Aristotle’s ideas on economics, like those of Plato and of Greek antiquity in general, were rudimentary and limited. This was so because of the following main reasons: a) production at that time was not developed, b) economic relations were limited, c” wealth was insufficient, d) economic life was very simple. Moreover, the economic ideal of the age was small production, the modest circulation and exchange of goods and limited wealth. Becoming unlimitedly wealthy was considered to be dangerous for the morality of the individual and the social order. Economic matters were always examined in relation to moral and political aims. Consequently, “economics ” was always dependent upon “ethics ” and “politics ”. In keeping therefore with the general spirit of his age, Aristotle dealt with various economic problems from a political point of view. And since for him, politics was inseparably linked with ethics, ethical aims were always the main determining factors in his economic solutions and these shaped his economic ideas. As Aristotle says:
“Ton oikonomein mellonta kata tropon ton te topon, peri ous an pragmateuetai, mh apeiros echein, kai te physe euphue einai te prohairesei philoponon te kai dikaion, oti gar an ape touton ton meron, polla diamartesetai peri ten pragmateian hen metacheirizetai”. (Oeconomica II. 1354 b. I 7-12).
Aristotle’s economics present the following three features:
1. H examines economics in direct relation to politics and ethics, since “Ho gar anthropos ou monon politikon alla kai oikonomikon zoon... alla koinonikon anthropos zoon prow hous physei syggeneia esti” (Eudemian Ethics, 1242 a 22). For the development of social and economic relations presupposes and requires the existence of political power as a guarantee of the security of the members of the political community.
2. He does not accept that economics can have any function as a particular and autonomous activity unqualified by ethical ideals or values. For, according to Aristotle, the aim of life is moral action and not constructive activity (poiesis).
3. He is equally opposed to the system of common ownership and to the hoarding and amassing of goods and wealth. For, according to Aristotle, economic means do not constitute an end in themselves, but their purpose is to render possible the virtuous life and man’s “self-sufficiency for the good life” in the political community.
Wealth, therefore, and the acquisition of goods should never be put forward as an end in itself and the economic ideal of the state should be self-sufficiency according to the wise philosopher.
In book three of the Politics (chapters 10-15), Aristotle offers a problematic evaluation of the claims of the plethos to sovereignty within the state. Despite Aristotle’s otherwise clearly anti-democratic attitude, the plethos in these passages seems to merit some kind of political sovereignty.
The problems that this evaluation creates, or seems to create, have not been adequately addressed. Modern commentators such as Barker, Newman, and Mulgan gloss over the problem with little consideration of its implications, or point to the inconsistencies in Aristotle’s argument, thereby mitigating possible inconsistencies. Even Braun, who provides the only full treatment of the issue of popular sovereignty in the Politics (“Die Summierungstheorie des Aristoteles”, JOAI 44 (1959), pp. 157-184), tries to mitigate the importance of Aristotle’s conclusions.
In this paper, I present an alternate view of the discussion of the plethos that is both internally consistent and more useful in understanding Aristotle’s political views. I address both the underlying issue of whether Aristotle indeed sees any form of inherent virtue in the plethos, and the more immediate concern of what kind of role, if any, he would assign the plethos in an ideal state.
I argue that Aristotle, in the Politics, does in fact allow the possibility that a group of individuals who on their own have no inherent virtue can, when taken together, offer something of value; they are able to perceive and judge at least no worse than, and possibly better than, even a worthy individual. This formulation is in agreement with Aristotle’s discussion of perception and judging in his ethical works and in the Rhetoric. It is on this basis that Aristotle sees fit to grant sovereignty to the ūžÉűÔų.
The apparent contradiction between this reading and Aristotle’s typical notions of democracy is, I would argue, no more than apparent. A closer reading of the relevant passages shows that Aristotle has particular roles in mind for the plethos, that he in fact offers no suggestion of complete and total mastery of the state by the masses. Specifically, he suggests that the ūžÉűÔų might reliably be entrusted with the deliberative and judicial functions of selecting and auditing magistrates. Thus the perceptual ability of the collective puts the executive power of the state in the hands of the correct individuals.
This reading draws attention to a more general problem in modern understandings of Aristotle’s political theory, namely the assumption that Aristotle thought and wrote with Athens as his model for democracy. This assumption, I would argue, is the underlying factor that makes Aristotle’s discussion of the plethos problematic to the modern reader. I argue that it is more appropriate to discard the Athenocentric model than to discard or rationalize explicit statements in the Politics that do not fit this model.
