Document Sample
Aristotle Powered By Docstoc
James Schall, S.J.
Life, Legacy, and Times
   Aristotle’s father was court physician to Philip of
    Macedon, father of Alexander the Great.
   Aristotle studied under Plato and his thought
    shared Plato’s concern over form though in
    opposition to Plato, form was located in time
    and space.
   Political order is related to understanding the
    purpose and end of being a human being.
Life, Legacy, and Times -
   Aristotle did not take over Plato’s Academy,
    but he started his own school, the
   His teaching method, peripatetics, involved
    walking about and talking.
   Aristotle became Alexander the Great’s
    tutor though his philosophy focused on the
    polis and Alexander embraced the vision of
    a cosmopolis.
Life, Legacy, and Times -
   With Alexander’s death, anti-Macedonian
    riots broke out in Athens, and Aristotle fled
    lest “Athens commit the same crime twice.”
   We have over 2,000 pages of writings
    attributed to Aristotle including his great
    book, Politics.
Background to Political Teachings
   Aristotle’s works are grounded in Greek
    traditions, and he acknowledged those with
    whom he disagreed in search of objective
    truth and validity.
   Aristotle advised us “to love Socrates, to
    love Plato, but to love the truth more.
   Aristotle’s political philosophy focused on
    the small-city state as the necessary arena
    for human excellences.
Aristotle’s Division of the Three
Theoretical               Practical                  Productive
Contemplation of things   Knowledge of things that   Knowledge of rational
that are permanent and    can be “otherwise” or      production or the
cannot be “otherwise.”    variable given human       science of making,
In the theoretical        freedom, choice, and       producing things.
sciences, understanding   circumstance.
is pursued for its own                               Example: technological
sake.                     Example: politics, ethics. know-how, carpentry,
                                                     pottery. The productive
Example: metaphysics                                 sciences result in the
and logic.                                           making of some
Problems of Politics and the State
   Do not expect to much certitude from political
    science since it is not like a theoretical science
    that cannot be otherwise.
   Ethics is the rule of ourselves over ourselves.
   Politics is concerned about the common good –
    the collective moral and intellectual flourishing
    of society.
   Aristotle’s ethical and political works are meant
    to be put into action.
Problems of Politics and the State -
   Aristotle did not believe human nature varied
    radically from place to place but believed his
    philosophy was universally valid.
   Aristotle believed human beings are political
    animals and require the city to be “self-
    sufficient” and live “well.”
   Nature (physis) is the standard for Aristotle’s
   This standard revealed the essences of things
    including human life.
Problems of Politics and the State -
   Human essence included the possession of
    a rational soul and cognition.
   The end (telos) of a human being was a
    person of excellence just as the end of an
    acorn was fully developed oak tree.
   Human essence implied limits such human
    beings are neither beasts nor gods.
   Nature is always so regardless of what
    human will, custom, or agreement are.
Problems of Politics and the State -
   Logos, or the capacity for reasoned speech and
    how this enables us to think, judge, and make
    moral decisions is essential to human nature.
   The law must be based upon the common good.
   Politics enables human beings to cultivate
   Politics ministers to the life of the mind since
    that life deals with the highest, unchanging, and
    eternal things.
What Is the Common Good?
Perhaps the common good of the political
  community can be illustrated by an analogy of a
  rowboat that develops a leak. The common
  good of all is served by making decisions,
  combining resources, setting priorities to fix the
  leak before the boat sinks. The common good
  also dictates that anyone who attempts to
  undermine the enterprise must be prevented
  from doing so through coercion if necessary.
  (This is a view that both Aristotle and St.
  Thomas Aquinas share.)
Aristotle’s Understanding of Nature
   Essential characteristic – The essence of something
    that makes it what it is. This essential characteristic is
    discovered by logos or reasoned speech.
   Terminal and peculiar excellence of a thing: The
    developed form of that thing, its terminal excellence,
    the objective perfection of that things character-that
    is, its highest manifestation. The terminal and
    peculiar excellence of a thing is not necessarily what
    that thing actually is in its present condition, but how it
    ought to be in its perfected state.
Aristotle’s Understanding of Nature
(Physis) - Continued
   Limitation on being: The limits or
    boundaries that distinguish one thing from
   Universal: Unchangeable, objective,
   Distinct from convention: Not merely the
    product of custom or human will or
Man Is a Political Animal, From
Politics, Book I, Chapter 2
Now , that man is more of a political animal than
 bees or an other gregarious animals is evident.
 Nature, as we often say, makes nothing in vain,
 and man is the only animal whom she has
 endowed with the gift of speech… The power of
 speech is intended to set forth the expedient
 and inexpedient, and therefore likewise the just
 and the unjust. And it is a characteristic of man
 that he alone has any sense of good and evil, of
 just and unjust, and the like and the association
 of living beings who have this sense makes a
 family and a state.
Nature of Politics and the Role of the
   Aristotle’s Ethics examines a human being’s
    capacity or incapacity for self-governance.
   Ethics requires us to rule ourselves by an
    objective standard of right and wrong.
   Human happiness and flourishing require a high
    level of physical security, stable family life,
    friendships, education, and the enterprise of
Question for Reflection
What is the American sense of the good life
 that is the basis of our regime and political
 organization of office? Does the American
 sense of the good life tend to promote or
 undermine the public interest?
Nature of Politics and the Role of the
State - Continued
   Aristotle had collected and classified 158 regimes or
   The city is a reflection of the inner purposes of its
   Politic I, Chapter 2 deals with economics or
    management of the household.
       Discussion of what is sufficient for the development of the
        human soul
       Parental rule (royal rule) is a good that protects children
        from their unreasonable state.
       Constitutional rule defines the relationship between
        husband and wife
The Polis as the Most Comprehensive
Community From Politics, Book I, Chapters 1-4

