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Worldviews of Plato and Augustine

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  • Pages: 5
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  • Category: Worldview

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Plato was a Greek philosopher in approximately 400 BC. A student and follower of Socrates, Plato committed himself to writing the words of his mentor and sprinkling in some of his own ideas as well. In The Republic of Plato, Plato lays out his worldview by sharing philosophical conversations Socrates shares with twao other central characters in the book, Glaucon and Adeimantus. Augustine, on the other hand, became a well-known Christian philosopher of his time period, and his work and ideas have lived on long past his death in the 5th century AD. He was from North Africa, but he lived under the rule of the Roman Empire, and his thoughts on philosophy and religion affected not just the Roman Empire, but even influenced western religious ideals today. Plato and Augustine came from different backgrounds, believed different things about the existence of a God, and both used philosophy in different ways, yet in some respects, their worldviews were similar. Both believed strongly in justice, but their expectations about how justice can be brought to fruition differed. Also, Plato focused primarily on how justice can be seen within society and how a just society brings success to its members, but Augustine acknowledged that sinful people need a God to grant justice and peace. The largest differences between their two worldviews arise when considering who is in charge of a person’s life. Augustine would say God is the supreme ruler in charge of people and societies, whereas Plato, denying the existence of a God, would credit humans for what society has accomplished.

As mentioned before, Plato believed strongly in justice and its importance in the world and as a foundation for successful societies. “…[justice] belongs in the finest kind, which the man who is going to be blessed should like both for itself and for what comes out of it” (Republic 358a). This statement displays that justice is a noble trait, and one that should be sought after in a healthy community. Not only is justice itself important, but the benefits reaped from dwelling in a just society are great as well. After Plato acknowledges the perks of a just society, he then goes on to explain what makes it possible for a society to be just. He claims it is individuals working together, knowing their proper place in each social stratum, that makes society function properly and justly. “Moreover, we surely haven’t forgotten that this city was just because of each of the three classes in it minds its own business” (Republic 441d). When certain individuals begin to think too highly of themselves or begin to question social standing, problems and injustice arise. Plato further illustrates this point at the end of Book IV: “And this…turns out to be after all a kind of phantom of justice-that’s also why it’s helpful-the fact that the shoemaker by nature rightly practices shoemaking and does nothing else, and the carpenter practices carpentry, and so on for the rest” (Republic 443c).

Augustine also acknowledges a need for justice, but the reasons behind that need are different according to his worldview. His point of view was shaped by his rebellious past, which caused him to consider justice in a different way. Because of his sinful nature and immoral actions of the past, Augustine considers mercy and grace to be even more important than justice, and God is the one who grants mercy and grace to sinners. “I want to be mindful of the ugliness I engaged in back then, and the dissolution my body wreaked on my soul-not because I’m in love with any of that, but rather, my God, for the purpose of loving you” (Confessions 2.1). He gives God the glory for redeeming his sinful and broken life, and grace is the reason Augustine has been saved. Whereas Plato argues that justice and successful society begins with individuals performing their proper roles, Augustine argues that God is the center of society, and His grace is what makes the world prosper. Good things could not happen in this sinful, broken world without God and His eternal grace and mercy. “You are mighty, Master, and to be praised with a powerful voice: great is your goodness, and of your wisdom there can be no reckoning” (Confessions 1.1). Augustine claims that as a result of this goodness, people should also honor and praise God for the great things He has done.

The largest difference between Plato and Augustine’s points of view is that each has a differing opinion as to what causes a successful society. Plato would argue that individuals fuel success in the world, but Augustine claims that God is the most important part of life, and He blesses the world in which humans dwell. The reasoning behind this major difference in worldview and opinion can be explained when considering the religious backgrounds of each philosopher. Plato’s background as a Greek philosopher has clouded his opinion of “God” because he does not believe in the existence of one, true, eternal God. Rather, people of Plato’s time believed in many gods, and the general consensus of the time period was that the gods did not always find favor with humans.

Augustine, on the other hand, acknowledges God as Ruler and King of the universe and everything within it. Augustine also notes humans’ total dependence on God for everything. Humans should devote themselves to God, Augustine argues, and that vastly differs from Plato’s point of view. Augustine says that in order for a successful and just society to exist, humans must turn to God. “But what’s closer to your ears, if the heart humbles itself in confession and the life is lived in faith?” (Confessions 2.5). Plato cannot view the world in this way because he is used to being independent and alone, abandoned by his gods. A major difference between Augustine and Plato’s views arises because Plato has no god to depend on or use to explain what is occurring in the world, whereas Augustine has God to look to offer an explanation for what happens when sin and problems arise. These two worldviews may look completely different from each other, but both of these philosophers wanted the best for society, with justice and peace. The differences in how that should come about arise because of their backgrounds. Perhaps if Plato and Augustine were both Christians, their views would have gone together well. The world will never know that, but both have offered great ideas that should be remembered for years to come, despite some of the areas where their opinions did not always match.

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