Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Analysis on Greek Political Thought: Plato

Greece is considered as the most significant and distinctive civilization for its permanent legacies that contributed to the intellectual and moral progress of society by inventing the concept of a secular civilization. Daring assumption that man is able to discover the meaning of things existing and phenomena happening around him encouraged Greeks to think and speculate. They consider their society as “thinkers” and so came the wisdom from deep speculation. This is what is now known as “philosophy” derived from the Greek word “philosophia” which literally means “love of wisdom” In the free atmosphere to speculate and express one’s idea the Greeks were able to extend their knowledge to the various aspects of universe. Their knowledge and ideas therefore is the root of Western civilization and influenced most civilizations in the world.
Politics, as its very name suggests (derived from the Greek word “polis” which was city state) is also a Greek discovery. Concerning how to achieve a better society where in groups of people could co-exist and achieve justice, a number of Greek thinkers proposed their distinctive political philosophies. For that reason, early Greek civilization had already various forms of government and other political systems that other civilizations did not have. It is to say that the political philosophies that establish the foundation of the field so-called politics started from Greek. Thus it is even impossible to talk about political thoughts without speaking about Greek political thinkers. So do Roman thinkers. The mainstreams of politics that became integral part of the political inheritance of the world are Greece and Rome. If Greeks
          Here I have Plato, the greatest Greek philosopher throughout history, the author of “The Republic”, the matchless work that deserves to be called first political science, in that it applies systematic reasoning and critical inquiry to political ideas and institutions as the first philosopher to be introduced in dealing with history of political thoughts.
         Plato was born in Athens around 427 BC. He lived during the Age of Synthesis. After his father's death his mother married a friend of Pericles so he was politically connected to both the oligarchy and democracy. After the Peloponnesian War, his mother's brother and uncle tried to persuade him to join in the oligarchic rules of Athens. Instead, Plato joined his two older brothers in becoming a student of Socrates.
Plato was an opponent of the relativism and skepticism of the Sophists; but, like them he focused on values rather than on physical science. Aristotle credits Socrates with emphasizing moral questions and precise definitions; and Plato surely absorbed these lessons.
Plato was no friend of the Thirty Tyrants, whose reign (404-403 BC) lasted only 8 months, but he also was not a friend of the Athenian democracy when it was restored. He alienated them by him method of critical interrogation. In 399 BC he was brought to trial with the capital crimes of religious impiety and corruption of youth, convicted, and sentenced to death. His friends offered to pay a fine instead of the death penalty. As Plato tells us in the Seventh Letter after Socrates' death, he became disenchanted with all existing political regimes."
About 387 BC, Plato founded a school in Athens, in a grove sacred to the demigod Academus, called the Academy. It was, in effect, a university of higher learning, which included physical science, astronomy, and mathematics, as well as philosophy.
In 367 BC Dionysius died and was succeeded by his teenage son, Dionysius II, whose uncle, Dion, was a close friend to Plato. Dion invited Plato to come a school Dionysius for his future kingship. Plato, seeing that this was a way for him to complete his goal for a philosopher king decided to travel to Sicily and take control of the boy's studies. Dionysius II later had a fight with Dion, and exiled him, Plato was unable to convert the boy to philosophy and returned the Athens, where Dion had established residence. Plato continued correspondence with Dionysius II, and tried to have him reconcile with Dion. Dionysius II lured Plato into a trap, by telling him that he wanted to become a philosopher. Plato was trapped in Syracuse until 360. Where he traveled back to Athens and continued to function as president of the Academy. He died in 347 BC, at about the age of eighty.
          In the course of life mentioned above Plato’s matchless masterpieces “the Republic” (which I am going to mainly discuss in this paper), “the Statesman” and “the Laws” were written. Political thoughts expressed in those books were molded based on the experiences and relationships he had in the society of his time.
         I once again emphasize that knowing Plato’s experiences and relationships is very important in understanding how his political philosophy came about. What I mean by experience here is Plato’s observation on political systems and social conditions of Greece (Athens) and relationship here specifically means his relationship with Socrates, his teacher.
          The two factors or incidents greatly inspired Plato and influenced on his political philosophy. First, when Plato grew old enough, there was change in Athens governmental system from oligarchy to democracy. Moreover, Peloponnesian War after which Athens democracy became poorer people-centered gave chance for the poorer citizens to promote the rights. They predominated in the assembly and passed several votes to promote the pleasure and pecuniary interest of their classes. As a result, the poor classes came to have decisive voice in politics. Plato thought it was absurd that the city-state was led by silly group of people whose rule is justified by number of people. He was a witness of abuse of democracy in society. This anti-democrat feeling of Plato has later on brought the theory of dictatorship of “Philosopher King” which is completely opposed to democracy. The execution of Socrates made Plato’s standing firm as an anti-democrat. The death of his admired teacher Socrates urged him to leave secular politics and to concentrate on establishing his political philosophy.
        Second, his political theory is established and greatly influenced by Socrates, his teacher. Socrates takes quite large part in Plato’s political philosophy. “The Republic” the representative work of Plato is a Socratic dialogue in which Socrates and various foreigners and Athenians discuss on various political, social and philosophical issues. In the Republic, Plato does not appear. It is quite noticeable that he appeals his philosophy just by giving dialogue of Socrates. It obviously means that Plato’s political philosophy is molded and greatly influenced by Socrates. In addition to that, the decisive incident that urged Plato to engage in political philosophy was also the death of Socrates. With these facts I would say that relationship of Plato to Socrates was basis of his political philosophy.
        With this background, in this paper I am going to precisely look into the core ideas in the Republic(three essential aspect of politics- republic, statesman and law) about ideal form of society and politics suggested by the greatest western philosopher, Plato. This analysis on Plato’s political thoughts is aimed to answer the questions: What is the ideal form of government and society? What is the highest value that we must pursue in society? How do we achieve a better society in which the highest value is embodied? And who is to rule our very society?

