Law and Politics

Start Free Trial

Plato and Aristotle are linked in the history of Western philosophy. Nevertheless, they disagree on a number of issues. Compare and contrast the political thought of Plato and Aristotle, explaining their areas of agreement and where they differ.

Plato and Aristotle had quite different ideas of politics. Aristotle believed that a democratic state that had a large ruling body and allowed for citizen involvement would be stable and healthy. Plato, an aristocrat, thought that states should be ruled by wise philosopher-kings. Both believed that the end goal of the state should be peace and prosperity for its citizens and that the military should only be used for self-defense.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Plato and Aristotle differed quite profoundly in their respective political philosophies. In keeping with his theory of the Forms, which Aristotle rejected, Plato argued that the ideal political system should mirror the correct balance in the soul between the appetitive, rational, and spirited elements. In this way, Plato's political utopia would achieve justice.

Aristotle, however, was a much less abstract thinker than Plato in most things. The contrast was especially apparent when it came to politics. Generally regarded as the first political scientist, Aristotle was more concerned with describing and examining existing political systems than constructing ambitious utopian schemes like Plato.

Unlike Plato, Aristotle held to a clear distinction between practical and theoretical philosophy, with the latter playing no part in politics. As theoretical philosophy had no goals outside itself, Aristotle believed it could have no bearing on the day to day practicalities of political life.

A further distinction between the two philosophers can be seen in their respective attitudes towards political participation. An elitist aristocrat, Plato was deeply distrustful of democracy. He saw it as little more than the rule of the mob. Instead, he advocated an ideal city-state in which power would be placed in the hands of wise philosophers like himself, so-called philosopher-kings.

Aristotle, on the other hand, believed that a regime based on too small of a governing elite would lead to chronic instability. He favored a more broadly-based political system, based on the existing city-state of Athens, in which there would be a relatively large ruling class and greater opportunities for participation by ordinary citizens.

One source of agreement between Plato and Aristotle regarding politics concerned their views of what the state's ultimate goals are. To this end, both believed that the state should facilitate peace and prosperity. That being the case, they argued against the occupation of other states and believed that military force should only be used for self-defense.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team