Social Status In Plato’s Ideal State: Its Relevance To Nigerian Society

Social Status In Plato’s Ideal State: Its Relevance To Nigerian Society

CHAPTER ONE

1:0          GENERAL INTRODUCTION

Man, by nature, is a social animal said Plato. But every “society is made up of unique individuals who fail or succeed, are powerful or weak, not as a consequence of stratification but because of their individual biographies”.[i]  It implies that man, being naturally social, unique and differs from one another in

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After payment, text the name of the project, email address and your names to 08064502337 terms of individual biography, forms a society, which is comprised of different individuals with different or diverse natural dispositions and talents. Due to this diversity of human natural ability in doing things in the midst of limitless human needs, there arise the need for exchange of service, which, for Plato, is the source of origin of any society2. Because of the limited means of achieving one’s needs, man consequently devised scale of preference. As a result, different people with different functions in the society receive different regards and rewards. Therefore one could be right to say that social division in terms of status is real, tangible and inevitable in every society.

Any social status ascribed to a person or group of persons, most a time is in relation to the role the person or group of persons played or is/ are playing in the society. Plato was also in this frame of thought, of functional stratification, when he was formulating his ideal state. He ascribed more important social position or prestige to the ruling class in the state. But classification of individuals into social strata was not the end-in-itself of the ideal state. Rather the aim was one way of demonstrating his dissatisfaction with the then existing Athenian government. So, he formulated his dream state, which will be free from all the known social, political, economic, and moral evils.

Consequently, the ideal state was based on his idea of man as a rational, social, political and moral being. He wanted the kind of society with the necessary conditions or qualities for attainment of man’s natural needs in accordance with the hierarchy of human social status. For this he says, “If we have founded it (state)3 properly, our state is presumably perfect… Then it will obviously have the qualities of wisdom, courage, self- discipline, and justice” 4

How hierarchy of human social status and the method of stratification contribute to the well-being and attainment of man’s needs is the central purpose of this work. But we see it in the light of Plato’s idea of idea state. Before going on, let us first of all reveal the profile of Plato briefly in order to understand his thought more properly.

1:2          A BRIEF PROFILE OF PLATO

Plato was born in about 427 BC to Ariston and Perictione, a wealthy aristocratic family, in Athens. He grew up when Athens were in war conflict with the Spartans, which started few years before his birth. His life ambition was to become a politician. So, he joined the company of other young aristocrats who studied under Socrates. He wished to find some better political arrangement for his city. But Plato was disappointed by the way the Athens treated his master, Socrates. After the death of Socrates, Plato traveled to the Greek city of Megara, Mediterranean and returned to Athens mentally richer.

He founded a philosophical school known to be the first western European intellectual organisation.5 The academy later became inclined to politics. That is why some ancient accounts hold that the academy functioned in part as a political consultants’ group. This was so because Plato believed that ignorance is the cause of those social and political evils in Athens. Therefore, the Athenian bureaucrats need to be educated lest they continue to sin against philosophy by killing another Socrates. Having traveled far and wide, and experienced different types of governments, Plato found non of them satisfactory; and so, he sought to formulate his dream state free from the known errors. This is the background from which Plato propounded his Ideal State. He died in Athens in about 348 BC.

1:3          PURPOSE OF THE STUDY

In any existing human society, irrespective of time and place, there is always politics. Because togetherness calls for orderliness; yet, any ordered or well-organised society implies well-structured society. Every society comprises of different people of different talents and interests some doing one thing and others doing another, some leading, others being led, yet cumulatively making a kind of anatomical whole.

Unfortunately, Nigeria as a society does not appear to be ordered nor well organised. This is, in a way, not because of the lack who does what, but because of the prestige, honour, and status attached to what one possesses or achieved has become more important than the need for better society. That is why I chose Plato’s ideal state in portraying how social status in Nigeria contributed towards the social situation in Nigeria today. I so much believe that if the aim and spirit in which Plato created his ideal state is followed in reevaluating and reconstructing our society. It will lead to a harmonious and well-ordered society. Plato wanted a society free from corruption, injustice, economic wastes (through poverty and extreme riches), laziness, ignorance and other social evils. He wanted a well structured and organised society where everyone from any social class does his duty well.

