Plato on the Unity of the Political Arts (Statesman 258d-259d)

Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy 58:1-18 (2020)
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Plato argues that four political arts—politics, kingship, slaveholding, and household-management—are the same. His argument, which prompted Aristotle’s reply in Politics I, has been universally panned. The problem is that the argument clearly identifies household-management with slaveholding, and household-management with politics, but does not fully identify kingship with any of the others. I consider and reject three ways of saving the argument, and argue for a fourth. On my view, Plato assumes that politics is identical with kingship, just as he does elsewhere, but he begs no questions because the point of his argument is to identify the public arts of politics and kingship with the private arts of household-management and slaveholding. He does this successfully by answering three reasons why one might distinguish the private from the public arts. His argument leaves room for Aristotle to propose other reasons. One of them—involving differences among men and women and slaves—is unfortunate, but another is more promising. The Aristotelian can assume that political expertise is a matter of know-how gathered by experience of the particular actions which differ in the public and private arts. But Plato might well be right to reject this, and to insist that the essential difference between the expert and non-expert—the dividing line between good and bad rule—is not in experience but in their grasp of their goals.

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Eric Brown
Washington University in St. Louis


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