Plato’s Understanding of the State

Plato’s Understanding of the State

June 27, 2021 Off By Felso

Plato’s assumption of the state is literally included in the Dialogue of Politeia (The State).

This famous work, which consists of several books, begins with a subject reminiscent of Plato’s Socratic dialogues. At the beginning of this dialogue, it is questioned what “virtue” and “justice” are. For Plato, justice is the highest of virtues. In other words, justice is the highest virtue that gathers all virtues in itself. The person who realizes the virtue called justice in himself is the most perfect person, the closest to the human idea.

Plato thinks that in the “State” utopia, philosophers should rule.

“What is justice?” In the “State” dialogue, a sophist named Trasymakos first answers the question. This man represents a very radical (fundamentalist) sophist. Trasymakos argues that the virtue called justice does not exist, it is made up by people, and in reality there is only a fight for “power”. Plato opposes this view and easily proves that such a society has no chance of survival. Man needs to live with other people. A person who helps others prepares an environment for others to help themselves.

Living together requires division of labor. Division of labor causes various jobs and various tasks to be shared by different people. Community life also requires people to trust each other. The sense of mutual trust primarily necessitates the belief that people are fair to one another. After all, for the life of society, individuals must have the virtue called justice. However, after the radical assumption of Trasymakos is thus refuted, a problem remains: Is justice necessary only for people to live by trusting each other?

Is the purpose of justice simply to create a sense of trust? If this were the case, that is, if justice were only the cause of the emergence of trust in social life, then it would not be only the end but the means. As long as he remained a means of benefiting from the possibilities of the society, the person could use the possibilities of the society by pretending to believe, although he did not believe. In fact, this should not be so; justice can never be thought of solely as a trust-creating tool; on the contrary, it is an end in itself. A soul with a sense of justice is a soul that is inherently good and beautiful.

However, in order to understand that this does not happen, it is necessary to consider the human in the whole to which he does not belong. We can get to know people best by acting from the “state”. The institution called the state is not a collection of people living together. Rather, it is an organism. The state, which is an organism, has the same structure as man. In other words, the state is a large-scale human being. Likewise, man is a small-scale state. There is also an indefinite relationship between the individual and the state: not only do individuals form the state, but the state also “shapes” individuals. The individual is similar to the state in which he lives; As the state’s appearance is, so is the individual’s appearance. The perfect state creates perfect individuals, and the state with an incomplete and artificial structure creates individuals with flaws and incomplete structure. To prove this view, Plato makes an argument from the wrong state forms.

One of the wrong forms of state is the military (militarist) state, that is, the state in which the military class is dominant. Plato calls this form of state “timokratie”. According to him, it is possible to see this state form in Isparta. Isparta is really a militarist state under the rule of a military class. Although Plato never ignores the high qualities of the Spartans, on the contrary, he appreciates their courage and discipline. However, Plato does not ignore the disadvantages of the Spartans in the state administration, he has very well determined that this state has a rude and harsh side. According to Plato, “glory and honor” in such a state is naturally interpreted as the highest virtue, the highest value. In this type of state, war becomes an end in itself, because the highest glory can only be attained in a state of war. In this state, the need for glory and honor in the souls of individuals pushes all other things into the background. As such, this state has created a very specific type of person: In this person, the passion for glory has overshadowed all other values.

Another wrong form of state is a state dominated by “wealth” (plutocracy). According to Plato, this form of state is seen in the rich Greek colonies in southern Italy. The characteristic feature of this state, which Plato observed closely, is the hatred between the rich and the poor. On the one hand, there are the very rich, and on the other, the poor who want to be rich. There is a very sharp contrast and hatred between these two classes. In such a state, everything is directed towards wealth and wealth. This purpose exists both in the state and in its individual individuals. There is only one valuable thing for the soul of the individual, wealth. All other values ​​are secondary to wealth. In this state, we see that the state gives a certain shape to the human being.

The third form of wrong state was defined by Plato.