The most famous political text from Antiquity is Platos Republic; one notices that this is a direct translation of the Latin De Republica; the orginal greek being Politeia.

Aristotle too, wrote a text called Politics (Politika); and he notes that in his Nicomachean Ethics that politics naturally follows a discussion of his virtue ethics; to legislate towards his ethics:

Must we not, then, next examine whence or how one can learn how to legislate?

Which has a parallel with Platos notion of a Philosopher-King.

What are the major differences between Aristotles Politics and that of Platos? And how influential is Platos text on him; it already seems here, for example that Aristotle is expanding and examining the notion of the Philosopher-King; perhaps identifying it to some extent with the laws of the city (polis); and those who legislate for them; but he notes:

but while the sophists profess to teach politics, it is practised not by any of them but by the politicians, who would seem to do so by dint of a certain skill and experience rather than of thought

Which seems remarkable, in that any art can be practised without thought; but he means by this it seems articulate thought:

For they are not found either writing or speaking about such matters

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    Here is an Interesting analysis, though only the first part is available without registering. From what I've gathered based on my readings, Plato and Aristotle seem to have differing approaches, with Plato offering the guidlines for the perfect society, while Aristotle analyzes political systems to inductively come to political truths.
    – Cicero
    Commented Aug 17, 2015 at 5:03

3 Answers 3


Plato's and Aristotle's views on politics were very different. Aristotle rejected many of the building blocks of Plato's politics: the theory of Forms (in the Metaphysics), the universal idea of the Good (in the Ethics), the value of Communes (in the Politics).

Further, unlike Plato, Aristotle distinguished "theoretical" philosophy (physics, metaphysics) from "practical" philosophy (ethics, politics). Aristotle agreed with Plato that theoretical philosophy was part of the highest (and potentially happiest) form of human life. But unlike Plato, Aristotle held that theoretical philosophy had no practical value. He even saw its impracticality as a sign of its value: theoretical philosophy has no goal outside of itself. Accordingly, theoretical philosophy played almost no part in Aristotle's ethics and in his politics.

It is plain then that Science [= theoretical philosophy] is the union of Knowledge and Intuition, and has for its objects those things which are most precious in their nature. Accordingly, Anexagoras, Thales, and men of that stamp [= theoretical philosophers], people call Scientific, but not Practically Wise because they see them ignorant of what concerns themselves; and they say that what they know is quite out of the common run certainly, and wonderful, and hard, and very fine no doubt, but still useless because they do not seek after what is good for them as men. (Ethics Book VI)

Aristotle argued against regimes ruled by a small (minority) class, on the ground that such a regime cannot remain stable for long. Aristotle advocated a broad ruling class (the middle class) and a wide participation of citizens in the management of the state.

One factor that Aristotle preserved, as it were, from Plato's politics was the importance of public education. The corriculum of Aristotle's public education system included some forms of gymnastics and of music. Aristotle also suggeted that future rulers and legislators will study ethics and political theory, similar to his own. But he did not relate studies like higher mathematics or theoretical philosophy to the management of the state, as did Plato.

Another political aspect which seems to have been common to Plato and to Aristotle, was that they both viewed the desired state as outwardly peaceful, utilizing military force only for defense, and avoiding the occupation of other states.

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    I agree with most of your statements. But could you please add a reference for the statement But unlike Plato, Aristotle held that theoretical philosophy had no practical value. I only remember Nicomachean Ethics II,2: “Since then the object of the present treatise is not mere speculation, as it is of some others (for we are inquiring not merely that we may know what virtue is but that we may become virtuous, else it would have been useless)[…]”
    – Jo Wehler
    Commented Aug 20, 2015 at 8:41
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    @jowehler I added a quote and reference. Commented Aug 20, 2015 at 17:13
  • Good answer; but it leads me to question how Plato envisaged his Forms affect politics - I had assumed it was purely part of his metaphysics; the Form of the Good suggests itself as part of the ethic of a ruling class properly ruling for the good of the city. Commented Aug 22, 2015 at 15:38
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    @MoziburUllah Plato's Forms are ideals, rather than merely ideas. So they transcend metaphysics into normative issues. Further, they are all related to a single Form of the Good. Commented Aug 22, 2015 at 18:10

The BBC's Mark Steel lectures, with which I was well impressed, captured the difference in terms of the preferred social class to focus upon.

In Mark's opinion, Plato looked upward in general, so, in this case he looked toward the individual ideal and making the best use of the ability that exists, but placing the most competent individual in a position of virtual dictatorship.

Aristotle, on the other hand, tried to push the value of the upper-middle class instead, by emphasizing the Golden Mean, and custom and context in general. Absolute ability, therefore, is not as valuable as being comfortable in one's own domain, knowing the rules implicitly and having a context to work from.

In reality, it is people at a certain tier of society that actually run things, neither the best, nor the majority, even when those other groups are officially in charge. Greece had democracies and tyranies side by side to compare, and life was not so different between them, so either extreme seemed not to speak to reality.


Plato bases his Republic on the thesis that the good ruler of a polity has to know and to implement the idea of the just. A long education in philosophy is needed to acquire such knowledge and to teach people how to behave accordingly. From the viewpoint of sociological grouping Plato assumes a division into three classes of people. A core statement from the Republic is

Until philosophers are kings, or the kings and princes of this world have the spirit and power of philosophy, and political greatness and wisdom meet in one, […] cities will never have rest from their evils,—nor the human race, as I believe,—and then only will this our State have a possibility of life and behold the light of day. (Book V, 473c-d)

A well known critics of the Republic as totalitarianism is due to Karl Popper: The Open Society and its Enemies, I. The spell of Plato.

Aristotle’s bases his two related works Nicomachean Ethics and Politics on the concept of virtues. Also for Aristotle justice is one basic virtue. But Aristotle never uses the Platonic theory of forms, he rejects it. A core statement from Aristotle’s Politics is

Hence it is evident that […] that man is naturally a political animal […] (Book I, Chap. 2)

Plato's Republic is a policial utopy. Aristotle's Ethics and Politics tries to explain how real polities are organized and how they develop. It is said that Aristotle induced a collection of about 160 constitutions from diffent polities of his time. Hence Aristotle gave his work also an empirical base, what Plato never did.

Note. In later years Plato composed The Laws (Nomoi) which probably incorporates some experience from existing polities.

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