Plato In the field of political philosophy Plato occupies a pride of place in so far as he is recognized as the first & foremost Greek political philosopher & idealist. He was born in 427 B.C. & was the son of Ariston & Pericitone. His parents came from distinguished families. On his mother side, he was related to Solon, the first great law giver of Athens. His father was also brought up aristocratic traditions. In his youth he came into close contact with the great philosopher Socrates, who wielded profound influence over him. He planned to enter into public life. Some of the political leaders who were his relatives & friends invited him to join public life. But these leaders wanted to implicate Socrates in an infamous deed. Plato refused to involve himself in such deed. He considered Socrates the most righteous man. He was disgusted with such dirty plan & withdrew from the evils of the time. Men in power brought Socrates to trail on the charge of impiety & sentenced him to death. Plato was terribly shocked by the death of Socrates. After the death of Socrates, his disciples including Plato went to Megara & decided to continue the work of their master. Plato went to the court of Dionysious-I, who was self made and unscrupulous despot & had established his personal rule at Syracuse. He wanted to reform the political system of Dionysious-I but soon found that it was not possible. He then established his relation with Dion, brother in law of Dionysious, & began to advise him to acquire the qualities necessary for the ideal State. Dion decided to lead an ideal life by preferring virtue to pleasure & luxury. On the death of Dionysious-I, Dion became the regent. This young man, Dion, who was impressed by Plato, invited him to Syracuse. Plato went to Syracuse in 367 B.C. to aid in the education of the young ruler. As politics at the court proved too much for him, he returned to Athens. Plato established an academy in 386 B.C. & spent the remaining part of his life there. The academy was situated in an Olive grove in one of the outlying areas of Athens called Academe, from which it got its name. it served as a model school for others. A statement warned the students, “Let no man ignorant of geometry enter here.” Important works of Plato in political science are “The Republic”, “The Statesman” & the “Laws”. “The Republic” is Plato’s greatest work & contains his main philosophy. The substance of thought & manner of presentation in “The Republic” has fascinated all succeeding generations. “The Republic” is build on these basic assumptions: 1. The most important assumption is that virtue is knowledge; 2. Men are essentially unequal & vary in their capacities for wisdom, courage & appetite. “The Republic” is a systematic attempt to describe the ideal state, in which the three parts of soul – reason, spirit & appetite are to be properly developed. Though the foundations of “The Republic” are laid in an abstract ethics, its superstructure contains certain things prevalent in the city-states like Athens, Sparta etc. W.A.Dunning rightly says that the political philosophy of Plato involves an interpretation of Greek history & a judgment upon existing institutions. Plato’s concept of an ideal State is that of a small society of men who make serious attempts to achieve moral & intellectual excellence through self- discipline. Plato rejected the doctrine that man must remain a prisoner of natural or social circumstances. He had faith in man’s ability to create an ideal community. He believed that the nature of the government is determined by the quality of men & women who compose the state. The history of “The Republic” is the dialogue in which Socrates is the main character. The conversation begins in the house of Cephalus, a retired rich businessman. Others participating in the conversation are Cephalus’ son, Polemarchus, Plato’s two brothers, Glaucon & Adeimantus and a Sophist, Thrasymachus. The conversation soon turns to the central theme of “The Republic”-justice. In the discussion of justice are contained all elements of political ideas of Plato. According to Plato a State does not come out of an oak or a rock but comes from the character of the men who dwell there-in. The various stages in the development of the State reflect the various stages of the human mind. Before explaining the various aspects of the human mind & the various stages of the development of the State, Plato begins with man’s appetite & the economic aspect of the State. As no individual is self-sufficient, he cannot satisfy all his needs only through his own efforts. He requires help of others in order to satisfy his various needs. Plato proves that the State is not only economic or military but also rational in its organization. Plato wants to train the philosopher-rulers who are to rule by virtue of their trained intelligence & character & not by the letter of the law. The State becomes ideal under the guardianship of such philosopher-rulers. Persons to be selected as the philosopher-rulers have to undergo a series of tests at various stages. The philosopher-ruler is one who has passion for wisdom & has a taste for every sort of knowledge which reveals reality. The philosopher-ruler who possesses all excellent qualities is quite competent to manage the affairs of the State. He is able to visualize a world of unchanging & harmonious order where reason governs. He moulds the character of the others & shapes the pattern of the public & private life in accordance with his vision of ideal. In remolding the character of the people, he is guide by the unchanging model which determines the outlines & basic principles of his work. Plato vividly describes the transition from oligarchy (plutocracy) to democracy. The objective of life in an oligarchy is to acquire as much wealth as possible within a short period. This insatiable craving brings about transition from oligarchy to democracy. Luxurious indulgence of the body & mind of the rulers of oligarchy had its effects on their young men who have already become too lazy & ineffective to resist the temptation of pleasure or to endure any pain. Men in democracy plan their own manner of life to suit their pleasures & are allowed to do whatever they like. They may not submit themselves to authority if they do not want. Some of them may not fight even when their fellow citizens are fighting in the battle-field. They may hold offices even without necessary competence. Men who are condemned to death or exile may stay on & move about in public without any fear. None takes notice of such men. There is a spirit of tolerance & superiority to petty matters. The citizens consider the democratic life free, pleasant & happy. Plato is the first systematic political thinker of the West. He is a great political idealist. Reason rules his state. The chief objective of his State is to achieve & preserve justice. Virtue is knowledge for its governing class. He wants to sacrifice even the time honored institutions like family & property for the sake of his ideal State. A city-state as a unit of political organization, the governing class confining itself to the work of government & not engaging itself in agriculture & trade, common messing for men, military training for youths, subordination of the individual to the State etc. are the Hellenic features in the political thought of Plato. Concept of justice, scheme of education, functional specializations, equality of women, rule of reason etc. are the features of universal relevance in Plato’s political thought.
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