Rulers According To Plato, Machiavelli And Aristotle Essay, Research Paper
Political philosophy is part of the most influential and enduring texts in all of history. The Aristotelian tradition, following from the philosophy of Plato and continuing in the writings of other modern political philosophers such as Machiavelli, has formed the setting against which all succeeding political and moral philosophy has founded its orientation. The respective rights and duties of the citizens and the ruler as described in Plato’s Apology, Machiavelli’s Prince, and Aristotle’s Politics can be compared and contrasted in various ways.
According to Socrates in Plato’s Apology, citizens have the right to philosophize in pursuit of truth and perfecting the soul. Socrates was charged with preaching this message to the youth of Athens (Jowett 4). Machiavelli, on the other hand, did not concentrate on the right of philosophizing but rather on the right of citizens becoming dependent on the prince. If citizens were dependent on the prince, then revolts were less likely to occur (Wooton 32). Aristotle’s reasoning of citizen rights dealt with participation in office. He believed that citizens had the right to participate in the affairs of the city only if their parents were both citizens as well (Reeve 65). Despite the fact that Socrates, Machiavelli and Aristotle have different beliefs about the rights of citizens, it can be inferred that they would all agree on the right of citizens to be ruled by a greater and wiser force.
Along with the rights of citizens are the duties. Socrates believed that an important duty of citizens was to improve the state through self-knowledge. In Socrates’ view, the health and prosperity of the state would follow if every one of the citizens were wise and virtuous, but no set of laws can ensure such health and prosperity if the citizens act unjustly. Besides the citizens’ duty of obtaining virtue, Socrates feels it is his personal duty in to the God of the oracle to continue questioning men who think they are wise in order to show them that they are not (Jowett 15). Machiavelli also believed that citizens had a responsibility to obtain virtu. In Italian, the word virtu means strength, ability, courage, and vitality. Machiavelli suggested that the maintenance of liberty in a republic depends on the virtu of the citizens (Wooton 18). Aristotle believed that citizens had a duty, along with the right, to hold office and make decisions. He further explains the duties of citizens in chapter four in his book Politics’ with the examination of the virtue of a good man in comparison with that of a good citizen. Aristotle stated that a citizen is somewhat like a sailor, one among a number of partners on a ship, each with different tasks and functions. Although each has a specific virtue according to his capacity and duty on the ship, there is also a general virtue similar to them all, which is the preservation of the ship. In a similar way, the virtue of the citizen is with a view to the regime (Reeve 70). Despite the different interpretations, all three philosophers can agree that if citizens fulfill their duty of having virtue or virtu, the city will thrive.
Citizens are not the only ones with rights. As indicated by Socrates, rulers have the right to question and clarify knowledge rather than to affirm it (Jowett 15). While Machiavelli takes a different approach and implies in chapter seventeen of his book, The Prince that a ruler has the right to be feared than to be loved. He believes that when forced to choose between being feared and being loved, rulers have the right to choose being feared because it is a safer way out, since he thinks men cannot be trusted (Wooton 52). Aristotle believed that the rights of ruler depended on the type of regime. For example, a mastery type of political rule had the right to rule with a view to the advantage of the master. Although Aristotle did not believe this should be the case, he did provide that right to mastery political rule (Reeve 72). Aristotle believed that successful political rule had the right to rule with a view to the advantage of the city as a whole. While Aristotle wanted to avoid rule by a single man because it was apolitical, he does not deny that if such an outstanding person or group of people existed, it would be irrational not to allow them to rule. Rulers can have different rights according to Socrates, Machiavelli and Aristotle, but one thing found in common among all three philosophers is that they all propose the rights of the rulers with respect to the citizens of the city, which can be further explained through the duties of citizens.
Socrates believed that the supreme moral duty of philosophical life was to question people regarding their own supposed knowledge and to show them that their wisdom extends only as far as their acceptance of their ignorance. In this respect, Socrates believes he is helping people gain wisdom and overcome ignorance (Jowett 14). Machiavelli believed that the ruler had various duties. One obligation included that a ruler who intended to by successful must be prepared to do bad things on occasion, when political realities demand such actions. Machiavelli also believed that it was the duty of a ruler to have characteristics of both the lion and the fox. He thought that the bravery and strength of the lion would not be enough to enable the ruler to escape the traps set by his enemies and therefore the slyness of the fox would also be needed. Machiavelli offered Septimius Severus, who served as Roman emperor from 193-211A.D. as an example of a new prince who effectively used the techniques of both the lion and the fox to maintain himself in power (Wooton 55). In addition, Machiavelli believed that it was a ruler’s duty to achieve the art of war. He held that the cultivation of this art was the chief means of gaining and keeping power, and that the neglect of this art was the chief means of losing power (Wooton 43). Aristotle was not as complicated in that he believed the duty of a ruler was to rule for the sake of the common good. He believed that rulers with this obligation were from the correct regimes and the regimes that look to the advantage of the rulers are unjust (Reeve 73). The duties of rulers are diverse according to the three philosophers, but it can be assumed confidently that they all agree on the duty of rulers having knowledge in order to govern.
While Socrates, Machiavelli and Aristotle all propose different views on the rights and duties of citizens and rulers, their ideas can be taken out of context to find that they do indeed share some similar ground. Personally, I think that Aristotle had the strongest ideas about the rights and duties of citizens, while Machiavelli had the most powerful ideas about the rights and duties of a ruler. Overall, all three philosophers have contributed to the foundation for all succeeding political and moral philosophy because whether based on similar or different views, they have set the ground rules for the rights and duties of citizens and rulers.
Machiavelli’s The Prince