Today George H. Smith continues his examination of the intellectual roots of state education by turning to the views of Plato’s most famous student.
Aristotle (384-322 BCE) was born in Stagira, a small coastal town in the political orbit of Macedonia. He traveled to Athens while still in his teens and enrolled in Plato’s Academy, where he remained for almost twenty years. Plato’s influence on Aristotle was profound, but there were also significant differences. For example, Aristotle criticized Plato’s stress on uniformity; and, in response to Plato’s call to institute communal property among the guardians (the elite class of rulers), Aristotle defended private property with arguments that would be used for centuries thereafter.
Aristotle explicitly repudiated the notion of limited government that was defended by some of his contemporaries. He quoted the sophist Lycophron as saying that a government exists “for the sake of alliance and security from injustice” and that laws should serve as “a surety to one another of justice.” Aristotle disagreed. Rather than confine itself to this negative function — the enforcement of justice — the state should actively promote the good life.
Aaron Ross Powell a research fellow at the Cato Institute and editor of Libertarianism.org. Keep up with Aaron by following him on Facebook: