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Cover Political Thinkers

4. Plato  

C. D. C. Reeve

This chapter examines Plato's main political ideas. It first provides a biography of Plato before discussing the overall argument of the Republic and the philosopher–kings that are its centrepiece. It then considers the Form of the good, knowledge of which is exclusive and essential to the philosopher–kings, along with the structure of the city envisioned by them, known as kallipolis, and its key operating principle. It also analyses the kallipolis from a variety of politically significant perspectives; for example, whether it is based on false ideology, whether it involves a totalitarian intrusion of the political into the private sphere, or whether it treats its least powerful members such as invalids, infants, and slaves in an unjust way. The chapter concludes by exploring how the kallipolis limits freedom of speech, artistic expression, personal freedom, and autonomy.

Chapter

Cover Political Thinkers

6. Cicero  

Cary J. Nederman

This chapter examines Cicero's social and political theory, which rests upon his conception of human nature, namely that human beings are capable of speech and reason. It first provides a short biography of Cicero before discussing his discursive approach to republican rule based on the claim that human nature can only be fully realized through articulate and wise speech. For Cicero, social order requires wise leaders who direct citizens toward the proper goals of cooperation and mutual advantage and who thus seek peace rather than war. The chapter proceeds by analysing Cicero's argument that political institutions must be built upon natural law and virtue, especially justice, along with his notion of patriotic citizenship and his views on war and peace; statesmanship, courage, and otium; the origins of political inequality; and republican government.

Chapter

Cover An Introduction to Political Philosophy

4. The Place of Liberty  

This chapter explores the theory that, to avoid the ‘tyranny of the majority’, we should be given the liberty to act just as we wish, provided that we do no harm to others. The focus is on John Stuart Mill’s Liberty Principle (also known as the Harm Principle), according to which you may justifiably limit a person’s freedom of action only if they threaten harm to another. The chapter considers Mill’s arguments based on the Liberty Principle, including his claim there should be complete freedom of thought and discussion, and that harming another’s interests is not a sufficient condition to justify constraint. It also discusses justifications for the Liberty Principle by focusing on issues of rights and utility, individuality and progress, and liberty as an intrinsic good. It concludes with an analysis of some of the problems of the kind of liberalism espoused by Mill’s Liberty Principle.