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  2. Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Greece/IV/Section I.—The Old Greek Literature.
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Even those following and radicalizing Plato precisely by advocating the abolition of property for all the citizens, rather than only deprivation of it for the rulers, as would the sixteenth-century Sir Thomas More, were generally opposed to if not also scandalized by the suggestion of procreative communism. The Republic initiates a further tradition in political philosophy by laying out a template for the integration of ethics and political philosophy into a comprehensive account of epistemology and metaphysics.

In the Republic , the knowledge required for rule is not specialized, but comprehensive: the knowledge of the good and the Forms is somehow to translate into an ability to make laws as well as the everyday decisions of rule.


The rulers are philosophers who take turns over their lifetime in exercising collective political authority. To that extent the Republic presents a paradox: if it is widely considered the first major work of political philosophy, [ 8 ] it is nevertheless a work in which there is no special content to political knowledge nor any special vocation for politics.

In the Statesman , Plato turns his attention to precisely the topics identified at the end of the last section above. The discussion is interrupted but ultimately enriched by a story or myth in which politics is shown to be a matter of humans ruling other humans in place of living under divine guidance. That human expertise of statecraft is ultimately distinguished by its knowledge of the correct timing kairos as to when its closest rivals should be exercised: these are three forms of expertise that in fact corresponded to key political roles, some of them formal offices, in Greek cities at the time, namely, rhetoric, generalship, and judging Lane , Lane c.

The statesman is wholly defined by the possession of that knowledge of when it is best to exercise these and the other subordinate forms of expertise, and by the role of exercising that knowledge in binding or weaving the different groups of citizens together, a knowledge which depends on a broader philosophical grasp but which is peculiarly political El Murr Here, political philosophy operates not just to assimilate politics to a broader metaphysical horizon but also to identify its specificity.

The Statesman also raises an important question about the nature and value of rule by law, as opposed to rule by such expert knowledge as embodied in a rare and likely singular individual. By contrast, the Statesman analyzes law as in principle a stubborn and imperfect substitute for the flexible deployment of expertise e—c. However, the principal interlocutors of the latter dialogue go on to agree that if the choice is between an ignorant imitator of the true political expert who changes the laws on the basis of whim, and a law-bound polity, the latter would be preferable, so bringing law back into the picture as an alternative to the ideal after all.

For an alternative argument, that the second-best city is not meant to be Magnesia, see Bartels In this second-best city, the legislation for which is sketched out in speech by the three interlocutors of the dialogue, politics still aims at virtue, and at the virtue of all the citizens, but those citizens all play a part in holding civic offices; the ordinary activities of politics are shared, in what is described as a mixture of monarchy and democracy.

Another influential aspect of the Laws is its positive evaluation of the nature of law itself as a topic proper to political philosophy. Some scholars have found that to be a distinctively democratic and liberal account of law Bobonich ; see also the entry on Plato on utopia.

That arguably goes too far in a proceduralist direction, given that the value of law remains its embodiment of reason or understanding nous , so that while adding persuasive preludes is a better way to exercise the coercive force of law, no agreement on the basis of persuasion could justify laws which departed from the standard of nous Laks Nevertheless, the emphasis on law as an embodiment of reason, and as articulating the political ideals of the city in a form that its citizens are to study and internalize Nightingale b, , is distinctive to this dialogue.

The Statesman however reserves a special extraordinary role a higher office, or perhaps not a formal office as such for the statesman whenever he is present in the city Lane b. Has Plato in the Laws given up on his earlier idealism which rested on the possibility of the philosopher-king, or on the idea of the perfectly knowledgeable statesman?

If so, should that be interpreted as disillusionment or pessimism on his part, or as a more democratic or liberal turn? Or are there more fundamental continuities that connect and underlie even these seeming shifts? These questions structure the broad debate about the meaning and trajectory of Platonic political philosophy for an overview, compare Klosko to Schofield Living much of his life as a resident alien in Athens, with close familial ties to the extra- polis Macedonian court which would, near the end of his life, bring Athens under its sway, Aristotle at once thematized the fundamental perspective of the Greek citizenship of equals and at the same time acknowledged the claim to rule of anyone of truly superior political knowledge.

Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Greece/IV/Section I.—The Old Greek Literature.

Biological creatures work to fulfill the realization of their end or telos , a specific way of living a complete life characteristic of the plants or animals of their own kind, which is the distinctive purpose that defines their fundamental nature—just as human artifacts are designed and used for specific ends. While every human being, in acting, posits a particular telos as the purpose making that action intelligible, this should ideally reflect the overall natural telos of humans as such. Here, however, arises a problem unique to humans. Whereas other animals have a single telos defining their nature living the full life of a frog, including reproduction, being the sole telos of each frog, in the example used by Lear , humans both have a distinctive human nature—arising from the unique capacity to use language to deliberate about how to act — and also share in the divine nature in their ability to use reason to understand the eternal and intelligible order of the world.

Practical reason is the domain of ethics and politics, the uniquely human domain. Yet the political life is not necessarily the best life, compared with that devoted to the divinely shared human capacity for theoretical reason and philosophical thinking compare Nicomachean Ethics I with X. In fact he closes his Nicomachean Ethics by remarking that for most people, the practice of ethics can only be ensured by their being governed by law, which combines necessity compulsion with reason.

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Because, for most people, the ethical life presupposes government by law, the student of ethics must become a student of political science, studying the science of legislation in light of the collection of constitutions assembled by Aristotle and his school in the Lyceum. At the beginning of Book IV b1—39 , Aristotle offers a fourfold account of what the expertise regarding constitutions must encompass.

The second, the best relative to circumstances, starts with the material cause and organizes political inquiry around the best that can be made out of given material. The third, the best on a hypothesis, starts not from the true end of politics, but any posited end, and so looks for means and devices that will preserve any given constitution. In defective regimes, the good citizen and the good man may come apart. The good citizen of a defective regime is one whose character suits the particular regime in question whether oligarchic, or democratic, say and equips him to support it loyally; hence he may be deformed or stunted by a role of holding or a role of holding accountable offices defined on incorrect terms.

Here the limitations and exclusions among actual humans licensed by the principled formulation of the possibility—requiring actual realization—of human virtue become apparent.

Or the wealthy? Or the good? Or the one best man?

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Or a tyrant? He develops in particular detail the arguments that might be made on behalf of the many and the knowledgeable one respectively. Aristotle uses the image of a collectively provided feast to illustrate the potential superiority of such collective judgement; how to interpret this image whether as a potluck, Waldron , Wilson , Ober , or in a more aggregative way, Bouchard , Cammack , Lane a and other images that he uses is a matter of some renewed controversy for a recent review, see Bobonich But the lesson Aristotle draws from the various images is clearly limited to vindicating a role of the many in electing and holding accountable incumbents of the highest offices rather than in holding such offices themselves III.

The many can contribute to virtuous decision-making in their collective capacity of judgment—presumably in assemblies and juries—but not as individual high officials Lane a, b, Poddighe In the contrasting case of the one supremely excellent person, Aristotle argues that such a person has, strictly speaking, no equals, and so cannot be made justly to take a turn in rule, holding office for a time, as one citizen among others. Instead it is right that such a person should rule without the term limits that political office would ordinarily require:. If, however, there be some one person, or more than one, although not enough to make up the full complement of a state, whose excellence is so pre-eminent that the excellence or the political capacity of all the rest admit of no comparison with his or theirs, he or they can be no longer regarded as part of a state; for justice will not be done to the superior, if he is reckoned only as the equal of those who are so far inferior to him in excellence and in political capacity.

Such a man may truly be deemed a god among men …. On one recent reading, this implies that virtuous monarchy does indeed count as a political regime, albeit one in which only one or a few of the citizens are eligible to hold the highest offices Riesbeck Yet this argument is left at the hypothetical level. In the absence of such a superlatively virtuous, even godlike individual, the formulation of political rule as involving some kind of turn-taking by a large body of sufficiently virtuous citizens remains preeminent though even this should not be read to imply that all should in fact alternate in office, or even that all should necessarily be eligible for all offices.

