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Compare, contrast and evaluate Plato and Mill on the relationship between individual and society

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Introduction

Compare, contrast and evaluate Plato and Mill on the relationship between individual and society Plato was born around 428-7 BC, he lived for the most part of his life in Athens, and had much to say about Athenian democracy. Mill was born much later in London in 1806, but although over two thousand years of political philosophy divide the two, much of the same issues and concerns arise in both their work though often with very different outlooks. Despite their differing opinions Plato and Mill are both antithetical, or in other words believe that the "tyranny of the majority" is to be feared. Plato believes that individuals are selfish and pursue their own self-interests at the expense of the rest of the population, and follow their own moral path. The philosopher individual is epitomised by the "Gadfly". The gadfly is referred to by Plato in the Apology, to describe Socrates' relationship with the Athenian political scene. Socrates believed he irritated for the purpose of leading people closer to the truth 'to sting people and whip them into a fury, all in the service of truth'. The gadfly describes a person who upsets the status quo by posing lots of questions. Plato states that while the gadfly is easy to swat, the cost to society of silencing an individual simply because of his irritancy could be extremely high. This seems to contradict some of what he has to say on his republic, as he stifles the lower class citizens in the Kallipolis, counting their opinions as obsolete in comparison to the philosophers. The gadfly is also mentioned in the Bible in the Book of Jeremiah also relating to political influence 'Egypt is a very fair heifer; the gadfly cometh, it cometh from the North'. Plato believes that Democracy fosters the wrong kind of individual, hence the Kallipolis, which is the inverse of Democracy, designed to bring about the 'right way of living'. ...read more.

Middle

The Producers are in effect not free, but rather slaves to their senior ranking class, the Guardians. The Producers are thought to be the least intelligent mass of the population, and they are therefore expected to trust and believe their rulers. This is justified by Plato because it is better for them to be under the control of 'divine wisdom' something that the minority of the population possess, and what makes those that do worthy to rule over all others. Plato's belief is that if these less intelligent people are allowed to think freely, then they will make the wrong choices, and an individual is only worth what they contribute to their community as a whole. This means that personal desires are not as important as the overall functioning of the community, which is immaculately ruled by the Philosopher Kings who have the ability to learn and retain the knowledge leaded to rule and guide the citizens of the Kallipolis. Mill's views contradict these of Plato's; his liberalist view is that the individual is important in creating the desired environment within the state and is worthy of reaching their full potential in all areas. Mill considers freedoms of opinion and of actions necessary, and his Harm Principle was made to help protect other individuals from being hurt. Mill believes that individuals have a fundamental right to discover and develop their knowledge to their maximum capacity with the absence of 'a priori' constraints. Plato's view on the freedom of individual development of knowledge is that it is the "despotism of custom". Mill prioritises the freedom of thought and expression; he believes that unless we push an argument to its absolute limit, then we cannot claim to fully understand it. Mill says that we must listen to everyone, even those that offend us, or those who we believe to be irrelevant. Mill's justification for this is that if one person speaks out against an otherwise unanimous society about a certain topic, and they are right, then they could enlighten the mass to the truth. ...read more.

Conclusion

He would argue that social bigotry should be restrained for the sake of encouraging freedom of thought and expression. Mill endorses Grote's admiration of Athenian tolerance, as tolerance is a necessity and encourages genius as a society 'may have persons of talent...but genius in such a soil is fatally stunted in it's growth'. Plato on the other hand criticises Athenian tolerance on the basis that the maintenance of public emotions requires repression by both law and by non-legal sanctions. He held the belief that Athenian tolerance undermines civic spirit required for the furtherance of the tolerant society itself. Aristotle, a student of Plato's born in 384BC stated that it is 'the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it'. It is interesting that somebody taught by Plato would recognise the need for the self-development of opinion, something that Mill believes to be essential for a progressive society. Mill states that his father taught him to value Plato and his contributions to philosophy, and he says that he does just that. He called himself a pioneer when he began his translations of Plato's work. Perhaps this was because he believed that the time that separated the two philosophers had made way for changes albeit dramatic, to Plato's ideas that would concur with the modern world. Mill criticised Plato for trying to show that virtue is in the individuals' interest, but also for attempting to give justification that virtue should be preferred at all. Neither Plato nor Mill's work is flawless, so criticisms can be made on their errors and self-contradictions, yet both of these men helped advance philosophy immensely, and provided the basis of much discussion and debate. For Mill, freedom is necessary and desirable by both the individual and society. For Plato however freedom is not of fundamental concern; it is far more important to live according to the eternal and immutable truths. Herein lays the biggest contrast in the works of these two influential philosophers as regards the relationship between the individual and society. ?? ?? ?? ?? ...read more.

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