The Republic
The concept of the “Republic” is broad if we speak of its scope. Focusing on core idea of Plato, I would like to discuss on the main points of the Republic 1) criticism of governmental systems that cannot sustain themselves: timocracy, oligarchy, democracy and tyranny. 2) Drawing of ideal state and principles that governs that ideal state.

Criticism on Forms of Government
           Plato’s main purpose in the Republic was to suggest the ideal State. To strengthen his idea on the ideal state, it was necessary for him to criticize other forms of government existed at the time. He criticizes the four forms of government namely timocracy, oligarchy, democracy and tyranny. This criticism is actually for the sake of justifying his assertion on the ideal State.
First, timocracy according to Plato is a rule by those which our State seeks to honor usually military leaders. Timocracy is a rule by men who are by natural constitution fitted for war rather than peace since their highest value are military stratagems and contrivances, and the waging of everlasting wars Honor is often equated with wealth and possession so this kind of gilded government leads to the people valuing materialism above all things. Timocrats are contentious, ambitious leaders who seek power for them to exercise. Therefore, timocracy cannot be an ideal state since the leader values authority, power, and ambition most instead of peace and welfare of people.
Second, Plato criticizes oligarchy for this type of government is a rule of a few selfish wealthy opportunists for private gain. Timocracy degenerates into Oligarchy when it rulers begins to devise public funds for their private gain. Those lovers of money and honor create two extreme classes, the rich and poor. In oligarchic state, the rich are constantly plotting against the poor. This state in which leaders (a few rich people) seek their own interest and even use public expenditure for private gain, cannot be an ideal type to follow.
Third is democracy that perhaps Plato hatred most. Democracy follows oligarchy in which the extreme gap between rich and poor exist. The poor overthrow to oligarchs and grant liberties and freedoms to citizen. Plato criticized democracy as a rule by many who are poor and lower classes. Plato considered democracy absurd for its rule is justified by number of people.
Last, too much freedom and liberties granted to the citizens may lead to a tyranny which Plato described as rule by a despot without regard for law. Under tyrant liberty getting gout of all order and reason, passes into the harshest and bitterest form of slavery.

          Plato’s political theory is on basis of moral values. For that reason, Plato strongly emphasizes that the ideal society is where in justice exists and prevails. Thus the book the Republic is an attempt to resolve a major problem, namely injustice. Perhaps, for Plato even state existed in purpose of achieving justice, the highest value he pursued. In the Republic, Plato uses Socrates to argue for justice that covers both just person and the just city state. Justice is a proper, harmonious relationship between the warring parts of the person or city. According to Plato, that justice can be achieved only when, a person has and does what is his own.
        The definition of justice by Plato comes to me quite surprising because we do not usually connect justice with roles that we have in society. For Plato justice is being excellent in fulfilling one’s given role. He, who fulfils what he is destined to do with excellence, is a just man. And just state is composed of just men who know their own positions and roles.
          This unique definition of justice, the highest value a man must pursue, we came to have question that “then, what are the roles that a man can receive and must fulfill?” According to Plato, justice is the fruit which appears in consequences of each man’s doing that job for which he is best suited, thereby contributing to the good of State those talents with which he is gifted by nature.

