Plato and Aristotle on Women in Politics

Ancient philosophy was rich in an outstanding thinker who outlined the eternal truths and observation about the world, the nature of human beings and their behavior, the origin of art and the essence of beauty, vice and virtue as well as many other concepts that are hard to find a unanimous explanation and rationalization too. Surely, their opinions differ thus providing the sound basis for considerations and debates on the nature of the most important issues of all times. The example of such an issue is the place of women in politics that has always been actual and interesting. Here one can recollect the works of Aristotle who dedicated much of his work to define the place of women in life, and the ones of Plato, his teacher who also discussed women and their meaning in his works.

Despite the fact that Plato was Aristotle’s teacher, they completely differ in their opinions about women and their place in politics. Aristotle in general did not consider women a separate sex and did not count on them as independent, separate individuals but thought that women were only incomplete men, thus they could not accomplish the ultimate goal of a human being in the world. In contrast to him, Plato intensely discussed the place of women and stated that women were the heart of the city, thus being an indispensable element of politics. More than that, he even argued that without women there would be no politics at all, thus emphasizing their central position in this aspect of human life.

So, if we imagine that the two great philosophers has a discussion on the issue of women and their place in society, it is possible to presuppose that the main argument of Plato would be that no political life was possible without women and they should be occupied not only with private matters and household but with politics as well, making it diverse, reasoned and successful (Plato, IV, 456c). Plato would stress the significant role of feminine bodies in the Greek culture, which acquired a heavy emphasis in his works on women and would tie it to their role in politics.

In response to these arguments, Aristotle would defend himself by moving forward his famous statement about the ultimate goal of all things in nature, and the ultimate goal of human beings in particular. He would compare women and men according to their physical characteristics and peculiarities of conduct and thus would try to prove that women are inferior men, so they in general cannot perform ruling functions. According to the opinion of Aristotle this would mean that the rulers were ruled by women, which is unacceptable in its essence (Aristotle, 1254 b13).

Plato would explain that women and men are both members of one society and there should not be distinction in the function they should perform. It is known that Plato insisted on women knowing the military art, which would also place them not only at the heart of the city but at the heart of the war and would win them the equal part in politics alongside men (Plato, IV, 454b-456b). In response to this Aristotle would probably try to prove the inferiority of women by their being less stable in behavior, easier moved to tears, more jealous and less self-respectful, more deceptive and false in speech. Aristotle also considered women to be more difficult to be moved to action, which canceled their possibility to take part in wars and political activities in his opinion. In addition, Aristotle even tried to prove the inferiority of women by their fewer needs for food, which made him believe that women should be excluded from the political life of the city completely (Aristotle, 1260 a12).

Thus, it is impossible to presuppose now who would win the philosophical discussion, but one thing is certain: their views on the place of a woman in political life are completely different. In contrast to Plato giving women a fairly large part in the politics of the state Aristotle denied the very existence thereof.

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NerdyTom. 2021. "Plato and Aristotle on Women in Politics." October 29, 2021. https://nerdytom.com/plato-and-aristotle-on-women-in-politics/.

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