Reality according to Aristotle is intriusically teleological. From prime matter to the totality of the cosmic Whole all things are ordered in an hierarchy of Means and Ends. The ultimate explanation of the existence and nature of any being resides in its purpose; finality is the dominant factor in temporal determinations, chief among the four types of causality, the fundamental Law of the World in all its departments and gradations: inorganic, vegetable, animal, rational. The end aimed at by something, its purpose (whether intentional or unconscious) determined its function, and thus defines its structure and essence (formal cause) as that which can act in such a way as to achieve the given end. Even matter is thereby circumscribed: it must be the proximate appropriate potential receptacle of that essential form and structure.
Organized human Society, i.e. a State, is naturally grown and constituted. It is an entity whose presuppositions lie in the very nature of Man, and whose final causal explanation, its reason and purpose of existence, must be the self-sufficient realization of the End of Man, that is, the perfect entelechy of his nature.
The prime task of Politics as a Philosophical Discipline is to deduce from the End of State (and given the social functions and the corresponding professions and occupations necessary for life in the context of human congregation) the constitutional structure capable of accomplishing that purpose. This form of State then would be the best Constitution absolutely taken, independently, that is, of the obtaining concrete circumstance.
But excellence is naturally rare, and the ôÚťůŰÔÓ ŚršÔų in every field presents rather an exception, despite its being the naturalest occurrence when it happens. For a State to be organized according to the best Constitution, its principal matter (i.e. the people) must be in a state of immediate preparedness to assume that demanding form, which is indeed very far from being the case in actual fact. A normative constitution, applicable to real people in most ordinary cases, is needed to play the role of such preparatory but stable step in the direction of the absolutely best arrangement. The deduction of the basic institutions for such operational constitution (the aristotelian politeia in strict sense) is the second important endeavor of Politics.
This inquiry goes hand in hand with a third one, which consists in the analysis of historically existing constitutions; for the normative constitution must somehow approximate (some at least of) them. The scientific classification of actual constitutional forms shows that their principium divisionis is not primarily the numerical dimension of the Sovereign in the State (one - few - many), not even the social class to which sovereignty belongs (military - wealthy - poor), but a definition (¬ros) as to what is the supremest value in society, that which is honored and promoted most (excellence - wealth - nobility - freedom or various combinations thereof); such highest practical valuation expresses also the quality of the society (poion tes poleos) in which it prevails, as well as the peculiar character of the people to which it is best adapted. The former criteria are more or less direct consequences of the last true explication of the respective essential attribute in the divergent multitude of existing constitutions.All of these may be conditionally right relative to given situations, but if they do not systematically foster excellence as an ulterior end, and if they are, therefore, not considered as transitory stages towards the realization of the constitutional perfection exhibited in the best constitution unconditionally viewed, if they are not seen as expedient only by virtue of the unpreparedness of the people to assume its own complete perfection, then they are really social deviations, indeed abnormalities (parekbaseis)
The significance of the aristotelian approach for the clearer understanding of problems facing Political Philosophy always and now is demonstrably paramount.
Dans la Politique, III, 2, 3 = 1275b34 - 76a22, Aristote interprŹte l’ intégration des étrangers et des esclaves metŹques réalisée par ClisthŹne comme une altération du systŹme de la polis. L’ époque des réformes démocratiques de ClisthŹne est sans doute une période de consolidation de la politeia ą travers du procédé de l’ élargissement.
Cependant, pour bien comprendre le texte, if faut aussi considérer l’ idéologie politique et sociale d’ Aristote. en effet, mźme parmi les spartiates, il pensait (Pol. 1302b33 - 1303a14) qu’ il y avait une situation révolutionnaire parce que la foule des indigents devint une partie de l’ état.
Évidemment, l’ esclave ne participe pas de la cité, mais les esclaves ne sont pas seulement ceux qui en sont par nature, mais aussi ceux qui font des travaux avec leur corps (I, 5, 8 = 1254b15), tandis que le corps des libres est utile pour la vie politique, dans la paix et dans la guerre (I, 5, 10 = 1254b30). La politique, comme la philosophie, est fonction de ceux qui peuvent faire qu’ un intendant s’ occupe des esclaves.
Dans la bonne démocratie, qu’ Aristote appelle politeia, la participation appartient seulement ą ceux qui sont écartés du travail productif.
Aristotle’s theory of revolutions in Book V of the Politics seems at first glance to be a mere empirical compendium of the way in which governments can change over a short period of time. His use of revolution is wider than the modern usage including what many would call “counter-revolutions” in which an oligarchy takes over from a democratic form of government. In this paper we want to find the underlying theoretical basis for Aristotle’s theory of revolution; relate it to some modern revolutions and show that this theoretical principle provides an insightful basis for understanding revolutions in general. We then want to compare Aristotle’s theory with a modern theory of revolutions, that of Nicholas Berdyaev, and see what interesting differences we can find.