Class Stratification and Virtues Required to Each Class
          Presenting the value to pursue, Plato now suggests class stratification in state. He presents three classes in states and put people to each class according to their naturally gifted ability. Plato stratifies the state into three classes: 1) artisans, 2) warriors, 3) legislators or guardians. Before deeper discussion about each class, I would want to first briefly discuss how this class stratification came to be.
             Plato believed the state grows out of the nature of the individual so he refers human being himself to the state. Believing that the state is a natural institution reflecting the structure of human nature, Plato considers state as structurally the same with human nature. So if we are to analyze state, we must first understand human nature and his components.
Plato believed in triune concept of the biological nature of man: head, heart and stomach Relating three biological division of man to psychological aspect of man we can psychologically divide human nature: intellect (thinking), spirit (conation), appetite (physiological nature).
With this triune concept of Plato about human being, we can now analyze how Plato’s class stratification came to be. First, artisans may refer to stomach biologically and to appetite psychologically. Second, warriors may refer to heart biologically and to spirit (conation) psychologically. And last, guardians are referred to head biologically and to intellect (thinking).
The three classes serve different functions in the state. Artisans are producer of basic needs of society like food, shelters and daily stuffs which are to satisfy appetite of people in the state. Warriors are protector of the state who had brave heart and courageous spirit. And guardians are to rule and lead the government of society. They are supposed to be wise and intellectual.
Each class requires different virtues and abilities for people in performing their given role in their classes: Temperance, courage, wisdom, justice.

Education and Philosopher King
            As pointed out above, the concept of justice, namely, everyone in his right place doing his rightful task as his nature deems fit, sets the stage for a proper understanding of Plato’s theory. Then, how do we achieve justice? How are we going to put people in right place to do their rightful tasks? According to Plato, the answer to the question would be education.
             Education is one of the important roles of government which makes individuals capable of doing his work for by it, members of various classes are determined. If a person excels in temperance, then he is to belong to the class of artisan, if courage, he is to be warrior; and if wisdom, a guardian. Education is a tool to classify by which people are placed in right place.
            A government, as a body of ruling State, must offer proper education. For Plato, education is the way to achieve a just society. For that reason, Plato himself established academy to train and educate the youth who would be leaders of society. But education, for Plato in fact had more specific purpose. The major and specific role of education is to cultivate man of wisdom, a philosopher. Plato gave great importance to cultivating philosophers. Why did he? Plato’s emphasis on education has distinct purpose and it is related with his ideal state.
             I have mentioned four forms of State which Plato was against. Then now, what would be the ideal form of State that Plato was thinking? It is Aristocracy, the rule of the best, just and good or Monarchy, rule by a single just man. Plato actually favored a Monarchy by a great leader. And that great leader according to Plato must be a Philosopher. This is one of his main ideas of political theory, so-called “Philosopher King” Plato insists that philosophers for they are lover of truth and wisdom are to be a guardian to achieve ordered society. Plato’s criticism against other four forms of government was in fact to draw this conclusion of his ideal state, which is Monarchy (or Aristocracy) under a philosopher king. And philosophers are cultivated through education. The philosopher king is interested in knowledge of the highest magnitude, even that which surpasses justice, namely, ‘the good,’ and if we only have a guardian who has this knowledge our state will be perfectly ordered that people can serve their assigned tasks in rights places, justice is realized.


Contribution and Significance of Plato’s Political Thoughts
          Plato’s political philosophy is closely connected with moral philosophy. The ultimate goal of the society for Plato, was a society in which justice exists. Plato discussed about five forms of government as we see above: Aristocracy, Timocracy, Oligarchy, Democracy and Tyranny. From Aristocracy (or Monarchy) which according to Plato is ideal form of state, the state may decline to following forms of government. This is how the state declines from ideal state:
Aristocracy à Timocracy à Oligarchy à Democracy à Tyranny
        Plato was born in Athens (a democratic state) when the Democracy was flourishing that every individual has given liberty and freedom. Moreover, as Athens went through Peloponnesian War, the poor and lower classes came to have more power and more freedom. During the time Athenian democracy was considered a great system of government for in it individuals could enjoy his rights and freely participate in politics. But Plato considered democracy as the last stage after which tyranny, the worst form of government comes. He criticized democracy as rule by many who are silly seeking their private gains. Plato warned people being granted excessive freedom.
Plato in his life witnessed evils spawn out of democracy in which people abuse their excessive freedom. The teachings and advices of wise men were ignored by foolish (and poor who were not educated) group of people. For the criterion of making important political decision was a number of people agreeing, the society was often led to wrong way by foolish people who were many in number. The society was no longer in order for it is led by people who were not wise and thoughtlessly seeking their private gains. The wise men saying truths were even executed, like Socrates, Plato’s mentor.
          Witnessing all of the evils of democracy in which morality was degrading, Plato, as wise man, and lover of justice and morality bravely cried for moral society in which justice flourishes. This sharp and penetrating critique of democracy makes us, who are living in democratic society think about things that we usually overlooked. Plato’s worry became reality today. We are given freedom and rights to enjoy individual happiness. But as we witness, morality within society is seriously degrading and we cannot find a just society anymore. Is it more important to enjoy freedom than to achieve a justice society? Perhaps we are not realizing the fact that uncontrolled freedom can make us deviate from righteousness for we are such being that abuse what it is given. Plato is still alive here and asking us the question that will never perish as long as a society exists “What is a society for? What is the value that each one of us has to achieve in our very society?” and Plato tells us the answer, justice which most of us today neglect.
           Plato is perhaps too idealistic for he is talking about Utopia which can never exist in reality. He himself knew that the ideal society he suggests was Utopia. However, Plato at least knew what value we, a civilized man in society ought to pursue. Although he was in some part idealistic, he still tried to move what he says to action. He established Academy to cultivate future leaders in expectation one of his student would be a philosopher king was to wisely rule the state.
              Politics is the field in which moral value were degraded in seeking selfish- interests. In the midst of political immoralities, Plato is remembered as the philosopher who cried for just and moral society that became unachievable dream. By his political philosophy, we came to think about what Politics is once again.

