PROMPT: What is the function and purpose of a State? What do the ancients (Plato/Aristotle) think the state should do? How is this similar or different to considerations of the early moderns (Hobbes/Locke)? Please follow the Instructions on the file uploaded. Thank you!
The concept of the state has been a central topic of discussion in political philosophy throughout history. Philosophers from different eras have offered their perspectives on the function and purpose of the state, shaping the foundations of modern political thought. This essay aims to explore the views of ancient philosophers, namely Plato and Aristotle, regarding the role of the state, and compare them with the ideas put forth by early modern philosophers, such as Thomas Hobbes and John Locke. By analyzing their views, we can gain a better understanding of the evolution of political thought and the enduring questions surrounding the state’s function and purpose.
The Function and Purpose of the State According to Ancient Philosophers
Plato, a prominent ancient Greek philosopher, believed that the state served a specific function and purpose in human society. In his work “The Republic,” Plato posited the ideal state as a means to achieve justice and harmony among its citizens. According to Plato, the state should be organized in a hierarchical structure, with philosopher-kings at the helm. These philosopher-kings would possess wisdom and virtue, making them the ideal rulers who could ensure the well-being of the entire society.
In-text citation (Plato, 2018) indicates that Plato’s concept of the state emphasized the importance of education and moral development in creating virtuous citizens. The state, in Plato’s view, had the duty to guide and shape the character of its citizens through education and censorship, aiming to eliminate undesirable behaviors and instill virtuous values.
Aristotle, another influential ancient Greek philosopher, had a nuanced perspective on the state’s function and purpose. In his work “Politics,” Aristotle argued that the state existed to promote the common good of its citizens. He believed that the state should be structured according to a constitution that reflects the nature of the community. Aristotle recognized that different forms of government could be appropriate in different circumstances, including monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy, as long as they served the common good.
Aristotle’s view, as per (Aristotle, 2018), emphasized the importance of achieving a balance between the interests of the individual and the community within the state. He believed that the state’s purpose was not merely to enforce rules but also to cultivate virtuous citizens who could lead flourishing lives in a just society.
The State According to Early Modern Philosophers
Moving to the early modern era, Thomas Hobbes offered a starkly different view of the state’s function and purpose. In his work “Leviathan,” Hobbes argued that the state was necessary to prevent the “state of nature,” which he described as a condition of perpetual conflict and insecurity. According to Hobbes (Hobbes, 2018), individuals in the state of nature were motivated by self-interest and would constantly compete for resources. In such a state, life was “nasty, brutish, and short.”
Hobbes believed that individuals, in their rational self-interest, would enter into a social contract to create a sovereign authority, or the Leviathan, which would maintain peace and security. In this view, the primary purpose of the state was to provide security and prevent chaos.
John Locke, another influential early modern philosopher, held a more liberal perspective on the state’s function and purpose. In his work “Two Treatises of Government,” Locke argued that the state existed to protect the natural rights of individuals, including life, liberty, and property (Locke, 2018). Unlike Hobbes, Locke believed that individuals in the state of nature had natural rights and were generally rational and peaceful.
Locke proposed a limited government that derived its authority from the consent of the governed. He believed that the state’s primary role was to protect individual rights and promote the common good. In this sense, Locke’s view emphasized individual liberty and property rights as the core functions of the state.
Comparing Ancient and Early Modern Views
Despite the significant differences between the views of ancient and early modern philosophers, there are some common threads in their ideas about the state. Both Plato and Aristotle, as well as Hobbes and Locke, recognized the need for order and governance within society. They all believed that the state had a role in regulating human behavior and preventing chaos.
Additionally, all these philosophers acknowledged the importance of the common good to some extent. While Hobbes focused on security, Plato, Aristotle, and Locke emphasized the well-being and flourishing of citizens as essential aspects of the state’s purpose.
The key differences between the views of ancient and early modern philosophers lie in their perspectives on individual rights, the nature of human beings, and the role of the state in shaping citizens.
Individual Rights: While ancient philosophers like Plato and Aristotle emphasized the state’s role in molding virtuous citizens, early modern philosophers like Locke emphasized the protection of individual rights as a central function of the state.
Human Nature: Hobbes had a pessimistic view of human nature, seeing humans as inherently self-interested and prone to conflict. In contrast, Plato and Aristotle believed in the potential for human virtue and rationality, which shaped their views on education and governance.
State’s Role in Shaping Citizens: Ancient philosophers like Plato believed in the active role of the state in educating and guiding citizens, while early modern philosophers like Locke were more concerned with limiting state interference in individual lives.
The function and purpose of the state have been subjects of philosophical debate for centuries, with ancient and early modern philosophers offering varying perspectives. Plato and Aristotle believed in the state’s role in cultivating virtuous citizens and promoting the common good, while Hobbes and Locke had differing views on individual rights, human nature, and the state’s role in society.
These philosophical debates continue to influence modern political thought and the design of government systems. Understanding these historical perspectives can help us critically evaluate contemporary discussions on the role and purpose of the state in our complex and interconnected world.
Aristotle. (2018). Politics. (J. Barnes, Trans.). Penguin Classics.
Hobbes, T. (2018). Leviathan. (C. B. Macpherson, Ed.). Penguin Classics.
Locke, J. (2018). Two Treatises of Government. (P. Laslett, Ed.). Cambridge University Press.
Plato. (2018). The Republic. (D. Lee, Trans.). Penguin Classics.
FREQUENT ASK QUESTION (FAQ)
Q1: What is the function and purpose of the state? A1: The function and purpose of the state, as discussed in the essay, vary depending on the perspective of different philosophers. Plato and Aristotle believed the state should promote virtue and the common good, while Hobbes emphasized security, and Locke focused on protecting individual rights and property.
Q2: What did Plato and Aristotle think the state should do? A2: Plato and Aristotle believed that the state should play an active role in shaping virtuous citizens and promoting the common good. They emphasized education, governance by philosopher-kings (in Plato’s case), and a balanced constitution (in Aristotle’s case).
Q3: How did the views of Hobbes and Locke differ regarding the state? A3: Hobbes and Locke had contrasting views on the state. Hobbes saw the state as necessary for preventing chaos and securing peace, while Locke believed the state’s primary role was to protect individual rights, including life, liberty, and property.
Q4: What similarities exist between the ancient and early modern views of the state’s role? A4: Despite their differences, both ancient and early modern philosophers recognized the need for governance and order within society. They also shared a concern for the common good, though they defined it differently, with Hobbes focusing on security and the others emphasizing citizen well-being.
Q5: How did ancient and early modern philosophers view human nature in relation to the state? A5: Ancient philosophers like Plato and Aristotle believed in the potential for human virtue and rationality, shaping their views on education and governance. In contrast, Hobbes had a pessimistic view of human nature, seeing humans as self-interested and prone to conflict, while Locke believed in the protection of individual rights.