3.5 Some People You Really Need to Know: 22FB-POL101-1


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  • How one defines the good life can be influenced by ethical considerations, religious values, and/or societal standards and expectations.

  • Plato. He had some unique insight, but he was also an elitist. While many of his underlying premises are thought-provoking and challenging, his anti-democratic ideas, beliefs, and arguments would be distinctly out of step with modern views of politics in western countries. However, he developed and shared his vision of the political good life.

  • Plato envisioned an ideal society in the Republic, as mentioned, Plato's society is not in any sense democratic. He did not believe that the majority should have its way. He did not trust human senses to discover what is real; in fact, he thought our senses were imperfect representations of actual reality.

  • Plato believed that perfect forms of beauty and justice exist, but only a few people can perceive these realities. He did not think that most of us possessed the wisdom to recognize these forms; in fact, he believed that most of us see only dim shadows of ideal forms.

  • Because Plato believed there was an ideal world, and because he believed in creating a state with perfect justice (the political good life), he is labeled an idealist.

  • Aristotle was a pragmatist—he believed that people should do the best they can within the limits of the world as it exists around them. Doing the best you can with what you have is the political good life.

  • according to Aristotle, everything works toward a specific end, or telos. The telos for an acorn is what it is to become eventually—an oak tree; the telos for a puppy is a dog. To Aristotle, the telos for human beings is happiness, which he defined as the pursuit of wisdom; therefore, people should create governing institutions with this end in mind. Also, he believed that man (Greeks did not include women in public life) is a political animal, naturally social, and government is an outgrowth of these traits.

  • some types of government are better at helping people achieve happiness than others, and he was an optimist in that he believed that bad forms of government could be improved.

  • more of a realist

  • Augustine hoped for peace and order for mankind.

  • He held allegiance to God, an authority higher than the state

  • Thomas Aquinas stressed the importance of religion and extended the development of natural law, following in the footsteps of Augustine.

  • father of the modern theory of realism.

  • Machiavelli worked under the assumption that theory should be based not on ideals but on the way people actually live and function.

  • A key to understanding Machiavelli is to realize that in his opinion, people are ungrateful, fickle, and deceptive, and that someone who wishes to lead needs to work with this reality.

  • He dedicates his most famous work, The Prince (Links to an external site.), to Lorenzo de Medici (Links to an external site.), hoping to convince him to take on the task (and possibly hire Machiavelli as an advisor). The basic ideas are:

  • Machiavelli obviously concentrated on the rules of power politics. His advice was cold and sometimes brutal, but it dealt with the realities of the politics he observed. Politicians today still use Machiavelli's advice.

  • In his major work, The Leviathan (Links to an external site.), Thomas Hobbes sought to craft a scientific theory of politics and government. He engaged in a thought experiment, asking what life would be like if there were no laws, no government, and no justice system at all, where individuals enjoyed perfect liberty to do whatever they pleased—the state of nature.

  • Jean-Jacques Rousseau believed that people need to reject social inequality by placing the common good of all above their own personal interests.

  • Edmund Burke believed that the French had gone too far in upsetting the political balance. He suggested that a healthy political system should be based upon tradition

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