Analysis on “The Social Sciences in the Last Two Hundred Years”

           The very reason why we trace back the historical evolution of social science specifically in the last two hundred years is because the period shows how so-called social science is established as distinct field of study and systemized in terms of methodology. History of social science is no doubt more than two hundred years because the speculation on social matter had already begun by ancient philosophers like Plato and Aristotle. Therefore, it is quite important to grasp the implication of the author in setting specific period time to be discussed in dealing with social science more profoundly.

As mentioned above, social science already marked its beginning in ancient time. However, we have to note that after fall of Roman Empire and as Church has become dominant power in the continent, the intellectual activities in seeking for knowledge remained stagnant during the medieval time as the emphasis was solely given to God under the authority of church. People during that time were discouraged in seeking knowledge about nature and attempting to explain the world around them. Rather they were just forced to passively accept religious account on the world.

             This invulnerable wall blocking people from path to the knowledge began to break since Renaissance movement. As humanistic spirit of the ancient Greek and Roman was restored among people in Europe, and the emphasis was gradually given to human being. Sooner beginning in 16th century, radical development in science took place and we call this scientific revolution. In 17th Century, Cartesian dualism was imbued to the people that they began to see the nature as object to be explored and observed. And of course the best way to do that was found in skepticism. Thus the author puts it, the latter half of the seventeenth and the first half of the eighteenth centuries were period of triumph of natural science that in reached its peak as science. In contrast to the triumph of natural science, social science remained stagnant that during this period only few contributions were made in the field.  

             It was in the mid-eighteenth century that the interest in social science arose again. This was in short due to change in pattern of the social fabric. Mid-eighteenth century to the nineteenth century was the transitional period of socio-economic system. Capitalism, rising middle class, civil revolutions and industrialism had brought radical changes in society. New form of socio and economic institutions thus became the object of critical analysis due to the problems and social ills out of them. Here we get the clue why the author has set the time scope of 200 years in dealing with social science. The latter half of 18th century was the threshold to the full-scale development of social science.

             That the revival of interest in social science started from criticism of new form of social, political and economic institutions gives us clue to find out method used during the time. The social scientists, facing newly existing order paid attention to the principle of a natural order of society from which the existing order was compared and contrasted. This was “comparative method.” The various data about social order were gathered to measure the existing society. And this was quite effective yardstick to measure existing institution. The theories of government based on natural order in group of human beings suggested by Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau were not based on empirical research but those profound analyses on natural order became firm ground for social science and the object of comparison to which any existing social and political institution could be compared.

             Here I would have to stress the significance of comparative method in social science. The subject matter in social science itself is far more complex than that of natural science. That is why social scientists dealing with history, society, economy, politics and culture were fully satisfied with the methodology of natural science as only genuine way of attaining knowledge. Subject matters dealt in social science are not solely objective but very particular from time to time and place to place. Due to this particular characteristic of subject matter in social science, many of social scientists, and philosophers in 19th century to 20th century made an attempt to break away from natural science in terms of methodology. They necessarily distinguished eklaren from verstehen and what is needed in human science was verstehen, understanding. But matter of generalization still remains important because knowledge that is only particular with no sense of general point is in fact useless. One of the most important tasks of social scientists thus to find out generalized true and knowledge out of particularity. The best approach to this task I believe is comparative method. The theoretical basis of comparative method admits the particularity of individual objects but by comparing them from one another, one can draw relatively generalized conclusion out of particular knowledge. So I would believe this was one notable break-through of social science.