In recent years the vexed question concerning the reasons that led Aristotle to argue for the naturalness of human inequality seem to have suffered, more often than not, from a cultural bias which could be said to be the legacy of the Enlightenment (but not very anelighted for that). In most cases, the study of Aristotle’s ethical and political works takes it for granted that we moderns know better than he did. Such an assumption prevents the students of Aristotelian doctrines from gaining a genuine understanding of what the ancient philosopher meant or intended to mean. For this approach pressuposes the supposedly factual solution of the problems that it poses to itself, and, consequently, resorts to various, and often ingenious, techniques in order to account for Aristotle’s assumed fallacy.
More particularly, and necessarily schematically, there are two lines of interpretation to be found in most modern studies whose the aim consists precisely in refuting the “unacceptable” Aristotelian view. According to the first, which can be termed the historicising approach, Aristotle could not escape the common prejudice of his age which not only approved of, but also was based on, human discrimination. Given, however, that the ancient axponents of the convention theory had by the late fourth century already made their opinions quite well diffused, we are bound to be left with the aporia as to why Aristotle decided not to take sides with them. Explanations resorting to his social position, hiw personal interest, his anti-progressive or reactive proclivity and the like do not count for much at this juncture. According to the secong line of interpretation, which could perharps be called the philosophical approach,the attempt is to find out what misguided Aristotle in terms of his own arguments, where precisely he commited this inexcusable error, how and why he ended up being so mistaken. Logical gaps, conceptual falacies, incosistencies and contradictions ascribedto Aristotle’s argmentation abound to this interpretative approach, together with a recurrent , if implicit, blame for his inadequacy to go beyond mere sembances and to shake off the ill-founded, but commonly shared, distinction of a culturally expanding Hellenism between the Greek sand the barbarians. Admittedly, this is a much more appropriate and serious method of dealing with ancient philosophy as such , but it most frequently seems to be setting itself a twofold limit. People engaged in this sort of interpretation seem to be a priori convinced about the logical truth of their belief in human equality (in which case the study of Aristotle, essentially superfluous as it appears to them, turns out to be nothing more than an excercise in, and aproof of, intellectual dexterity, or, in more fortunate occasions, an attempt at tracing the genealo gy of an error); as a consequence, they find it entirely reasonable to confine themselves to the locus classicus of the Aristotelian corpus where the Stagerite explicitly stated his theory, namely the first book of the Politics .
Now, if, as it seems to be the case, a philosopher’s philosophy, in its however imperfectly attained integrity, lies in his mind rather than at any particular point of of his writings, and given the nature and function of of most Aristotelian treatises which were meant to be lecture-notes, not fully articulated accounts of doctrins, an examination of his entire surviving thought is required before we are entitled to raise the question of posible inconsistencies,let alone to issue a verdict of condemnation. An inquiry into the totality of Aristotle’s political and ethical works may thus yield better results as to the consistency, nay logical necessity, of his theory on the naturalness of human inequality.
Political theory and moral problems, however, cannot be seen in isolation from the more basic concepts of ontology. The Platonic Republic is perhaps the best example that springs readily to mind. Hence, a philosophical doctrine such as that under consideration must berelated to, or rather founded upon , the more pervasive doctrines of ‘first philosophy’, of metaphysics proper. Various reasons may be given for the essential connection of ancient ethical and political teachings with ontological principles, among which the fundamentally metaphysical concept of Nature, not easily neglectable in itself, preponderates. The hierarchical conception of the World as a whole seems then to be indistinguishably intertwined whith any theoretical classification of human beings, whence it follows that purely metaphysical considerations may provide a key of great value for an understanding of Aristotle’s theory.
In the multicultural society the content of education will inevitably be controversial. Each ethnic group will want its art, music, literature, history, etc. taught. Since time and resources are always limited, difficult decisions will have to be made which, all too often, will lead to animosity and resentment. If the society previously had a relatively homogeneous population, that group’s culture will be especially resented on the grounds that it used the educational system to maintain its “hegemony”. To avoid disputes, there will be a tendency to consider the content of education arbitrary and to focus instead on “skills”. This approach which is known as “educational formalism” has been shown to have serious shortcomings since most skills are now known to be content-bound.
Moral education in the multicultural society will be even more controversial than the question of content. The various groups that constitute the society will each want its “value system” taught. The schools will attempt to take a “non-directive” and “non-judgmental”, i.e. neutral approach to avoid being accused of indoctrination and / or favoritism. Students will be taught to be open to all “value systems” and all “life-styles” while “clarifying” their own values. This will result in “value relativism”, a particularly virulent form of subjectivism. Such traditional notions as “character formation” and “developing virtues” will be ignored or ridiculed.
