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Aristotle, the Science of Politics


Aristotle (b. 384 - d. 322 BC), was a Greek philosopher, logician,
 and scientist. Along with his teacher Plato, Aristotle is generally
 regarded as one of the most influential ancient thinkers in a number
 of philosophical fields, including political theory. Aristotle was
 born in Stagira in northern Greece, and his father was a court
 physician to the king of Macedon. As a young man he studied in
 Plato's Academy in Athens. After Plato's death he left Athens to
 conduct philosophical and biological research in Asia Minor and
 Lesbos, and he was then invited by King Philip II of Macedon to tutor
 his young son, Alexander the Great. Soon after Alexander succeeded
 his father, consolidated the conquest of the Greek city-states, and
 launched the invasion of the Persian Empire. It was in this
 environment that Aristotle's' views and ideas of politics developed. 
 As Alexander's teacher, Aristotle had a close tie to the political
 powers of Athens. Because of this tie Aristotle wrote Politics as a
 guide to rulers as to how to govern a country. In Politics Aristotle
 lays out his ideal form of Government. It contains thought provoking
 discussions on the role of human nature in politics, the relation of
 the individual to the state, the place of morality in politics, the
 theory of political justice, the rule of law, the analysis and
 evaluation of constitutions, the relevance of ideals to practical
 politics, the causes and cures of political change and revolution,
 and the importance of a morally educated citizenry. He stressed that
 the ideal citizen and ruler must possess certain virtues, such as
 wisdom, temperance and courage. And the work as a whole echoes
 Aristotle's dominant theme of moderation. Politics is an excellent
 historical source because of the close tie Aristotle had to the
 everyday business of government in Athens. It reflects the idealized
 values of the people and the influence of Aristotle's teacher Plato. 
 The importance of wisdom and justice also directly parallel the
 classical Greek ideology. Aristotle believed that nature formed
 politics and the need for city-states (government) formed out of
 nature. Aristotle lays the foundations for his political theory in
 Politics by arguing that the city-state and political rule are
 "natural." The argument begins with a historical account of the
 development of the city-state out of simpler communities. First,
 individual human beings combined in pairs because they could not
 exist apart. The male and female joined in order to reproduce, and
 the master and slave came together for self-preservation. The master
 uses his intellect to rule, and the natural slave uses his body to
 labor. Second, the household arose naturally from these primitive
 communities in order to serve everyday needs. Third, when several
 households combined for other needs a village emerged also according
 to nature. Finally, "the complete community, formed from several
 villages, is a city-state, which can attain the limit of
 self-sufficiency. It comes to be for the sake of life, and exists for
 the sake of the good life." (I.2.1252b27-30). Aristotle backs up
 four claims about the city-state: First, the city-state exists by
 nature, because it comes to be out of the more primitive natural
 associations and it serves as their end, because only it attains
 self-sufficiency (1252b30-1253a1). Second, human beings are by nature
 political animals, because nature, which does nothing in vain, has
 equipped them with speech, which enables them to communicate moral
 concepts such as justice, which are formative of the household and
 city-state (1253a1-18). Third, the city-state is naturally prior to
 the individuals, because individuals cannot perform their natural
 functions apart from the city-state, since they are not
 self-sufficient (1253a18-29). However, these three claims are
 immediately followed by a fourth: the city-state is a creation of
 human intelligence. "Therefore, everyone naturally has the impulse
 for such a [political] community, but the person who first
 established [it] is the cause of very great benefits." This great
 benefit may be the laws of the city-state. Aristotle points out that
 the legal system alone saves them from their own savagery. 
It's interesting to see that Aristotle's view of nature transcends in
his view of the human character and what the humans should be. In
Aristotle's Ethics he points out the popular view of what happiness
was (and maybe still is). Honor, pleasure and wealth are the things
he believed the Greek people wanted to be happy. He stated that honor
is a superficial aim because at any moment it can be taken away from
us. Pleasure is enjoyable but is more an animal quality than human,
and wealth is merely a means towards a greater good. Aristotle taught
