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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 1800's. 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. Sources The Greco-Roman Legacy: Aristotle Politics by Aristotle The Republic by Plato Ethics by Aristotle The Greco-Roman legacy: Plato

 



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