I read this book for a graduate seminar on Aristotle. Politics is one of Aristotle's most prescient works that had a profound impact on our Founding fathers.
Nicomachean Ethics (EN) is part of political knowledge. Politics regulates when virtue does not. Laws are created for people who are not virtuous. Polis= "city or state." Humans live in society, so virtue ethics is not just for individual living, community is a shared project for the good. Aristotle starts with his method, a phenomenological attitude. He starts with pairs, male and female, builds up to ruler and subject, master and slave as a natural relationship, the 1st social community thus is the household. Household is an economic relationship and has monarchy of patriarch. Villages are a collection of households with a king. Then you have a Polis, a fulfilled complete community formed from several villages. Self-sufficiency is the mark of a Polis. An organized social relationship is Polis and a reason is being able to take care of needs of life and promote living well. Only in a Polis can you have art, philosophy, etc. All these are actualized in a Polis. Politics is natural to human life. We are meant to be social. According to Aristotle, "If you don't want to live in a state you are either a God or a beast."
Logos= "rationality or language" is what helps us to be political animals. Rational language expands capacity in human life. Since Aristotle thinks the Polis has a telos or an end then the Polis as potential comes even before the household. This is similar to the acorn having the telos to become a mighty oak tree. Politics completes the human condition for Aristotle. Need a Polis to develop other human capacities.
Aristotle's hierarchy. Slaves are a living tool for Aristotle. Aristotle argues that some people are meant to be slaves right from birth. "Born to be ruled." Slavish person does not have enough rationality to rule themselves. Aristotle says not every form of actual enslavement is justified according to him. He justifies the human use of animals as a natural act.
Aristotle now wants to find what kind of government is best. In a Polis citizens have things in common. Aristotle criticizes Plato's Republic, he finds it to be overly controlling. Socrates says the soul has 3 aspects and so does the Polis. The Soul has:
1. Reason 2. Passion 3. Appetite The Polis has: 1. Philosopher King. 2. Guardians, (military). 3. Commoners.
Both are a hierarchal ordering. Socrates and Plato talk about the state holding all property in common. This includes the state raising children after birth instead of the parents, thus there will be no family clans trying to better themselves over their neighbors. Aristotle criticizes this idea. Aristotle says a Polis is a plurality of people thus people are not all the same and a Polis must accommodate differences in people, which actually makes a Polis better. Aristotle criticizes Socrates and Plato's idea of a Polis needing to have "unity" of people. This is a contrast to the Polis of Sparta. Aristotle says the best way to integrate citizens to the Polis is to allow them taking turns in ruling it. Aristotle believes that holding property or rearing of children in common as in the Republic is wrong no one really loves children like their own and communal property never gets really taken care of. Love is diminished the less nuclear family we are. Aristotle says you need a mix of private and public property. Thus, the best kind of Polis is a combination of a governing element. Aristotle affirms a constitutional democracy or Polity. A citizen participates in government by definition for Aristotle.
Comparison of virtue and the good citizen. Excellence of virtuous man not the same as a good citizen. There will be few virtuous men, but good citizens just have to follow the law. Aristotle says good political virtue and good moral virtue don't have to go together. "Living finely then most of all is the goal of the city."
Aristotle classifies 3 types of government which occur naturally in nature and 3 types of deteriorations of those governments, they are:
1. "Monarchy," rule by one man a king, this is a top down rule. The deterioration is a "Tyranny," who is a ruler who rules for his own benefit. 2. "Aristocracy," rule by the best few men in the Polis, also this is a top down rule. The deterioration is an "oligarchy,' which he defines as rule of the rich who want to perpetuate themselves. 3. "Polity," All citizens participate in government with a constitution set above them to guide them instead of a king or aristocracy. The deterioration is a "democracy or what today we call mob rule or tyranny of the majority. He calls it rule of the poor.
Aristotle does a good job of looking at states and how they can be corrupted. Aristotle's concept of political justice and what is the best concept. What does justice mean? Not necessarily equality for all. Not all people are equal. He implies sometimes it is unjust to treat people equally. Justice is not necessarily equality for all; sometimes it would be unjust to treat all people equally. Politics is rated high by Aristotle as a human good. Education is a central feature of political life for Aristotle. "But we must find the relevant respect of equality or inequality; for this question raises a puzzle that concerns political philosophy." First, because someone is unequal on hierarchy that means better than others like more virtuous. This is like "distributive justice" who gets what goods. Do you give the best flute to the best flute player which is based on merit or to the richest or best looking person? Aristotle says inequality should tip towards those who earn it on merit. His concept of equality and inequality is based on merit. Another philosopher coined a famous formula for this based on Relevant Respect:
P= Person, Q= Quality, C= Context. It would be just to treat P1 + P2 equally or unequally if P1 + P2 are equal or unequal in Q (quality) relevant to C (content). This is a formula on how to treat people relevant to goods. This is context dependent. Allot of empirical work to be done before we use the formula.
People who fight wars control politics in the Polis. The more people who have weapons in a civilian army is a guarantee that a small group of people will not take control of the government and democracy grows, like our 2nd amendment, this is a historical perspective of the idea that works. Democracy spreads power to citizens a bottom up structure. Expertise in relation to politics. Many professions we tend to defer to the experts for judgment, physicians, lawyers, etc. Plato's Republic does this with his advocacy of Philosopher king running government. Aristotle says the judgment of the many combined as acting as one is better then a monarch or a few wise men to run the government. In principle, pooling of multiple people to run Polis is good. Politics by nature is a communal effort so you should use all the people's expertise. Aristotle is against letting experts running the Polis they are not always the best of judges. The best judge of the function of a house is the owner, not the builder. In addition, Aristotle says there may not really be any such thing as a political expert, like a philosopher king. Aristotle advocates for a constitutional democracy a written set of laws to protect Polis from a tyranny of the majority. "Law is reason unaffected by desire." A government of laws not men. A living being as the last word is not good.
Role of education in politics. Politics is coming together to foster human development and happiness for community, citizens, and improving human life like education. Aristotle says it should be public education.
I recommend Aristotle's works to anyone interested in obtaining a classical education, and those interested in philosophy. Aristotle is one of the most important philosophers and the standard that all others must be judged by.
What did you think of this review?
Fun to Read
About the reviewer
Michael Neulander (MNeulander)
Recently graduated with a Masters in Humanities degree from Old Dominion University reading in philosophy and history. I graduated from the Univ. of Miami in 1980 with a B.A. in Political Science; specializing … more
Consider the Source
Use Trust Points to see how much you can rely on this review.
The book may have numerous typos or missing text. It is not illustrated or indexed. However, purchasers can download a free scanned copy of the original rare book from the publisher's website. You can also preview the book there. Purchasers are also entitled to a trial membership in the publisher's book club where they can select from more than a million books for free. Original Publisher: Clarendon Press Publication date: 1908 Subjects: Political science; Philosophy / History--This text refers to an alternatePaperbackedition.