Aristotle 3 Essay, Research Paper
Aristotle s Successful Attack on Socrates Proposal:
Should Women and Children Be Held in Common?
In Aristotle s Politics, Aristotle successfully criticizes Socrates proposal of having wives and children in common (Plato 449d) by pointing out a number of flaws in Socrates proposal. In the following pages, I will explain the view held by Socrates that women and children should be held in common as well as the reasoning behind his view as reported in Plato s Republic. Second, I will explain Aristotle s criticism of Socrates proposal as well as the reasoning behind his criticisms. Thirdly, I will assess the criticism given by Aristotle and explain why the criticism is successful.
Socrates proposal of having women and children in common (Plato 449d) appears in Plato Republic in which Socrates attempts to define justice. In attempting to define justice, Socrates attempts to describe a just city. It is in this just city which Plato proposes the idea that women and children should be held in common. The idea comes in an overall system in which there are different levels of society, each following their own duty. Socrates proposes this system for the guardians, or the political leaders of the state, but he remains vague as to the application of this system to other classes in his state. For the purpose of this paper, I will not focus on the other parts of the state, and instead focus on the practice of holding women and children in common as it pertains to the guardian class. The system does not allow marriage, but has specific rules about sexual relations and child rearing. Sexual relations are all meant to be sanctioned by the rulers and must occur only within one s own group. As far as keeping the children in common, They ll take the newborn children of good parents to the nurse in charge of the rearing pen situated in a separate part of the city. (Plato 460c) In regards to the children of the inferior groups, they will be exposed. Babies will also be exposed if they are born by parents who are out of their prime. People are not allowed to have sex with others who could be their children or parents based on their age. The system also outlines a system of addressing those around you based on age. Socrates specifically explains certain aspects of his proposal for holding women and children in common.
The main reasoning behind Socrates proposal is based in Socrates view of the function of the state. Socrates believes that the good of the state is superior to the good of the individual. His proposal shows that he sees unity of the state as the best way to achieve the ideal state. This is evident when Socrates says that holding women and children in common will alleviate the problems that come from dissension that arises between people because of the possession of money, children and families. (Plato464d) Socrates takes pride in this idea, as it will lead people to aim at the same goal, and, as far as possible, feel pleasure and pain in unison. (Plato464d) Socrates proposes that women and children be held in common in order to make the city united as one, with the good of the state the highest good.
Aristotle provides multiple criticisms of Socrates proposal showing that it is impractical to hold women and children in common based on unity. Aristotle begins by stating that Socrates has, in fact, taken unity to far as the goal of the state. This is because the nature of a state is to be a plurality, and in tending to the greater unity, from being a state it becomes a family, and from being a family, an individual. (Aristotle1261a20) He also argues that unity can be taken to a level that is not good for a state when he says that the extreme unification of states is not good: for a family is more self-sufficing than an individual, and a city than a family, and a city only comes into being when it is large enough to become self-sufficing. (Aristotle1261b11) This shows that self-sufficiency and extreme unity do not coexist, and self-sufficiency is necessary for a city. Hence, Socrates proposal is impracticable. Also, Aristotle criticizes Socrates on the point that Socrates plan actually leads to less unity in that each person would have thousands of brothers, fathers, sisters, mothers, sons, and daughters. He believes that this system will actually cause disunity as the bond between family will not be replicated among the masses, but it will be diluted as a sweet little wine mingled with a great deal of water is imperceptible in the mixture. (Aristotle1262b16) Therefor, all of the citizens would not only care little for one another, but also be cared for less. Aristotle also mentions two other more technical refutes to the proposal. First, he suggests that it would be impossible for children to be held in common due to the fact that some will resemble their parents so much that it will be obvious who is related. The second technical refute is that it will be difficult, if not impossible for children to be placed in a class based on their appearance at infancy. The main criticisms that Aristotle has for Socrates proposal of holding women and children in common is based on the idea of unity.
The reason for Aristotle s criticisms is found in the ideological differences between Socrates and Aristotle. Socrates sees that the good of the state is more important than the good of the individuals, but Aristotle believes that the good of the state is found in the overall happiness of the people. Aristotle attacks Socrates ideology by attacking the unity through which Socrates proposes the practice of holding women and children in common as well as the impracticality of the whole scheme.
In assessing Aristotle s criticisms, it is clear that the proposal by Socrates of having women and children in common has been successfully refuted. Aristotle has shown that it is truly impracticable to hold women and children in common. He has done this by showing first, how unity is not the ultimate goal for the state. Aristotle supported this claim well by articulating the idea that unity can be taken to an extreme level in which the state is no longer a state and no longer self-sufficient. He has also proven that the system which Socrates proposes does not even promote unity, and even sarcastically remarks how much better it is to the real cousin of somebody than to be a son after Plato s fashion. (Aristotle 1262a14) Aristotle also points out more technical reasons that really show that Socrates proposal is flawed. In assessing Aristotle s criticisms of Socrates proposal to hold women and children in common, it is clear that Aristotle has successfully proven the proposal to be impractical and undesirable.