SOCIAL STATUS IN PLATO’S IDEAL STATE: ITS RELEVANCE TO NIGERIAN SOCIETY
1:0 GENERAL INTRODUCTION
Man, by nature, is a social animal said Plato. But every “society is made up of unique individuals who fail or succeed, are powerful or weak, not as a consequence of stratification but because of their individual biographies”.[i] It implies that man, being naturally social, unique and differs from one another in terms of individual biography, forms a society, which is comprised of different individuals with different or diverse natural dispositions and talents. Due to this diversity of human natural ability in doing things in the midst of limitless human needs, there arise the need for exchange of service, which, for Plato, is the source of origin of any society2. Because of the limited means of achieving one’s needs, man consequently devised scale of preference. As a result, different people with different functions in the society receive different regards and rewards. Therefore one could be right to say that social division in terms of status is real, tangible and inevitable in every society.
Any social status ascribed to a person or group of persons, most a time is in relation to the role the person or group of persons played or is/ are playing in the society. Plato was also in this frame of thought, of functional stratification, when he was formulating his ideal state. He ascribed more important social position or prestige to the ruling class in the state. But classification of individuals into social strata was not the end-in-itself of the ideal state. Rather the aim was one way of demonstrating his dissatisfaction with the then existing Athenian government. So, he formulated his dream state, which will be free from all the known social, political, economic, and moral evils.
Consequently, the ideal state was based on his idea of man as a rational, social, political and moral being. He wanted the kind of society with the necessary conditions or qualities for attainment of man’s natural needs in accordance with the hierarchy of human social status. For this he says, “If we have founded it (state)3 properly, our state is presumably perfect… Then it will obviously have the qualities of wisdom, courage, self- discipline, and justice” 4
How hierarchy of human social status and the method of stratification contribute to the well-being and attainment of man’s needs is the central purpose of this work. But we see it in the light of Plato’s idea of idea state. Before going on, let us first of all reveal the profile of Plato briefly in order to understand his thought more properly.
1:2 A BRIEF PROFILE OF PLATO
Plato was born in about 427 BC to Ariston and Perictione, a wealthy aristocratic family, in Athens. He grew up when Athens were in war conflict with the Spartans, which started few years before his birth. His life ambition was to become a politician. So, he joined the company of other young aristocrats who studied under Socrates. He wished to find some better political arrangement for his city. But Plato was disappointed by the way the Athens treated his master, Socrates. After the death of Socrates, Plato traveled to the Greek city of Megara, Mediterranean and returned to Athens mentally richer.
He founded a philosophical school known to be the first western European intellectual organisation.5 The academy later became inclined to politics. That is why some ancient accounts hold that the academy functioned in part as a political consultants’ group. This was so because Plato believed that ignorance is the cause of those social and political evils in Athens. Therefore, the Athenian bureaucrats need to be educated lest they continue to sin against philosophy by killing another Socrates. Having traveled far and wide, and experienced different types of governments, Plato found non of them satisfactory; and so, he sought to formulate his dream state free from the known errors. This is the background from which Plato propounded his Ideal State. He died in Athens in about 348 BC.
1:3 PURPOSE OF THE STUDY
In any existing human society, irrespective of time and place, there is always politics. Because togetherness calls for orderliness; yet, any ordered or well-organised society implies well-structured society. Every society comprises of different people of different talents and interests some doing one thing and others doing another, some leading, others being led, yet cumulatively making a kind of anatomical whole.
Unfortunately, Nigeria as a society does not appear to be ordered nor well organised. This is, in a way, not because of the lack who does what, but because of the prestige, honour, and status attached to what one possesses or achieved has become more important than the need for better society. That is why I chose Plato’s ideal state in portraying how social status in Nigeria contributed towards the social situation in Nigeria today. I so much believe that if the aim and spirit in which Plato created his ideal state is followed in reevaluating and reconstructing our society. It will lead to a harmonious and well-ordered society. Plato wanted a society free from corruption, injustice, economic wastes (through poverty and extreme riches), laziness, ignorance and other social evils. He wanted a well structured and organised society where everyone from any social class does his duty well.
My purpose is not to reveal which social class is inferior or superior to others; rather, I want to demonstrate how a well organised society, in terms of attachment of importance to one’s social status can aid development. I am trying to portray that it can be of help when every one in any social class considers his position and those of others as equally important, since they make a complementary whole. No wonder Plato said that “quality and quantity are more easily produced when a man specialises appropriately on a single job for which he is naturally fitted.”6
1:4 METHOLOGICAL APPROACH TO THE WORK
To bring out the necessary areas in creating the state, which are of immediate relevance to the work. In the literature review, I brought out two groups of philosophers; those who dealt with the analysis of the operative concepts; and those who dealt with the method of social stratification or status classification. Then I did a kind of comparative study of social status and method of stratification in Plato’s ideal state and what is obtainable in our Nigerian society. On another note, the work look more sociological, yet, I sounded ethical in certain areas, especially in chapters four and five. This is because; my aim is to demonstrate how well structured society contributes to the well-being of the society. And well-being is encompassing, including religious and moral aspects of life.
Secondly, on the part of scope covered, my area of interest in this work is limited to the organisational patterns in the society. I used the social stratification of citizens into different functional strata by Plato as a paradigm. It is not because of its perfect nature; rather because of the aim and spirit behind such stratification. I tried to use that pattern to evaluate the Nigerian society, in terms of social classification of its citizens into classes and the importance attached to them. To make the work more clearly, I sighted some philosophers’ analysis of the operative concepts and how some postulated theories on social status. Due to the size of the work, I did not go into historical background of the terms; rather, I limited myself more to its practical manifestations in writings and practice.
Lastly, the work is divided into five chapters. Chapter one is the general introduction. It gives an overview of what is to be discoursed, source of inspiration, the aim, the angle from which it is going to be approached, and how the work is divided. Chapter two deals with revealing some philosophers’ conceptions of the operative concepts and how it should be practiced. Plato’s ideal sate, the aim of its postulation and the importance of social classification in the state are the concern of chapter three. My own aim of dealing with Plato’s ideal state was revealed in chapter four. Social status in Nigeria, dimensions of the stratification, effects and social mobility in Nigerian society are also treated in this chapter. Chapter five handled the critical evaluations and then conclusion of the whole work: it is here also that I made my own stand and opinion clear
1 B. Andy and B. Terry, Sociology Explained (U.K., Cambridge University Press, 1997), p. 65.
2 Plato, The Republic; translated by Desmond Lee London (The Penguin Books Ltd, 1987), p. 58.
3 Emphasis mine
4 Plato, Op. Cit, p. 138
5 S. E. Stumpf, Philosophy, History and Problem (McGraw-Hill: Inc., 5th ed., 1994, p.48