As Aristotle turn to consideration of the best constitutions relative to particular and imperfect circumstances, the major issue is conflict between rival factions over the basis for defining equality and so justice. In the Nicomachean Ethics , Book V, Aristotle had identified two types of equality: geometrical, or proportional to merit; and arithmetical, or proportional to mere numerical counting. In Politics III. Whereas that Platonic text had distinguished monarchy from tyranny, aristocracy from oligarchy, and good from bad democracy on the basis of obedience to law all these regimes being conceived as lacking the genuine political knowledge of the true statesman , Aristotle instead makes the dividing line the question of ruling for the common advantage as opposed to ruling for the advantage of a single faction.

Aristotle augments this analysis with appeals to historical narrative, overlapping with the narrative of Athenian political history offered in the Constitution of Athens compiled by him or, more likely, by members of his school. On his telling in the Politics , Athenian democracy had degenerated from an aboriginal democracy of non-meddling farmers VI. This Aristotle calls the middling regime: a political, because sociological, mean between oligarchy and democracy, in which the middle classes hold the preponderance of both wealth distribution and political power.

Thus it is attainable through reform of either an oligarchy or a democracy, the most prevalent constitutions among the Greeks. Strikingly, his example of such a regime is Sparta: presented as a case of a characteristically democratic distribution of education among citizens only, of course coupled with the characteristically aristocratic principle of election to offices rather than selection by lot IV. It has been suggested in this article that the final clause of that sentence is important: Aristotelian citizenship counts as a noninstrumental good-in-itself only so long as it does indeed aim at the telos of a perfect life.

That is, while Aristotle indeed valued the possibility of political participation in officeholding and the control of officeholding as part of the best constitution, he saw it as an intrinsic good only insofar as it was an expression of virtue, as it would be in that best constitution whether governed by a collectivity of virtuous citizens as in the regime described in Books VII and VIII, or in the rare and perhaps purely hypothetical case of a superlatively virtuous monarch.

Without virtue, political participation in officeholding and the control of officeholding was rather to be valued on the basis of expedience, though even then, membership in the political community of the polis remains essential to full human flourishing.

Indeed, modern debates over the meaning of Aristotle find him a precursor of or inspiration for a range of intellectual and political positions: Aristotle as a communitarian MacIntyre vs. Aristotle as an exponent of class conflict Yack ; Aristotle as a democrat, or at least as providing the basis for democracy Frank , vs.

Aristotle in opposition to Athenian democracy in his day Ober One interesting development has been the use of Aristotle to articulate an ethics of capability Nussbaum Important developments in political thinking and practice took place under the Hellenistic kingdoms that supplanted Macedon in its suzerainty over the formerly independent Greek city-states. These included, for example, a genre of rhetorical letters addressed to rulers, and the important analysis of Greek and Roman constitutional change by the second-century Greek historian Polybius Hahm As kingships flourished among the Hellenistic kingdoms until they in turn came under Roman rule, not only the value of political participation, but also the proper domains of politics, were widely debated.

Different authors would orient themselves respectively to still-surviving polis communities and the various leagues which united many of them in the Hellenistic period; to the kingdoms mentioned above; to the Roman constitution, and eventually to the special forms of imperial power which eventually arose therein; and in more philosophical terms, to the cosmos as a whole and all rational beings within it. In addition to the major movements of Epicureanism and Stoicism treated separately below, other schools also persisted and arose in this period.

Those persisting included the Platonic Academy transformed in a skeptical direction and the Aristotelian Lyceum the Peripatetic School. Newcomers, albeit tracing themselves to their own understanding of the figure of Socrates, included the Cynics and the Pyrrhonist skeptics, and we focus on these latter two here.

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While this generally led them to advocate what might be considered more an anti-politics than a politics, a provocative statement by their founder Diogenes of Sinope c. Yet the Cynics also manifested some parallels with the Epicureans and even with the skeptics. See the entry on Pyrrho. See the entry on ancient skepticism. BCE sophists. The greatest utility is that of tranquility or security, which is the naturally desired end or goal. For Epicureans, the city serves a legitimate and necessary function in ensuring security.