Throughout all of history, there has consistently been staunch tension between what is right and wrong. Many have attempted to distinguish what it means to be a good person, and how one can balance being a good person and a good citizen. While this may seem like a straightforward task, three authors have qualified both terms heavily to make it very challenging. Sophocles, Plato, and Aristotle, all have different important perspectives when it comes to this major philosophical and political question. Through analyzing the ideals of dedication to one’s family, dedication to one’s state, and the propensity to do what is just, it is clear that Sophocles’ Antigone truly exhibits the correct nature to the debate over being a good person or a good citizen. Dedication to One’s Family Family life and the respect of one’s family is crucial towards the ideal of being a good person.
Each author found a way to weave this into each story that they told. Antigone had familial relationships demonstrated with her sister and her brother, who’s rights she fought for even post-mortem. While Antigone demonstrates strong feelings of dedication towards her family in some ways, Creon exhibits a strong tendency to betray one’s family. In Politics Aristotle depicts his understanding of how family can, at times, impeded the progress of a state. First though, looking towards Antigone’s respect of her family is crucial in the analysis of these two author’s points of view. As the story begins, it is clear that Antigone has strong family values. The play welcomes its readers with a conversation between Antigone and her sister Ismene discussing what to do regarding the death of their brother Polyneices. We see Antigone attempting to reason with Ismene, begging her to understand that Antigone must disobey the law in order for Polyneices to lay in peace. That is her understood concept of what it means to be a good person, despite if it makes her a bad citizen. While speaking to Ismene, Antigone remarks, “… while I will bury him. It is noble for me, doing this, to die. A loved one will I lie, with him, a loved one – Having stopped at nothing in doing this pious deed!” (Antigone 70-75) This bold statement indicates that Antigone not only believes that breaking the law in this scenario is the right thing to do, but that it is an act of piety. However, not only does Sophocles include dedication to family in this story, he also portrays a strong image of dedication to one’s state in Creon that will be addressed later. The other two authors also include their perspective of family in their stories.
In Aristotle’s Politics he depicts the family as an obstacle to the success of the state, in book two of Politics he states that, “Since the nature of a state is to be a plurality, and intending to greater unity, from being a state, it becomes a family, and from being a family, an individual; for the family may be said to be more than the state, and the individual than the family. So that we ought not to attain this greatest unity even if we could, for it would be the destruction of the state.” He furthers his argument later by communicating to the readers that too much unity between state and family is not good overall. It is a confusing argument though, as he attempts to say that there are some respects in which family and state should be kept together, but not in others. This makes it difficult to truly draw a conclusion on Aristotle’s perspective. Family is a necessary component for someone to be a good person.
Respecting those that you love and cherishing the relationship is key to bolster one’s positive characteristics. Aristotle’s perspective that he presents in Politics is incorrect. Family can be a driving force for one to do what is just, as demonstrated by Antigone. This will lead to the betterment of society overall, which is a necessity. Picking and choosing the aspects of a family that will help society is not helpful, family as a whole makes a person better. That depiction is much clearer in Sophocles’ Antigone. Dedication to One’s State’s It is crucial in a society to be dedicated to one’s state. However, interpretations of what that means can vary greatly. Within stories that Plato and Sophocles have presented, there are multiple ways in which dedications to one’s state is portrayed. The strongest form of dedication to state in Antigone stems from Creon, he believes that the state should be followed no matter the circumstance. Within the story though, Sophocles introduces a retort to this mindset that should also be considered.
Plato’s Crito tackles this theme; however, he presents it as a challenge against doing what is right, a different tactic than Antigone utilized. Creon, the new ruler of Thebes, has forbidden Polyneices from being given a proper burial. Once he receives word of Antigone’s decision to break the law, he immediately sides with the State over family and proceeds to prosecute her for her actions. Additionally, he believes that any leader in power must be respected and followed blindly, that is his concept of how an ideal state would function, “… he whom the city sets up, this one should be hearkened to In small as well as in just matters and the contrary.” (Antigone 173) That dedication, however, is consistently challenged by the elders and by Haemon in this story. They argue that it is unwise for one man to be so dedicated, but not listen to anyone that surrounds him. “But for a real man, even if he be wise, learning many things And not being too stubborn is not shameful.” (Antigone 174) Haemon’s perspective on Creon’s dedication to state is exactly why Sophocles does the best job in expressing what a dedication to one’s state shouldn’t be.
