Plato, the student of Socrates, and Aristotle, the student of Plato, two of the most influential philosophers to have ever walked the earth, take two completely different approaches whilst talking about the formation of city states and epistemology itself.
Plato primarily defined the nature of things in theoretical terms through metaphysics, in contrast to actual terms. Thus by looking at the ‘higher forms’, he aimed to explain the function of existing knowledge and understandings in the search for the ‘absolute truth’. On the other hand, Aristotle was more concerned with the actual physical features of nature, for the most part, the Natural Sciences.
Through their different approaches regarding the nature of man, both Plato and Aristotle sought to explain the relationship between the individual and society and furthermore the requirement of government to uphold order and stability. Plato’s ideal city state, which he refers to in his dialogue in the Republic as the ‘kallipolis’, and Aristotle’s concept of the ideal relationship between the social order and government in an actual city state are contrasting not with regards to the end and purpose which they sought to fulfil, the telos, but instead over the proposed way in which they sought to meet that ‘telos’.
After having determined that it was possible to form an ideal city state, Plato then looks to chose a government that would rule both justly and firmly. Firstly he discusses the reasons for which people would desire to form a state and keep within its rules. Plato states that it is not the desire of man to form a state, instead it is an inevitable need of man, for man is not self-sufficient and therefore needs to live in an organised society, and that each person has a natural talent for a certain area of work and should seek to develop it further for the benefit of the state. Plato embodies the natural inequality of humanity, the origin of the state, in the division of labor.
Aristotle has objections to the very foundation of Plato’s kallipolis. Due to his more grounded approach, Aristotle argues that man does not seek to make a state simply because it is essential due to man not being self-sufficient, instead it is because of an innate instinct.
The differences between Plato and Aristotle’s ways which they select their government’s rules an be attributed in part to Aristotle’s outright rebuttal of the kallipolis. Plato states that for a city to be ideal it has to be just and ‘good’, and that good can only be realised if the city is lead by people able to see the true forms of things and understand true knowledge. Ultimately philosophers must become kings, or kings must become philosophers, known as the guardian class. The rules selected by these guardian kings would be enforced by the Auxiliaries class, men of courage and intelligence, whilst the majority of people would make up the lower end of society, the producer class. His kallipolis is best described as an aristocracy, something Aristotle greatly disagrees with as he rejects the idea that those elite few with absolute truth will be the rulers of governments.
Aristotle instead seeks to create a perfect relationship between the government and social order, looking most prolifically at balance when determining where the power of government would lie, whether it be in the hands of few or the masses. First, he looked at whether or not the proposed leaders would govern for their own self-interests or for good of the polis, separating the candidates into the ‘three parts of the city state: the very rich, the very poor; and, third, those in between these.’ Aristotle determined that the poor ‘do not know how to rule, but only how to be ruled in the way slaves are ruled’ and that the rich ‘do not know how to be ruled in any way, but only know how to rule as masters rule.’ Aristotle then goes on to determine that the middle class should form the ruling body because it reduces the chances of divisions because the middle does not ‘desire other people’s property as the poor do, nor do other people desire theirs…And because they are neither plotted against nor engage in plotting.’
Comparing the two proposed city states and governments it is clear that there is more to Aristotle’s objections to the parable of the cave: it is not just regarding the matter of the ‘elite few’ being masters of the slaves that are the masses, but how the actual power is obtained. Plato believed that man could achieve absolute truth only by consideration of the eternal forms, not through observations and experiences. Aristotle instead shifted away from this view and instead used observations and experiences to pursue his goal of achieving knowledge. Famously Aristotle is thought of as the father of biology, his great encyclopedia of knowledge and observations still influence the academics of today. Because the world is constantly changing, Aristotle determined that absolute knowledge is not possible, a stark contrast to Plato’s views, believing that through observing the material things, one could understand its underlying form. I personally believe that Aristotle’s way of viewing things is more effective simply because it is more realistic and down to earth, he is not always thinking of hypothetical ‘forms’ like Plato, instead he is observing their real embodiments and coming to conclusions.