The following are some of the major concepts of idealism:

  1. The mind is the most real thing. Everything in life is interpreted through the mind.
  2. People are more important than nature. Nature is meant for the use of man.
  3. Ideals are true and never change.
  4. People can choose between good and evil, right and wrong.
  5. Truth is discovered through rational or reasoning powers.



Major Concepts of realism include the following:

  1. The world is synonymous with nature and the understanding of it is by the use of our senses and experience.
  2. Everything works in conformity with the laws of nature.
  3. There is a harmonious relationship between the body and mind. They are of equal importance and inseparable.
  4. The use of scientific experiments help us to discover and interpret the truth.
  5. Realism permits the individual to determine his beliefs based on his experience of the world.



Realism is a school of philosophy that shares the belief in the existence of matter outside our own minds. This is different from the teaching of idealism which says that people live in a real world and that what we experience are real and do not depend on individual’s mind or perceptions to exist.


ARISTOTLE (384 – 322 B.C)

He was an exponent of realism and regarded education as a fundamental part of politics. He claimed that three issues are involved in education:

  1. Nature.
  2. Habit and
  3. Reason.

Plato was an advocate of ideas while Aristotle was focused on specific things. Like other realists, he saw God as the Prime Mover of all things.

He advocated two types of education:

  1. Liberal education: This type of education was to be for free men.
  2. Practical education: This, he said, should be for persons that are not free i.e. slaves. He argued that slaves are occupied with a kind of trade that destroys the body and disturbs the mind, thereby making them incapable of pursuing wisdom.

To Aristotle, his thought on politics was that man is by nature a political animal and this means that:

  1. The social instinct is implanted in all men by nature.
  2. Man can attain his full stature only through the enablement of the state.
  3. The state which originated for the sake of life, continues ‘for the sake of the best life’.

The existence of state according to Aristotle, is for the exercise of those qualities which make men good husbands, fathers, heads of households, good citizens, good men of science and philosophy.

Furthermore, he maintained that the state through its education, (laws both written and unwritten) succeeds in maintaining a vigorious activity, a life rich in noble aims and deeds, then it is assumed that the state has fully attained the end for which it exists.

Finally, after studying the history of 158 constitutions, Aristotle was able to generalize that the major cause of revolutionary movements was the craving of men for equality.


PLATO (428 – 347 B.C)

Plato was a student of Socrates and as an ancient Greek political philosopher and a conservative, was opposed to the course of democratizarion.

He tried to describe an ideal state as one that embodies justice.

In his book ‘The Republic‘ plato believed that education was to be one of the means of deciding individual relationship in the Republic. He founded a philosophical school named the ‘Academy’

According to Plato, justice was to be found in a state (polis) when everybody did the tasks for which he was suited.

Similarly, he maintained that rulers had to be highly knowledgeable or intelligent men.

Plato’s ideas can be summarised thus:

  1. He formulated a theoretical design for a perfect state.
  2. In his Republic, he advocated that an intellectual elite or a philosopher king should govern rather than the military caste. In modern states, military rule is detested.
  3. Only knowledgeable men should govern the state.
  4. He maintained that all men should contribute to the general welfare of the state according to their abilities.
  5. The State should pursue justice to its conclusive end.
  6. As an idealist, he believed that ideas are buried in the mind and not developed.
  7. He also pointed out that to live in a society is to live within the context of discipline, and discipline of course means curtailment of some of our desires and interests.


JOHN LOCK (1632 – 1704)

In his writings, Locke justified the English revolution of 1688, where James the II was deposed from the throne.

State of Nature

Locke’s argument are as follows:

  1. That the law of nature or the law of reason commands that no one shall impair the life, the health, freedom or the possessions of another.
  2. That men should be free and equal in all respect.
  3. That this freedom as stipulated is not licensed.

There is however, no common superior to enforce the law of reason, each individual is mandated to work out his own interpretation.

The result is that while the state of nature is not a state of war (Hobbe’s view), it is still full of fear and insecurity affecting man’s enjoyment of rights and freedom.

The state of nature is full of too many inconveniences and so the state or the political society is in place to avert a state of war.

For example, there should be:

  1. A law with a common consent that will state the standard of right and wrong and with the capacity of deciding all controversial issues.
  2. A known judge with authority to decide issues according to the established law.
  3. A body with state powers to give issues that have been decided the right execution.

