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April 14, 2012

International Relations: 
Methods  Concepts  and Challenges - Part – 1

By Syed R. Mahmood                         

The Western Society takes great pride in claiming that Plato and Aristotle are the founders of the Western thought. Most of the Western scholars and thinkers are in agreement that the process of thinking, analyzing, debating and understanding of human affairs are based upon the teachings of these two giant pillars of the Western Civilization.

Plato composed over twenty revolutionary dialogues in the form of prose and series of philosophical letters. Plato believed in three level of human nature. He defines that there are three levels of pleasure:

 a) sensual or physical, sex is the prime example.

 b) Sensuous or esthetic, for example appreciating someone’s beauty or enjoying a good  relationship in your marriage.

 c) The ideal and the highest level of pleasure, is the pleasures of your mind: Intellectual  and Platonic love for an individual without any physical intimacy. 

Aristotle writings covered a list of vast subjects: linguistics, physics, metaphysics, theater, music, poetry, logic, rhetoric, ethics, government, politics, biology and zoology.

In this easy, we are going to study and analyze the political history of the United States from the time of the World War 1 and it’s affects on the American foreign policy. What lessons this super power United States has learned and what should be the future course to follow? Does the United States still think that the teachings of these two giants of human history are still relevant in today’s world?

Plato and Aristotle’s Perception of Public Affairs

Plato, the father of all philosophers, explained that a human-being is composed of spirit and matter; he could be trained from his childhood to master the worldly passion that narrows his vision and holds him back. A man could be taught to love goodness and develop reason to understand that the law of nature has been working in the universe from the beginning. He advocated to individuals, community and his society that an ideal life could be created on this earth on the basis of the principles of justice. He believed in equal education and privileges for women. He promoted that the objective of a state is “not the disproportionate happiness of one favored class but the greatest happiness of the whole.”1 He defines a state as, what her rulers would create.

Plato believed that girls should get the same training and education as boys; both physical and intellectual. They should have the same opportunity to achieve a high position in the state. He believed that “women are in many ways superior to many men.”

Plato (427 – 347BC) belonged to a distinguished family from Athens. In his writings, he expressed that, from his youth, he looked forward to enter into public life. He established the Academy of Athens. It was the first institution of higher learning in the Western World. Students from all over the Greek society would come there to study. Plato went to Egypt and stayed there for thirteen years. He learned philosophy by African priests in the temple of Helipolis. Ancient Egypt is also considered the cradle of mathematical science. The Academy was in business for nine hundred years. In 529 AD the Christian Emperor Justinian gave the order to close the Academy.

He believed that by teaching to young men, the love of wisdom, truth and justice; reforms could be promoted peacefully by education and persuasion. He was also a believer that the knowledge of virtue could be taught. Plato suggested to his fellow human beings to learn the habit of seeing things in the darkness. Once you learn how to acquire this habit, that person will be able to see “ten thousand times” better than the person who is living in isolation and is unconcerned. You will be able to differentiate, and analyze. You will have the power to see things which others cannot visualize. This person will have acquired the habit of understanding of:  just, truth and good.

Plato wrote, that “men fight with one another over shadows and go mad in struggles for power.2 In one of his letters, he wrote that “the main problem of all society was the problem of leadership.” He wrote that societies and humanity will not see peace, “until philosophers are King.” He also wrote that the kings and princes should also have the understanding of philosophy, political knowledge and wisdom. Even today there are rulers,” who fight over shadows and go mad for power, differing from those who have the spirit of philosophy,” said Plato. According to Plato, “in the ideal state, all rulers will be philosophers.”

In Phaeton and in the Republic, Plato describes the beauty and love for art. He says that not every human mind is capable to appreciate the beauty. He also admits that beautiful things are not completely free of ugliness. People can love beautiful things, but not the beauty itself. Those who love wisdom are never satisfied with what they see with their naked eyes. They are always in search of reasons and invisible truth.

