annonAristotle (b. 384 – d. 322 BC), was a Greek philosopher, logician,and scientist. Along with his teacher Plato, Aristotle is generallyregarded as one of the most influential ancient thinkers in a numberof philosophical fields, including political theory. Aristotle wasborn in Stagira in northern Greece, and his father was a courtphysician to the king of Macedon.
As a young man he studied inPlato’s Academy in Athens. After Plato’s death he left Athens toconduct philosophical and biological research in Asia Minor andLesbos, and he was then invited by King Philip II of Macedon to tutorhis young son, Alexander the Great. Soon after Alexander succeededhis father, consolidated the conquest of the Greek city-states, andlaunched the invasion of the Persian Empire. It was in thisenvironment that Aristotle’s’ views and ideas of politics developed. As Alexander’s teacher, Aristotle had a close tie to the politicalpowers of Athens. Because of this tie Aristotle wrote Politics as aguide to rulers as to how to govern a country.
In Politics Aristotlelays out his ideal form of Government. It contains thought provokingdiscussions on the role of human nature in politics, the relation ofthe individual to the state, the place of morality in politics, thetheory of political justice, the rule of law, the analysis andevaluation of constitutions, the relevance of ideals to practicalpolitics, the causes and cures of political change and revolution,and the importance of a morally educated citizenry. He stressed thatthe ideal citizen and ruler must possess certain virtues, such aswisdom, temperance and courage. And the work as a whole echoesAristotle’s dominant theme of moderation.
Politics is an excellenthistorical source because of the close tie Aristotle had to theeveryday business of government in Athens. It reflects the idealizedvalues of the people and the influence of Aristotle’s teacher Plato. The importance of wisdom and justice also directly parallel theclassical Greek ideology. Aristotle believed that nature formedpolitics and the need for city-states (government) formed out ofnature.
Aristotle lays the foundations for his political theory inPolitics by arguing that the city-state and political rule are”natural. ” The argument begins with a historical account of thedevelopment of the city-state out of simpler communities. First,individual human beings combined in pairs because they could notexist apart. The male and female joined in order to reproduce, andthe master and slave came together for self-preservation. The masteruses his intellect to rule, and the natural slave uses his body tolabor.
Second, the household arose naturally from these primitivecommunities in order to serve everyday needs. Third, when severalhouseholds combined for other needs a village emerged also accordingto nature. Finally, “the complete community, formed from severalvillages, is a city-state, which can attain the limit ofself-sufficiency. It comes to be for the sake of life, and exists forthe sake of the good life. ” (I. 2.
1252b27-30). Aristotle backs upfour claims about the city-state: First, the city-state exists bynature, because it comes to be out of the more primitive naturalassociations and it serves as their end, because only it attainsself-sufficiency (1252b30-1253a1). Second, human beings are by naturepolitical animals, because nature, which does nothing in vain, hasequipped them with speech, which enables them to communicate moralconcepts such as justice, which are formative of the household andcity-state (1253a1-18). Third, the city-state is naturally prior tothe individuals, because individuals cannot perform their naturalfunctions apart from the city-state, since they are notself-sufficient (1253a18-29). However, these three claims areimmediately followed by a fourth: the city-state is a creation ofhuman intelligence. “Therefore, everyone naturally has the impulsefor such a [political] community, but the person who firstestablished [it] is the cause of very great benefits.
” This greatbenefit may be the laws of the city-state. Aristotle points out thatthe legal system alone saves them from their own savagery. It’s interesting to see that Aristotle’s view of nature transcends inhis view of the human character and what the humans should be. InAristotle’s Ethics he points out the popular view of what happinesswas (and maybe still is). Honor, pleasure and wealth are the thingshe believed the Greek people wanted to be happy. He stated that honoris a superficial aim because at any moment it can be taken away fromus.
Pleasure is enjoyable but is more an animal quality than human,and wealth is merely a means towards a greater good. Aristotle taughtmoderation; the pursuit of the above three vices is okay, but don’tmake it an all encompassing goal. In contrast to the three things hewarned against spending your life on, there were about four thingsthat he felt should be heartily sought after. Aristotle felt thateveryone should possess these qualities,and they were crucial for agood ruler.
Wisdom, courage, temperance and justice were the fourvirtues that Aristotle held so high. He felt that only through thesefour 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 bondtied many philosophers. The great Socrates taught Plato, and ofcourse Plato was Aristotle’s teacher.
Although, the influence of theteacher is very strong, the students also have show that they canthink independently and their works have a distinctly different tasteto them. Plato said the just person is wise, temperate and courageousand the just state is ruled by wisdom. Plato’s just state displayedcourage over force and temperance over intemperance. Socrates, another of the famous classical Greeks, died for his viewsof wisdom and justice. Socrates used logic to tell himself and hiscolleagues that he must die for the sake of avoiding hypocrisy. Socrates’ whole life he preached that the state’s laws must be heldsupreme for justice to prevail.
The state sentenced him to death,and to avoid death would be to contradict the state’s laws. In theprocess he would be contradicting what he had lived for. Many peoplelikened Socrates to a gadfly, always buzzing in the state’s face tomake sure they were doing the just thing. Aristotle also knew theimportance of justice but he approached it slightly differently. Justice, Aristotle’s third moral virtue, consisted of two mainaspects.
The first was that the laws made citizens just; the statehad to strive to make the people act morally and good (1129a 13-24). Aristotle’s second aspect of justice was that people should beawarded justly, or in proportion to what they have done oraccomplished. The higher the merit the higher the honor or thehigher 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 thepater-dominated tradition.
The belief of the time was that thefather was basically the king of his house; Aristotle didn’t varymuch from this. The father had supreme authority and had controlover his wife. He does concede that there is reciprocity betweenthe two but he feels that there is a permanent basic inequality. The wife should remain the ruled one and show her courage (a moralvirtue) through her obedience and her glory through silence (1260a24,30).
The father also rules over his children with supremeauthority. Only through his death is his authority removed. Aristotle also included the slave as part of the family, but hedifferentiates from the practices of the time as what he considers tobe an acceptable slave. The status quo was the removal of strongbodies from conquered nations for the purpose of manual labor. Hefelt that slavery through conquest was unacceptable. Slavery hebelieved to be acceptable were those that needed the slave/masterrelationship to survive.
Those that were too unintelligent to governthemselves needed this bond to get through life. In exchange fortheir daily care, the “natural” slaves are to do light householdduties such as cooking (1255b 26-27). It is interesting to notethat in his will Aristotle called for the emancipation of some of hisown acquired slaves. An example of the slave/master relationshipthat Aristotle discussed can be seen in today’s world.
Sometimes anelderly or sick person requires constant care. They need to haveeverything done for them and therefore can’t govern themselves. Another person is required to make the persons important decisionsand is responsible for their care. In this example the distinctioncan be seen between Aristotle’s idea of a slave and Greekstraditional view, which was similar to the United States’ in the1800’s. Aristotle was a brilliant person who taught moderation in governmentand in life. He stressed the importance of moral virtues as the keyto happiness and a successful government.
Aristotle thought that theneed for government and authority developed on its own from nature. He taught in the Lyceum, a school he founded in Athens, how a justperson should live and how a just state should rule. His messages ofvirtue and moderation transcend time and still are a great influenceon modern western thought.SourcesThe Greco-Roman Legacy: AristotlePolitics by AristotleThe Republic by PlatoEthics by AristotleThe Greco-Roman legacy: Plato