Ancient Political Thought: Aristotle And Plato Essay, Research Paper
Ancient Political Thought
Throughout the Republic it becomes obvious that Plato believes that the best city-state has the highest level of sharing and unity while in the
Politics, Aristotle believes that too much unity can deunify a city-state. The “unity” argument is a prime example of Plato?s way of thinking about
the nature of a community, and Aristotle?s criticism of this unity gives insight into Aristotle?s way of thinking about his views on the nature of the
community. In order to understand Aristotle?s attack on Plato?s “unity,” it must be understood that for Aristotle, unity is synonymous with the level
of sharing in a community. In Politics II 1, Aristotle begins his assessment by stating that, “We must begin, at the natural starting point of this
investigation. For all citizens much share everything, or nothing, or some things but not others” (Pol. 1260b36-39).
There are three possibilities in Aristotle?s argument regarding how much citizens should share in common: Nothing, everything, and some things
but not others. Similar to Plato?s style of forming an argument, Aristotle states the problem and all the possible outcomes. He then proceeds to
disprove two of them, thereby making the last remaining possibility the correct one by means of deduction.
Aristotle argues that it would be “evidently impossible” for a community to have nothing in common (1260b39-40). A community?s citizens all
share the same location, and they are all organized by a common constitution. Therefore, the first possibility can be ruled out. Aristotle attacks
the two remaining possibilities simultaneously. He asks, “is it better for a city-state that is to be well managed to share everything possible? Or
is it better to share some things but not others” (1261a2-4)? Plato would argue that it is best for a city-state to share everything, including women
and children, with all members of a society. In addressing the remaining possibilities, Aristotle questions if Plato was right in the Republic to
assert that “children, women, and property should be communal” in society (1261a6-7), or is having too much unity (sharing) a bad thing.
In the Republic, Socrates explains to Adeimantus the importance of having a communist-like society where everything is shared by the
community. He states that “If a sound education has made [our children] into reasonable men, they will easily see their way through all these
mattes, as well as others which we will pass over for the moment, such as the possession of wives, marriage, and child-bearing, and the
principle that here we should follow, as far as possible, the proverb which says that friends have all things in common” (423e-424a).
Aristotle cannot simply dismiss the possibility of sharing everything, because it can, in theory, take place in a community. All members of a
community, if they so desired, could raise and educate their children together, and share all of their wives amongst their friends and neighbors.
However, Aristotle would like to prove that although it is possible to bring up children in a communal setting, it would undermine that city?s unity,
rather than support it. It is important to note that Socrates says that the principle of sharing children should, as far as possible, be followed. In
order for Aristotle?s to make his argument, it must be assumed that Plato means that once a child is born, he is given over to the community, and
therefore, does not know who his parents are, and his parents do not know who their child is.
Aristotle?s first argument centers on the statement that what is common and shared, by nature, is given the least amount of care and attention.
When a large number of people share something in common, they tend to neglect that something. “What is common to the most people gets the
least care since they are concerned more of all with their own things, but less with common things” (1261b33-35). Aristotle compares sharing
children with an entire community to a master who employs too many servants. A servant will be less motivated to perform specific actions,
because he very well might assume that another servant has already taken care of that task. Furthermore, if the servant knows that the task has
not been competed but fails to perform the task himself, if he is caught slacking off, he can simply exonerate himself by making the claim that he
thought that task was already competed. If, however, a master only had one slave, this slave would not be able to claim that the work was not
done, or that he was not needed, because he is the only one who can serve in the entire household.
From this example, Aristotle infers that if our children are brought up in a communal setting, the same thing will happen to human relationships
that happens to masters with too many slaves. If we all share our children, “There comes to be a thousand sons to each of the citizens,” and this
forms a situation in which “any chance man is equally the son of any chance man, such that all [the "fathers"] will equally neglect them (all the
sons)” (1261b38-1262a1). No matter how close a “father” feels for one of his “sons,” he will end up neglecting the child since it is quite natural,
or in some cases tempting, to think that another “father” is taking care of that “son.” (62, dude).
This neglect will lead to a weakened father-son relationship. Every father will only recognize himself as one of many fathers in the village, and all
the children will see all the fathers as an unorganized whole. If there are 1,000 fathers in a village, the child will therefore be only 1/1000 of each
individual father. This fragmentation leads to a decrease in concern or care. Furthermore, since the father does not know which son is really his,
he will begin to doubt the entire system. He may think that a child is someone else?s based on the child?s resemblance to another father in the
village, and then completely shun the child away.
The system also leads to a lack of respect for each father. If a child steps out of line, and a father in the village tries to reprimand that child, he will
be justified in saying, “I?m not going to obey you. You are not my father.”
Imagine another situation in which a family has a son and a daughter and they are brought up by the entire community, never knowing who their
parents are, nor the fact that they are siblings. There remains a chance that the two could be united and procreate, never realizing that they are of
relation. Aristotle would argue that Plato, therefore, in his vision of the most unified and perfect polis could, in fact, have numerous incestuous
Another factor, that Aristotle fails to mention, is the situation in which a child were born mentally or physically challenged. This child would still be
loved by his parents under Aristotle?s system of the household. However, if this child were released into the entire community to educate and to
nurture, chances are members of the community would not treat this child in the same way that his birth parents would. Under Plato?s system he
may be deemed a social outcast, rather than a loved and cared for member of a family.
All of these examples add to Aristotle?s arsenal of criticisms against Plato?s vision of a literally unified community. Plato cannot escape the
reality of the fact that common things are given the least care. If we share everything, society would only become more fragmented and most
likely to fall apart because no real unity or sense of belonging would exist. While both Aristotle and Plato feel that friendship is essential to
holding a community together, they seem to differ radically as to the types of friendship that would create unity.
In arguing against Plato?s vision of the perfectly unified city-state, Aristotle is really proving the importance of a community having different
interacting households, rather than one unified household.