Social Status In Plato’s Ideal State; It’s Relevance To Nigerian Society

Project and Seminar Material for Philosophy

Social Status In Plato’s Ideal State; It’s Relevance To Nigerian Society


Chapter One


1:0 General Introduction

1:0:1 Introduction

Man, by nature, is a social animal said Plato. But every “society is made up of unique individuals who fail or succeed, are powerful or weak, not as a consequence of stratification but because of their individual biographies”.[i] It implies that man, being naturally social, unique and differs from one another in terms of individual biography, forms a society, which is comprised of different individuals with different or diverse natural dispositions and talents. Due to this diversity of human natural ability in doing things in the midst of limitless human needs, there arise the need for exchange of service, which, for Plato, is the source of origin of any society2. Because of the limited means of achieving one’s needs, man consequently devised scale of preference. As a result, different people with different functions in the society receive different regards and rewards. Therefore one could be right to say that social division in terms of status is real, tangible and inevitable in every society.

Any social status ascribed to a person or group of persons, most a time is in relation to the role the person or group of persons played or is/ are playing in the society. Plato was also in this frame of thought, of functional stratification, when he was formulating his ideal state. He ascribed more important social position or prestige to the ruling class in the state. But classification of individuals into social strata was not the end-in-itself of the ideal state. Rather the aim was one way of demonstrating his dissatisfaction with the then existing Athenian government. So, he formulated his dream state, which will be free from all the known social, political, economic, and moral evils.

Consequently, the ideal state was based on his idea of man as a rational, social, political and moral being. He wanted the kind of society with the necessary conditions or qualities for attainment of man’s natural needs in accordance with the hierarchy of human social status. For this he says, “If we have founded it (state)3 properly, our state is presumably perfect… Then it will obviously have the qualities of wisdom, courage, self- discipline, and justice” 4

How hierarchy of human social status and the method of stratification contribute to the well-being and attainment of man’s needs is the central purpose of this work. But we see it in the light of Plato’s idea of idea state. Before going on, let us first of all reveal the profile of Plato briefly in order to understand his thought more properly.


1:2 A Brief Profile of Plato

Plato was born in about 427 BC to Ariston and Perictione, a wealthy aristocratic family, in Athens. He grew up when Athens were in war conflict with the Spartans, which started few years before his birth. His life ambition was to become a politician. So, he joined the company of other young aristocrats who studied under Socrates. He wished to find some better political arrangement for his city. But Plato was disappointed by the way the Athens treated his master, Socrates. After the death of Socrates, Plato traveled to the Greek city of Megara, Mediterranean and returned to Athens mentally richer.

He founded a philosophical school known to be the first western European intellectual organisation.5 The academy later became inclined to politics. That is why some ancient accounts hold that the academy functioned in part as a political consultants’ group. This was so because Plato believed that ignorance is the cause of those social and political evils in Athens. Therefore, the Athenian bureaucrats need to be educated lest they continue to sin against philosophy by killing another Socrates. Having traveled far and wide, and experienced different types of governments, Plato found non of them satisfactory; and so, he sought to formulate his dream state free from the known errors. This is the background from which Plato propounded his Ideal State. He died in Athens in about 348 BC.


1:3 Purpose of the Study

In any existing human society, irrespective of time and place, there is always politics. Because togetherness calls for orderliness; yet, any ordered or well-organised society implies well-structured society. Every society comprises of different people of different talents and interests some doing one thing and others doing another, some leading, others being led, yet cumulatively making a kind of anatomical whole.

Unfortunately, Nigeria as a society does not appear to be ordered nor well organised. This is, in a way, not because of the lack who does what, but because of the prestige, honour, and status attached to what one possesses or achieved has become more important than the need for better society. That is why I chose Plato’s ideal state in portraying how social status in Nigeria contributed towards the social situation in Nigeria today. I so much believe that if the aim and spirit in which Plato created his ideal state is followed in reevaluating and reconstructing our society. It will lead to a harmonious and well-ordered society. Plato wanted a society free from corruption, injustice, economic wastes (through poverty and extreme riches), laziness, ignorance and other social evils. He wanted a well structured and organised society where everyone from any social class does his duty well.

