Role of the State According to Plato and Aristotle


Plato (427-347 BC) tried to understand the causes of inequality of people and injustice in social life. He believed that people needed joint settlement to meet the needs for food, shelter, clothing, etc. This joint settlement is now called state. It ensures the protection of the population and its territory from external enemies and helps to maintain order within the country. A student of Plato Aristotle (384-322 BC) was one of the most prominent scientists of antiquity. He is considered to be the founder of many sciences, including the social sciences. Developing the ideas of Plato, Aristotle identified family and village as special types of communication along with the state; however, he saw the state as the most important. Aristotle did not deny private property and believed that state should support middle class. Therefore, the purpose of the paper is to analyze the role of state according to Plato and Aristotle, why it is important for its citizens, when a state becomes a failure, what presupposes its success and whether the state is crucial for society’s happiness.

Role of State According to Plato

In his work Republic, Plato draws his ideal state system. The ten volumes of the dialogue outline almost all aspects of Plato's philosophy: theory of being (the concept of the world of ideas), knowledge (world visible and intelligible), soul, justice, art, and society. The title may seem too narrow for such a work. According to Plato, having good ideas and the beauty is necessary for government leadership; the doctrine of the immortality of the soul and of posthumous retribution promotes the development of the necessary spiritual qualities of its leaders; justice should be the basis for the organization of the state, while art is one of the main instruments of education of citizens.


Plato sets forth the doctrine of the possible forms of government (he proposes five of them) and correlates them with the spiritual human qualities. His four types of modern state refer to the following evils: the division, hatred, discord, self-will, the desire for enrichment. The fifth form of government is, according to Plato, the perfect state. Its main quality is justice. Answering the question about what justice in the state is, Plato says:

…might is right, and justice is the interest of the stronger. The different forms of government make laws, democratic, aristocratic, or autocratic, with a view to their respective interests; and these laws, so made by them to serve their interests, they deliver to their subjects as "justice," and punish as "unjust" anyone who transgresses them...

Plato divides the citizens of state into the three social groups: philosophers, guards or soldiers, and artisans and farmers. These groups are rigid. Plato believes that the existence of the state is determined by the laws, and therefore, all his life is devoted to the care of those castes that create and protect laws: philosophers and guardians. Unlimited power in the state is available to philosophers. Women should have equal rights with men to bear the same responsibilities only with a discount on a lesser physical force. Sparta served as a model for imitation in Plato. According to him, there must be a division of labor in any country, so everyone should know what they are supposed to do and not to interfere in other people's affairs. In this case, the state should have farmers, builders and craftsmen, and warriors to defend the state against external and internal enemies. Moreover, if a person has the inclinations to agriculture, then they are not able to fight and ever to learn this art, so they should be engaged in farming all their life.

The main role in the education is given to the art, which, for the good of the state, is subject to strict censorship. "Good" or "bad" here refers not to the artistic merits of myths, but to their educational quality. Almost everything written in the Plato’s Republic leaves ambivalent impression. His program of extermination of the most subtle and deep features of the human personality and society produces a feeling of revulsion. At the same time, all Plato's schemes are based not only on the negation of the individual, but also on the rejection of egoism. He is able to understand that the future of humanity does not depend on which of the competing parties will prevail in the struggle for material interests, but rather depends on the change of people and the creation of new human qualities.

Therefore, according to Plato, people need the state because it helps them meet the innate needs inherent in people, and gives opportunities to develop their interests; so ideal state divides people into certain social communities or segments according to their liking. The state should play the role of ensuring that the needs are met for the citizens. Plato’s state is mostly concerned with virtue, well-being, and material prosperity in a special way. The state arises from the need to ensure the natural needs of people on the basis of the law and it gives citizens the material benefits, organizes the training and development of body and soul, unites people and protects them by own means. However, none of the existing forms of government is able to ensure the integrity of the needs of citizens. On the contrary, a society has both wealth and poverty, extravagance and poverty, tyranny and lawlessness. Individual honesty and integrity are in conflict with social justice or ideas about it.

The state is a failure when it acquires certain political systems, such as timocracy (the rule of ambitious people seeking to enrich themselves, who are engaged in extortion and corruption and are power covetous), oligarchy (the rule of a handful of rich people that can even commit crimes for profit), democracy (the rule of majority, which may be legal or illegal if the people seize power by force) and tyranny (the power of one person over all that is replacing the distorted democracy). Plato thinks that the main reason for the change of all forms of governance is the damage of traditional customs.

Plato believes that the state has the marks of success when the aristocracy is governing the state – this is what Plato considers the ideal form of the state. The state is crucial to happiness and well-being; however, the structure is rigid and people are responsible for their own material well-being and personal development.

Role of State According to Aristotle

Aristotle defines the state as communion organized for the common good. This state is opposed to the family, which presupposes a type of communication naturally arisen to meet the daily necessities. Families united in the villages form an integral part of the state. Aristotle means by family the patriarchal family, where there are domestic servants, and the head of the family is similar in his role to the monarch. Unlike the later social contract theories, Aristotle’s one considers the state a natural formation, and Aristotle calls the man the political individual.