When several villages are united in a single
 complete community, large enough to be
 nearly or quite self-sufficing, the state
 comes into existence, originating in the
 bare needs of life, and continuing in
 existence for the sake of a good life. And
 therefore, if the earlier forms of society are
 natural, so is the state, for it is the end of
 them, and the nature of a thing is its end.
Nature of Politics and the Role of the
State - Continued
   Two Kinds of Slavery:
       Slaves by law – Anyone captured by war even if they
        had the capability to govern themselves could become
        a slave by law.
       Slaves by nature – A person lacking the capability of
        self-governance and requiring rule by others would be a
        slave by nature.
   Difficult, dirty, dangerous work necessary for
    society’s survival created slavery in the ancient
    world. Aristotle speculated this institution could
    be done away with if machines could be
    invented to do this work.
Aristotle On Slavery, From Politics,
Book I, Chapters 5-6
We see then that there is some foundation for this difference
 of opinion, and that all are not either slaves by nature or
 freeman by nature, and also that there is in some cases a
 marked distinction between the two classes, rendering it
 expedient and right for the one to be slaves and the others
 to be masters: the one practicing obedience, the other
 exercising authority and lordship which nature intended
 them to have. The abuse of this authority is injurious to
 both; for the interests of part and whole, of body and soul,
 are the same, and the slave is a part of the master, a living
 but separated part of his bodily frame. Hence, where the
 relation of master and slave between them is natural they
 are friends and have common interest, but where it rests
 merely on law and force the reverse is true.
Question for Reflection
Does Aristotle’s distinction between natural
 and conventional slaves cast doubt on the
 moral legitimacy of slavery as it was
 actually practiced in Athens? Has modern
 technology made the natural slave
Nature of Politics and the Role of the
State - Continued
   Aristotle criticized Plato’s community of wives
    and children as a tragedy of the commons.
   A citizen is ready to rule and be ruled.
   Law is reason without passion and is necessary
    to coerce the unruly.
   Justice is the virtue of human relationships and
    requires us to treat equals equally and unequals
Aristotle’s Critique of Plato, From
Politics, Book II, Chapter 1-3
That all persons call the same thing mine in the sense in
  which each does so may be a fine thing, but it is
  impracticable; or if the words are taken in the other
  sense, such a unity in no way conduces to harmony.
  And there is another objection to the proposal. For
  that which is common to the greatest number has the
  least care bestowed upon it. Every one thinks chiefly
  of his own, hardly at all of the common interest; and
  only when he is himself concerned as an individual.
  For besides other considerations, everybody is more
  inclined to neglect the duty which he expects another
  to fulfill; as in families many attendants are often less
  useful than a few.
Nature of Politics and the Role of the
State - Continued
   Book V of Aristotle’s Ethics divides justice into
       Legal Justice – any act that could affect others could be
        a proper object of law.
       Special Justice:
          Commutative justice – rendering what was due.

