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The ability to analyze and interpret texts is an essential skill in the study of political theory.  The purpose of this assignment is to give you an opportunity to develop that skill by preparing a short, carefully-crafted essay on the similarities and contrasts between Plato and Aristotle on several topics. These papers are to be exegetical or interpretive, which means that the task is not to evaluate the validity of what the authors are saying, but rather to explain what they are saying—and why—in the passages under discussion. In so doing, you will be defending a certain interpretation of the texts at hand. 

This is not meant to be a research paper. You should not consult or cite any sources other than the texts you have been asked to read in this class.  Using any language from the internet will be considered a violation of academic integrity, and will be grounds for a failing grade. 

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In constructing your argument, you should restrict yourself to examining the relevant portions of the texts, and clearly pointing to those passages that support your particular reading of the text. In addition, you are called upon to some extent to synthesize the various views under consideration, by contrasting the approaches of the two authors. 

Answer the following question in an essay of approximately 1250 words:

“Compare and contrast Plato and Aristotle’s views on both the best kind of human life, and the best kind of regime or political rule. To what can we attribute the differences in their views on these issues?  (Hint: Make sure you discuss the role of teleological thinking within each thinker’s writings, and the differences in their respective approaches to teleology.) 

In writing this essay, make sure you identify the basic assumptions (regarding human nature, the order of the universe, the role of human beings within this order, human capacities, the nature of political rule, etc.) upon which each thinker bases his claims. How do these assumptions lead to the conclusions about human life that each thinker arrives at?  Make sure also that you address the question of what accounts for each thinker’s emphasis on a particular kind of regime, what the alternatives are to their ideal regime, and why those alternatives are considered inadequate. Finally, who is the ideal kind of ruler or statesman for Plato and for Aristotle, and to what extent does each of them believe that the ideal regime can or cannot be achieved? What accounts for the difference in their views?

Please note that your essay should not resemble a “laundry-list” of items that simply summarizes all of the ideas above.  Rather, the first part of the question (in bold type) is meant to be the central and primary question to be addressed.  The rest of the prompt gives you secondary questions, all of which are designed to aid you in making secondary arguments. In a paper that flows well, the secondary arguments will coherently come together to support the central argument of the paper, in response to the central question. In other words, a good answer to the primary question depends not only on constructing good arguments in response to the secondary questions, it requires understanding the correct relationship of all the secondary arguments to one another, and to the primary question.  Note, therefore, that you do not need to address the secondary arguments in the order that they appear in the prompt above.  It is more important your argument flows logically and well, while making the right connections between all the requisite ideas.

Study questions for The Republic

1. Who wrote the Republic? Who are the characters? What is the purpose of writing the Republic?

2. What does Socrates revolt against? What is the significance of this revolt?

3. Who are the 4 characters in the Republic, and what are the 4 views of justice they represent? Does Socrates accept them? Why or why not?

4. What is the Socratic view of justice?

5. What is his method of arriving at justice? OR How does Plato use the city-soul metaphor?

6. What does it mean to think teleologically? Why does teleological thinking require one to think hierarchically? How does teleological thinking help Socrates to construct his view of justice?

7. What are the 3 parts of soul for Socrates? What are the 3 classes in a city? What is the purpose/function of each part/class? How does hierarchy figure into this argument? OR What is the role of hierarchy in Plato’s theory of human nature and justice?

8. Who is the philosopher-king?

9. How likely is it that the philosopher-king can govern? Why or why not?

10. What is Platonic politics? What is the relationship between philosophy and politics?

11. What is true philosophy for Plato?

12. What is Plato’s metaphysics? What is Plato’s theory of the ultimate nature of reality?

13. How do you interpret the Allegory of the Cave? What are its implications?

Terms (do you know the definition of each and the significance of each in the text?):

sophistry

Soul-city metaphor

Telos

Teleological

Soulcraft

Cooperative Specialization

Philosopher-King

Metaphysics

Plato’s metaphysics

Classical realism

Ideal World (ideals, Form, fixed, permanent, unchanging, true) vs. Material World (transient, decaying, matter, shadows)

Ideal Forms

Study Questions for Aristotle’s Politics

1. Was Aristotle writing before or after Plato?

2. How does Aristotle define the nature of a thing/person? What is the role of developmental biology in Aristotle’s work? Does he still think teleologically and hierarchically?

3. For Aristotle, what is the relationship between excellence and human nature? What makes one a human?

4. According to Aristotle, what makes man a political animal?

5. What distinguishes the household from the polis? How does Aristotle distinguish between apolitical and political forms of life? OR How does Aristotle define politics?

6. Why is slavery not political for Aristotle?

7. What is the telos of the polis for Aristotle?

8. What is the ideal political regime for Aristotle? What is the best possible regime?

9. According to Aristotle, should the “masses” be given an opportunity to participate in politics? Why or why not?

10. What does it mean to be a citizen, on Aristotle’s view? Who would be considered an ideal/excellent citizen for Aristotle?

11. Why is leisure important for Aristotle?

12. What does it mean to say that Aristotle is a contextual thinker?

13. Why are “vulgar people” unable to participate in politics, accordingly to Aristotle?

14. Which of these regimes are political and which are not for Aristotle? Why? Which of them are just, and which are unjust? Why?

-Monarchy

-Tyranny

-Aristocracy

-Oligarchy

-Polity

-Democracy

15. What Platonic themes does Aristotle continue to develop, and what new notions does Aristotle introduce in his philosophy? In other words, what are the similarities and differences between Plato and Aristotle?

Terms (do you know the definition of each and the significance of each in the text?):

Polis

Telos (for Aristotle as compared to Plato)

Developmental thinking

Completion, or becoming complete, or coming-into-being

Political animal

Deliberative rule vs. directive rule

Virtue/Excellence

Good life vs. mere life

Contextualism

Vulgar people

Spoudaios

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