             Moreover, the comparative method opened the way to the theory of progress of mankind. It wasn’t difficult for social scientists to notice improvement and refinement of existing civilization when compared to those of ancient ones. Though, definition of the term ‘progress’ may have been different among the scholars that some scholars might have judged existing civilization as deteriorated in terms of spirit or other immaterial matter, the theory of progress with Darwinian theory of evolution made tremendous influence on development of social science.

             In 19th century, social science proceeded to another stage of development. The author points out three distinct features of social science during the time: 1) elaboration and sharp definition of various discipline in relation to one another; 2) social science became recognized as independent and 3) attempts to elaborate methods. Each field in social science established its own system and structure and become specialized. The author reveals the tree condition upon which specialized field in social science is established 1) recognition of a set of new problem; 2) collection of data which will allow generalization and 3) official recognition of the new discipline. Through these stages, the specialized social science were actively developing. However, it must be noted that specialization of each field in social science was not for the sake of specialization and being independent from general stream of social science. Active attempts to provide synthesis and unification out of specialization of tasks in social science were made between 19th Century and 20th Century.

             This attempt to unification faced several hindrances. Lack of common conceptual apparatus was one difficulty encountered by social scientists. Especially different terminology and conceptual definition among scholars hampered theoretical generalization. Clannishness of many social scientists was also one great obstacle to an effective synthesis of social science. But all these hindrances can be overcome by steadfast effort among social scientist and realization of their specialized field in the context of whole picture of the study of man and society.

             Examining the history of social science, we could also find that development of social science has the same pattern through which natural science also passed. The first stage would be recognition of a set of related problems. Interchange of ideas can lead to elaboration of a set of generalizations. The second stage would be conscious attempt to perfect methods of research in the respective discipline. In the third stage, the theoretical rivalries tend to be submerged in the efforts to elaborate propositions bridging the difference. Hegelian dialectics can explain the third stage. There are conflicting or cooperating theories in each field of social science. What we have to note is that antithesis goes against not everything about thesis. What the author is emphasizing in this chapter is that conflict occurs over not on fundamental theories but on the matter of application and perspective on the theory. And those rivalries and conflict can often lead to betterment of theory when synthesized. Anyhow, the direction of social science for the past two hundred years is set to be optimistic with the influence of Darwinian theory of evolution which led to the theory of progress.

I appreciate the discussion of the author on history of social science in the past two hundred years that I believe the temporal scope of the discussion is quite adequate. One thing I was sorry about discussion was there was no sufficient account on the methodological shortcomings of social science compared to the natural science and the effort of social scientists and philosophers to compensate them.

Perhaps, social science, compared to natural science will never reach the point of perfect system and structure in terms of methodology and the process of drawing conclusion because there is no theory or assumption applicable to every social phenomenon. The subject matter of social science is indeed complex and full of mysteries in some sense. So many interrelationships exist between factors and there is uncountable number of variables behind a single social phenomenon. That is why in social science, active specialization is still taking place. The range of social science is far more extensive than that of natural science.

Unsolved questions and uncertainty in social science will still remain. However as the author says there is “greatest promise for further progress in all fields of social science lies in the mutual cross-fertilization of the various disciplines.” Specialization and unification of various disciplines in realm of social science would assure the development of social studies. And I would have to agree with the author’s last remark “greater integration of the social sciences, each will a well-developed theoretical system of its own, holds out the hope that Comte’s dream of a generalized science of man and society may be achieved in practice.” Yes, indeed endless conflict and cooperation between different fields of social science will achieve it.     

Sunday, April 4, 2010

History of World Civilization - Greek Civilization: Polis; Athens

“Men are the Polis.”


“Man is an animal whose nature it is to live in a polis”


Greek Civilization in fact has great meaning to Western Civilization. According to Dr. Donald Kagan, the professor of Yale University in his lecture on “Introduction to Greek History (2007)” said that “the positions of the Greeks are at the most significant starting point of Western Civilization, which is the culture that most powerfully shapes not only the West but most of the world today.” Actually, Greek Civilization was not one of the four centers of world civilizations. However, unlike other civilization emerged in ancient time, Greek Civilization has been admired due to its significance in shaping its political, economic, social and cultural aspects.