My purpose is not to reveal which social class is inferior or superior to others; rather, I want to demonstrate how a well organised society, in terms of attachment of importance to one’s social status can aid development. I am trying to portray that it can be of help when every one in any social class considers his position and those of others as equally important, since they make a complementary whole. No wonder Plato said that “quality and quantity are more easily produced when a man specialises appropriately on a single job for which he is naturally fitted.”6

READ  Plato`s concept of the ideal state

1:4          METHOLOGICAL APPROACH TO THE WORK

To bring out the necessary areas in creating the state, which are of immediate relevance to the work. In the literature review, I brought out two groups of philosophers; those who dealt with the analysis of the operative concepts; and those who dealt with the method of social stratification or status classification. Then I did a kind of comparative study of social status and method of stratification in Plato’s ideal state and what is obtainable in our Nigerian society. On another note, the work look more sociological, yet, I sounded ethical in certain areas, especially in chapters four and five. This is because; my aim is to demonstrate how well structured society contributes to the well-being of the society. And well-being is encompassing, including religious and moral aspects of life.

Secondly, on the part of scope covered, my area of interest in this work is limited to the organisational patterns in the society. I used the social stratification of citizens into different functional strata by Plato as a paradigm. It is not because of its perfect nature; rather because of the aim and spirit behind such stratification. I tried to use that pattern to evaluate the Nigerian society, in terms of social classification of its citizens into classes and the importance attached to them. To make the work more clearly, I sighted some philosophers’ analysis of the operative concepts and how some postulated theories on social status. Due to the size of the work, I did not go into historical background of the terms; rather, I limited myself more to its practical manifestations in writings and practice.

Lastly, the work is divided into five chapters. Chapter one is the general introduction. It gives an overview of what is to be discoursed, source of inspiration, the aim, the angle from which it is going to be approached, and how the work is divided. Chapter two deals with revealing some philosophers’ conceptions of the operative concepts and how it should be practiced. Plato’s ideal sate, the aim of its postulation and the importance of social classification in the state are the concern of chapter three. My own aim of dealing with Plato’s ideal state was revealed in chapter four. Social status in Nigeria, dimensions of the stratification, effects and social mobility in Nigerian society are also treated in this chapter. Chapter five handled the critical evaluations and then conclusion of the whole work: it is here also that I made my own stand and opinion clear.

CHAPTER TWO

2:0          LITERATURE REVIEW

Man is naturally a social animal; that is why Aristotle said, “He who is unable to live in society or who has no need because he is sufficient for himself must be either a beast or a god”1. Because of the inevitability of human society, the study of different aspects of human society also became inevitable. Some thinkers who studied human society came to the conclusion that differences in social status of the individuals in any given society are inevitable and important. For this reason, many thinkers have tried to study different areas of social status and stratification, coming out with views and theories on status in the society. Here it will be good to x-ray how some thinkers tried to portray their idea of social status in practice and others in writings and teachings.

2:1          PLUTARCH

Plutarch of Chaeronea, a famous Roman biographer, wrote on Lycurgus of Sparta as a political figure. Lycurgus is believed to have lived during the 9thC.BC, and gave the famous constitution of Sparta.2

Lycurgus was seen as a very obedient religious ruler. To make his society conform to his dream of ideal state, he reclined to the dictates of the oracle of Delphi. The oracle told him to:

Have the people phyle’d into phyles, and obe’d them into obes, establish a council of thirty elders, the leaders (kings included and shall from time to time assemble… The commons have the final say and decision. If the people decide crookedly it should be lawful for the elders and leaders to dissolve 3

Lycurgus believed that every person by nature is unique and is where and what nature designed him to be. But that do not affect his importance in the society and before the gods; whether poor or rich does not diminish one’s importance in the society. Difference in honour or prestige is a creation of man. So, for this reason he fought to reduce, if not close the gap between the rich and the poor in his society. Plutarch explained that he might expel from the state arrogance and envy, luxury and crime, and those yet more inveterate diseases of want and superfluity; he obtained of the rich to renounce their properties. He consented to a new division of the land, and that they should live all together on an equal footing. Merit should be their only road to eminence (that is to say, there should be no favouritism or any form of corruption on the way to winning social honour), and disgrace becomes a reward for evils and credit for worthy acts. Their one measure of difference between man and man should be also merit.4

To reduce too much wealth acquisition, he introduced heavy iron coins and discouraged foreign investments. This improved local productions. He, in addition, made the rich to share common meals with the poor, in order to reduce luxury and divisions.