My purpose is not to reveal which social class is inferior or superior to others; rather, I want to demonstrate how a well organised society, in terms of attachment of importance to one’s social status can aid development. I am trying to portray that it can be of help when every one in any social class considers his position and those of others as equally important, since they make a complementary whole. No wonder Plato said that “quality and quantity are more easily produced when a man specialises appropriately on a single job for which he is naturally fitted.”6


1:4 Methological Approach to the Work

To bring out the necessary areas in creating the state, which are of immediate relevance to the work. In the literature review, I brought out two groups of philosophers; those who dealt with the analysis of the operative concepts; and those who dealt with the method of social stratification or status classification. Then I did a kind of comparative study of social status and method of stratification in Plato’s ideal state and what is obtainable in our Nigerian society. On another note, the work look more sociological, yet, I sounded ethical in certain areas, especially in chapters four and five. This is because; my aim is to demonstrate how well structured society contributes to the well-being of the society. And well-being is encompassing, including religious and moral aspects of life.

Secondly, on the part of scope covered, my area of interest in this work is limited to the organisational patterns in the society. I used the social stratification of citizens into different functional strata by Plato as a paradigm. It is not because of its perfect nature; rather because of the aim and spirit behind such stratification. I tried to use that pattern to evaluate the Nigerian society, in terms of social classification of its citizens into classes and the importance attached to them. To make the work more clearly, I sighted some philosophers’ analysis of the operative concepts and how some postulated theories on social status. Due to the size of the work, I did not go into historical background of the terms; rather, I limited myself more to its practical manifestations in writings and practice.

Lastly, the work is divided into five chapters. Chapter one is the general introduction. It gives an overview of what is to be discoursed, source of inspiration, the aim, the angle from which it is going to be approached, and how the work is divided. Chapter two deals with revealing some philosophers’ conceptions of the operative concepts and how it should be practiced. Plato’s ideal sate, the aim of its postulation and the importance of social classification in the state are the concern of chapter three. My own aim of dealing with Plato’s ideal state was revealed in chapter four. Social status in Nigeria, dimensions of the stratification, effects and social mobility in Nigerian society are also treated in this chapter. Chapter five handled the critical evaluations and then conclusion of the whole work: it is here also that I made my own stand and opinion clear


Chapter Five


5.0 Evaluation and Conclusion

Professor Achebe in the first chapter of his work “The Trouble with Nigeria” said that, “The main trouble with Nigeria is her leaders”1. But for me it is not the leaders that constitute the greatest trouble in Nigeria. Most Nigerian leaders are corrupt, and that is a glaring truth. If we look closer to the case and ask “what makes Nigerian leaders corrupt?” One, on a sincere investigation on the problem, will sooner or later discover that the under lying factor is that everyone is wanting to associate himself with a certain class or group of people in the society. As Weber observed that, those who have status will be seeking to get wealth, while those with wealth will be seeking status. This is observable among our leaders. Having secured political position of high regard and prestige; they tend to acquire wealth using their position as means to their end. Having acquired big amount of money they turn round to use that money to bribe voters in order to elongate their stay in the office and maintain their high status. If successfully achieved, they continue to use that position to accumulate more money both to replace the one used for bribing their way and for future. With these issues of high status and wealth, they are caught up in cyclic activity of want of power and wealth.

A critical observation on this matter will further reveal that most people seek to have power not because of its usefulness to the general public. They are not seeking political appointment in order to be useful to themselves and the society at large in a stroke. Rather, it is because, power paves way for better and quicker way to being wealthy in Nigeria. And being wealthy in Nigeria is equal and the same thing with being important. It is true that when one is rich and people do not recognise him he becomes uneasy. In order to be recognised and honoured many rich Nigerians are caught up in the phenomenon of Squandermania mentality. This is exactly what Veblen represented in one of his three basic assumptions of status symbolism. He holds that “it is a matter of self -respect to display one’s status to others and, indeed even to overdo others whenever possible”, as quoted before. This implies competitive display of wealth.