According to Locke, the state is created through a contract, purporting every citizen to agree with every other to give up to the community the natural right of enforcing the law of reason. This will enhance a proper preservation of life, liberty and property.


Locke believed that power should be given to the community and not to the government.

Government is in the nature of a trust and embraces only the powers transferred to it as at the time of change from a state of nature.

The legislature as well as authorized Judges must administer justice according to the established laws.

Individuals or citizens must not be deprived of their property without their consent, nor levying of taxes without the people’s consent or their representatives.

Legislative body with powers to function cannot be transferred to any other personor body.This is because legislative power is a delegated power from the people who alone can dispose of it.

Locke’s theory is a result of a democratic or constitutional government. It gave the theory of consent a permanent place in English politics.

The following are the central ideas of Locke’s theory:

  1. That government is rested on the consent of the governed and it is valuable and democratic.
  2. Government should hold power on condition.
  3. Locke further maintained that if the actions of the government is not in consonance with the interests of the community, a change of government is inevitable and this should be effected without destroying the continuity of the civil society.


ROUSSEAU (1712 – 78)

The ‘social contract’ theory of Rousseau is important in two important aspects:

  1. It was an inspiration to the French Revolution of 1789, which brought about a revolt against the despotic monarch.
  2. It was the basis of the theory of popular sovereignty.

According to Rousseau, man is essentially good and sympathetic. The state of nature is a period of happiness, men being free and equal.

It should be noted that with the introduction of private property and the growth in numbers, quarrels arose and man is compelled to give up his natural freedom.

The problem of man was therefore traceable to how he could find a form of association, which protects, with the whole common force, the person and property of each associate. This problem is however solved through a contract and the creation of civil society.

In this contract theory of Rousseau, everyone, surrenders to the community all his rights, making the community sovereign.

The sovereignty of the community, according to Rousseau is absolute.

There should be no limit to the sovereignty of the community, for the sovereign body being formed only of the individuals who constitute it can have no interest contrary to theirs.

On the other hand, the will of the individual may well be in conflict with the general will of the community which constitutes the sovereign.

Therefore, the need for social contract is informed by the agreement that anyone refusing to comply to the general will shall be forced to do so by the whole body politic. This is in conformity to the general will in guaranteeing to every individual’s freedom from dependence on any other person or persons.

It is interesting to note that after the contract, the individual freedom remains as it used to be.

Rousseau’s social contract got a remarkable influence from that of Hobbes. For example, both men agreed on the following:.

  1. That the state is the result of a contract entered into by men who originally lived in a state of nature.
  2. That there was only a single contract and that the government was not a party to it.
  3. That individuals surrendered their rights after the contract and that these rights have to be exercised according to the law.
  4. That sovereignty should be absolute. However, Rousseau did not subscribe to the idea of Hobbes that government is absolute, instead, he maintained that government should be dependent upon the people, as postulated by Locke. Rousseau, agreed that the individual surrenders his rights to the community and not to the ruler.

The importance of Rousseau in political thought could be seen as follows:

  1. His theory served as the basis for democracy.
  2. Rousseau’s social contract theory is a justification of revolutions against arbitrary rule and forces of retrogression. For example, the charter of the French revolution and the 1789 declaration of the Rights of Man are all taken from Rousseau.
  3. Rousseau further demonstrated that will and not force should form the basis of the state, and that government depends on the consent of the governed.
  4. That the sovereign community was the only constitutional law maker and has indirect effect of stimulating direct legislation through referendum and the initiative.


THOMAS HOBBES (1588 – 1679)

He was an Englishman, who began his political investigation or inquiry (The Leviathan, 1651) with an analysis of human nature.

  1. Hobbes saw man as essentially selfish and his actions are determined by his appetites, passions and desires.
  2. That the state of nature is a state of struggle of all against all, competition, love of glory, etc, and that law and justice are absent.
  3. The life of man is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.

In addition, Hobbes was of the view that some laws are observed in a primitive state. For example:

  1. Man has the liberty to preserve his own life.
  2. Laws are meant to restore peace.
  3. That any law attempting to put aside the right man has to all things if accepted and retained is capable of hindering the peace of man.
  4. The only antidote to peace is for men to give up so much of their natural rights and that a supreme coercive power be instituted.

