Political Thinkers Throughout the Ages Have Considered Term Paper

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Political thinkers throughout the ages have considered the meaning of citizenship and the relationship that does and/or should exist between the citizen and the state. The meaning of citizenship has been addressed in different ways by various schools of thought, beginning with the Greeks. Citizenship means the state of belonging to a collective, a state, and an important element that emerges from Greek, Roman, and early Christian thinkers is that citizenship both confers rights and requires the fulfillment of responsibilities for an individual to be considered a good citizen. Definitions of being a good citizen include clarifying the relationship between the individual and his or her society, as can be seen in the political writings of Plato and the philosophical and ethical writings of Confucius. Plato identifies the good man with the good citizen, and what makes the individual good also makes the individual a good citizen. Confucius would agree with this conclusion and also finds a relationship between the inner being and the outer expression of that being in the political realm.

In The Republic, Plato has Socrates discuss the soul and the nature of the soul and to examine ways in which the soul may be said to be made up of divisions or parts rather than being a unified whole. What emerges from this discussion is a concept of the soul as having a tri-partite nature, with the three parts joined together. These three parts are delineated as follows: 1) reason; 2) the emotional or spirited part; and 3) desire. The three parts are not equal, and for Socrates reason is the part that is to dominate and that should keep the other two parts under control. The soul is also identified here as the mind, and the three aspects of the soul can also be seen as three parts of the psychology of the mind -- the reason, the emotions, and desire. The reason for this analysis is not to determine the structure of human psychology but to make a moral statement about the nature of the state and its relationship to the individual. Socrates notes that the state has three natural constituents, wisdom, courage, and self-discipline, and he wants to show that these same three forces are to be found in the human soul, in the soul of the individual. Plato's Republic is a dialogue in which Socrates investigates the nature of the city-state and what the ideal city-state should be. The primary subject of The Republic is justice, examined in broad terms. Throughout, Plato indicates that the nature of the individual and the nature of the state are parallel. Socrates speaks of the relationship between the individual human soul and the society of which the individual is a part, intending to make a moral statement about the nature of the state and its relationship to the individual.

Socrates indicates that the reason human beings come together to form a state in the first place is because human beings have certain needs which can only be fulfilled by the presence of other people, and in the properly administered state the individual is enabled to fulfill his or her needs. For Socrates, the maintenance of harmony requires that the individual fulfill his or her moral duty by obeying all of the laws of the state, and the individual owes the state this allegiance because there is an implicit agreement between the individual and the state -- the individual enjoys the benefits of being part of the state and in turn has an absolute duty to live up to the laws of the state. This is made especially clear in The Apology and Crito as Socrates shows that he will obey the laws of Athens even as he is condemned to death by political enemies. Socrates does not plead for his life and does not accept the exile that could be his punishment for to do so would be to admit that he had done something wrong. The fact that Socrates is offered exile as a punishment shows that he judges do not want to sentence him to death, but Socrates does not want to give them this out. Socrates has lived his entire life in the service of justice, and he cannot end his life with an injustice of his own making. That is what he would do if he were to take the deal he is offered and accept exile.

Plato's ideal state is geared toward the benefit of the state itself as an entity and to the people as a whole rather than to the individual. This is clearly seen in many of the social institutions and rules he proposes through his spokesperson, Socrates. The individual does not select his profession, for instance -- that is chosen on the basis of an assessment of ability and the needs of society. The individual does not choose his or her marriage partner, either, since that decision is made by the leaders of society. Minimizing the threat of or possibility of strife is an important component in the state envisioned by Plato, and he sees the avoidance of strife as deriving from unity in the community.

Socrates speaks of many of the elements to be found in the Republic in terms that show they are ideals to be sought rather than something that can actually be attained. Much of the discussion centers on the question of justice and the achieving of justice. There must be a quality that can be reduced no further and that can be called "justice." Justice is something that is elusive, and Socrates again and again refutes suggestions as to how to define the matter. Similarly, in the Republic there are goals pursued by institutions and individuals, but there is no guarantee that they will be successful at attaining the ideal they seek.

Confucianism is a philosophy of ethics and morals rather than a religious system in the usual sense, though Confucius derived his ethical and moral principles from earlier religious and philosophical writings and traditions. Perfection is achieved through following the Analects of Confucius, concerned primarily with the individual's relationship to his fellow man and to the ethical and moral problems that will ensue. Filial piety is a major tenet of Confucianism.

Confucius did not touch the deeper religious questions of his day and instead sought perfection in human affairs, though he was himself devout and religious. Confucius stated that the capacity to govern was not something that was inherited but derived instead from character and knowledge, and he further stated that administering the state is to be done by those most capable of government, with the aim of assuring the welfare and happiness of the whole people. Confucius believed that the good citizen could be developed through education, which is very much in agreement with what Plato said in The Republic, though the two thinkers might have different ideas of what education should impart. Plato would also agree that only those most capable of government should administer the Republic, and for Plato, education would determine who was best suited and train them for that role.

The soul is perfected in Confucian terms by good behavior, but the effort to achieve perfection in all things in this world. Many of the analects of Confucius offer specific statements as to how to achieve perfection and what sorts of behavior are to be considered proper and right. These aphorisms are seen as guides to living correctly and to perfecting the individual. They are not directly concerned with the soul or with religion, but they have the effect of becoming a religion and of putting forth personal perfection as the means of achieving a higher order, of living on the sort of level that the Buddhist might seek in order to perfect his soul and…

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