Plato on Equality and Democracy

  • Christopher J. RoweEmail author
Part of the Philosophical Studies Series book series (PSSP, volume 132)


Democracy is “an attractively anarchic and colourful regime, it seems, one that accords a sort of equality to equals and unequals alike” (Rep. VIII 558c2-4). The present essay raises three questions in particular. (1) What precisely is the criticism of democracy here? (2) What kind or kinds of equality and inequality matter for Plato? As all sides agree, he is interested in proportional equality more than he is in its arithmetical counterpart, so that true equality, for him, will always turn out to be a kind of (arithmetical) inequality. But (3) inequality in what? Plato undoubtedly thinks the good and wise deserve a greater share in power just because they are good and wise; does he also think, as some have claimed, that the wealthy also deserve a greater share just because they are wealthy? The answer proposed to this last question in the following essay is a clear no: even if Plato holds wealth to be a good of some sort, the possession of an unequal share of it—despite what may be suggested, prima facie, by the presence of property classes in the Laws—is not, and is not even a part of, the reason for giving the wealthy an unequal share of power. The final proposal offered by this essay is that if goodness and wisdom are indeed for Plato the only good(s) actually relevant to the distribution of power, and if—as he seems to hold—true goodness and wisdom belong only to gods, then there will be a case for saying that, even for Plato, the supposed arch-enemy of democracy, democracy (in however limited a form) turns out to be the only possible outcome, whether under non-ideal or under ideal conditions.


Constitutions Democracy Equality Ruling Wealth 


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© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Durham UniversityDurhamUK

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