A state is therefore created as a result of the following:

a) The government is sovereign and such power of the sovereign should be absolute for the following reasons:

  1. No condition is attached to the power of the sovereign, since the sovereign is the result of the pact, not a party to it.
  2. Men ought to surrender all their rights to the sovereign
  3. The will of everybody is embodied in the sovereign, his actions are people’s actions.
  4. Man is anti-social and too insistent to be checked except by absolute authority.

For the peace and defence of his subjects, the sovereign should be a judge of what is real and capable of promoting a good life for the people. The sovereign has the right of making rules which are to guide the subjects in knowing what property they are entitled to.

He has the right of making war and peace, choosing capable hands as counsellors, of honouring, rewarding and punishing. He also should have the power of judicature.

However, it should be noted here that the sovereign articulated so far need not be one individual, sovereignty is equally located in an Assembly.

Hobbes preferred monarchy with the believe that it has greater consistency in policy formulation.

b) Law in general should be a command. It should be to every subject. Those rules which the community had commanded by word, writing, etc, as to determine the distinction of right and wrong.

c) The liberty of the subjects consists of:

  1. Those rights as permitted by the sovereign.
  2. Those rights that cannot be surrendered according to nature. Nobody can compel the subject to take his life, denying him access to food or medicine, etc.
  3. The power of the sovereign to protect his subjects.

Therefore, the issue in question is that Hobbes based an absolute state on ‘free’ contract and consent and the psychological basis of his theory is fear.

Some schools of thought have criticized Hobbes from different points of view. One is that the theory of social contract is unrealistic, unhistorical and this is because primitive societies rested on status, not on contract.

Again, his assessment and view of human nature as essentially selfish cannot be maintained or substantiated.

Similarly, the principle involved in absolute sovereignty is wrong. An all-powerful sovereign may likely apply arbitrary rules in the administration of the state and the subjects must be prepared to submit to such harsh and tyrannical rules.


CICERO (106 – 43 B.C)

Cicero was a great Roman orator as well as a politician.

He was a man of two worlds – that of Rome and Greece. The greatness of Rome fascinated him that he said “we must borrow virtues from Rome and culture from Greece”.

His Contributions

  1. In the Roman senate, he was the major spokesman of the conservative faction.
  2. His writing especially on the preparation of the orator greatly influenced Western educational history.
  3. He studied Greek Grammar and Literature as well as Latin Literature and History.
  4. He believed that oratory was practical for winning debates in the Roman forum.
  5. His work on ‘De Oratore’ presented a summary of both Roman Republic and the Greek conception of the educated man.
  6. Cicero recommended that the orator should acquire general knowledge of ethics, science, psychology, military. medicine, natural science, geography and astronomy. He stated that History, Law and Philosophy were seen as the most important. He claimed that History was to provide the student with the memory of the past deeds of Roman greatness.

Law: The law of the 12 Tables was to provide the basis of Roman Jurisprudence and has assisted Rome to maintain a vast empire.

Philosophy: Oratory, he said, was impossible without philosophical perspectives.


THOMAS ACQUINAS (1225 – 1274)

Thomas Acquinas was an Italian churchman who agreed with Aristotle in his idea of God as a Prime mover.

He taught that God created matter people’s environment and surroundings, and he believed in the reality of it.

Acquinas’ views are:

That in everything, God is a Prime mover.

That God created matter i.e. man’s environment and the surroundings

He claimed that a king at his coronation should make a pact or enter into an agreement with his people to promote a happy and virtuous life.

This pact, he maintained, should be kept by the king.

That failure by the king to fulfill this implied pact or agreement with his people will make him a dishonourable ruler lacking the legitimacy to continue ruling his subjects.


IMMANUEL KANT (1724-1804)

In his philosophical write up, Kant combined some aspects of idealism and realism.

His basic ideas are the following:

  1. That every individual has a unified point of view and observes the world from his own personal beliefs.
  2. He has a very strong belief in ethics especially as it concerns Universal laws and the soul’s immortality.
  3. He agreed with Rosseau and Locke that the law maker or the legislator is under obligation to see that laws made are as if they were the outcome of a social contract.
  4. The civil society rests on the consent of the ruled and not the ruler, making such claim an important factor in the development of modern democracy.