In Plato’s Crito we see an intense struggle between breaking state law or abiding by it. Socrates is imprisoned wrongly and must decide whether or not he would be doing the right thing by leaving prison. At the beginning of the story, we see that he has been charged for “corrupting the youth” while this charge has little to no weight to it, Socrates accepts it and goes to jail peacefully. While in jail, Crito approaches him and asks why he has chosen to stay even though he knows that he should not be behind bars. Socrates then asks Crito if it would be “right” for him to disobey the laws and escape jail. but that one should keep true to the things with which two people agreed. In this scenario, Socrates has agreed to follow the Laws since they are Just. Socrates asks Crito, “Ought someone to do the things he agrees upon with someone – if they are just…” (49e-50a) It would be wrong to not respect an agreement that one made, so Socrates will obey the Law to which he agreed. Socrates additionally says that, “… living well, is to be regarded as most important… and that living well and nobly and justly are the same.” (48b-48d) In essence, this means that it would not be right for him to disobey the laws. Here, he makes a general statement that one should always live rightly. In these examples, he clearly is discussing the morality of the laws themselves, however, he does directly talk about the laws themselves.
Finally, Socrates puts it plainly, that it would be wrong to break the laws. Even though Socrates understands that this might lead to his death, he is steadfast in his belief to do what is right. This line of thinking demonstrates the core understanding between what is right and just, and what is wrong. Being committed to always doing the right thing is a main tenant of Plato’s writings. While Plato and Sophocles both do a great job addressing this theme, Sophocles succinctly and effectively makes this confusing topic painfully clear through Creon’s actions. Plato slightly falls short as his depiction of this is clear but adds morality as a factor in embracing or not embracing the laws of the state. Sophocles’ work directly addresses the way many people still see law in society today, as an end all be all, and no person should be able to disobey them. He depicts this mindset as dangerous and a major problem for all the people in society, which is also clearly true today. The Propensity to do What is Just Justice is an extremely prevalent theme throughout all three of these authors works, and it is important to try and bolster all forms of justice in society. In Plato’s Euthyphro, Justice is a main component in this story, and the relationship between piety and justice is talked about in depth. Antigone approaches this ideal somewhat passively by tying it in with family. However, it is truly rooted in a deep moral inclination to do what is right, and that is shown multiple times throughout the story.
Throughout the story of Antigone, she has to decide between doing what is just and doing what is right by the law multiple times. This is depicted very clearly by Sophocles in his telling of how Antigone decides to go against the law and do what she believes is right. Family is not the only reason that Antigone fights against Creon’s ruling, she also does it because it is morally just. Antigone believes that justice is defined by the laws of the Gods not the laws of the state. This is what motivates her to act in the way that she does. Similarly, Plato’s Euthyphro analyses the way that justice related to piety and how they are connected.
A lot of the dialogue comes revolves around Euthyphro and Socrates outside of the court of Athens. Their conversation centers around the notion that the gods trade with humans; if humans act holy they receive the answers to their prayers. Socrates disagrees with this perspective. Instead, Socrates offers an explanation that Euthyphro rejects. His perspective is that holiness is simply doing what the gods approve one to do. That is not justice, that is simply following the rules of the gods. In Aristotle’s’ first book of Politics, he discusses the notion of human nature, and what is necessary for one to become fully realized. Justice and law in Politics is indefinitely intertwined, there are two main arguments that are presented by Aristotle of this relationship. He first makes the claim that all humans are political animals, this means that he believes that all people can form some concept of justice and act accordingly. Secondly, he asserts that human beings an only become perfect if they can acquire virtue and wisdom, and Aristotle believes that this is only possible due to justice within the laws. He argues that when humans are removed from law and justice, they are the worst of all and unable to emerge into their full human nature.
However, Aristotle does not take in to account the work of the gods and their grip on justice, which makes it difficult to fully analyze as that is truly a large part of many societies. Conclusion The story of Antigone, and the choices that Sophocles makes in depicting the internal and external conflict that the story’s protagonist experiences, most accurately represent the good person versus good citizen dilemma. Being a good person versus being a good citizen is a societal dilemma that is still ongoing in the world today. With the increasing polarization of societies, it is an important conversation to have. Having analyzed dedication to one’s family, dedication to one’s state, and the propensity to do what is just it is easy to see that Sophocles, Plato, and Aristotle all address these themes that make this conversation whole, they just all use different lenses to communicate their messages. While both Plato and Aristotle are able to effectively push across their message in the three themes that were analyzed, they both missed crucial aspects of each of them.