PLATO (428-348 BC)

Concept of ideal vs real world

In the most famous of Plato’s dialogues, Politeia (The Republic). From the account of Socrates Plato maintained that true knowledge consists not in knowing particular things but in knowing something general that is common to all but not the particular cases. The implication is that one does not know what goodness is; unless one can give such a general account.

It means if ethics is universal then a question arises, how one can know what is the general idea of goodness? Plato answers that one knows the Form of the Good (real or ideal). A perfect, eternal, and changeless entity exists outside space and time (the ideal form of knowledge), on the other hand, the real form of knowledge is variable according to time and space. So for true knowledge, we need to look into the ideal world which is absolute in nature. That’s why he gave the idea of the real world and the ideal world. For Socrates, knowledge comes from human reasoning, but for Plato, knowledge comes from the ideal world.

But even if one could know what goodness or justice is, why should one act justly if one could profit by doing the opposite?

According to Plato, the unjust person lives in an unsatisfactory state of internal discord, trying always to overcome the discomfort of unsatisfied desire but never achieving anything better than the mere absence of want.

The soul of the just person, on the other hand, is harmoniously ordered under the governance of reason, and the just person derives truly satisfying enjoyment from the pursuit of knowledge.

He also said that justice exists in the individual when the three elements of the soul—intellect, emotion, and desire—act in harmony with each other.

Plato remarks that the highest pleasure comes from intellectual speculation. He also gives an argument for the belief that the human soul is immortal; therefore, even if a just individual lives in poverty or suffers from an illness, the gods will not neglect him in the next life, where he will have the greatest rewards of all. In summary, then, Plato asserts that we should act justly because in doing so we are “at one with ourselves and with the gods.”

As per Plato, human beings are made up of three elements or parts:

  1. Element of Passion or Competition (Passions/emotion): When emotions are controlled well, it leads to courage.
  2. Executive Element & Spirited or Dynamic (Will/Desire): when desires are controlled, it leads to temperance (संयम).
  3. Rational or Philosophical Element (Reason or Intellect): Reason leads to prudence (practical wisdom).

Together prudence, temperance and courage lead to justice

Four cardinal values by Plato/Aristotle


Temperance is a strength that protects against excess and consists of self-regulation and obedience to authority. It suggests harmony among conflicting elements.

Courage/Fortitude is the bravery to do justice. It removes obstacles that come in the path of justice.

Prudence(wisdom) is the right reason for action. It plays a vital role in terms of guiding & regulating all other virtues.

Justice: Justice is a human virtue that makes a person self-consistent and good. In a social context, Justice is a social consciousness that makes a society internally harmonious and good.

Unity of virtues

A person cannot possess one of the cardinal virtues without having them all.

He divided the state into three parts

  1. Producers (Farmers and artisans)
  2. Auxiliary (Soldiers and security personnel)
  3. Guardians (rulers- philosopher king)

To him in an ideal state, guardians will have the virtue of reason (prudence/wisdom).

Auxiliary will have the virtue of spirit (courage)and

The virtue of temperance will reside in all three classes.

For, him ruler should be a philosopher (philosopher king) because only a philosopher can know the real truth which is essential to ensure justice and happiness.

Plato’s idea of Governance (functionalist view):

His model of the just state is that of a healthy organism where all the parts function for the benefit of the whole, and the whole benefits the parts.

The survival of the whole depends on each one’s performing their function properly. Justice is sticking to one’s role, doing one’s work, and not interfering with others.

For Plato Three things lead to justice in society:

Teamwork: Philosopher king, guardians/soldiers, common people.

Equality: Treating all people the same according to the notion of fairness.

Leadership: Society will be governed by an enlightened king

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