It is the thesis of this paper that the philosophy of education set forth by Aristotle in the Politics and other works, based as it is on a realistic understanding of human nature, provides antidotes to the problems mentioned above even for the modern, multicultural society, but the task of persuading one’s fellow citizens of this is daunting.
Aristotle’s critique of Plato’s Republic (Pol. 2. 1261a - 1264b) seems at first glance a perverse piece of special pleading, in that the arguments Plato so carefully elaborates in support of his views — e.g., the Theory of Forms, the doctrine of a tripartite soul and state, and his very special if not unique understanding of what exactly he means by eudaimonia — are passed over without a mention. In this paper I shall argue, using as evidence a little adverted - to passage of the Timaeus, that a version of the Republic was very likely in circulation from relatively early on which summarized, for a general readership, and hence without reference to Platonic metaphysics and psychology, the main outlines of Plato’s more controversial political suggestions. This version drew entirely (and even then not comprehensively) on what is now Rep. 2-5, and it is the version which it seems to me Aristotle himself may well have used. The result is that, whatever else may be said about Aristotle’s critique, it can, if my hypothesis has substance, be understood as a critique of that version of the Republic which Aristotle could have presumed that the majority of his readers had either read or were acquainted with, and hence a critique that understandably turns out to be more restricted in its scope than might otherwise have been expected.
With this by way of foundation, an analysis of Aristotle’s critique will be offered, with particular emphasis on his claim that “all are by nature equal”, that property — including familial ‘property’ — should be “on the whole private”, and that Plato’s scheme would result in the singular absence from his supposedly good society of two of the central components of any good life, i.e., philia and eudaimonia.
Even a casual survey of contemporary scholarship would suggest that Aristotle has become a whipping boy for philosophers who would advocate equality between the sexes. What I hope to show is that we can actually advance the cause of sexual equality by treating him more fairly. Even if we grant a premise favored by its opponents, we can still draw conclusions more favorable to the egalitarian cause.
The premise to be conceded is the obvious one. Aristotle clearly argues that men and women by nature have different psychologies, and even that men are psychologically superior to women. But contrary to what many today think he himself does not conclude from this proposition that men and women ought to have roles entirely different within a city. Indeed he explicitly states nothing about the political role of women. What I shall argue is that Aristotle leaves ample room in his theory for women to participate in political rule. We shall see that on his own account all women ought to have a vote in general assemblies. In fact he does not even advocate inequality within a family. He does differentiate roles for husband and wife, but he also explicitly argues that they ought to rule by turns.
Aristotle would thus appear to offer considerably more than an apology for Athenian prejudice. If I am right, his philosophy contains for his time a rather revolutionary perspective on women. Nonetheless his theory does retain some more traditional elements, as we shall see.
In my paper I will address the philosophical assumptions and traditions Aristotle adopted in various parts of the Politics in which he deals with constitutions. There is one common element in his various attempts of reaching a system of constitutions, namely the dihairetical method which consists in dividing a compound into its uncompounded elements or parts, first introduced in I 1, 1252 a 18 “hosper gar en tois allois to syntheton mechri ton asyntheton anagi diairein”. Once the ‘parts’ in the population have been identified, the constitutions can be defined as “the organization of the public offices which are distributed either on the basis of superior power or of equality of the parts participating” (IV 3, 1290 a 3 ff.).
The introductory sentence in Aristotle’s Politics III 1 (1274 b 32 f.) identifies the content of this book as a study of constitutions. Scholars and commentators have observed the influence Plato’s Politikos has had on the concept of constitutions in Politics III. Aristotle classifies them according to the number of citizens exercising sovereign power in the state (one; few; many) and subdivides these three according to the standard of whether they aim at the common good or the advantage of the rulers. The distinction of constitutions on the basis of the number of those ruling goes back to Plato’s Politikos (291 d ff.) who based the further subdivision on the criterion whether or not they follow laws. It is obvious that Aristotle substitutes the standard of common good or the advantage of the rulers for the attitude to law which formed the dividing line in Plato.