In speaking of Greek Civilization, there is Greek Bronze Age which includes Minoan and Mycenaean civilization. With Dorian invasion and the end of the Mycenaean civilization, there came “the Dark Ages”. During the Dark Ages, the cities and palaces, and other products of civilization were destroyed. Following the Dark Ages, there now came the emergence of city-states which the Greeks termed “Polis”. The period that the polis began to emerge can be considered not only as the time of recovery but also the peak of Greek Civilization in terms of politics, society, economy and culture.

Polis actually means a lot in dealing of Greek Civilization. Perhaps, without the time of polis the Greek Civilization would not be significance. It is to say that during the time of polis, those characteristics of Greek civilization which distinguished Greek Civilization itself from other civilization were shaped during this time. M. H Hansen in his book “More Studies in the Greek Polis (1996)” emphasized the significance of polis in studying Greek civilization by saying that “The study of Greek political structures must begin with the polis.”

Polis is generally defined as a city, a city state and also citizenship and body of citizens (Wikipedia). However, polis is something more than that. Polis is in fact something that cannot be defined in single word or sentence. M. H Hansen (1996) also said that “the question of what the polis is has no simple and straightforward answer. In fact, it is implicit in this collection of essays that there is not nor can there be any satisfactory, all-inclusive definition of a polis.” Aristotle, the great philosopher in the time of polis also said that “a man who is by nature is without a polis is either more or less than a man.” It is to mean that if a man does not need a polis, he is god because men need a polis. This saying of Aristotle may reflect the idea and concept of Greek people about a polis. To the Greeks, a polis was therefore what they essentially needed as long as they were a man.

Poleis were city-states established by the group of Greek people who proudly termed themselves “Hellene”. They liked to distinguish themselves from other groups of people for they thought to have superior culture than others. For this reason, indeed poleis were not just place where Hellenes lived in but the pride and spirit of Greek people.

From about BC 750 to the time when the poleis were invaded by Alexander the Great, the king of Macedonia, Greek people had left a lot of achievements. The achievements of Greek people in several aspects of their civilization during the time of polis would explain why the polis is considered significant in dealing with Greek civilization.


Greek city-states were self-governing and not ruled or controlled by any form of central power. Instead, it is noted that by the time of Aristotle (fourth century BC) there were more than hundreds of Greek Democracies. However none of those poleis that were democracies was as powerful, stable, organized as that of Athens.

Sparta and Athens were most powerful and significant among the thousands of poleis. But since Sparta was a champion of oligarchy, the political system was not that different with that of other civilizations, in this chapter I would like to discuss about Athenian government which was democracy which was totally new at the time.

Athenian Democracy

In Athens the political system had gone through several changes. Starting with Monarchy it changed to Oligarchy then to Democracy. The Origin of Athenian Democracy can be traced back to the time of Solon, the one of great wise men of Greece. Actually he did not believe in “democratika” which means “people-power” but the laws he constituted became the basis of democracy to be established in Athens. He was the one who arranged Athenian political society on a new basis. Solon’s constitution swept the political system in which only aristocrats could hold position by making wealth the sole qualification for office-holding. He also pushed through with the policy of Shaking-off of Burdens which in Greek is Seisachteia that cancelled all outstanding debts. In fact this law was to rectify the wide-spread of serfdom and slavery in Athens. Solon also divided the classes into four- pentakosiomedimnoi, hippeis, zeugitai and thetes and according to the class, the right of politics was given.

Solon cannot be a founder of democracy but at least he opened the way of democracy by restricting aristocrat-centered political system and freeing the people and making them a citizen. Solon’s constitution was the starting point of Athens democracy.

So what is democracy? It in Greek, is “democratika” which means “people-power”. Peter John Rhodes in his book “Athenian Democracy (2004)” explain about classical democracy in Athens that “the classical democracy of the fifth and fourth centuries was based as far as possible on active involvement of the citizens. Making decisions was entrusted to the citizen directly, in an ekklesia, assembly, open to all citizens.” Athenian democracy was direct democracy that the citizens could directly participate. The democratic government of Athens rested on three main institutions- The Assembly of Demos, the Council of 500 and the People’s court. The Assembly was an opportunity for Citizens to speak their opinion and to vote for certain matter of government of their city. The Council of 500 represented the full-time government of Athens. It consisted of 500 citizens, 50 from each of ten tribes. This body had authority to issue decrees on its own, regarding certain matter. But its main function was to prepare the agenda for meeting of assembly. The People’s court juried of citizens would listen to cases, would vote on the guilt or innocence of their fellow citizens, and vote on punishments for those found guilty.

