Well-Governed Societies of Plato and St. Thomas Aquinas

Essay by dslslaveCollege, UndergraduateA+, March 2007

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Ideas of existence and the acquisition of knowledge ultimately distinguish Plato and St. Thomas Aquinas, leading to dissimilar views on the right way to govern a society. The metaphysics of Plato focused on Forms, concepts and abstractions of actual objects that are detached from these items. To Aquinas, in and of themselves objects exist, and each entity has actuality; everything has its own existence. Knowledge originates from objects of reality, and we can rely on our senses to perceive reality and reconstruct it in our mind. Therefore, what is present in our mind is in correspondence with what is present in reality. The process of Plato is the reverse: we begin with the universal and it is the particular that is abstracted, and knowledge can only be acquired through reason, as he believes our senses are deceiving and untrustworthy. Aquinas made a distinction between existence and essence, while Plato did no such thing.

These differences lead to main epistemological assumptions of the two philosophers: Aquinas centered concepts such as justice and laws on God, who through Eternal Law set up rules of the universe in addition to these absolute concepts, while Plato trusted in the Forms (the pure object of knowledge). It is these foundations that played a key role in the formation of the philosophers' respective visions on the right way to govern a society.

"Injustice causes civil war, hatred, and fighting, while justice brings friendship and a sense of common purpose." (Plato, 351d) Evident by Plato's "Republic," justice plays a significant role in his well-governed society. Throughout this work, an ideal state ruled by philosophers is presented and described, however it is obvious that this society is not necessarily made to be put into practice, but rather to show that justice is the basis...