The scheme of constitutions as introduced in Politics III contains a very rigid classification. Constitutions are contrasted as ‘right’ and ‘deviation’ (Politics III 7) where ‘deviation’ might indicate that this particular form developed from its correct counterpart as Aristotle argues at EN VIII 12 (1160 b 10 ff.). However, such a crude scheme is inadequate to come to grips with the reality of constitutional change as Aristotle has formulated it in Politics V. In particular in the chapter Politics V 12 in which Aristotle rejects Plato’s presentation of the transition of constitutions in Rep. VIII, he points out that almost every change imaginable does actually occur. This approach is no longer dominated by the simple duality of ‘right’ and ‘deviation’, it analyzes in a detailed way and as completely as possible the variety of cases occurring in the historical reality. Whereas in Politics III only those constitutions which shared the numerical criterion were related to one another, in Politics IV-VI almost every constitution can emerge from any other. In light of Politics IV-VI the system of constitutions in book III appears almost as “Idealtypen”, which have little affinity with the more complex constitutional reality. Now constitutions overlap to a considerable degree. At IV 14, 1298 a 39 Aristotle describes an “oligarchy which possesses features of a polity”; at 1298 b 10 he speaks of a “polity of aristocratic character” (cf. 15, 1300 a 41); his recommendation to improve democracy in Politics V 8 would result in a constitution which is “at the same time democracy and aristocracy” (1308 a 38 ff.). Constitutions come now in all shadings. Aristotle calls e.g. a constitution an aristocracy although it has no aristocratic element in the strict sense, i.e. arete, but meets voting procedures that are superior to those practiced in other constitutions: IV 7, 1293 b 20; 14, 1298 b 5-7.
Add to this the fact that in Politics IV-VI Aristotle operates constantly with subspecies of constitutions and emphasizes this issue in a rather polemical spirit against those who ignored this and assumed that there is only one democracy or one oligarchy (IV 1, 1298a 7 ff.).
This new approach leads to a different way of presenting the relationship of constiutions to one another. In Politics III oligarchy was the deviation form of aristocracy as democracy was that of polity. In IV 3, 1290 a 24 ff. both oligarchy and democracy are the deviation form of one and the same constitution. The best subspecies of oligarchy and democracy now virtually overlap: the counterpart of the first species of oligarchy is the second best democracy (IV 4, 1291 b 39 ff., cf. b 40 with 5, 1292 a 41).
In Politics IV-VI Aristotle pays attention to constitutions, in particular democracy and oligarchy, which in book III were rejected as deviation forms. The assumption of subspecies allows him to differentiate more subtly and to assign to the better deviation forms very positive political features (cf. IV6, 1292 b 25 ff.) while reserving only to the last subspecies the worst political qualities such as lawlessness. The criterion whether or not constitutions follow laws which was used by Plato in the Politikos to differentiate aristocracy from oligarchy reappears in Aristotle to distinguish three subspecies of deviations, i.e. oligarchy and democracy, from the fourth. Only the worst form of oligarchy and democracy form the analogy with tyranny: 4, 1292 a 11; 5, 1292 b 7.
H. J. Krämer, Arete bei Platon und Aristoteles. Zum Wesen und zur Geschichte der platonischen Ontologie, SB Heidelberger Ak. d. Wiss., 1959, has ascertained in Plato’s dialogues of the late period, in particular in the Timaios, Kritias, and Nomoi, a philosophical focus on the proportion of the whole which is identified with the middle between extremes on a continuum of possibilities. Krämer has devoted a section of his book (201-220) to the discussion of the mixed constitution in Plato’s Nomoi and concluded that Aristotle owes his concept of the mixed constitutions in the central books of the Politics to Plato’s Nomoi (372). He points out that the continuum of constitutions in Aristotle’s Politics agrees virtually with that in Plato’s last work. Krämer states rightly that the Aristotelian mixed constitution is normally not discussed in the framework of its connection with the Platonic Nomoi.
However, one has to recognize the changes introduced by Aristotle. While Plato in the Nomoi identifies the constitutional deviations as aberrations toward the two extremes of democracy or monarchy (III 693 e 5-7), Aristotle identifies the extremes as democracy and oligarchy (IV 3, 1290 a 24 ff.). This is not only in line with his criticism in Politics II 6, 1266 a 6, of the ‘mothers’ of the constitution elaborated in the Platonic Nomoi, it also better reflects the constitutional reality where most states have either an oligarchy or a democracy (IV 11, 1296 a 22).
One should note as well that Aristotle in Politics IV-VI does not deal with constitutions simply in terms of meeting the standard of proportion, but goes beyond this by referring to existing conditions in the society which fit a specific constitution. This is clearly an approach which differs from, and is at times at odds with a treatment of constitutions in terms of their quality. This becomes evident in IV 11, 1296 b 5 ff. where Aristotle refers to a ranking of the constitutions according to quality, but adds that an exception must be admitted, namely if one judges a constitution by reference to given conditions: in this case a constitution which is less desirable in rank might be more appropriate for some to establish. In IV 1 he had explained tat not the same training is suitable for all, in some cases a less ambitious program might accomplish better results.