KARL MARX (1818 – 1883)

  1. Karl Marx’s conception of the state is that of an institution which is used by the ruling class to protect their interests.
  2. Thus, in Marxist classless society which he envisioned, he hoped to see the state wither away and in its place will arise a classless society where everybody would benefit from the equitable distribution of national resources.
  3. But between the socialist and the communist states, the state cannot but intervene to manage the affairs of men on behalf of all meaning that a dictatorial government is inevitable at least at the transitional stage.
  4. In practice, socialism has conferred a greater role on the state and the state has become more and more like the Republic of Plato with its paternalistic role (fatherly role)
  5. With the Marxist ideological conception of the state, there are consequences for the perception of limitation to individual freedom.
  6. The state has acquired increasing ability to interfere in the private life of people and consequently has reduced the freedom of individuals.



Utilitarianism is an ethical theory based on the ‘principle of utility’. That is to say that utility is the criterion by which good actions are distinguished from bad ones.


Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill are the best known exponents.


JEREMY BENTHAM (1748 – 1832)

He is usually referred to as the ‘Father of utilitarianism’. He claims that man by nature is a pleasure seeking and pain avoiding animal.

Consequently, pleasure and pain are the two guides of human actions. Nature, he said, has placed man under the governance of two sovereign masters pain and pleasure.

According to Bentham, pleasure and pain direct and determine the goodness and badness of human actions. Pleasure then is the only good desired by all men and pain the only evil which all men avoid.

We owe to them all our ideas, we refer to them all our judgements and all the determinations of our life.

He maintains that the sources of pleasure and pain are physical (e.g. good scenery). political (e.g. good laws), moral (public opinion) and religious (relations with God). This type of doctrine is known as ‘psychological hedonism’. i.e that everyone is so constituted that he necessarily seeks pleasure and avoids pain.

The ‘principle of utility’ tends to see good in whatever promotes happiness and evil as that which promotes unhappiness. By happiness, it is intended pleasure and the absence of pain and by unhappiness it is meant pain and the deprivation of pleasure.


J.S. MILL (1806 – 1873)

John Stuart Mill, the champion of modern utilitarianism, accepted the utility principle as the standard of morality but found it necessary to modify the utilitarianism of Bentham so as to make it a more acceptable theory of ethics.

Although Mill agreed with Bentham that pleasure is the foundation for morality but he rejected psychological hedonism.

In its place J.S. Mill, advocated “ethical hedonism”, or the doctrine that everyone ought to seek pleasure not for himself but for all mankind.

He also disagreed with Bentham’s attempt to equate Utilitarianism with egoism.

According to him, the happiness with which utilitarianism is concerned with is not necessarily. the happiness of the individual doer of the action but the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people.

Therefore, the happiness which forms the utilitarian standard of what is right in conduct is not the agent’s own happiness but that of all concerned.

In case there is conflict between one’s pleasure and that of others, the happiness of the greater number of people comes first.

Consequently, it may be necessary to sacrifice ones own pleasure in order to promote the pleasure of the society.

However, some objections were raised towards the ethical and psychological hedonism.

Kant, in his writing, argued that when you talk of moral, we are not interested on the consequences but the intention or the motives that qualify such to be moral. It is not always true that all is well that ends well.

Moreover, men are not equal. Bentham himself admitted that the dogma of equality of men was an ‘anarchic fallacy’. As men are not equal and the same pleasure may be felt by different men unequally, it would be difficult to calculate the greatest happiness of the greatest number with any assurance of success.

The principle of utilitarianism tends to recognise the existence of morality or other issues that promotes happiness to a number of people. For example, racial segregation in South Africa to a number of whites brings happiness but does not mean that it is a moral act.

Again, the issue of slavery which did bring happiness to some people, although it does not mean the act is moral.

Furthermore, utilitarians argued that to desire a thing because it brings pleasure is not a justification for that thing, if it is immoral. To desire ‘x’ is not the same thing to say the ‘x’ is good. For e.g. that John desires his neighbour’s wife does not mean that, the action is good or right.

However, despite all these criticisms, the formula of the greatest happiness of the greatest number still remains valuable in politics. It supplies a ‘slogan’ which gets imprinted in the popular mind and supplies a standard with which one can judge state actions.

The basic idea in utilitarianism is simply this: all actions must be judged by their results, by their fruitfulness in pleasure and this pleasure must find actual expression in the lives and in the experience of different individuals.

J.S. Mill further said, “let the state act to remove disabilities, in so doing the rulers would be forwarding the welfare of their subjects. But if the authorities failed in this purpose, they could claim no rights of sanctity”.

The claims of legality could not stand for a moment against the claims of morality, and the claims of morality were summed up in the happiness of the people.

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