This ordinance particular exasperated the wealthier men. They collected in a body against Lycurgus, and from ill words came to throwing stones, so that at length, he was forced to run out of the market-place, and make to sanctuary to save his life.5

It is believed that this Lycurgusian state is the model on which Plato, Diogenes and Zeno build their ideal states.

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2:2          ARISTOTLE

For Aristotle, just as it is natural for man to be social, so also it is natural that some people are to rule and others ruled. To this question of social equality or status, Aristotle wrote

There is no difficulty in answering this question, on ground both of reason and of fact. For that some should rule and others be ruled is a thing not only necessary, but also expedient, from the hour of their birth some are marked out for subjugation, others for rule.6

Aristotle believed strongly that social inequality is natural. For him, it is doubtless if men differed from one another in the mere forms of their body as much as the statues of the Gods do from men. With these mere bodily differences, he opined, “the inferior class should be slaves of the superior.”7 Because “nature would like to distinguish between the bodies of freemen and slaves, making one strong for servile labour, the other upright, useful for political life in the arts both of war and peace”8, continued Aristotle. In the same frame of mind, Aristotle held that the male is by nature superior, and the female inferior. And the one rules, and the other is ruled; “this principle of necessity”, he said, “extends to all makind”9.

On another dimension of social structure, Aristotle took the economic approach to stratification. He classified the citizens into three economic classes, namely

  1. The very rich class
  2. The very poor class and
  3. The mean class.

Aristotle preferred to reserve more honour and prestige to the third group, the mean class. For him, the best state should be composed of more members of this group; because, such state will not suffer from over- ambitious, luxury-minded men, and unsubmissive citizens. This will facilitate well-organised society.

2:3          ST. AUGUSTINUS AURELIUS

St. Augustine portrayed his ideal state in his work called “Civitas Dei”, “The city of God”. Here he propounded two cities; “The City of God” and The City of Men”. Those who love God, according to Augustine are in the  “The city of God”; while those who love self and the world are citizens of “The city of men” or “The city of the world.” Membership to any of these cities is not like being in a particular social or religious organisation; rather, it is an inner disposition to lead either godly life or worldly life. According to Samuel Stumpf,

These two cities were not considered by Augustine to be identical with the church and state, respectively. Having stressed that the decisive element in the formation of a society is the dominant love of its members, he pointed out that those who love the world are found both in the state and in the church10

For Augustine, “The city of God” is the true society. It is a universal common wealth ordained by God at the creation of man.11 It is open to all human races irrespective of tribe, tongue, colour and nationality. It is where everyone is the first-born child, without any social classification. (Cf. Heb.12: 22). It is a city for all who accept Jesus Christ and worn God’s grace, usually, through the sacraments of the church (Cf. John 1:12). This means that the only means of stratification of humanity acceptable to St. Augustine is that based on proximity to God.

2:4          NIETZSCHE

Directly opposite to what we saw in St. Augustine’s idea of true society is what Nietzsche upholds. Nietzsche, a German self-acclaimed atheist, who announced the death of God to the whole world, is also the destroyer of universal and conventional morality. Being a naturalist12, he fought to give man absolute freedom on earth to express his natural human drive, which is the “Will to Power”. For him, nature had made individuals differently; “and to conceive of morality in universal terms is to disregard basic differences between individuals”13. Having rejected the concept of equality, he indicated that “morality must suit each rank of humanity”. 14

Nietzsche condemned traditional and Christian morality, technically called slave-morality. This is because this morality wants to bring all men to the same level through absolute and universal moral laws applicable to all men. Secondly, “it prevents people from developing into strong and powerful men”.15 He, rather, approved of what he called master-morality; which encourages the development of strong and powerful men. This type of morality is characterised by “pride, great desire for conquest, revenge, ambition, adventure, voluptuousness, egoism, self-seeking, etc as virtues”16. This led him to the development of the concept of superman (Ubermensh), who will possess all these characters. This Nietzsche’s ideal man will be beyond good and evil; he will have no regard for God or traditional morality; neither will he fear man nor spirit. This will be the end of history of human evolution.

