Plato's Theory of Forms is probably his most influential idea. Plato explained that the things we see in front of us are not as "real" as we think. After all, these things disintegrate over time and can change like the wind. Living things die and physical objects pass away in time. However, the idea of these entities in their true essence never change.
For example, although this chair may break, burn up, or be thrown away, the essence or form of "chairness" continues, and people continue to make chairs based on this pattern. Plato called this essence of "chairness" the form of the chair. Everything we think of patterns itself after a form. This includes concepts, such as justice, goodness, and the state.
Review the famous Allegory of the Cave in Book VII of Plato's most influential book, The Republic.
Review how Plato described the Form of the Good in Book VI of The Republic. Write down the key characteristics of the Form of the Good.
Review the description of the divided line Plato which describes at the end of Book VI of The Republic.
Review how to find the Form of the Good and the Form of Justice in The Republic.
Review the argument about the meaning of justice in the article Plato, the State, and the Soul by Garth Kimmerling. Pay careful attention to the sections, “What is Justice” and “The Privilege of Power.” The next section, “Is Justice Better than Injustice?” discusses a ring a shepherd found which made him invisible (perhaps this sounds familiar – who knew this story was this old!). In Plato’s story, the ring leads the shepherd to consider a life of crime. Why not? He could get away with it! This story in The Republic is at the beginning of Book II.
Review these definitions in the lecture, Socratic Citizenship: Plato, Crito by Stephen Smith.
Many philosophers credit Plato for providing Thomas Hobbes with the foundation for the first version of his social contract theory. Hobbes's ideas offer a more modern description of state authority which says the state has authority because it embodies the will of the people. Together the people come together to agree, via a social contract, that they will live together according to certain rules. Our current views about democracy are rooted in this theory of the social contract. Note that we will review Hobbes's ideas in more detail in Unit 4.
Review these questions in the article Plato, the State, and the Soul by Garth Kimmerling.
The modern libertarianism political movement, is rooted in certain philosophical ideas about liberty, freedom, and the meaning of the state.
Milton Friedman (1912–2006), the American economist, was a champion of laissez faire economics, an economic theory based on the principle of leaving things alone: the government should not get involved in regulating the economy, but allow things to take their natural course, by promoting policies that support free trade and a free market economy.
Review Milton Friedman from Wikipedia.
Review the article What Did Milton Friedman Have to Say About Human Flourishing? by Winton Bates.
Robert Nozick (1938–2002), the American philosopher, defended capitalism, personal liberty, and libertarianism. In his influential book, Anarchy, State, and Utopia, Nozick argued for a minimal state and described his theories about entitlement theory, anarchy, and minarchist libertarianism.
Nozick was not an anarchist – he supported the "night watchman" theory of the state, or minarchist libertarianism, which assigns a limited role to the state to protect property, such as from break in, theft, and other harms.
Likewise, Nozick defended "entitlement theory," the belief that people are entitled to acquire and transfer their holdings, such as money or goods, but that the state does not have the right to force anyone to give up their holdings to benefit someone else, such as due to notions of distributive justice (which we review below), socialism, or welfarism.
Review the description of the ideals of the French Revolution and the values of democracy in Democratic Values: Liberty, Equality, Justice from U.S. History.org.
John Locke (1632–1704), the English philosopher, theorized that government was the manifestation of a general will or "consent of the governed" that allowed citizens to change their governors at will. His book, Treatises on Civil Government, influenced those who fought in the American revolution.
Review John Locke's description of the state of nature in his Second Treatise on Civil Government. Pay special attention to sections 4–8 of Chapter 2.
Review Locke's description of the ends of political society and government in Chapter 9 of his Second Treatise on Civil Government. Pay special attention to sections 123-127.
Review his description of property, a central notion for Locke, in Chapter 5 of his Second Treatise on Civil Government. Pay special attention to sections 25-35.
Review Locke's description of the formation of political societies in Chapter 8 of his Second Treatise on Civil Government. Pay special attention to sections 95-99.
Review the lecture Part 1 This Land is My Land (until timestamp 25:11) by Michael Sandel.
Review the lecture Part 2 Consenting Adults (after timestamp 25:12) by Michael Sandel.
Review taxation in Part 2 Consenting Adults (after timestamp 25:12) by Michael Sandel.
John Locke said that the majority cannot violate an individual's unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The legislature does not have the authority to arbitrarily take an individual's property without their consent. However, he also says it costs a lot of money to run the government and everyone has an equal obligation to contribute. We own our property, according to the laws of the community. He justifies taxation by saying the majority, as a collective consent, can legitimately impose taxes – in a way that is not arbitrary (i.e. everyone in the community is equally affected).
Robert Nozick argued that the state should play a minimal role in our lives, such as by serving as a night watchman, as we noted in learning outcome 2b. He believed it is okay for the state to tax citizens to pay for this minimalist role. However, any
additional taxation is unfair because the state would be forcing citizens to contribute money they have worked hard for and earned, to use for someone else’s purposes.
Robert Nozick disagreed with John Rawls who argued that government should support distributive justice, the belief that principles of distribution should be equitable to everyone in the community. Nozick believed that government's role should be minimal, and restricted to protecting our activities and pursuits. Government should not be in the business of correcting economic inequities or disparities in distribution.
Nozick would have opposed the public assistance programs governments promote, such as healthcare, public education, public housing allowances, and unemployment. Current examples in the United States include Head Start, Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF).
Plato argued that we owe our lives to the state. Locke argued that the state owes its existence to the consent of the governed. This may sound like a chicken and egg scenario (which came first?), but the difference is important because it helps us define our worldview.
The way we think about government and its responsibilities shapes how we think about its functions and our individual liberties. How do you think Locke, Nozick, and Plato would answer the following questions?