In Politics IV-VI Aristotle combines a constitutional theory which is based on Plato’s Nomoi with a practical interest in identifying the constitution which is most suitable to the given population in a state.
At the beginning of Book IV of the Politics, Aristotle lists four items to be included as proper to the study of political science. The third of these items seems to be that the political scientist should know what brings deviant forms of constitution into existence and what helps to preserve them. In this paper, we argue that scholars have misconstrued Aristotle’s prescription here as if it identified one form of advice the political scientist might be called upon to give. One risk of such an understanding of this passage, plainly, is that Aristotle will seem a kind of Machiavellian. We argue, on the contrary, that this passage can only be understood correctly if we distinguish between what the political scientist needs to know, and how he or she will advise given what he or she knows.
The purpose of this paper is threefold: (1) To challenge the orthodoxy that ancient Greek political philosophy is devoid of “humanitarianism” by showing that Aristotle does not deny but rather makes conditional, obligation to assist needy strangers; (2) to suggest that Aristotle’s views on how and to what extent government and private individuals should help the poor are a compelling alternative to, because they in effect marry, on the one hand, the classical liberal commitments to tugged individualism and voluntarism, to the socialist commitments to peace and human welfare, on the other. According to Aristotle, government should neither support nor leave the poor on their own, but help them help themselves, which can be best achieved if government leaves nonpoor citizens enough means and leeway to be generous on their own initiative. (3) To suggest that Aristotle’s understanding of the motivations for public and private generosity accord more with human nature and political reality than do late medieval, modern, and contemporary beliefs about those motivations. Primarily what motivates both government and citizens to give wealth to the needy is not love, sympathy, compassion, empathy, or duty but rather prudence: Government is concerned to preserve the commonwealth, and citizens, their own well-being.
Contemporary debates about assistance to the poor feature two polar views, the social democratic contention that governments should abolish poverty by redistributing wealth and the classical liberal view that redistribution breeds dependence among beneficiaries and resentment among benefactors. This article contends that Aristotle’s views offer a more satisfactory approach to the problem. Drawing mainly on the Nicomachean Ethics, the author argues that Aristotle’s conception of liberality, focusing on both material and moral aspects of the relation between society and its poorer members, provides a way of ensuring but bounding assistance in ways superior to both the socialist and liberal conceptions.
There are many divergences in Plato’s and Aristotle’s theories of ideal state. One of them is that Plato says about harmful influence of seafaring upon this state (Legg. 705a), while Aristotle proves that nearness of the sea gives the advantages in protection of the town and in providing it with provisions (Pol. 1327 a 20).
Plato was the consistent Utopian — he holds together with those ancient philosophers and poets, who blamed seafaring and all that that involves (political change, commerce, imperialism) as destructive for the autarkeia of polis. Was the “realism” of Aristotle so consistent?
Different aspects of his philosophy (theories of the evolution of living beings, of the successive phases of social development, of the beasts-like life of the “barbarians” a.o.) show his opposition to any idealization of the “primitive Life”. Nevertheless Aristotle limits the sphere of seafaring and commerce in his ideal project. Only non-citizens will be the artisans, sailors and traders (Pol. 1278 a 10, 1328 b 40), for these professions as well as usury and any other profit bringing (EN 1258a) are incompatible with leisure and virtue. Aristotle approves inventiveness, skillfulness (deinotes), but, if the aim is not good, he says with disapproval about dodge (panourgia - EN 1144 a 26).
So, Aristotle was not the quite consistent “progressist”, and his rational anti-primitivism was determined by his ethical ideas. He worried about safety of Greek polis as the best form of human association, as the necessary condition for the good way of living.
The working assumption of this paper is that a reading of the Aristotelian Politics, which (i) avoids flouting Aristotle’s talent for consistency and (ii) honors his moderate political values more aptly, justifies the conjecture — partly verified by this paper — that the lectures on which the Politics is based had reference originally to just those phases of the Athenian constitution and and its history which realized in exemplary or epagogic fashion the political modalities which were to give the work its functionalist and moderate democratic, or timocratic, force. The discrepancy between the understandings of psyche in Aristotle’s De Anima and the Politics is evidence of intervention by a platonizing editor in the latter. But the paralogisms and animus displayed in the text’s discussion of the Spartan and Carthaginian constitutions are evidence of an extreme of oligarchism not possible to Aristotle. The way in which the Politics raises the question of happiness in relation to constitutions is suspiciously Hellenistic as well as alienated in a way possible to withdrawn members of the Academy but not to Aristotle. The generative device or key-idea of the work, namely, that of the Ideal State, is theoretic and not proper to a work of praktikź. It is also an idea whose invocation would instantly have identified Aristotle to his audience as an oligarchal extremist, given first that it was the only available way in which to appeal away from the Ancestral Constitution, and secondly that it was habitual to oligarchists. But Aristotle in The Athenian Constitution is quite happy with the moderate, ancestral democracy described there. The Politics, as we have it, also fails to comment in any way at all on the Ideal Constitution as the rhetorical device which it was, and which a rhetorical analyst like Aristotle may be expected to have criticized.
