Plato lived from 427-347 BC. He was born into a wealthy household where he was a student of Socrates. During his lifetime, he was heavily influenced by Socrates. As a student of Socrates school of intellectual knowledge, Plato lived in a society where old customs ruled the land and questioning the God’s legitimacy was forbidden, punishable by death (as Socrates found out). As an Absolutists, he believed that there was one definitive interpretation of laws of man and God which would apply to all cultures. Despite his normative ideology, his influence on the formation of political theory remains etched in the history of political thought. In this paper I will be focusing on what Plato had to say about equality (regarding men and women, family and society) and the self realization of politics, whether it was necessary for a citizen to become involved in politics to realize his full potential as an individual in society. Equality has always been the key issue for societies throughout history to consider their real potential as a citizen of the state.
From the dawn of civilization, the struggle among people with power and without power has shaped the world dynamics of political power. As with all societies, Plato’s era of the issue of power struggle has significantly shaped current and past perceptions of equality. In Plato’s, The Republic, his interpretation of equality was based upon the pursuit of knowledge and rational. According to Plato, through the pursuit of wisdom, a society (hypothetically) will be based upon scientific rational instead of the reliance upon religion to explain the natural world. For example, before societies relied upon pre-scientific explanations to explain the natural phenomena, societies viewed religion as a valid reason why crops did not yield its yearly dividends. Cultural revered constructs such as sacrifice to the Gods remained as to the reason how and why the natural world operated. Through Plato’s interpretation of how the natural world operated, the pursuit of knowledge and reason gave an alternative avenue to explain how the natural world operated and gave people the power of predictability.
Regarding equality, Plato’s normative theory of how a society should operate was extremely speculative in nature and relatively a radical trend in a society that reveres stability. Living a good life by Plato’s ideology meant the need for specialization, organization of class structure, education and censorship and the role of women. The first issue of living a good life is the need for specialization. 3 In Plato’s Republic, the need for specialization was based upon the Allegory of the Cave.
Through the use of the Allegory of the cave, observing life events outside the box and witnessing different perceptions of reality was supposed to enable people to see different absolute forms of truth and justice. 4 Through the pursuit of knowledge, and the need for specialization, Plato aspired that his ideal state would be successfully implemented in Greek society. In Plato’s class structure defined in his writings in the Republic, class structure was defined by a social hierarchy based upon the notions of justice.
Justice was contained in the soul and ability of the citizen. According to Plato, citizens of the state were ascribed a certain amount of rationality at birth. Citizens of the state were classified in Plato’s ideal state based upon rational. Citizens who contained gold at birth would eventually rule society as a Philosopher-King. These individuals are characterized as being the highest among the class structure through their pursuit of knowledge and understanding. The next class structure mentioned in Plato’s Ideal State was the citizens who have silver in their souls.
Otherwise known as the Auxiliary class, these individuals were driven through their pursuit of knowledge and courage, protection of the ideal state. The issue of temperance defined this class of individuals from the rest of citizens. Lastly mentioned by Plato in his ideal societal class structure were individuals with bronze in their souls. These citizens of the state were characterized as being the shoemakers, tradesmen of the state. The key component that distinguished these individuals from the rest of the class structure was their love for the state based on communal verses individual gains.
Living the good life for these individuals meant doing what they did best, whether it meant making shows or being a carpenter. 5 However, class structure in Plato’s ideal state did not mean individual autonomy (regarding equality) rather it meant doing what you do best for the good of the state. Plato’s ideal state of education and censorship involved a narrow absolutist’s perception of adherence to stability. According to Plato, obedience to the Gods remained a strong deterrence to individual equality; rather Plato’s interpretation of state education encompassed a strong adherence to the communal cooperation among the citizens of the state. For example, in Plato’s Republic censorship involved banning all negative connotations of the Gods in education. Throughout the history of civilization, successful governments have deterred and banned any negative propaganda which has threatened to illegitimized the stability of the state. Regarding censorship and education one of the most important components contained in Plato’s ideal state is the inclusive nature of education. Regarding equality In Plato’s Republic, education encompassed all citizens of the state. According to Plato, education is included to both women and men of the state.
Since both men and women possessed ascribed dual virtues (ability to pursue of knowledge), women were included in Plato’s dynamic ideal state. Women were treated the same based upon their amount of rational and knowledge. Plato viewed the participation of women in an Ideal state as a dynamic feature characterized by being fully capable of doing the same tasks for whoever was best suited for social tasks involved in the societal hierarchy. Plato’s perception of the contribution of female participation in the state is best summed in this passage:
Which do we think right for watch-dog: should female guards the flock and hunt with the males and take a share in all they do, or should they be kept within doors as fit for no more bearing and feeding their puppies, while all the hard work of looking after the flock is left the males? They are expected to take full share, except that we treat them as not quite as strong. 7 The last portion of the text above illustrates that whenever a man and women are competing for an equal societal position, the man will inherently rule over the female. The existence of the state was based upon the communal interest of the state.
Regarding equality between men and women, his perception of the ideal state merely reflects the laws of nature, where the man ruled the household and governance of the state. In the next portion of this essay, I will focus on Plato’s perception of politics of self-realization. Regarding self-realization in politics, I will be focusing on the aspect on whether it was necessary for the common man (citizen of the state) to become involved in politics. According to Plato in the trial and death of Socrates, the issue of politics and ethics was mutually exclusive.
A man must live a private life away from politics to pursue the good life. A man who really fights for justice must lead a private, not a public life, if he is to survive for even a short time. 8 As mentioned earlier, the issue of justice remained a strong component of Plato’s Ideal state regarding self realization. In Plato’s ideal state the issue of justice was located inside the soul. Every citizen of the state possessed certain elements such as Gold, Silver and Bronze which was used to determine their societal position. These elements were based on the ability to pursue knowledge and intellectual thought.
Plato’s interpretation of self realization involved individuals of the state doing what they best, based on their inherit ability to reason. Naturally, Plato’s perception of who should rule was reserved for the Philosopher-King. Despite this elitist approach of self realization and politics, Plato believed in his writings on the Republic, that the Philosopher-King was naturally inclined to rule based on their ability to understand and ability to obtain higher intellectual thought. The concept of pursuing knowledge and wisdom separated the Philosopher-King among the auxiliary and craftsmen class.
Because the Philosopher-King was at the apex of understanding, he became closer to understanding and possessing absolute knowledge. He naturally possessed the right to rule over the rest of society. Interestingly, Plato writings on the Republic and the laws are in sharp contrast of each other. According to Plato’s laws, elected citizens rule society compared to the Philosopher-King; thus nullifying the social position for the Philosopher-King. Interestingly, Plato’s perceptions of equality and self-realization of politics relatively mirror the politics of the dominant nations of today’s society.
Today, the United States and other world powers revere equality for all peoples of color, race and gender as a cornerstone of government legitimacy. With some minor exceptions throughout history, equality is the apex of advancement in the today’s democratic government. Regarding self-realization, Plato’s writings on the laws included participation of the citizen class by electing citizens leadership. Today, many governments throughout the world have elected to utilize the citizen class to elect leaders of their nations.