Plato’s philosophy is increasingly applicable to what we must learn today.
His writings are based on justice, politics and political health; all of which are topics of heated discussion in today’s society. Plato makes strong connections between the character of the city and the character of the soul. It is these lessons which Plato’s philosophy can, and is, still teaching us today.
In Thrasymachus, Plato sets out five types of regime: aristocracy, timocracy, oligarchy, democracy, and tyranny.
‘Democracy makes democratic laws, tyranny makes tyrannical laws, and so on with the others. And they declare what they have made—what is to their own advantage — to be just for their subjects, and they punish anyone who goes against this as lawless and unjust. This, then, is what I say justice is, the same in all cities, the advantage of the established rule.’
Unsurprisingly, Plato also uses these regimes to describe the character of men and women.
The Five Characters of Man and City
Aristocracy is a regime brought about by well-educated people who are careful to blend forethought with experience by use of reason. In Plato’s philosophy, the aristocratic man has a well-tuned balance of desire, logic and spirituality. Such a society is ruled by a philosopher king who possesses a love of knowledge and a desire to live a simple life.
Timocracy reduces the value of logic and inflates the importance of desire and spirituality. In this system, citizens are much more focused on seeking leisure and wealth than education. As a result, this leads to a simple-minded but high-spirited man.
In an oligarchical system, the desire for wealth is the primary motivator. Although oligarchical men appear to be hard-working and motivated, their desires are selfish and their actions self-serving.
According to Plato’s philosophy, the oligarch’s soul is fragile, as he has forgone their honour for the desire for money and the power it brings.
Plato’s view of democracy is one of the most interesting. He believed that this regime is motivated solely by freedom. Plato suggested that, in democracy, the role of rulers and ruled is reversed as society begins to cater to the lowest common denominator.
In this system, the democratic man simply assigns equality to everyone, without considering merit. His desires can often consume him due to the opportunities available in such a system.
Finally, according to Plato’s philosophy, democracy will crumble to make way for tyranny. This regime is born out of a thirst for more freedom and a lack of regulation. A tyrant is the most immoral character of man: selfish and unjust.
Lessons Plato’s Philosophy Can Teach Us Today
We can easily see the reflections of these regimes in today’s political climate. We may deem democracy to be the best regime for all people, but we must question the character of men that it produces.
If we are more aware of the link between the character of the city and the character of the soul, we are able to make an immense difference in the world around us.
Plato’s aristocracy is by far the most influential of these characters. We can learn so much by noticing the relationship between our desires, our logical reasoning and our spirituality.
Everyone wants immense wealth, but we must reason with ourselves that this may not happen and that it is not the most important thing. We must make space for other things in our lives, appreciate the world around us and take time away from the constant toil of work.
This now begs the question as to how these concepts of Plato’s philosophy can serve as lessons in our everyday lives and the lessons that they can teach us as we move forward.
Learn to prioritise the right things
The key lesson we should learn is that we must find a balance in what is important to us and what is important for us.
It can be easy to get trapped in the daily grind of work and ambition. And it is perfectly acceptable to work hard and seek wealth. But remember that it is not the most important thing in life.
Knowledge is key
Never stop pursuing knowledge. Just because we may no longer be in education does not mean that our learning must come to an end. Try learning a new skill, a language, or even just learn a new fact every day.
Connect with the world around you
Although spirituality is not deemed of high importance in day to day life, it can bring significant changes to our way of life. Nowadays, spirituality does not have to manifest as religion.
We can develop spirituality by simply spending time alone and away from work, exercise or practice yoga, or simply just spend time with nature. How you develop your spirituality is entirely up to you. The important thing is that you take time to soothe your soul.
If we were to apply this balance in our everyday lives, not only will we be aristocratic in the Platonic view, we will live in a much more enriched and fulfilling world.
If you are interested in Plato’s philosophy, don’t forget to check our article about Plato’s Allegory of the Cave: the Eye-Opening Ancient Version of the ‘Matrix’.