As a result of this competitive display of wealth, many are forced to continue to accumulate money not just to be used for any concrete thing or investment but as means of measuring who is wealthier. That is why there are many stinkingly rich people who are still fighting strenuously to acquire more money to the extent of employing different abnormal and immoral means of making money. This kind of people also tries hard to close roads against those who are still looking for ways of survival. This is due to fear that the growing ones may likely come up to compete with or even out do them in wealth and status since Nigeria attaches status and importance with wealth. This confirms what Marshall, a sociologist referred to as polarisation of extremist ideology. He, by this concept, means that the newly created strata or up lifted personnel to new status will develop extremist left ideologies as they seek greater quality of political participation in the society. The older strata will become defensive and develop extremist right ideologies that preserve their established monopoly of status.2

The more colloquial use of status connotes evaluation; hence honour, esteem, respect, and prestige are its synonyms. It is in this form that Nigerians understood the term, and it is also in this meaning that I applied it to Plato’s ideal state. Status in this form is gratification and its loss becomes a deprivation. That is why those who lose status (that is down-ward social mobility) become aggressive. Example, a Nigerian politician loosing a political post; like, the presidency or governorship. Those in them do not want to get out of them; those who lose them fight their competitors as mortal enemies.

On the other hand, there are immobile social statuses, example, skin colour, gender, tribe, (claims may be made). These should be respected as God’s gift or gift of nature, since the name God has been replaced with the term nature. God’s designs are always more than man’s understanding. They can be used for classification but not as dimensions for social stratification in terms of social status, since everyone is equally important in his/ her area.

Going through Plato’s theories of ideal state one becomes convinced that he is a humanist and moralist. No wonder he held justice as the key to all moral laws. He did not look upon the state as a personality or organism that should develop itself without restraint, and paying attention to the moral law. Although he is a philosopher who is concerned with man’s happiness; “but he is not a man to accept the notion that there is one morality for the state and another for the individual”2. With this in mind we can understand the reason behind the fast decaying moral life, tribalism, nepotism, selfishness, greed, excessive lust for power and wealth, etc. in Nigeria. These are products of lack of justice, honesty and truth. Moral life is never selfish or narcissistic; rather, communal and altruistic with good will as source of action.

Interestingly, in Plato’s ideal state, both the guardians and auxiliaries are considered to be higher, hierarchically and in importance, than the artisans. But on a closer view, the so-called leading citizens are really servants of the artisans, while the artisans are really the state. The leaders live their lives for the good and comforts of the artisans. They sacrifice their pleasure and savour of family life and private property, respectively, to the artisans. Contrarily, Nigerian leaders would like to lead the good life in expense of the masses. Their leaders exploit the led majority. The leaders and so-called privileged citizens deny them means of comfort and good life. But, truly, state is composed of individuals, and it exists for the leading of “the good life”; so, expediency and narcissism must bow the knee to right reason.

Furthermore, Plato was of the opinion that education is of paramount importance for the citizens to be knowledgeable to serve the state better. Unfortunately, Nigeria sees education as means to high social level other than means of acquiring knowledge, skills and competence. This is the cause of this apparent education boom, while many are not really interested in the inner imparts of education, rather in certificate it offers. That is why there are uncountable abnormalities and immoralities in educational sector today. Plato did not place his means of social mobility on certificate nor even heredity squarely; rather, mobility is based on meritocracy. One is either promoted or demoted from one class to another depending on his performance in the state. Achebe in the same frame of mind wrote, “We have always failed and will always fail to make it to the world lead. Until, that is, we put merit back on the national agender”25.

Lastly, women should not be considered less important in the society. Everyone is a complement to another of his kind. Nature, which made everything, has its plan and no plan of nature is less important. Women may be considered as weaker sex, but they are stronger where men are weaker, while men are stronger where they are weaker. That is the more reason for their inevitable presence in all aspects of our life where their duty lies. Let us see some examples from Biblical convincing instances. Deborah, a great prophetess, courageous judge, a warrior and a good leader, who led Israelites throughout its turbulent period. Ester delivered Israel from its deadly enemy, Heman. Judith is another great woman who risked her life for the sake of her people.

In our contemporary era, we can talk of Margaret Thatcher, former British Prime Minister who revolutionalised British economy and politics for better than her male predecessors. What of Indra Ghandi of India, who was determined to change India for better before she was assassinated.