I would like to discuss more about the “Assembly” because it is what differs from the democracy today. Citizenship was not given to all the people living in Athens but to men only. Aristotle in his book “Athenian Constitution (1952)” explained about the citizenship and its qualifications that “Citizenship belongs to persons of citizen parentage on both sides, and they are registered on the rolls of their demes at the age of eighteen. At the time of their registration the members of the deme make decision about them by vote on oath, first whether they are shown to have reached the lawful age, and if they are held not to be of age they go back again to the boys, and secondly whether the candidate is a freeman and of legitimate birth; after this, if the vote as to free status goes against him, he appeals to the jury-court, and the demesmen elect five men from among themselves to plead against him, and if it is decided that he has no claim to be registered, the state sells him, but if he wins, it is compulsory for the demesmen to register him.”

Although it was different with democracy today for Athens limited citizenship to adult man of Athens, the Athenian democracy is still significant for it became the basis or origin of democracy, the most prevalent political system nowadays not only in West but also in East.

Athenian democracy was proven its superiority during the Persian war. Paul Cartledge, the professor of Greek History at the University of Cambridge said that “It was under this political system that Athens successfully resisted the Persian onslaughts of 490 and 480/79…That victory in turn encouraged the poorest Athenians to demand a greater say in the running of their city, and in the late 460s Ephialtes and Pericles presided over a radicalisation of power that shifted the balance decisively to the poorest sections of society. This was the democratic Athens that won and lost an empire”

It was after Persian War when the Athens formed “Delian League”. Formation of Delian League was quite significant as far as democracy was concerned. Peter John Rhodes (2004) mentioned that “the first signs of the concept of demo-kratia, people-power, appear about the time; shortly afterwards we find Athens imposing democratic constitutions on some members of its alliance, the Delian League and we find Athens being regarded as a champion of democracy” Victory in the war with Persia encouraged the people of low class to demand political rights. Herodotus once said that “Great things are won by great dangers.” Athenian Democracy may be a great thing won by great danger.


The direction in which education starts a man will determine his future life.

-Plato, Republic

Undoubtedly, the world’s greatest philosophers are namely Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. They were the ones who founded the basis of Western philosophy. What we may notice about them is that they were the philosopher of Greece, during the time of polis. For Athenian education advocated training citizens’ intellectual ability. Unlike Sparta, the military whose purpose of education was to produce well-drilled marching army, Athenian interest in education was at producing intellectual, cultural, and artistic citizens.

Rupert Clendon Lodge, the author of “Plato’s theory of Education (2001)” clarified the meaning of education base on theory of Plato shown in his book “Republic” that “Education is thought of as a specifically human institution: a social technique or art not found in rerum naturae, but invented by man. As a technical art, education represents, not nature, but a human improvement upon nature.” Base on his account on Plato’s theory on education, we would infer that Greeks had a different concept about education with that of people of today. For Greek people, education does not mean mere “schooling” but encompasses “socially controlled experience (Clendon, 2001)” Plato according to Rupert (1947) understood education as a definite art: an art which guides, reshapes, and controls human experience in accordance with an intelligible principle of value.” Education was offered to the citizen in purpose of humanizing and Hellenizing them and helping them fully understand about their Hellenic society. For that reason, education is for the sake of their lives in their Hellenic society.

For Athens, education was quite practical and closely related to society and politics. Plato, the greatest philosopher of that time also advocated education for citizenship, and education for leadership. Plato was quite interested in education so he founded Academia to educate his people. For he was an advocate of elitism, he also advocated education for producing elites who were future leader of the society.

In Athens education began at the age of 6. When he/ she became 6 years old, he/she was sent to the schools which were all private at the time. For the teachers were mostly retired military man, the way of educating was quite strict. The students were taught mainly three subjects: Letters, Music and Gymnastic.

As mentioned above, Athenian education was aiming to produce culturally, intellectually outstanding citizens. So the school offered students a letters class in which they learned how to read, write and speak. They were also taught literacy like the words of Homer. Aristotle in his book Politics said that “the literary education is to train the mind.” They were also educated to be able to play instruments for improving their artistic and aesthetic sense.

Aristotle about music said “Music, though of no practical use, provides a noble and liberal employment of leisure.”With spiritual education, the students were given physical education like wrestling, boxing and javelin casting in purpose of improving extensive physical culture.

At age 18, regardless of social status, all Athenian boys were required to attend military school for two years. After that if they wanted, they were able to enter the academies established by Plato and Aristotle for higher learning. Athenian people given philosophical lessons that widened their insights in lives and the world they live.

As I have mentioned above, the education was quite practical in many ways for its aims were to offer proper understanding about the society and life and to improve the abilities needed in order for them to live as an Athenian.

Education, as it goes to higher level, was often related with philosophy that could be considered as highly intellect activity. This education enabled Athenian people to achieve distinct and highly developed civilization.

