Equal But Not Equal: Plato and Aristotle on Women as Citizens

  • Dorothea FredeEmail author
Part of the Philosophical Studies Series book series (PSSP, volume 132)


Plato is commonly credited with a much more enlightened view concerning the equality of women and their political rights than Aristotle. This is due to the fact that he acknowledges, in the Republic, the possibility that women possess abilities that are equal to those of men and therefore assigns to them the same functions in the state. Plato’s principle of equality is, however, limited to the women of the upper classes in the Republic, and it is, at least in part, a consequence of the separation of the classes. Because these conditions no longer obtain in the “second-best state” designed in the Laws, women are assigned, there, a much inferior role. In the Timaeus, women are treated not only as the weaker but also as the decadent form of humankind in the cycle of births and rebirths. Plato’s views on the worth of women change, if not with time, then with context.

Aristotle throughout supports the traditional view on the exclusion of women from politics and public life. He does so because he ascribes to women only a limited form of practical rationality. Though he ascribes to women the status of citizens, he regards them as citizens that stand in need of a permanent rule by their male superiors, in public as well as in the family. Aristotle never questions whether the same kind education would lead to the intellectual equality of men and women. The rigidity of Aristotle’s position in that respect seems to be based on a kind of “conservative naturalism.” He accepts as constituted by nature the social conditions that are observable throughout the world as he knew it. This not only explains his view on the natural inferiority of women, but also his justification of slavery as a natural institution.


Citizenship Equality Inequalities Rights Women 


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© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of HamburgHamburgGermany

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