*[This paper is adapted from Chapter IV of my The Return of the King: The Intellectual Warfare over Democratic Athens].
In Politics III 1 Aristotle defines the citizen as one who is “entitled to participate in an office involving deliberation or decision”. Although this definition would seem to offer a functional criterion for determining who should or should not be a citizen — viz., capacity to deliberate and decide well — Aristotle is little concerned in the rest of the Politics to apply such a criterion in his discussion of various constitutions, whether actual or ideal. Rather he is willing to let such non-functional criteria as citizen-birth determine citizenship, focussing instead on a division within the citizen body between those with access to political power (which group he calls to kurion or to politeuma ) and those without such access. This division is the more important in that it is an inevitable one, even in the ideal polis whose citizens all possess political virtue. In such a regime the older citizens, possessors of phronesis, form the politeuma ; their virtue ensures that they take into account the good of the city as a whole. In non-ideal poleis, however, a politeuma composed of one social or economic class will attend only to its own interests; this is the case for the deviate, unjust regimes. A just non-ideal polis is possible only if all important socio-economic classes have some access to political power. This does not mean, however, that in such regimes there is no distinction between the citizen body and the politeuma. For the access to political power of the various classes should be weighted, Aristotle argues, in accordance with both quantitative and qualitative factors. Such a system both promotes stability and ensures that the concerns of all classes are represented in the governing element of the city.
Regardless of one’s respect for Aristotle’s ethical and political work, it is common to criticize severely his views on natural slaves. I believe, however, that if we examine carefully Aristotle’s views on slavery we will find that they are not based on a corrupt moral outlook, so much as a false view of nature, a false view of the sorts of creatures there are in the world. I argue that Aristotle’s claims about natural slaves are claims made at the level of “physics” in the Aristotelian sense; that is, they are claims about the natural world and the sorts of creatures in it. Furthermore, I suggest that if we are sufficiently sensitive to this fact, what he says about natural slavery need not be so morally objectionable. Rather, I believe we will find that Aristotle was simply wrong about the nature of many beings in the natural world. I argue that if he were in fact correct that there were many beings of the sort he believes natural slaves to be, then his recommended treatment of them is not as morally repugnant as it first seems. Thus, Aristotle’s remarks about natural slavery reflect a false natural philosophy, rather than a corrupt moral outlook.
Aristotle frequently begins his treatises by reviewing the findings of his predecessors. The Politics is no different, and includes a surprisingly thorough examination of Plato’s Republic. But unlike most contemporary commentators of Plato who tend to overlook the actual operation of the Plato’s polis in order to focus on broades philosophical issues, Aristotle considers how the mechanism of Plato’s state might realistically function, posing some rather substantial criticisms along the way. In this paper I examine the accuracy of Aristotle’s criticism of Plato and discuss what his critique of Plato tells us about his won political philosophy.
The principal threat to any practical application of Aristotle’s political philosophy to the modern world is the substitution of technique for phronesis. While for Aristotle, the basis of politics is political phronesis, the ground of political praxis in the modern state is the application of technique. This substitution results in the practical elimination of the most salient aspects of political phronesis, especially the basis of law in justice. Further, this technical ground of modern political praxis not only works to undermine any practical application of Aristotle, but functions to deny the very nature of the human by transforming the political animal into the technical animal.
In the Politics, Aristotle argues that the virtue of the excellent man and that of the excellent citizen may differ in that the excellent ruler is both good and possesses phronesis, whereas the excellent citizen is good but may lack phronesis. He also states that “phronesis is the only virtue peculiar to the ruler”, whereas “those who are ruled do not have phronesis, just true opinion”. These and related remarks create certain problems for Aristotle, in particular the following:
(a) If all rulers have phronesis then (according to the account of phronesis in the Nicomachean Ethics) all rulers should be virtuous persons; but not all rulers are virtuous persons.
(b) All virtuous citizens who are also virtuous persons will have phronesis just as their rulers do. In this case it is difficult to differentiate the virtue of the ruler from that of the citizens, yet Aristotle seems anxious to do this.
(c) If either all rulers have phronesis or the phronesis of virtuous citizens differs from that of virtuous rulers, then the account of phronesis in the Politics is inconsistent with that in the Nicomachean Ethics.