Acropolis and Agora

In the polis, there were two special places: Acropolis and Agora. These two places had significant meaning in Greek Civilization. Acropolis may represent the center of religion in Greek polis and Agora would represent the center of political, social and economic activities.

Most of polis at the time had a hill at the center of city. At first polis was referring to the hills in Greek city-states but as Greek city-states began to be called “polis” the hill became “acropolis”. The word “Akcros” meant “high”. So Acropolis would mean “highest city”. Since Acropolis was a hill, it was suitable spot to build wall to defend the city. Later on, people built the temple for gods and goddesses that were believed to guard poleis.

In the mid-fifth century BC, when the Acropolis became the seat of the Athenian League and Athens was the greatest cultural centre of its time, Perikles initiated an ambitious building project which lasted the entire second half of the fifth century BC. Athenians and foreigners alike worked on this project, receiving a salary of one drachma a day. The most important buildings visible on the Acropolis today - that is, the Parthenon, the Propylaia, the Erechtheion and the temple of Athena Nike, were erected during this period under the supervision of the greatest architects, sculptors and artists of their time.

Acropolis was indeed the ambitious project of Athenian people who were highly advanced in terms of culture. Parthenon was one of the most significant buildings in their project. It was a temple for the Greek god “Athena” located in Athenian Acropolis. The temple was built in purpose of housing a 40-foot-high statue of Athena Parthenos sculpted by Phedias. Parthenon is built in Doric order and its decorative sculptures are showing the high point of Greek art. A side from the significance of Parthenon in terms of religion, it also had great meaning as far as art was concerned.

This monumental temple was indeed not only a great Doric style structure but the religious sprit of Athenian people. Athenian people dedicated this temple which they built on high hill in their polis to praise their guard goddess. The monumental religious festival such as Panathinaia was held in it. Many Athenians gathered in Acropolis their religious and cultural festivals. For during this time the religion was closely related arts and literature, the Acropolis would become not only the center of religion but also the center of culture and art. So Acropolis in Athenian civilization would symbolize its highly advanced cultural, religious and artistic spirit of Athenian people. Indeed, it is quite clear reflection of the splendour, power and wealth of Athens at its greatest peak, the golden age of Perikles.

Agora was an open place of assembly where Athenian citizens gathered for a wide variety of purposes. On any given day the space might be used as a market, or for an election, a dramatic performance, a religious procession, military drill, or athletic competition. Here administrative, political, judicial, commercial, social, cultural, and religious activities all found a place together in the heart of Athens, and the square was surrounded by the public buildings necessary to run the Athenian government.

The most significant of Athenian socio-political characteristic was active participations of citizens. For it was democratic society, the citizens could freely appeal their opinions and actively act and perform as a citizen. Guaranteeing the civil rights of citizens enabled Athenian citizens to perform what they can in society more freely and actively. This was driving force of Athenian society to be active society and lead itself to the advancement in politics, economy, and especially culture.

That is why Agora was considered important. For Athens was society whose people were active and social, the place where those people gathered must have been considered significant. Indeed, with Acropolis, Agora was the center of politics, economy and culture.

Public speeches and political agenda were delivered in this place. Active discussions about politics were done in this place. Market developed and economic activities were done in this place. Cultural and social activities like playing music and drama were performed in this place. This was Agora, the center of communication. Rome later on succeeded “Agora” which they renamed “Forum”.

Likewise, Acropolis and Agora were the central places that clearly showed what Athenian civilization was. Every significant aspect of Athens was shown in these places. Religion, Politics, Economy and culture of Athens were all clustered in this area and performed.

Poleis were the society formed by the people who called themselves “Hellenes”. In the word “Hellenes” there is pride and vigor of Greek people. Indeed, as mentioned above, they developed their own unique civilization which set up the foundation of Western civilization.

Greek cultures developed with civilization were widespread through Hellenization project of Alexander the Great. The unique and independent Greek culture became root of Rome. Then it became the root of Westerns.

What is the political system which is most prevalent today? It is democracy emerged in Athens. Who are the scholars whose theories are studied most today? Undoubtedly they are Socrates, Plato and Aristotle who lived at the time of polis. Their philosophies became the basis of Western philosophy.

These evidences prove significance of Greek civilization. Greece is indeed mother country of West. Although Greece is not really strong and prosperous today, this country is still respected for its legacies and attributions to Western civilization. It is where Western civilization was born. And still, the world is under Hellenic influence. For about 2500 years, Hellenes have been existing in field of politics, economy and culture. When we deal with Western spirit and root, undoubtedly it will be Greece that we will be talking about.


Aristotle, Athenian Constitution in 23 Volumes, Vol. 20, translated by H. Rackham. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1952.

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