Aristotle's Criticism of Plato's Republic.
Plato holds that the unity of the city should be the unity of the individual human being. By contrast, Aristotle insists that "not only is a city made up of a number of human beings, but also of a number of human beings differing in kind (eidei). For a city does not come to be out of similar people" (Politics 1261a22-4). Such unity cannot be the unity of a substance. Individuals do not belong to a society like parts belong to a whole. In a living organism, each part is continuous to the others, and its dunamis is oriented toward the whole. Striving to accomplish a substantial unity of the polis would lead to its destruction. It is its "constitution" that makes a city one, and "unlike a substance and its form, the parts of a city can rid themselves of one constitution and create another. Yet, the cause of a city's remaining one is not the constitution as such (or completely), but (at least in part) the choice of each of the citizens" (p. 28). Political unity entails irreducible multiplicity. Yet since Plato recognizes that diversity is needed for the city to be serf-sufficient, what is the nature of Aristotle's criticism?
Mayhew insists that autarkeia is not solipsism; it rests on the "ability to acquire all that is needed for life," which is to say that a self-sufficient city remains open to other communities. Yet, the issue goes beyond the necessities of life. Plato demands a strict division between the rulers and the ruled which hinders the very self-sufficiency it is supposed to accomplish. Those who are ruled are analogous to children or slaves. To be truly self-sufficient, a city must possess leisure; "But leisure by itself is not enough.... it is what a city does with its leisure that is crucial" (p. 45). Thus Plato's city lacks self-sufficiency both with a view to living and living well.
If the end of a constitution is to achieve unity, Plato's communism is the wrong means, not only because what is common is given the least care, but because with such a system friendship would be fragmented and ultimately destroyed. "There are two things that most of all make human beings care and feel affection (philein): that which is one's own and that which is dear. Neither of these can belong to those having such a constitution" (Politics 1262622-4). Mayhew extends Plato's communism to the iron and bronze classes by showing that the Republic "does not rule out the possibility of some kind of communism among the lower class" (p. 133). The burden of proof is barely avoided in the conclusion: "I do not think this evidence is conclusive ... it is extremely difficult to say with any certainty what precisely Plato had in mind for the lower class. And this is precisely what Aristotle asserts" (p. 135). This ultimate remark reveals the limit of Mayhew's study: Not only is it inconclusive, but it also never questions the assumption that Aristotle's critique must be understood as a "refutation."
--Pascal Massie, Vanderbilt University.
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|Publication:||The Review of Metaphysics|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Mar 1, 1999|
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