Aristotle And Politics Essay

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.

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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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