Comparing Plato and Rousseau
Comparing Ideas of Plato and Rousseau
Political philosophy is the philosophical reflection that shows how best the human society gets arranged and organized. It is a phenomenon that defines the social practices of the political institutions, economic system and human pattern of life. Political philosophers play a fundamental role in their attempt to propose basic principles that ensure justification form of a given state, individual rights, and equitable sharing of the state resources. They have analyzed and interpreted various ideas such as freedom, democracy, justice and authority (Williams 73). This paper will compare different philosophical ideas of Plato and Jean-Jacques Rousseau based on the political system of the government, nature of the state, sovereignty, property distribution, Freedom, state democracy, and the concept of social contract.
Plato in his work attempts to give strong views about the actions of the government that are in the public interest. According to Plato, public interest relates closely to the universal consensus that is vital for any liberal society. He believes that in matters of governance, public citizens cannot determine the public interest. He adds that only the government officials/rulers or the philosopher king have in depth wisdom to determine the public interest in the government. This concept hinders democratic self-government as the public do not have an opportunity to participate in decision-making. Rousseau believed that man is a free social being in the society and that everyone has an equal voice in matters about the system of the government. He advocated for the philosophical idea of the general will that unifies the society and hence actions of the interest group will mutually benefit all irrespective of the political powers one holds.
Plato argued that the philosopher king should have the full control of the society since the ordinary people do not familiarize themselves on how the state runs and, therefore, should get guided. Rousseau in his Social Contract theory argues that the government does not have full control over the citizens since everyone gets entitled to freedom. What is important is to obey the rules of the land. Rousseau states that the government relates to the social institutions like families with the norms of the general will and that both the institutions have to comply with the rules, to benefit mutually in the society.
Ontological foundations: Plato’s political ideas gets based on the form of knowledge among the rulers to produce a common good rather than using their power or gratification. He claims that knowledge is the absolute power to rule human action. That certain precepts should be followed to depict how best the knowledge can get embedded. To him, the philosopher’s king has the wisdom necessary for governing. Soldiers defend and keep safe the polis. The craftsmen provide the factor of production needed in the state. Rousseau, on the other hand, Rousseau ontological foundation suggest a system of democratic politics that usually accommodate its inherent incompleteness as the primary factor for change and freedom.
He talks of the general will that allows for individual diversity and freedom in the society. His idea of the general will promotes the well-being of the community, and this makes it conflict with the public interest of the citizens. For him, having power does not mean legitimacy but rather a legitimate power is that which work towards the general will and the benefits of the public interest. State of nature
State of nature: According to Rousseau, human beings stay uncorrupted in the society, and this gets manifested by his philosophical idea of the discourse on inequality and theory of social contract. He adds that in the state of nature, human beings have physical freedom and the general will to operate as they wish. The state of nature can corrupt the human condition. This aspect is so since people in the rule of nature do not know each other, and, therefore, there is a minimal conflict between them. Plato, on the other hand, sees an ideal state of nature to be divided into social classes. That correspond to the parts of the soul. The philosopher king governs the state, and auxiliaries defend the country, and the producers of farmers are at the lowest class. The top class is intelligent individuals who may take advantage of their political powers to favor their benefits and corrupt ways and hence making the condition of the human being at stake. The public has to follow the laws and the knowledgeable social class rules.
Social contract: This political philosophy originated since there was the need to address the issues on the legitimacy and power of the state over individuals. Rousseau describes the theory of social contract as the existence of the state to work towards the will of the public. That the public is the source of political powers that govern the state as they can decide to give or withhold this power. To Rousseau, the government works with the idea of popular sovereignty. Thus, the citizen’s will proposes the control and the direction of the society and how it is governed. Plato argued that humans do not know what right means and, therefore, cannot provide a completely just society in a social contract. Only those who are inspired by philosophy do understand what justice means in a social society. A social contract made people be like slaves and animals whose actions get restrained and lack physical freedom.
Sovereignty: It is the voice of precepts and the absolute authority of a state. Here is where all the citizens participate collectively in matters of governance. According to Plato, sovereignty does not apply to the citizens as they do not possess the knowledge and sound ideas required to govern the society. People are irrational and value their interest rather than the states. Instead, only those vast with the philosophical ideas have the sovereignty to govern the society as they understand what is best for all. Rousseau in his sense of general will argue that citizens are all the social class in the society were entitled to sovereignty (Williams 74-90). Such is because the sovereign government cannot be divided.
Democracy: This practice gets achieved by a free and fair election of representatives. Plato opposes the rule of people in government since he believed that citizens could not make rational decisions to govern the society. He believed that only a few men and women were capable of governing the society, and this was a philosopher king. So democracy could not apply to all citizens. Conversely, Rousseau also refuses the idea of representative democracy. For the idea only comes from the old government and do not benefit all citizens. He, therefore, propose the rule of people who do not degrade the humanity in the society and allow citizens to think in varied perspectives and make personal actions towards the ruling. He calls such the modern democracy.
Private property: For Rousseau, the role of private property plays a critical advancement from the state of nature to the first emergence of societies. However, he added that this was the period that resulted in immense corrupt nature of man in the society and also led to the fist foundation of human freedom. The idea of private property as per Plato is drawn from his saying that land should be divided equally among the citizens. This aspect will ensure unity within the state. He depicts the role of private property to formulate the common good within the society. This point will make the country self-sufficient.
Freedom: According to Plato, for an individual to be free, one should reason rationally and search for knowledge rather than being impediment by the material gains in the state. In this process, he believed analytical philosophers should rule every citizen, and this is the perfect state that he argued will allow public freedom to acquire knowledge to the best of the ability. Philosophers should employ persuasion rather than force and individuals are only free if they can follow the demand of reasoning. Rousseau depicts that all people are born free and are only enslaved by the societal constraints. He sees a freedom where each gets united but only obeys himself and remains free. He talks of the liberty that ensure citizens gets entitled to unlimited freedom and their rights defended by the whole society.
Williams, David Lay. Rousseau’s Platonic Enlightenment. University Park, Pa.: Pennsylvania State UP, 2007. Print.