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Ancient Greek philosophers about society and social development

The difference between the philosophical analysis of society and the state from the mythological

The word philosophy is of Greek origin; it literally means “love of wisdom.” “Love for wisdom” has always been in an effort to answer questions about the essence of the world, society, man, to reveal the secret of the meaning and purpose of social life, human activity. The birth of European philosophy was associated with the works of ancient Greek thinkers, among whom Plato and Aristotle have a special place. Before characterizing their views on society and the state, it is necessary to see what was the fundamental difference between the philosophical approach to the analysis of these issues from the mythological one.

In fact, already in the myths, as you know, attempts were made to answer questions about the origin of the Universe (cosmogonic myths), man and human society (anthropogonic myths), cultural and historical progress (myths about the cultural hero). Hesiod’s concept of the “five centuries” of human history is famous: the golden, silver, copper centuries, the century of heroes, the iron age. Each of the five centuries is the result of the creation of the gods, which determine their replacement.

The philosophical analysis of social life differs from what is contained in the myths in many ways:

  • the myth does not know the difference between society and nature, does not distinguish society from nature – philosophy comes from the specifics of social life, society,
  • myth expresses its views in the form of concrete, living heroes or symbols — philosophy formulates its observations in strictly defined concepts,
  • the myth does not seek to prove, verify the truth of the provisions contained in it – philosophy proceeds from the need for evidence-based, scientific, consistent presentation of the results of the analysis,
  • the myth lives in a specific world of images, symbols, emotions – philosophy thinks by inference and theoretically sound propositions,
  • the myth proceeds from faith in it — philosophy from the conviction that the knowledge gained can be comprehended by reason, rationally.

Plato on society and the state.

Plato (428 / 427-348 / 347 BC) is also famous as a student of Socrates, who brought to us the content of the teacher’s statements, and as the first Greek thinker who founded his own philosophical school – the famous Academy (it existed for more than 900 years) , and as the largest figure in the history of European philosophical thought.

The doctrine about a society and the state is formulated by it mainly in dialogues “State” and “laws”.

In the history of social and cultural development, he singled out three main stages:

  • “dynasty”, such a form of society, when people lived, being content with what was necessary, when there were neither poor nor rich, and then, therefore, good morals reigned. There were no written laws, the power belonged to the elders of the clans and was like a royal
  • “aristocracy” i.e. the era when large settlements are created, legislation is born, electoral power appears. In this era, and the state is composed as such,
  • This state of the state and society, which can be called “ideal.”

Based on the foregoing, it is clear that Plato, in essence, defined the state as a special form of human settlement, arising from the need for mutual assistance, satisfying food and shelter needs, protecting the population and its territory, and maintaining order inside the settlement. The state and society, thus, Plato still does not differ. The state is a special form of human settlement.

A key place in his conception is occupied by the doctrine of the ideal state. An ideal state is one that satisfies the demand for justice. Justice in this case consists in the fact that conditions have been created in society that guarantee the prosperity of the entire state and take into account the natural inequality of people in their natural inclinations. There are people who by nature are endowed with reason, high morality, prudence, a sense of justice. These are philosophers who must govern the state, create laws, rule on the basis of the deep understanding of reality given to them. Others are characterized by courage, desire for military glory, valor, courage.

These are warriors whose vocation is to protect the state from external and internal enemies, to maintain order and calm. Still others are deprived of all these qualities – they must engage in crafts, plow the land, trade, and provide society with material goods. These are artisans and farmers. According to Plato, the boundary between these groups of people is impassable, as the boundary between castes is impassable. The ideal society is strictly hierarchical according to the principle of natural inclinations and inclinations of people. This is how Plato formulated the idea of ​​dividing social functions between different social groups.

According to Plato, in an ideal state, philosophers and guards (warriors) live in closed groups, within which everyone is equal, and property is common, private property and family are permissible only for members of the lower caste of farmers and artisans.

Hence it becomes clear that Plato unconditionally recognizes the priority of public, common interests over personal interests, above the state, subordinating to him a separate person.

Aristotle suggested a different interpretation of these problems.

Aristotle on society and the state.

Aristotle (384-322 BC) also belongs to the number of philosophers whose significance in the history of European philosophical thought is truly enormous. A student of the Platonic Academy, he will give up many of the views of the teacher, following the principle he formulated: “Plato is my friend, but the truth is more precious.” He is known as the creator of the new Lyceum school, as a teacher of Alexander the Great, the famous conqueror of antiquity.

Aristotle owns 158 so-called “Polity”, in which he described the political structure of the ancient Greek polis, city-states. On the basis of “Polity” he compiled “Politics”, systematically setting out material about the state and forms of government.

Unlike Plato, Aristotle emphasized that there is a difference between society and the state. In his opinion, there are various forms of unification of people: family, settlement, state.

The basis of the state is a special type of social relations – the relations of domination and subordination, which are defined by Aristotle as political relations. The state, therefore, is associated with the implementation of political powers, powers of “domination”, power.

Aristotle’s view of the ideal state also differed from the ideas of Plato. Plato, in essence, created utopia, his project had no chance of being implemented. Aristotle was repelled by the analysis of the forms of state policy described by him, their advantages and disadvantages. According to Aristotle, there were three types of “correct” forms of government in the state: monarchy, where power belongs to the hereditary ruler, aristocracy, dominated by the best, democracy, where power is exercised by citizens of the state.

However, according to Aristotle, the lack of these “correct” forms of government is that they tend to degenerate into “irregular” forms where vice and abuse reign: the monarchy can degenerate into tyranny, the aristocracy into oligarchy (the power of few their own interests, common interests), democracy – in ochlocracy (the power of the crowd, ignorant and dark). Therefore, he put forward the idea of ​​forming a “mixed state”, happily combining the virtues of democracy, aristocracy and monarchy. Aristotle called this form of state “polity”. The idea of ​​a “mixed state” gained popularity and influenced, as scientists believe, in the formation of the idea of ​​the separation of powers into legislative, executive, and judicial in the 18th century.

Thus, Aristotle, preserving Plato’s convictions in the priority of the interests of society as a whole over the interests of the individual, at the same time attached greater importance to the interests of the individual, the responsibility of the state to the citizens.

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