moderation; the pursuit of the above three vices is okay, but don't
make it an all encompassing goal. In contrast to the three things he
warned against spending your life on, there were about four things
that he felt should be heartily sought after. Aristotle felt that
everyone should possess these qualities,and they were crucial for a
good ruler. Wisdom, courage, temperance and justice were the four
virtues that Aristotle held so high. He felt that only through these
four qualities could lead a person, or a country to true happiness. 
Aristotle's virtues parallel the thinking of other classical Greeks. 
One of the obvious reasons for this is that the teacher-student bond
tied many philosophers. The great Socrates taught Plato, and of
course Plato was Aristotle's teacher. Although, the influence of the
teacher is very strong, the students also have show that they can
think independently and their works have a distinctly different taste
to them. Plato said the just person is wise, temperate and courageous
and the just state is ruled by wisdom. Plato's just state displayed
courage over force and temperance over intemperance. 
 Socrates, another of the famous classical Greeks, died for his views
 of wisdom and justice. Socrates used logic to tell himself and his
 colleagues that he must die for the sake of avoiding hypocrisy. 
 Socrates' whole life he preached that the state's laws must be held
 supreme for justice to prevail. The state sentenced him to death,
 and to avoid death would be to contradict the state's laws. In the
 process he would be contradicting what he had lived for. Many people
 likened Socrates to a gadfly, always buzzing in the state's face to
 make sure they were doing the just thing. Aristotle also knew the
 importance of justice but he approached it slightly differently. 
 Justice, Aristotle's third moral virtue, consisted of two main
 aspects. The first was that the laws made citizens just; the state
 had to strive to make the people act morally and good (1129a 13-24).
 Aristotle's second aspect of justice was that people should be
 awarded justly, or in proportion to what they have done or
 accomplished. The higher the merit the higher the honor or the
 higher the crime the worse the punishment (1130b 30-32). 
 In Politics Aristotle lays down his ideal structure of the family. 
 His structure greatly reflected the values of the people in the
 pater-dominated tradition. The belief of the time was that the
 father was basically the king of his house; Aristotle didn't vary
 much from this. The father had supreme authority and had control
 over his wife. He does concede that there is reciprocity between
 the two but he feels that there is a permanent basic inequality. 
 The wife should remain the ruled one and show her courage (a moral
 virtue) through her obedience and her glory through silence (1260a 
 24,30). The father also rules over his children with supreme
 authority. Only through his death is his authority removed. 
 Aristotle also included the slave as part of the family, but he
 differentiates from the practices of the time as what he considers to
 be an acceptable slave. The status quo was the removal of strong
 bodies from conquered nations for the purpose of manual labor. He
 felt that slavery through conquest was unacceptable. Slavery he
 believed to be acceptable were those that needed the slave/master
 relationship to survive. Those that were too unintelligent to govern
 themselves needed this bond to get through life. In exchange for
 their daily care, the "natural" slaves are to do light household
 duties such as cooking (1255b 26-27). It is interesting to note
 that in his will Aristotle called for the emancipation of some of his
 own acquired slaves. An example of the slave/master relationship
 that Aristotle discussed can be seen in today's world. Sometimes an
 elderly or sick person requires constant care. They need to have
 everything done for them and therefore can't govern themselves. 
 Another person is required to make the persons important decisions
 and is responsible for their care. In this example the distinction
 can be seen between Aristotle's idea of a slave and Greeks
 traditional view, which was similar to the United States' in the
Aristotle was a brilliant person who taught moderation in government
and in life. He stressed the importance of moral virtues as the key
to happiness and a successful government. Aristotle thought that the
need for government and authority developed on its own from nature. 
He taught in the Lyceum, a school he founded in Athens, how a just
person should live and how a just state should rule. His messages of
virtue and moderation transcend time and still are a great influence
on modern western thought.

The Greco-Roman Legacy: Aristotle
Politics by Aristotle
The Republic by Plato
Ethics by Aristotle
The Greco-Roman legacy: Plato


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