Plato’s and Aristotle’s Democracy

plato aristotle

Plato / Aristotle: The debate of the Ancients (Aristocracy vs Democracy)

The question of the best government is at the heart of the political thinking of the two philosophers. Several dialogues of Plato (The Republicor The Statesman) and Aristotle (Politics) address the issue in depth. It is difficult to summarize in one sentence the political thought of Plato and Aristotle, however, it is possible to have multiple levels of political reading of their work:

* What is man? What is the essence of humanity?

* What is a fair system? What should be the organization? Who should govern? What is knowledge? Who has the competence, the political art?

If we meet these two issues, differences between the two philosophers quickly appear.

Politics and Humanity

1 / Let’s start with the idea of ​​man, the concept of humanity in each of the two because it’s from their conception of man that built their philosophies theoretical models (in this sense, all philosophy encompasses a philosophy subjectivity)

– Plato, man is divided into three parts: one is composed of desires, is the most animal, most domestic of men, the second is courage, heart, looking for noble action and the last is the head, seat of learning and intelligence. For Plato, if all men are this way tripartite there are inequalities in the distribution of these attributes: some are dominated by the quest for glory, others share their talents home and still others by their ability to reasonably accurate.

– The point of departure from Aristotle in contrast to the universality of rationality. For the disciple of Plato, no discrimination in the possession of reason. Even the barbarians are endowed with rationality: “Man is a rational animal,” says Aristotle, but it is also a weak in his solitude, so he needs to others because of its failure. therefore it needs to live in a political community (polis).

So the first fundamental difference between Plato and Aristotle is the following: the first thinks the difference as inherent to humanity, the second thinks equality as a consubstantial features of the humanity. This starting point radiates the rest of their political thought.


Politics and Justice

2 / What is a fair system? What should be the organization? Who should govern? What is knowledge? Who has the competence, political art?

Plato distinguishes 3 parts in man (needs, heart, knowledge) corresponding to three classes in society. The first are the peasants, artisans, traders who excel in the conduct of domestic life.

The second are the warrior class, responsible for ensuring the defense and who want to distinguish themselves by their bravery.

The latter are the holders of knowledge, namely philosophers.

The separation of roles leads in Plato to a hierarchy of social classes. According to him, the philosophers (the famous theory of the philosopher-king) must lead the city. Warriors defend the people.

Where does this hierarchy? It comes from the relationship with knowledge of each class. The people are guided by opinion (doxa) and illusions and therefore can not rationally decide to conduct the business of the City. Warriors seek glory, Plato recognizes their nobility, but irrationality because they rely primarily on their physical strength. Finally, philosophers are in an intimate relationship with knowledge, they spend all their activity. It makes sense, for Plato, to give them the reins of the City.

So is the notion of justice in Plato’s fair society is one that puts everyone (people, warriors, philosophers) in its place.

Aristotle, however, society is divided in two classes, rich and poor. We said, Aristotle assigns everyone the same ability to reason. Although it does not deny that we should be very rational to lead a city, he replied that it is adding the individual rationality that rationality can be achieved collectively, a “super-rationality” to some extent . It is for this reason that the poor necessarily more numerous, must govern: Aristotle and decides in favor of democracy. This equality in the exercise of reason is an obvious consequence: equal political rights.

Aristotle defends a scheme open to free citizens (which of course excludes slaves and barbarians) in which he is both a condition and purpose of democracy. For Aristotle, democracy rests on the government of each by all and all for each in turn.

However, he warns against two excesses of democracy in particular:

– Democracy means popular seizure of power by the poor and the oppression of the rich. Here, we must never lose sight of the republican principle: all power must be exercised to serve the public interest.

– Demagoguery, who has the illusion to the people he governs: to override the sovereignty of the law decrees, demagogues assign all cases to the people, for their own power can only gain. They seem to leave the decision to the crowd, but actually having captured the confidence of the multitude it is they who rule under the guise of popular will.

Plato’s ideal diet is an aristocracy, where knowledge and reason prevail. All other plans (plutocracy, democracy, monarchy, …) are separated by Plato because they neglect the role of knowledge. To summarize, this theory of subjectivity that Platonic leads to elitist political position.

According to Aristotle, the power comes from below and is exercised on behalf of all. It is basically a fairly modern democracy, where social positions are open when power is self-control, where governance is followed. In this, Aristotle was probably the founder of politic humanism.


Cite this article as: Tim, "Plato’s and Aristotle’s Democracy, April 27, 2012, " in Philosophy & Philosophers, April 27, 2012,

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