Pericles Versus Plato: Critical Analysis of Plato Republic

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1. Pericles and Plato differ greatly over what the ideal form of government should be. What are their respective views and how does each justify his position? Are there any points, in theory or practice, on which they might agree?

Pericles- Democracy, majority rule

Plato- Republic, (Aristocracy followed by an Oligarchy)

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Pericles views- Based on Pericles’ aristocratic background he understood what the people of Athens wanted, a city fit to rule an empire. Pericles wanted the people who lived in Athens to admire where they lived and Pericles wanted to make it possible for them to voice their opinion. Justice for Pericles is equal treatment among all people. Fleck expands on this in the document Pericles Democracy vs. Plato’s Republic saying, “Justice is achieved through the laws for Pericles, and there is equal justice for all in a democracy which by definition ‘favours the many instead of the few. . .’ In a democracy, men are not restricted by their social standing, class or poverty (as long as they are in the class “citizens”). There is freedom to do what one pleases, freedom to participate in public life, and tolerance toward others who may do as they please, insofar as there is respect for the law.” Pericles put his trust in the people to make the decisions for Athens.

Plato considered the ideal form of government to be either an aristocracy, followed by an oligarchy, as long as it held to the structure as outlined in The Republic. His vision contemplates justice being derived from the overall condition of the state, that is, when the state is “good in the complete sense of the word . . . then, it is wise, brave, temperate, and just” - Plato’s Republic. Plato’s justice derives from an individual fulfilling “the one function in the society which conforms to that individual’s nature”, which is essentially “minding one’s business and not meddling in others’ affairs.”

Pericles’ vision of justice is based upon the confidence that the “demos”, the collective Athenian citizens, had the wisdom to decide matters for itself, rather than to have important matters determined for them by a few powerful decision makers.

Plato had more of extremist approach to creating a strong society. His ideal state contemplated a “guardian class” which was essentially prohibited from individual property ownership, and was under the direction and control of a ruling class which would make reproductive decisions for them. (This is starting to sound like current events!) Plato even went as far as saying how children born of inferior parents should be hidden away saying, “Children born of “inferior” parents and “defective” children are to be secretly hidden away; children born from certain incestuous, non-sanctioned, relationships are to be disposed of (461c). All of these measures are intended to keep the whole of the commonwealth as strong as possible.”

Plato justifies this role for the guardians by claiming that freedom from the perils of property ownership (lawsuits, quarrels, etc.) will mean that they will live in peace and harmony with each other and have assigned and secure employment and receive honor while they live.

Both: They both agreed that an important aspect of an ideal state contemplates “luxury”, that is, recreation, beautiful buildings and successful trade, servants to provide a measure of comfort - and of course, an army to provide protection and defense against jealous neighbors. Pericles and Plato’s favoritism towards a powerful army could also lead to expansion and a potentially more powerful society. Both Pericles and Plato wanted the best for communities. Neither Pericles or Plato was trying to set up the society through democracy or republic for their own personal gain.

Pericles had confidence in the reasonability of the people to moderate the luxuries of life with the discipline required to lead a healthy life. Plato was not so confident and believed that the “pleasures and desires of the masses must be controlled, not by the reasoning minds of the individuals, but rather by ‘the desires and wisdom of the superior few’- Fleck, quoting Plato’s Republic.

Foreign Policy

Pericles was in favor of an open society which welcomed foreigners and did not fear their potential influence on the body politic. Pericles trusted his fellow Athenians; “Although the eyes of an enemy may occasionally profit by our liberality; trusting less in system and policy than to the native spirit of our citizens . . . . In generosity we are equally singular . . . And it is only the Athenians, who, fearless of consequences, confer their benefits not from calculations of expediency, but in the confidence of liberality”.

Plato’s society was closed and dependent upon controlling the masses, rather than trusting them. It is reasonable to infer that his ideal society did not welcome outside influences.

Pericles’ vision of the ideal state includes an educated populace that fully participates in politics and political discourse. If they do not, they are ”useless”. Plato disagrees that everyone should have a role in politics - in the ideal state, everyone should stick to what they are best suited for and any crossing over into another’s business would be an “injustice”

4. Discuss the respective views of human nature found in Civilization and Its Discontents, Letter to the Grand Duchess, The History of the Peloponnesian War and The Republic. Based on those views what conclusions and prescriptions does each have concerning what best allows for the advancement of civilization?

How do they all see human nature and what is their own opinion on the best advancement of civilization.

Civilization and Its Discontents- In Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontents, he talks about human nature of Id, ego and super-ego.

Freud’s Id- the Id is your primal instincts and selfish view to obtain things you want at this moment. Whether it be food, sex, somebody’s car etc.


Grand Duchess – Galileo talks about how there is a separation from science and faith. The bible texts are not to be taken literally at all times but more so as teaching points. Literalists have a hard time with the texts of the bible. For example- how God created the world in 7 days and people ask but if humans were created first then when did the dinosaurs come into play?

God's mind = God’s works and God’s word.

The understanding of the bible needs to be changed to help the literalists comprehend what the bible is preaching. For example, Pope John Paul II attests that the big bang theory very could have been what created us. And in the 7 days that created the world, who said that each day needs to be 24-hour day. Each day in the worlds creation could have been an ion but days were used as an expression. The bible is not a science book. 'That the intention of the Holy Ghost is to teach us how one goes to heaven. not how heaven goes.'- Galileo

The History of the Peloponnesian War- Between the Mytelian and Sicilian debates there were 4 speakers involved in the History of the Peloponnesian War. Mytelian Debate involved Cleon and Diodotus about whether or not Athens should invade and pillage Mytilene. Sicilian Debate involved Nicias and Alcibiades. Alcibiades favored advancement towards invading of Sicily and Nicias opposes this advancement leading to the sicilian debate.