Aristotle interprets war as "a means of acquiring property"; first of all, it is aimed at providing slaves who are recruited from the barbarians or people "by nature meant to obey, but do not want to obey". Household (or economics) includes three aspects: the acquisition, use and management. Aristotle criticizes Plato's ideal state, defending the need to preserve private property and families in the state. His main argument is that "When something is the subject of ownership of a large number of people then it gets the smaller amount of care". In Aristotle’s opinion, the power should belong to those who are prone to hard power.

Aristotle examines the problem of citizenship. Citizen is a member of the state, that is, the participant of the jury and the national assembly. Aristotle denies citizenship to slaves, foreigners, artisans, and farmers. According to the number of citizens in the state, he distinguishes three "right" (that are aimed at the realization of the common good) forms of government. The first form of governing is imperial power (the monarchy), which is a form of government in which power is vested in a single ruler, the one receiving his inheritance, or the elected person. Perversion of royal power is tyranny. Aristocracy is a form of government in which the supreme power belongs to the citizens owning property, and their priority goal is the highest welfare of the state. Perverted variant of aristocracy is oligarchy (a form of government in which the supreme power belongs to the citizens owning property, and their priority is the benefit of wealthy citizens). The last form is polity, which is a form of government where the majority rules for the common benefit. As a rule, in the polity, the supreme power is concentrated in the hands of the soldiers who are armed at their own expense. Aristotle considers this form of government the best one because "mass is less prone to damage". Perversion of a polity is called democracy (power that has the priority of not the common good but the benefit of the poor). Aristotle also calls polity the mixing of oligarchy and democracy.

Aristotle lists five elements that make up the state. The first element is the people (farmers producing food). The second element is craftsmen that create tools. Then, there are merchants who are engaged in the exchange and distribution of goods. The fourth element is officials who efficiently manage the state. The last element is the military that has to protect the state.

In addition to the above-mentioned classification of the state population, it includes poor majority and a rich minority. The first group seeks democracy, and the second one seeks the oligarchy. To prevent unrest and civil wars, Aristotle proposes strengthening the middle class, that is, to promote the welfare "of citizens with an average but adequate property". Aristotle also puts forward the idea of division of powers into three parts: the legislative body controlling the matters of war, peace, alliances and executions, officials of the authority and judicial authority. Aristotle also examines the causes of conflicts in the country. The causes of instability are the differences within the population, personal conflicts among the ruling class, and demagogy, whereby one person is able to concentrate all power in own hands and become a tyrant. In order to improve the stability, Aristotle offers to strengthen the rule of law, to share responsibilities and to take care of educating the younger generation.

Aristotle points out that citizens need leisure and certain freedom from the satisfaction of primary needs for reflection and participation in the affairs of the state. Aristotle raises the problem of the "education of youth", noting that "where it is not present, the state system itself is harmed". There were four main teaching subjects: grammar, gymnastics, music and painting. Therefore, according to Aristotle, people need the state because it unites them. Aristotle was the first one in the history of social thought who in his work Politics examined the origin and function of the state, indicating that the state functions originated in the earliest social connections between masters and slaves needed for the formation of stable social unification. The first level includes smallest social units that form communities, which, in their turn, form the state as the highest form of society.

The state play the role of providing all that is required for every person’s development because the nature of man is to be a social creature. Hence, Aristotle says that society precedes the individual. Plato’s state is more concerned with education, material well-being and prosperity. The contrast is especially obvious when comparing it to Plato’s values.

The state is a failure when it becomes tyranny, oligarchy or democracy. Oligarchy reinforces existing social inequalities between people, and democracy equates extremely rich people with the common people. Thoughts of Aristotle about democracy and oligarchy lead to an understanding of socio-class contradictions that determine the development of the slave states.

The state has the marks of success when it involves the combination of elements of oligarchy and democracy, where the law determines the country’s functioning. Additionally, the highest goal of the state is well-being of all citizens, so the state is of the highest importance to general happiness. Aristotle calls the happiness the highest good. Therefore, the objectives of the state are: providing sustenance, comfort, protection, prosperity, religious cult and justice.


In summary, Plato and Aristotle have own views on the state and its role. Plato thinks that the state arises because a person as an individual cannot ensure the satisfaction of his or her basic needs. Plato constructs a theory of the ideal state, which to a greater or lesser extent would be a logical consequence of his system of objective idealism. In Plato's worldview, views on the state and society play a very important role. His philosophy combines philosophical idealism and interest in public relations. The issue of the perfect common living and its preservation in the conditions of human society is one of the most important aspects for Plato. Aristotle is far from the mystical realism of Plato. Achieving the ultimate goal does not mean an escape from reality.

The ultimate goal of Aristotle is contemplative cognition and intellectual intuition; however, human nature for him is not perfect, and life needs a number of benefits, among which the philosopher highlights wealth. For Aristotle, the main aspect of the state is the characteristic of man as a social being. Life in the country is the natural essence of man. The state is the developed united community, and the community is the developed family.

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