "We alone do good to our neighbors not upon a calculation of interest, but in the confidence of freedom and in a frank and fearless spirit." (Thucydides). These are the direct results of a state that is devoted to the interests of the whole, and based upon universally accepted philosophical truths, arrived at through reason.

Still, this is an idealistic conception of society, which is based upon the moral characteristics of a democracy. Athens' "greatness" necessarily resides in its people's ability to accurately consider the implications of freedom and virtuous living. Historically, however, this relationship between the state and the individual has rarely come into existence -- if it has ever existed in the pure form put forward by Pericles. Routinely, the interests of the few -- the nobles, the aristocrats, or the clergy -- have taken precedence over those held by the many. So this model of society has, in many instances, been far from the actual circumstances of human existence.

At the time that classical democracy was operating it came under attack from many prominent individuals. Perhaps most well-known among these critics are Plato and Aristotle. Plato argued that the most morally justifiable ruling body in society is a philosopher king; or else, an oligarchic system of philosopher rulers. Plato's political philosophy was intended to provide the foundation for the concept that those individuals capable of utilizing the virtues of a moral man should be the only people given direct power over the government in a just society. So Plato -- through Socrates -- outlines his vision for the ideal organization of human society and arrives at a radical solution to the pervasive governmental problems of the world: "Unless a political system is ruled by philosophers, or unless those who are ruling become philosophers that is, unless political power and philosophy are brought together and those who now pursue either one or the other exclusively are prevented from doing so -- neither our political problems nor our human troubles in general can be ended," (Plato 473c-d). This is one of the most important assertions made by Plato with respect to all of his philosophy, and it comes at a point where he is attempting to establish the root causes of social unrest and strife. Socrates is responding to Glaucon's question as to whether or not a just political system is possible or, at the very least, if some path exists towards reaching a more just society.

Socrates' contention, though superficially outrageous, is well aligned with the delicate argument Plato has been developing. Specifically, the line of reasoning that brings Socrates to this statement implies that he is eventually going to explicitly state that philosophy an essential tool of a just ruler. Clearly, the way to adequately understand human society is to use a model of the human soul to mirror it. This sort of approach is very similar to John Locke' and Jean-Jacques Rousseau's evaluations of man in his natural state: all of these philosophers attempt to define what human beings are in order to develop a moral society within which they can exist. Plato's organization of the human soul demands that an appropriate understanding of it -- and of philosophic notions in general -- is necessary in order to rule.

The only way such a society could come about would be if it were guided by reason and virtue. Thus, Plato is forced to conclude that a society can only be guided towards truth if it is ruled by either a king who is a philosopher, or a philosopher who is a king. However, the difficulty lies is installing a ruler who is not unduly pulled in any one direction. Understanding this, it is possible to better grasp Plato's conception of the tyrant. For the leader of an economy to be tyrannical he must possess the same attributes as the economy. Socrates explains, "In which case, if the man is like the city, won't he inevitably find the same arrangement of elements in him as well? Won't we find his soul crammed with all sorts of slavery and servility, with those parts of his soul enslaved which used to be the most decent, and a small element, the most evil and insane, possessing the mastery?" (Plato 557d). Consequently, the only appropriate leader is one who is sufficiently detached from any one particular endeavor: an individual who is temperate. Overall, Plato's argument retains much of its power to this day. Although his specific organization of society may be outdated -- both from its philosophical presuppositions and economically -- but the idea that the world's leaders should be moral and political philosophers remains a valid and worthy idea.

Aristotle, however, is far more concerned with the practical troubles associated with democracy than is Plato. Plato's central concern is attempting to create a model by which a society could be organized that would maximize justice; but Aristotle is concerned with creating a model of a society that will also be realistically stable. Aristotle believes that human beings endeavor purely for the search of happiness; recognizing the sources of true happiness would result in a society that was just, and lasting. He further accepted that since ethical notions were not built upon solid premises -- but instead, upon the observed outcomes of actions -- human societies must similarly be analyzed on a case by case basis. As a result, Aristotle believes that no society that has managed to last for many generations could possibly be devoid of any value. Overall, although Aristotle does investigate what roots of what truth, justice and virtue are, his philosophy is less intended to lay down theoretical law, than it is to provide an outline for human beings to… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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