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Political and philosophical context of Plato's Republic

Political Science
Course Code
Rebecca Kingston

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Political Theory t Week 2: September 22nd, 2010
Ancient Greece
- Culture of intense competition
- Obsession with the human form
o Pervasiveness of classical architecture in many parliamentary buildings
- Practices and procedures
o Jury selection, voting
- Terms derived from Ancient Greek
o Democracy, politic
- Very structure and meaning of politics, through struggle, through persuasion, we seek to obtain
a conception of the good (principles that are desirable for you and others)
o In liberal democracies, relative perception of the good
Different views of what is beneficial to society
o Challenges of presumptions about liberalism: what it means to be good cannot be fully
relevant to you as an individual, may require support of certain social and cultural
institutions, cannot be practiced by the individual
Radical ecologist may find it difficult to live in cities as not ecological
Demand social and cultural context, hence they demand a certain politics
- Political theory developed in West by asking question: what set of principles are important for
our communities to have
- Idea of political good is broader than the individual
o Social and cultural context in which the good can be grounded
- General Theme: What makes for a good place to live?
o Thinkers: What goods are most important in politics? How do we go about promoting
those goods? What should be our priorities and what things should we consider to be
- Wo}v]}o[}o]]o}vÆt Ancient Athens
o Athenians committed to democracy as a good
The Political History: The Democratic Institutions of Ancient Athens and the Controversies
Surrounding Them
- Development of condition called political theory contingent on democracy in Athens?
o Plato and Aristotle founded political theory but were often critical of democracy
o Greek philosophic tradition was not one of finding an alternative democracy but on
o Thinkers are partaking in a continuity of debate that the democracy of Athens created
- Plato: strong conception of the good, perfection of the intellectual faculties and formation of
the just soul

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o Politics is self-fashioning
Three aspects of Athenian democracy:
- Athens was one of 750 city-states confined to Italy and Greece
- Composed of both rural and urban areas
o Generally focused on one main city where had major political gatherings
o City-states were very small
Populations were small (Athens was largest 45,000 citizens, 300,000/400,000
Relatively underdeveloped, largely agricultural, self-governing, conscious of
their independence
Often changed quickly from oligarchies to monarchies... competitive nature of
Greek culture
- Achievement of democracy in Athens was very fragile
o Internal competition, fierceness of political clashes, external threats (Persians posed
security threat, war with Spartans)
- 462 BC t 322 BC, Athens remained democratic
Paradoxes (ekklesia, courts, selection BUT exclusive, imperialist):
- True commitment to participation
o On one side, these institutions of democracy were much more democratic than those of
societies today
Ekklesia (assembly), main governing body, made by the citizens themselves
x Direct democracy, democratic self rule, citizens had authority to vote on
all important questions of the day
Participations in the courts (modern-day jury duty derived from it)
Also rotating participation in various administrative positions
x Some chosen randomly, some by selection (election)
o Elections were seen less of a democratic practice and more of
an aristocratic one
Not everyone had an equal chance to get into the
positions of power
x Needed money, powers of persuasion
Something like jury duty was completely random, by lot,
quintessentially democratic, everyone had the same
- On the other hand, aspects of the democracy of Athens were oppressive
o E.g. While all who were citizens had a lot of power and say in government, there was a
very restricted citizen class
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