Paper Topics (again, choose one of these three essay topics…or you can construct a topic of your own, but you must run it by me first).
- Plato and Aristotle on Just Claims to Rule (or what is a legitimate regime?)
Why is Plato’s ideal state characterized by the rule of the guardians/philosopher-kings, whereas Aristotle contends that in most cases the best feasible regime will be a “polity” — a regime that recognizes the partially valid claims of “numbers, wealth and virtue”?
While Aristotle admits that the rule of philosopher king would be the best political regime, why does he believe it is critical to describe in detail “the polity,” the “next best” regime?
How would Plato respond to Aristotle’s recognition of the claims of numbers and wealth? That is, how is Plato’s division of labor in the best city different from that proposed by Aristotle in the second best regime, the polity? Would Plato agree with Aristotle that all members of a true polis should be capable of both ruling and being ruled? If not, why not?
- Plato and Aristotle on the Relationship between Self-Interest (and Property) and Governance
Compare Plato’s and Aristotle’s analysis of the relationship between private property ownership and the capacity to rule.
Why does Plato favor a communist life-style for his philosopher-kings/guardians? Describe how Plato proposes to tame the desire for power through knowledge/education and love of the public good? Is Plato confident that the desire for power and self-interest can be tamed by knowledge (examine the noble lie and the philosopher’s reluctance to return to the cave)?
Aristotle admits that the ideal regime would be governed by a philosopher king. But he also holds that, in reality, the best regime possible would be characterized by a polity in which middle strata property-owners played a central, stabilizing role? Why does Aristotle believe that a widespread distribution of moderate property ownership is desirable? Does he believe that this form of distribution will characterize most polities? If not, what proposals does he offer for dealing with what he sees as the almost inevitable class polarization between the few rich and the many “poor” (or small property owners)?
III. Plato and Aristotle on the Just Man and the Good Citizen
Contrast Plato’s and Aristotle’s views on the relationship between moral/philosophic virtue and the capacity for being a good citizen.
Why does Plato believe that the only good life is the just life? Analyze Plato’s analogy between the virtues of the state and the virtues of the soul. Does it hold up? Does everyone in the good, just polis have to have a completely virtuous, just soul? (That is, could Plato be more interested in educating a few virtuous philosophers than in creating good, politically autonomous citizens?) Why is it so important for Plato to demonstrate that the just man is happy even if he is unfairly viewed as a bad man by his fellow citizens?
In contrast, why does Aristotle believe that in a good, if not perfect, regime the good citizen need not necessarily be a perfectly just, good man? What is the difference for Aristotle between the good, moral man and the good citizen? Compare this view to Plato’s. Why does Aristotle argue that only those who actually found just regimes and create new constitutions need to be “good men”/“just men?” Why does he place more emphasis on the goodness of the laws than on the moral quality of the rulers? Finally, does Aristotle have a more realistic and less demanding conception of human nature and politics than Plato? Or is he mostly trying to dupe the “many” of small means to supporting a regime that is still biased in favor of the wealthier and better educated? Might a Plato supporter contend that Aristotle makes too many concessions to the traditional, conventional view of political justice.