2:5          JEAN-JACQUES ROUSSEAU

Rousseau, a naturalist philosopher, holds that the natural and original state of man was classless, free, equal, and man enjoyed idyllic happiness. His only needs were food, rest and women. But classes in human society came up when some greedy individuals started to accumulate land, and some plants as their private possessions, and weak individuals accepted the claims. Due to the limitedness of natural resources, those who had not acquired much or non at all started to work for those who had in order to get what to eat and live on. This raised envy, anger, and violence against the rich. The rich, through reaching compromise with the poor, formed organised civil society with government; but this was to protect themselves against the attacks of the poor.

Therefore, class differences in societies are the products of economic changes as trumpeted by Karl Marx. That is while Rousseau advocated a society where equality reigns as portrayed in his social contract, where every citizen is a part of the state sovereignty. Without following the dictates of the Sovereignty or the general will, Rousseau believed that individuals are still not free though born free as he says; Man is born free, but everywhere in chains. For man to be free, according Rousseau, means being one with the society; the individual should conform to the general will of the society. In such a situation every individual becomes equal, no one claims superiority over another; since everyone is under the same general will and must conform to it. Now let us hear from sociologists on the same topic, social status.

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2:6          MAX WEBER

Max Weber, a highly influential German Sociologist, held that class should not be the only factor for determining social status. Party, power and economy could mitigate it. He defined class as “chances on the market”; and status as “a way of life or honour or prestige”; then party as “access to political power”17. The fact is that he was thinking in favour of the high class, unlike Marx. Weber was of the opinion that those who had high status would tend, in time, to acquire wealth and those who had wealth would tend to acquire status.18 That is to say man is insatiable. He also recognised the fact that people can be in the same class yet in different social status, or the other way round. For example, in the old Igbo Caste system, no matter how rich an Osu can be, he cannot be considered to be in the same social status with the equally rich, but free-born. Though this method of stratification is not general and is also outdated.

2:7          LINTON RALPH (1893- 1953)

Linton, an American anthropologist, tried to bridge the gap between the disciplines studying the individual and those studying the society. No wonder he defined status as “the polar position in patterns of reciprocal behaviour”19. The polar position consists of rights and duties. Thus a status, for him, has a double connotation; “a position in the social structure occupied by a person, and a collection of rights and duties, which the position confers on the person”.20 For example, rectorship is a position in a house of formation. The duty attached to it is piloting the general affairs of the institute. There are rights attached to it. That is to say, a status, according to Linton, is marked off by the fact that distinctive beliefs about and expectations of social actors are organised around it. There are different bases on which an individual can be on a status, according to Linton. There include; “age, sex, birth genealogy and other biological and constitutional characteristics.”21

In addition, Linton held that social status is a social phenomenon, not an intrinsic characteristic of men, but of social organisation. He believes that status is not connatural with any individual. It is the society that determines which is which. So, “what matters is not what you really are but what people believe you to be.”22 

He also distinguished status from role. Status defines who a person is, while role defines what such a person does or is expected to do. He also holds that everyone has more than one status. No status in any social situation encompasses the individual person. That is to say, any social status is in relation to an aspect of the social situation. That is why a person can be a father to a family and a headmaster to an institution, yet an employee to the proprietor of the institution. Linton also maintains that every status seems to characterise the behaviour of those in it. For example, an “ozo’ title holder in Igbo land has a peculiar way of salutation different from that of women. In effect, people from different statuses tend to behave differently.

Having revealed some of the philosophers’ ideas of social status in ideal state, one can easily understand that all the portrayed thinkers do not have similar conceptions and conclusions about the importance of social status. Some, like Aristotle, hold that it is justifiable for some people to be rulers while others are being ruled. Others like Lycurgus hold that all men are naturally equal; differentiations are human creation. So, for Lycurgus, classifications are not necessary for a peaceful society. Yet on the other hand people like St. Augustine stratified the citizens into two groups depending on their proximity to God. For him, Christ Jesus is the focal point through him, with him, and in him alone can one be a true citizen.

Now, having seen some of the thinkers’ conceptions of the term “social status”, it is important to explore Plato’s ideal state to find out how Plato conceived it. We can then stand on a better ground to compare and contrast it with what is obtainable in Nigerian society today

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