Was Plato a great believer in democracy

Plato's criticism of democracy

Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2 main part
2.1 Brief sketch of the ancient personality of Plato
2.2 Seventh letter - forgery or authentic document?
2.3 Politeia - in search of the right state constitution
2.4 Concept of democracy and criticism of democracy in Plato
2.5 The possible causes of Plato's criticism of democracy

3 Conclusion

4 List of sources and references

1 Introduction

In this work I would like to work out what made Plato a critic of democracy and what he understood by the term democracy. Connected with this, it will have to be questioned what Plato attributed to him in old age, looking back on the time when he was about 30 years old Seventh letter led to the confession "that after all the experiences he had made with Athens in the previous years, he was" last cheated ""[1] and he "the community in complete confusion"[2] saw. Because precisely the bad experiences with Attic democracy were probably the basis for his later criticism of democracy. With regard to the current state of research in dealing with Attic democracy, it is noticeable that it has been "a center of interest in ancient historical research" in recent decades[3] and "not only a departure from the usual negative view of the polis world of the 4th century, but also a cautious positive reassessment of democracy in Athens"[4] took place. In contrast, the statements on Athenian democracy in the 19th and early 20th centuries were almost "consistently limited to critical remarks, yes, the scholars were spoiled for the topic at all"[5], with a few exceptions, such as the historian George Grote, who, in complete contradiction to many colleagues of his time, praised the political education, political commitment and tolerance of the Athenians. In the light of the latest research results, the recently deceased historian Jochen Bleicken stated that the Athenian democracy was neither an accident in world history nor an ideal state, but rather the “historical proof that the direct rule of a mass also under the sign of radical political equality really worked for a long time. "[6]

In order to answer the main question I will essentially use Plato's sources as sources Seventh letter as well as the Politeia use. In the main part of my scientific work, I first sketch the ancient personality of Plato, briefly going to the S love letter, a kind of autobiography, as well as the Politeia a, will elaborate Plato's concept and criticism of democracy and, with regard to the causes of his criticism of democracy, consider in particular his attitude towards Attic democracy. I present my résumé in the closing remarks.

2 main part

2.1 Brief sketch of the ancient personality of Plato

The Greek scholar Plato (* Athens 427 BC, Athens 347 BC), who came from an old noble family and was a pupil of Socrates and teacher of Aristotle, is one of the most important philosophers in world history. Although he could have embarked on a political career as a wealthy member of the Athenian upper class, because of what he saw as daunting experiences with both the brutal and despotic Rule of Thirty (404/03 BC) as well as the subsequently reinstated Attic democracy consciously against it. A shocking event for Plato that certainly promoted this decision was the death of his good friend Socrates (399 BC) as a result of a conviction for alleged asebie (godlessness) and the corruption of the youth by an Athenian court. It was precisely that Socrates who had a great influence on the life and thinking of Plato: he was probably not only impressed by Socrates' personality, such as his "moral integrity, [...] simple lifestyle, [. ..] dealing with his death, [...] a sense of justice, [...] bravery, moral courage and loyalty to the Athens polis, but also his way of asking philosophical questions and analyzing problems that are likely to [...] ] is to be regarded as one of the essential impulses for Plato's own philosophy. "[7] This is reflected especially in the early Platonic writings and dialogues, where Socrates appears as the main speaker. It is interesting in this context that Plato rated the value of writing as a medium for conveying knowledge as low. For him it was Write more like a gamewhile up be for him serious only in Oral unfolded. One of Plato's most important works is the Politeiathat he created after founding the Platonic Academy should have written and in which he tried to develop an ideal state.

The Platonic Academy, which was attended by the most famous Plato pupil Aristotle, among others, was very important for the aftermath of Plato's own philosophy, so that one can conclude “that the basic idea of ​​an intellectual center with lively intellectual exchange in which learners should develop into independence , went down in European cultural history from Plato. "[8]

2.2 Seventh letter - forgery or authentic document?

In order to find out more about the background to Plato's criticism of democracy, it might be useful to refer to an autobiography attributed to him: the Seventh letter. Because there he describes, among other things, the reasons for his withdrawal from the political stage of Attic democracy. But how valuable is this self-testimony actually? Is this letter authentic and can it be attributed to Plato? After all, it enjoyed a certain popularity in antiquity to use the names of famous personalities as carriers of one's own thoughts. And in fact most of the thirteen letters handed down by Plato from ancient times are said to be pure forgeries. But from today's research the Seventh letter Plato, "which is equivalent to one of the smaller dialogues in terms of scope, [...] almost universally recognized as genuine."[9] And even if Plato was not the author of this letter but, for example, one of his students, one is "in any case [...] entitled to use it as a biographical source."[10] Why? When examining the historical background, it can be determined, among other things, "that the few facts communicated in the letter largely coincide with the rest of the tradition, which is dependent on him and simultaneous publications from the area around the academy."[11] So it seems beyond dispute that the author of the letter was at least a contemporary one. In addition, one can conclude that the Seventh letter purely outwardly a “political letter to the followers of Plato's friend Dion in Syracuse [is], but also a personal justification for his role in the events in Syracuse[12] before the Greek public, even his philosophy and his school, the academy. "[13] The latter is particularly clear from the statements at the end of the letter, where it says, among other things: "But why I made the second trip to Sicily, I thought I had to tell because of the strange and improbability of the events connected with it."[14] It can be assumed that Plato's contacts with the tyrants Dionysius I and II did not meet with a positive response in the Athens of his time and that he met the increasing criticism of his actions by using the letter to play his role in the Sicilian Wanted to put politics in the right light.


[1] Meier, Christian: Athens. A New Beginning of World History, Munich 1997, p. 691.

[2] Ibid. P. 691.

[3] Bleicken, Jochen: The Athenian Democracy, 4th, completely revised. and substantially exp. Ed., Paderborn [et al.] 1995, p. 682.

[4] Eder, Walter (ed.): The Athenian Democracy in the 4th Century BC, Stuttgart 1995, p. 14.

[5] Bleicken p. 680.

[6] Ibid. Pp. 682-683.

[7] Bordt, Michael: Platon, Freiburg 1999, p. 18.

[8] Görgemanns, Herwig: Platon, Heidelberg 1994, pp. 30-31.

[9] Plato: The seventh letter, trans., Note and afterword from Ernst Howald, Stuttgart 2004, p. 57.

[10] Görgemanns p. 20.

[11] Trampedach, Kai: Platon, the academy and contemporary politics, Stuttgart 1994, p. 255.

[12] Note: When trying to implement his ideas of an ideal state (Politeia) during the tyranny of Dionysius I and later Dionysius II in Sicily, Plato failed.

[13] Plato: The seventh letter, trans., Note and follow-up from Ernst Howald, Stuttgart 2004, pp. 57-58.

[14] 7. Letter 352a.

End of the reading sample from 17 pages