The study of western political thought has endured a drastic change throughout the centuries. This shift occurred through the queries of ancient philosophical minds such as Plato, Aristotle, the Stoics, and St. Augustine. Two examples of great importance are the inequality of gender and the role of power distributed and issued within the state.
Plato believed all people, men and women alike are created equal; this notion runs parallel to our modern day Constitution. He states "if we are to set women to the same tasks as men, we must teach them the same things," they must endure "training for the mind and body and also be taught the art of war" (149). Plato developed a role known as a guardian or a soldier to protect over the people. He relates this to the fact that if watchdogs can be both male and female why can’t guardians.
Aristotle is known as Plato’s greatest pupil. He was strongly influenced by the teachings of Plato but was also known for ridiculing some of his ways. His view of women is drastically different from those of Plato. By nature, he says, women are to be dominated by men. Aristotle refers to women as imperfect men. He acknowledges that women can possess reason, but can not obtain the same stature as men. Aristotle believes the only purpose that women serve is to provide matter for the child and the men provide the form. His ideas of form and matter are very different from that of Plato, since his beliefs are void of matter holding only form as the essence behind life.
The beginning of Stoic philosophy formed a totally different view on the idea of equality. Equality was no longer devised with respects to a community in the whole, but rather as individuals. The Stoics developed a system consisting of three classes. Everyone within each particular class was considered equals. They were strong followers of the concept of natural law, which meant both men and women can reason. Their reasoning was treated in the same respects no matter what gender; this statement is very different from that of Aristotle. Zeno, the founder of the Stoics, believed in the notion of brotherhood among all, men and women alike.
St. Augustine took the Stoics ideas of equality one step further. His views pertain to that of the Christian approach. Augustine believed that people were all equals within the City of God. Spiritually women were identical to men, but physically they shared many differences. This idea of equality holds true even to present day.
These paragraphs demonstrate a tremendous change in the equality of women within society. Another example that was greatly impacted by these time periods was the change in the role of power distributed and issued within the state.
Plato held the belief of the philosopher king. He believed to ensure the ideal state "either philosophers (were to) become kings in their countries or those who are now called kings and rulers come to be sufficiently inspired with a desire for wisdom" (179). Plato believed only the wise could execute proper justice. A just city is an ideal city for Plato, one in which the philosopher was in total control.
Aristotle’s views greatly differ from Plato’s. Aristotle believed that each individual in their self made the polis. He compares having only one person as a "hand" (112) without a body, put that hand with the rest of the body and it can work to its fullest potential. This describes individuals working as a whole to better the polis. By including all citizens Aristotle believed he had created the ideal city.
During the time of the Stoics, many important philosophers gave their opinions about the issues of authority within the state. As stated previously, Zeno was a strong believer of the brotherhood among all. The Stoics notion of natural law granted all people within the state, of any class, to be offered the ability to share their opinion of government. Another philosopher, Polibius, agreed with Aristotle’s concept of mixed constitution.
Government was gradually moving away from the days of Plato.
Augustine defined the Christian rule of the Church over state. In order to have the ideal government, Augustine believed law should co-relate to that of the Church.