Both Plato and Aristotle are the two great giants of Greek philosophy in general and Greek political thought in particular. For about twenty years he was the student of Plato’s Academy which was deemed in those days as university.
There is no doubt that he received first lessons about philosophy and other subjects from Plato. But Plato failed to make his disciple as his “shadow creature”. Aristotle accepted many of the views of Plato, particularly Plato’s concept of an ideal state. But he disagreed with Plato’s theory of communism.
Aristotle believed that unity of the state is necessary, but not at the cost of identity of individuals. It means that Aristotle approved private property, wife and children. By expressing this view Aristotle displayed a good deal of reality.
In a brief passage R. N. Berki has beautifully compared the two philosophers. He says “……. the political philosophies of Plato and Aristotle are the original twin pillars of the whole subsequent edifice of western political thought….. Plato is the literary genius, the impassioned advocate, the brilliant dialectician, his vision is clear……. He is the archetype of the political idealist.
Aristotle is the scientific genius, the patient debater and the undisputed master of logic, his philosophy is like a vast, unruffled pond compared to Plato’s turbulent river. He is the father of political wisdom and political realism”.
Plato has dealt with a number of concepts such as justice, ideal state, laws etc. But his main interest concentrated on the ideal state. We know Plato primarily as a philosopher and secondarily as a political thinker. But Aristotle’s contribution to political philosophy is immense. He ranked politics as a master science; He is also regarded as the father of political science. Unfortunately we cannot attribute these adjectives to Plato.
Aristotle’s contribution to western political thought is pervasive. While it is not the case of Plato. We remember Plato for his ideas ‘on ideal state, justice and education. But we study Aristotle for his ideas on the origin and nature of state, revolution, classification of constitution, comparative politics, polity etc.
Aristotle’s Politics was textbook for undergraduate and post-graduate students of numerous English speaking universities. But Plato’s Republic cannot claim this status.
R. N. Berki writes: “He and not Plato is regarded as the real founder of political philosophy by those—possibly the majority of thinkers and academics in our tradition—who accept the state, with the existing warts and blemishes”.
Aristotle has dealt with the most important aspects of political science. He is regarded as the founder of comparative politics. His theory of revolution is still regarded as unique. We study, with a good deal of interest, his classification of constitution.
Plato was a great philosopher no doubt, but his interest was very limited. On the other hand, there is hardly anything that failed to interest Aristotle. In fact, Aristotle’s interest was pervasive. He dealt with all subjects beginning from poetry to midwifery. His interest about Zoology and Botany still surprises us.
Let us conclude that in political thought Aristotle is still very much alive in the 21st century, but Plato is not. Aristotle’s influence is all the more remarkable as opposed to Plato.