Plato (427-347 B.C.) was born to aristocratic Athenian parents. Plato abandoned Athens to travel and learn, but carried with him the basic tenets of thoughts of his mentor Socrates, who famously said that “virtue is knowledge.”
Plato’s wanderings took him far from his native Athens. In the Greek cities of southern Italy, he became familiar with the doctrines of mystic Pythagorean society. This society stressed class structure and mathematics, which later occupied an important position in the curriculum of Plato’s Athenian academy.
He was impressed by the caste system of conservative Egyptian society. In Syracuse, by lecturing about the monarch and proper methods of rulership, Plato incurred the anger of Dionysius I. Dionysius enslaved Plato for a short time. Upon his release, he returned to Athens to found his academy, which would be his forum until his death.
Plato’s academy was the first of the great schools of philosophy, and in it, Plato conducted an educational center for the training of statesmen. Through his students, Plato was to have an impact on the political systems of Athens and the other city-states. Plato wrote and taught in his academy. Enough remains of his written work to outline and assess the fundamentals of his thoughts; in them, we can find the origin of European political thought.
Plato’s Concept of an Ideal State
In Plato’s time, many Athenians considered their large towns and their city-states to be perfect. That is, ideal in regards to their cultural and military achievements. However, the famous philosopher Plato considered the case to be otherwise.
He was skeptical of a society that gave no specific place to those with expertise in politics. In addition, Plato was well learned in the seediness of Athens — its arrogant nature, military, political, and social errors, and even its contempt towards its own citizens. Plato saw through the Athenian state’s facade and became inspired to formulate the ideals of his perfect state, or “ideal,” state.
Three Waves of the Ideal State
The blueprints for Plato’s new society were designed to be established in three waves. Three waves to eliminate corruption, and bring in new principles and ideals. The three waves are as follows:
1. A new ruling class of Guardians, consisting exclusively of Philosopher-Kings.
2. Guardians of the state, being a mixture of men and women.
3. Guardians would live communally, without any private property of their own.
1. First Wave
The first wave consists of the new ruling class of Guardians, which is to consist of only Philosopher Kings.
He defined a philosopher as an individual who has a great affinity for knowledge. He believed that knowledge was the key to a successful ruler. According to him, either philosopher should become kings or kings should become philosophers.
Plato’s desire for this first wave was due to Athens’ dislike of people of high stature. The Athenians considered Plato’s kind rogues or useless individuals who thought themselves better than the rest of society.
2. Second Wave
Plato’s second wave consists of the Guardians being a mixture of men and women. This idea was very rational for Plato’s time because women were not involved politically in that era.
Women were not active politically until relatively modern times, which means that Plato was quite a knowledgeable philosopher, not just by ancient Greek standards, but also by modern-day standards.
3. Third Wave
His third wave stated that the Guardians would live communally, without owning any private property of their own. They would not even own any wealth. They would share their things, and in this way, Athenians would lose their need to be jealous of one another because of class rankings. Envy would become non-existing because there would not be a concern with the possession of wealth. As everyone would have the same items, there would not be disagreements over who owns what.
What Is an Ideal State According to Plato?
According to Plato, a state is “When a group of people get together and settle in one place, and who has various different requirements.”
This interpretation of how a society should be can be seen as the base of all of Plato’s ideas about his “Ideal State.”
Everyone in society has different requirements and needs different things, and the best way to achieve these different requirements is to work together. This would be achieved by having a mutual exchange system. The most important needs of society are food, clothing, and shelter, and the best way to attain these needs would be for individuals to attend to certain tasks. For example, someone would be a builder, and another would be a farmer or a weaver. Everyone should have tasks according to one’s abilities. A farmer should be growing food not only not himself, but also for his family and the whole community, and so on.
In his book The Republic, Plato explains what he thinks life in his ideal state would be like, through the guise of his character ‘Socrates’:
“They and their children will feast, drinking of wine which they have made, wearing garlands on their heads, and having the praises of the gods on their lips, living in a sweat society, and having care that their families do not exceed their means; for they will have an eye to poverty or war. Of course, they will have a relish salt, and olives, and cheese, and onion, and cabbages, or other country herbs, which are fit for boiling; and we shall give them a dessert of figs, and pulse, and beans, and myrtle-berries, and beech nuts, which they will roast at the fire, drinking in moderation. And with such a diet they may be expected to live in peace to good old age, and bequeath a similar life to their children after them”. (Plato; Republic)
Flaws of the Theory-
We can’t say whether or not the three waves of Plato’s Ideal State would be able to instate a lifestyle that would positively affect even the most common of common farmers.
· The biggest fault of the Ideal State theory is that the political structure that Plato wanted for the state was never disclosed.
· Even with the philosopher kings, there isn’t any law mentioned. This gives way to the crazy notion that there would not be any need for laws as the citizens would be so happy and blissful that they would have no need or want to commit any criminal act.
· It is pure wishful thinking from Plato that made him ignore all these fundamental elements of his ideal state.
· Three classes would be needed in his state:
1. At the top, the rulers: would-be intellectuals who could think rationally.
2. The middle class: they would be auxiliaries, who would make up a courageous and spirited military, and would be obedient to the ruler.
3. And the third class would be money-makers: farmers and tradesmen, etc. They are not “working class” as they are allowed to earn money and own property.
Plato warns that there is a need to take measures to stop excessive wealth or poverty, bounding the money makers to their class forever, just like everyone else to their class. Once born in a certain class, you stay there forever.
It is interesting that there is not a fourth class mentioned in his “ideal state,” the working class”, a class for slaves, as they are the ultimate working class. That doesn’t mean that there were not any slaves in his ideal state, on the contrary, they were still very popular, but they were not considered to possess any human rights.
Plato provided for a state-regulated education system i.e. an education system run by the state. His three classes of the state are the output of his educational scheme. Plato holds that body is in need of food and the soul is in need of education.
He wanted a welfare and model state having its foundation in his education system.
In the age range 1-6 years, children are told stories to enable them to differentiate between good and bad. In the age range, 6-18 years are given physical and mental education and physically they are trained in athletics, gymnastics, and music while mentally special courses in logic, astronomy, mathematics, and philosophy are given. The age range is 18-20 years, and the citizens are philosophically educated. The described limit is enough for the professional class.
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