Now let us come home to our country Nigeria. In Nigeria, we have many great women who have displayed and some (who are still on duty) displaying a sense of no-nonsense in whatever they are assigned. Think of Justice Binta Murtala-Nyako, a brave, unbiased and fearless Judge of Federal High Court who adjudicated the case between EFCC and former Inspector General (I. G.) of police, Mr. Tafa Balogun. Dr. Ndi Okereke-Onyiuke, Director-General of Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE),is another example whose managerial acumen has endeared her to international marketers. On the part of the NAFDAC, no former Director-General has fearlessly fought drug barons like the present Prof. Dora Akunyili. The Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE), which Mallam Nasir El- Rugai fought to modernise, took only a few months for Mrs. Irene Chigbue, the current Director-General to achieve. What of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iwuala, whose act of interference barred the presidency from unnecessary interference into the business of Finance Ministry, which he used to do during the tenure of male Finance Ministers. Again Mrs. Chinwe Obaji’s policy in education has changed the already deteriorating standard of education in this our country for better. This is only a list of inexchaustive number of reputable women in our country who show that women are really God given companions to men, and not glorified property


Conclusion

I have surveyed the Plato’s ideal state in relation to Nigerian society, and I found that Nigeria is suffering from misplacement of priorities. She misplaced being important to the society with social status in terms of external possession. They pursue the shadow leaving out the reality. Being great, for Plato, is being of great importance to the society, for no one lives for himself. It is not because of wealth accumulated. Our past revered national heroes are rated high for their selfless services and sacrifices they made for the good of the nation. Mandela Nelson of South African, for an example, is rated as highest and best African leader neither because of his wealth nor educational certificates. It is not because of the quality or quantity of his wealth nor of educational certificates. It is because of the quality of his sacrifices and services to his nation.

What Nigeria needs now most are patriots not wealthy men. Wealth and money have done us more harm than good. A good man in an office is better than the totality of material possession of that organisation. This is because; the status of any organisation is dependent on individuals in that organisation. Wealth cannot be useful without man giving it value. Nigeria is blessed with natural resources, yet she is the second most corrupt society in the whole world. Her great wealth is unable to rescue her from that ugly situation. The wealth does not suffer the shame; rather, we Nigerians, who use the wealth wrongly. Nigeria needs true patriots. True patriotism is possible only when the people who rule and those under them have a common and genuine goal of uplifting the national status, rather than individual selfish interest. There will also aim at maintaining the dispensation under which the nation lived. This will only happen if the nation is ruled justly. Only the just patriots can rule justly and give everyone his or her due considerations. He will try to reduce the gap between the highest and the lowest paid public servants. He will throw overboard religious and ethnic dimensions of appointment and holds onto meritocracy; he will jettison every act of godfatherism in political realm. He will also abandon unjust discriminating method of allocating national resources but hold onto justice. He will relegate favouritism and nepotism and ensure that women are given their right place in national offices, since they are naturally important to any human society and organisation that have interest of the whole citizens. The only dimension of social stratification he will consider important is one based on the importance of one to the nation. How one contributes to the general good of the nation. This is what Plato advocated for. Though, we will not use sex as a congratulatory package to those who distinguished themselves as national heroes as Plato suggests. Rather we shall try to make them feel recognised as the South Africans uphold their national hero, Nelson Mandela.

More so, our social or national problem will continue to be or even grow was as far as individual position is considered more important than that of the society at large. Beside this, our cry for a good leader to lead Nigeria into the promise land will continue to be a dream unless if all or, at least, most of us turned round and place higher premium on the higher status of the society than on individuals. Any leader who is qualified to have the name “good leader” is the one who does not have the interest of few so-called important personnel in mind, but the good of the general public. That is why Plato opined that,

For that shan’t we need men who, besides being intelligent and capable, really care for the community?… So we must choose from among our Guardians those who appear to us on observation to be most likely to devote their lives to doing what they judged to be in the interest of the community.4

At this juncture, I would say that the best dimension for social stratification should be based on one’s contribution towards the betterment of the society; never on political power, economic power, educational level or standard, ethnicity, age or gender, nor political party. It should be solely on contribution to social upliftment; because the social status of any society grows or declines, depending on the contributions of her citizens to either building up or destroying the social pride.


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