The paper argues that Aristotle attempts to defuse the seeming inconsistency mentioned in (c) above by appealing in the Politics, to distinct phronesis for ruler and ruled. Using hints from the text, it offers a reconstruction of a complex notion of phronesis that would answer problems (a) - (c) above.
When lawyers and philosophers of law set out to research the origins of the contemporary institutions of law and of the basic concepts of legal science, they are inevitably led back to Greek philosophy.
While Roman Law is the historical source for the most important institutions of contemporary legislations, it is generally acknowledged that it has been based in good measure on Greek philosophy., Already by the time of Cicero, the philosophical teachings of the Greeks were contributing to the creation of the new science of law. In my opinion, the greatest contribution of Greek philosophy to legal science — and through it to human civilization at large — consists in the systematic Aristotelian distinction of human actions into voluntary and involuntary, and of things into corporeal and incorporeal. On the former have been based the principle of civil responsibility and the structure of penal law. On the latter, some of the most important institutions of civil law, such as obligation, ownership, servitude and inheritance.
Fundamental concepts in the general theory of law today, such as the hierarchy of the rules of law, [subjective] right, illegal act and the interpretative rule of equity ar found in the teaching of Aristotle.
In the contemporary discussion in the philosophy of law, the Aristotelian definitions of justice and his considerations on the relations between positive and natural law are always timely.
Aristotle’s Politics constitutes the propaideutics to contemporary public law. To him is credited the authorship of the principle of sovereignty as the supreme authority of the state. Today, the structures of public and international law are both based on this principle. To him is also attributed the principle of the continuation of the state, or — as it is also known today — the principle of the legal personality of the state, on which, more specifically, administrative law is based. In the thought of Aristotle is also found the central concept of the distinction between public and private law, as well as the concept of the principle of the separation of powers, which is included in all modern constitutions in the world. He elaborated the concept of the relation between state and law and that of the form of government, and formulated the principles of the majority and of the representation of the citizens, all of which today are considered to be fundamental principles of constitutional law.
Founder of the sociology of law, Aristotle elaborated on the concepts of the origins of the state, the purpose of the state, the state of law, civil rights, the nature of state authority, the ethics of the rulers and the educational role of the law.
Justly, therefore, Aristotle is considered and will continue to be considered in the time to come as one of the main founders, of not the main founder, of legal science and the philosophy of law.
The two most famous Aristotle’s definitions of man occur indicatively at the very beginning of his Politics : according to the first one man is “zoon logon echon”, while the second determines man as “politikon zoon”. Although both definitions recur to animality (zoon) as a generic notion of man, none of them is in its character “zoological” — as Martin Heidegger maintains. Their purport is clearly “anthropological”, for they lay stress upon specifically human factors (logos and polis) and take animality only as a conceptual starting point. “Having logos” and “living in polis” are by no means purely descriptive notions, as are, for instance, the biological determinations “bipedness without feathers” or “having lung”, which Aristotle ascribes to man in his physiological works (Historia animalium ). The definitions from the Politics establish in fact two essential preconditions for a true fulfillment of human nature, which could be effected only if human life is founded on reason and organized on a much higher level than mere satisfaction of biological needs, i.e. only if “naturality” of man as an animal species is being surpassed.
Regardless of the fact that Aristotle does not draw an explicit terminological distinction between the “first” and the “second” human nature (which appears for the first time in hellenistic philosophy) there is no doubt that this difference is directly implied by his binding of human selfrealization not to sheer inheritance of man’s substantial form (eidos, ousia) but to the development within non - (completely) - natural domain of rationality and sociability. The broad meaning of praxis, which denotes only ethos of one biological species (De partibus animalium ), does not suffice any more to explain human life-conduct and this is reason why we in the Nikomachean ethics encounter a much narrower notion of ethico-political activity, which elaborates the specifically human rational choosing of what is right (or wrong) with respect to other members of human community.
Taking now all these differences into account we can legitimately raise the question of mutual relationship of various Aristotle’s definitions of man, including the two aforementioned from the Politics. Are we permitted to describe this relation simply as one of continuity and complementarity or is it here more appropriate to speak about some kind of tension and even certain “dialectical” opposition? If it is exaggerated to ascribe to Aristotle an idea of nature which opens itself without rest to selfcreativity of man, it is too little if we in his Politics find only a normative transposition of human predetermined substantial form into a domain of practical activity. Man is in Aristotle’s thought determined wholly and in advance by his “being what he has ever been” only in biological and metaphysical sense, but if his choosing and striving for wellbeing in community have to be taken seriously, then his human nature could and should not be in every respect and thoroughly predetermined.