In the dialogue, during one of the courses called the Symposium, it is written that “he will himself perceive that the beauty of one form is akin to the beauty of another; and then--how foolish he will be not to recognize that beauty is in every form as one and the same.” He states that the beauty of the mind is of greater value than the beauty of the body. The love of beauty of spirit, justice and truth are the ultimate for fair thoughts.

The dialogues of Plato are considered as the starting point of some of the major sciences and philosophies of our modern day. He laid down certain fundamental rules of logical reasoning. Aristotle, a pupil of Plato, introduced logic into a definite science: Economic, Sociology, Political theory, and all the credit go to Plato, the founder. Plato is also known as the father of European Jurisprudence. 

For Aristotle goodness is called happiness

Aristotle’s son, Nicomachus, compiled and edited notes from his father’s lectures and completed a book “Nicomachus Ethics.” This book of ethics is the most popular one of the collection of Aristotle’s lectures. The objectives of these lectures were for the search and analysis of human character and conduct. A person who would study these codes of ethics will be able to see his own personality. The objectives of all ethics are that every human is looking to achieve goodness in his life. That goodness is called happiness. The question is how to achieve happiness in life.

Nature has assigned different functions for every creature. The responsibility and function of a human is unique: the duty of his soul is to be in obedience to reason. Virtues may guide us to achieve a great desire for happiness. How could these virtues be acquired? A man becomes a good person by doing good deeds. A good habit in someone’s life, social environment and training is also very important in life to achieve. There is need to identify those virtues: some are considered moral and practical, for example, “courage, temperance, liberality, justice, and good temper.” Our actions and emotions are guided through these virtues. Some intellectual virtues help our thinking process to be truthful and honest.

The definition of happiness and goodness could be defined by the way someone leads his life. Aristotle defined that there are three distinguishing types of life: “the sensual, the political and the life of thought.” 3 He also advocates that one shall find happiness with honor. He considered that honor is the most desired end of a political life. Happiness is the result of the action of your soul in accordance with perfect virtues. The excellence of a human virtue is not the physical action. It is the response of a very diligent soul. The soul has two parts: inseparable rational, and irrational. Some virtues are intellectual and some are moral. Intelligence, wisdom and prudence are considered intellectual. Broad- mindedness, self restraint and moderation are considered moral.

Moral virtue is the outcome of habits. It is not infused in humans by nature. According to the teachings of Aristotle, “Moral Virtues can best be acquired by practice and habit.” “A good man deliberately chooses to do what is noble and right for his own sake.” 4. It is our actions in every day dealings between people, which make us “just or unjust.” It requires courage for a person, leader or a ruler to be just.

The Aristotelian school defines: “Justice in its most general sense is voluntary obedience to law. As such, it includes all the moral virtues. In its limited or particular sense, it signifies taking no more than one’s fair share of fortune’s goods, which implies equality or due proportions in their distribution and in correction of injustices.” 5

A person who breaks the law of the land is “unjust.” Someone who takes more than his own share of anything is also unjust. A just person honors the law and he is also fair in dealings with people. The term “just” is applied to every action which causes happiness or elements of happiness in the course of politic. Justice is also regarded as the supreme virtue. There is an ancient proverb which describes as: “Justice is the summary of all virtue.”

Aristotle, a pupil of the world renowned philosopher Plato, was a son of a Greek physician at the court of the Macedonian King. After the death of his father at the age of seventeen, he went to Athens, the capital of Greek culture. He joined the Academy of Athens. As a student of Plato, he studied at the Academy for twenty years. He lived during 384 -- 322BC. Alexander the Great was Aristotle’s student.

Some western scholars and thinkers refer Alexander as a destroyer of civilizations.


1. Plato, translated by B. Jowett, edited by Louise Ropes Loomis, copyright 1942 by Walter J. Black, renewed 1969 p-24

2. Ibid. p-21

3. Aristotle, Edited with introduction by Louise Ropes Loomis, copyright 1943 by Walter J. Black, renewed 1971. p-88

4. Ibid. p-100

5. Ibid. p-155

Syed R. Mahmood, Founder and President of American Institute of International Studies