Aristotle's Politics: Top Ten Quotes

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Aristotle, The Politics, Trans. T.A. Sinclair (London: Penguin, 1992).

  1. “For as man is the best of all animals when he has reached his full development, so he is worst of all when divorced from law and justice.”

    Page 61, 1253a, lines 32-4.

    Book 1, chapter ii, in which Aristotle is describing the importance of the relationship between the state and the individual.

  2. “If then nature makes nothing without some end in view, nothing to no purpose, it must be that nature has made all of them for the sake of man.”

    Page 79, 1256b, lines 20-2.

    Book 1, chapter viii. In this chapter, as he sets out his arguments on the natural method of acquiring goods, Aristotle makes clear the teleological assumptions that underlie his understanding of politics and ethics.

  3. “But obviously a state which becomes progressively more and more of a unity will cease to be a state at all. Plurality of numbers is natural in a state; and the farther it moves away from plurality towards unity, the less of a state it becomes and the more a household, and the household in turn an individual.”

    Page 104, 1261a, lines 14-20.

    Book 2, chapter ii. In this passage Aristotle aims his criticisms at Plato’s proposal in the Republic that rulers should take steps to create unity within the state. Although many question his interpretation of the Republic, Aristotle’s warnings are particularly well aimed at the dangers of totalitarianism and the tendency in modern democratic states to manage political opinion with ever-increasing sophistication.

  4. “So we must lay it down that the association which is a state exists not for the purpose of living together but for the sake of noble actions. Those who contribute most to this kind of association are for that very reason entitled to a larger share in the state than those who, though they may be equal or even superior in free birth and in family, are inferior in the virtue that belongs to a citizen. Similarly they are entitled to a larger share than those who are superior in riches but inferior in virtue.”

    Page 198, 1281a, lines 2-10.

    Book 3, chapter ix. In this chapter Aristotle is describing what should be the just distribution of power, which should go to those who live virtuous lives, rather than those of high birth or those with wealth.

  5. “Justice therefore demands that no one should do more ruling than being ruled, but that all should have their turn.”

    Page 226, 1287a, lines 17-19.

    Book 3, chapter xvi. Here Aristotle outlines his belief that all citizens should share in power so that they can be accustomed to ruling and being ruled.

  6. “So it is clear that the search for what is just is a search for the mean; for the law is the mean.”

    Page 227, 1287a, lines 48-9.

    Book 3, chapter xvi. This passage establishes the connection between Politics and Aristotle’s arguments in Nicomachean Ethics that virtue can be found through the application of reason to find the mean between the two vices, excess and deficiency, in the management of our actions and feelings. In Nicomachean Ethics he maintains that justice is the most complete expression of all virtue, so it is not surprising that here he argues that justice, like all virtues, is the mean.

  7. “…the life which is best for men, both separately, as individuals, and in the mass, as states, is the life which has virtue sufficiently supported by material resources to facilitate participation in the actions that virtue calls for.”

    Page 393, 1323b, lines 40-4.

    Book 7, chapter 1. As Aristotle sets out his ideas on the ideal form of the state and constitution he describes what he believes is the basis for a virtuous life in the best state.

  8. “A state is an association of similar persons whose aim is the best life possible. What is best is happiness, and to be happy is an active exercise of virtue and a complete employment of it.”

    Page 413, 1328a, lines 35-8.

    Book 7, chapter viii. Again, Aristotle links the ideas he developed in Nicomachean Ethics with these in Politics. In this case he shows how closely the teleological purposes of the state are bound up with happiness and virtue.

  9. “…happiness is an activity and a complete utilization of virtue, not conditionally but absolutely.”

    Page 428, 1332a, lines 9-10.

    Book 7, chapter xiii. This statement could have been taken straight out of Nicomachean Ethics. It establishes clearly the connection between virtue and happiness.

  10. “But since there is but one aim for the entire state, it follows that education must be one and the same for all, and that the responsibility for it must be a public one, not the private affair which it now is, each man looking after his own children and teaching them privately whatever private curriculum he thinks they ought to study.”

    Page 452, 1337a, lines 24-30.

    Book 8, ii. Here Aristotle develops his argument that the education of the children of citizens should be a public responsibility, since they are the future citizens and rulers of the state. 

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