Rulers and Ruled: An Introduction to Classical Political Theory

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Aristotle pp3. Plato and Aristotle Summary. Background: Politics in Ancient Greece.

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The Sophists. A digression: the relevance of these debates for ourselves. The Republic:. Conclusion and appraisal of The Republic. Additional Sources additional to those given on the Course Outline Booklist :. They not only differed from each other, but occasionally went to war against each other.

Thus, one of the critical events in ancient Greek history was the series of wars between Athens and Sparta — known collectively as the Peloponnesian War, which went on between and BC. After the war Athens was weakened, and since the conflict was between two city-states with two different political systems Athens was a democracy — though see below as to how we need to qualify the term - and Sparta was an oligarchy the conflict heightened arguments about the relative merits of democracy and oligarchy.

Moreover, as both sides supported factions on the other side, this contributed to the internal conflict that pre-occupied ancient Greek political thinkers see below on stasis. As in any political system, the potential for conflict was a constant concern. One estimate see the web reference below gives the total inhabitants of Athens as , — ,, of which , would be families of citizens, and the rest slaves or resident foreigners metics.

Thus, each citizen was entitled to become a member of the governing bodies, and they were appointed by election, and regularly replaced, using a sophisticated voting process with numbered balls. The number of citizens in the city-state was small enough for them all to be gathered together in a public meeting place sometimes it was the agora — which was also the market-place, and therefore the centre of economic life , and decisions could therefore be made by the whole population!

If not, why not — and would such an institution be useful in strengthening democracy? It is probably correct to say that the ancient Greeks invented political philosophy, though this is controversial, since it suggests that the white? Regrettably, other ancient civilisations — no matter how great their achievements in architecture, art, and so on — such as the Egyptians — were almost certainly autocracies or theocracies: people were ruled by one person, or by a god — or both at the same time!

The practice of public debate in the agora see below was a two-edged sword: on the one hand people got to argue and discuss policies and ideas; on the other hand, since very often the speakers were vying for votes the art of rhetoric became crucial.

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Success in politics came from the ability to persuade others, rather than from the intrinsic merits of your case. In time, would-be leaders recognised that they needed training in the arts of persuasion, and a class of what we might call professional advisors grew up, who trained young men in the art of rhetoric and argument.

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These were known as the Sophists. And after a while, again, as you might expect, their reputation declined: they were seen as cynical, willing to help the highest bidder to make a case, regardless of their own views or again of the merits of the case. Which question leads to:. A digression: the relevance of these debates for ourselves:.

There is, actually, a difficult philosophical question behind all this: is there such a thing as knowledge with regard to politics and human affairs generally, or is it all a matter of belief, or opinion? We are all open to persuasion by others more powerful, influential, or apparently knowledgeable than ourselves. So, is it not likely that the most widely-held ideas are simply those that whoever has most power wants us to believe?


As you may imagine, Socrates was a controversial figure — his ceaseless questioning and searching for the truth was seen by many especially the more powerful! See further below….

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However, the fact that although he argued in his defence, when convicted he accepted the judgment and drank the hemlock that killed him, has been seen as proof that he was taking a principled stand, and not simply out to cause subversion. Socrates was dedicated — and this is something that perhaps puts the ancient Greeks apart from ourselves, to the polis or city-state: even though Plato who was a young man of around 28 when Socrates was put on trial — Socrates was 70 offered to help him escape, Socrates refused as this would be to act against the interest of the city-state which he had been trying to promote.

Socrates, however, left nothing in writing — all we have about him comes from contemporaries, especially Plato.

Thus The Phaedo, The Gorgias, The Symposium, The Meno, are dialogues dealing with a variety of philosophical questions in the Symposium the issue is the nature of love — since Plato examined a range of issues, and not just those connected with politics. The Republic.

As a work of political philosophy, The Republic contains more than just an account of a possible ideal state — this account is argued for on the basis of philosophical claims about what knowledge is, what reality is, and how the two are connected. However, the book is not put together in as logical a sequence as we might like, so what follows is based on material found in various sections. I think this must be behind his fundamental idea: that the most perfect things are not objects in this world, but an idea, or representation, of the perfect form of each object.

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There is another way of looking at this: we all know what a table is — and we recognise different tables even though they may have quite different sizes and shapes though of course they must all stand up and have a top surface! So how do we recognise a new example of a table when we have never seen it, or perhaps never seen one quite like it, before?

But this knowledge clearly cannot exist in the observable world — it is a perfect thing, existing perhaps in another dimension.

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  7. Just as a shadow is an image of the original object, so our opinions or beliefs are images of what is real. This will add your donation to your shopping cart. To checkout, click the shopping cart in the upper right corner of your screen, and proceed with the checkout process. Donations to the Champlain Society are fully tax-deductible and receipts will be mailed out in the new year. In your shopping cart Recently added item s You have no items in your shopping cart. Home Rulers and Ruled. Browse Inside. SKU SP Add to Cart.

    Quick Overview A guide to the fundamentals of political thought.

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    Reviews 'A very useful guide for the beginner in political theory, or for someone who just wants a refresher course in the Great Ideas. Irving M. Choose charity:. The Champlain Society. Remove donation. This site uses cookies for analytics and order processing.