Mytelian Debate-

Cleon’s reputation was ruthless, violent and merciless. Cleon wants to punish the island of Mytilene because they refuse to join the fight with Athens against Sparta. Cleon wants to barbarically destroy Mytilene for their refusal to join the fight. Cleon asks the crowd if they are smart and want to win this war. Cleon questions democracy saying, “Personally I have had occasion often enough already to observe that a democracy is incapable of governing others, and I am all the more convinced of this when I see how you are now changing your minds about the Mytilenians.””BETTER A CITY RULED CONSISTENTLY BY INFERIOR LAWS TO ONE WITH UNENFORCED GOOD LAWS, AND DEPENDABLE ORDINARY FOLK AS RULERS THAN INTELLIGENT PEOPLE WHO THINK THEY KNOW MORE THAN THE LAW.” Cleon believes that democracy is not at all the best advancement for civilization. Cleon believes that a society should be ruled by one or a few smart men than have dumb people vote for runs a society.

Diadotus- argued against the invasion of Mytilene saying how it is way too harsh. Diadotus says 'haste and anger are... the two greatest obstacles to wise counsel.” Diadotus argues that anger and quick action are not the way to go about making this decision. This may not even be Athen’s best decision. Diadotus goes saying how it is not necessary to destroy Mytilene since Mytilene is a neutral country. Mytilene and Athens will lose future trade and allies with Mytilene if Athens invades Mytilene. Diadotus’ human nature and thought process was to think about the future of Athens. Diadotus was thinking in the sense of long term success of Athens, rather than short term unnecessary vengeance like Cleon. Diadotus was viewing this as the best decision for the advancement of Athens. Diadotus thought about how Athens future in the war would fair because of this rash and very unnecessary decision making by Cleon. There is no need to invade Mytilene since they are neutral and will lead to loss of trade and ally possibilities with Mytilene. Invading Mytilene will also leave their guard down of protecting Athens. Then you have to factor how useful the island of Mytilene would be if you invade and conquer it. It’s also not even a given that you conquer Mytilene. Diadotus was also thinking about how many highly trained Athens Navy soldiers would be lost.

Sicilian debate- Alcibiades favors invasion of Sicily which would expand Athens land in the War, stop any sicilian aid to Sparta and also inherit any Sicilian assets onto Athens. Alcibiades wants a large naval invasion upon Sicily. This invasion of Sicily would involve zero allies. If Athens loses a large portion of their navy due to this expedition to Sicily, Athens could see big trouble later in the war. Failure to capture Sicily and losing a ton of highly trained Navy soldiers of Athens would be a huge blow to Athens. Alcibiades got the people on his side because of how excited he made them. Alcibiades was basically selling the people of Athens a pipe dream. He wasn’t thinking logically and realistic. Alcibiades human nature was thinking that Athens is bigger, better and more powerful than little old Sicily. Alcibiades human nature was cocky and entitled. Nicias argued against the invasion of Sicily and after the people denied his argument Nicias failed to use reverse psychology in order to stop the expedition. Nicias also did not want Athens to put all of its eggs in one basket for the invasion of Sicily with a huge naval invasion. Athens’ biggest asset in the war was their Navy comprised of highly trained soldiers and powerful ships. Nicias then puts out an idea to the young men of Athens about how Athens should send the largest possible naval fleet to Sicily. Nicias was hoping this would scare the young men out of invading Sicily, but this actually proved to make them excited and the crowd agreed with Nicias’ try at reverse psychology. Nicias knew, like Diadotus, not act with haste and anger. In Nicias’ case it was more like “haste and cockyness are the two greatest obstacles to wise council.” The invasion slaughtered Athens’ navy and Sicily was not captured. Alcibiades showed his true human nature when after the failed mission, he deserted Athens and joined Sparta in the fight against Athens.

Niacias and Diadotus had the best understanding of the advancement of human civilization in the Peloponnesian War because of their ability to think long term instead of short term payoff for Athens. Cleon and Alcibiades were cocky and haste when thinking that Athens was better than everyone. Nicias and Diadotus understood the importance of trade and allies of Athens and Cleon and Alcibiades thought Athens was powerful enough to whatever they wanted against a Spartan nation who had trade partners and allies and a lot of land. I also found it interesting about how both of these debates were about the invasion of other countries rather than the protection of Athens.

The Republic-

Human Nature in the Allegory of the cave: Plato claimed that knowledge gained through the senses is no more than opinion and that, in order to have real knowledge, we must gain it through philosophical reasoning. Plato argues that just because we see something does not mean that it is real and true.

This suggests that truth is never attained through a passive attitude toward human reality. This entails that man must be proactive in his search for truth. This also suggests that the quest for truth is fundamentally tied to the nature of man as a cosmic, metaphysical being. Plato argues that our ability to decipher truth will affect the nature of the ideal State, morality and the good life.

This is the active search for truth.

In Plato’s books of the Republic, Plato believes how people should be appointed at a young age to do what you are told through aristocracy. These people should just do their job and stay out of the way of other people. Plato’s conclusion best allows for the advancement of human civilization is people living in a just society. Plato defines a just society is when the city state is lead by a smart aristocracy, guardians of the society and then workers. Plato puts very little value on the arts, he is mainly concerned with order in the society.

To be fair Plato was coming off of a 50 year tyranny being upheld by one leader chosen by democracy. I can see how Plato was sour towards the idea of democracy.

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Pericles Versus Plato: Critical Analysis of Plato Republic. (2022, July 14). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 16, 2024, from
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