          Distributive justice – rendering what is due in

           proportion to what is born for or contributed to the
       Friendship is more important than justice for a polity
Aristotle’s View of Justice
When a decision has to be made about awarding a
 Stradivarius violin-the rarest and very best kind of
 Italian Renaissance violins-what would be a just basis
 for determining who should receive it? Should the
 decision be based on ability to play? Family
 connections? Or talent alone? For Aristotle, what
 would it mean to treat equals equally and unequals
 unequally concerning talent for playing the violin?
 Using the principle, what do you think Aristotle’s
 position would be concerning affirmative action in
 higher education, which justifies special preferences
 for historically discriminated-against minorities?
The Six Forms of Regimes
Number of Rulers   Rule Serving the       Rule Serving Private
                   Common Good            Interest or Those Who
One                Kingship or monarchy   Tyranny
Few                Aristocracy            Oligarchy
Many               Polity                 Democracy
The Best Possible Regime - Continued

   The best regime could be an actual regime.
   The polity would be the practically best regime
    since it was a mixed regime that included
    aristocratic and democratic elements.
   Envy and greed are balanced in the mixed
   The mature man, spoudaios, plays a role in
    balancing these forces through the practice of
    the practical virtue of prudence.
The Best Possible Regime - Continued

   A large middle class is also an important
    feature of the best regime.
       The middle class would be a golden mean
        between the masses (envy) and the oligarchs
   The mixed regime was favored by Cicero,
    Polybius, Aquinas, Montesquieu, and the
    American founders.
Middle Class/Mixed Regime, From
Politics, Book IV, Chapters 8-11
…Wherefore the city which is composed of middle class-
 citizens is necessarily best constituted in respect of
 the elements of which we say the fabric of the state
 naturally consists. And this is the class of citizens
 which is most secure in a state, for they do not, like
 the poor, covet their neighbors’ goods; nor do others
 covet theirs, as the poor covet the goods of the rich;
 and they neither plot against others, nor are
 themselves plotted against others, nor are themselves
 plotted against, they pass through life safely. Wisely
 then did Phocylides pray – “Many things are best in
 the mean; I desire to be of a middle condition in my
The Best Possible Regime - Continued

   Leisure for the higher things is a
    component of the best state.
   Aristotle states, “a state exists for the sake
    of a good life, and not for the sake of life
    only: if life only were the object, slaves and
    brute animals might form a state, but they
    cannot, for they have no share in
    happiness or in a life of free choice.”
The Best Possible Regime - Continued
   Politics is not the highest thing to be pursued,
    but it lays the foundation for the pursuit of the
    highest including the theoretical virtues of
    wisdom, first principles, and science.
       Political happiness consist of the activities of all the
        moral virtues in a full life.
       Theoretical happiness is grounded in the contemplative
       The philosopher must find a protected place in the polity
        to pursue this happiness though some regimes do not
        permit the division between the political and the
The Best Possible Regime - Continued

   Leisure (skole, from which are word school
    derives) consists of free activities of the
    human faculties in search of and in finding
       Leisure is not amusement or sport.
       Leisure is not fooling around.
       Pleasure must have a proper object
The Best Possible Regime - Continued
   Friendship could be for:
       Utility
       Pleasure
       The highest good
   The best city would facilitate the friendships in
    pursuit of the highest good and the
    contemplative life.
   Politics and prudential statesmanship is not a
    substitute for philosophical life but requires it
    and leads to it.
The Best Possible Regime - Continued
   Democracy is a weak and disordered regime.
   Some modern regimes that call themselves democracies
    are either polities or tyrannies.
   Aristotle helps us to see past rhetoric and understand the
    essence of a regime.
   Tyrannies would want to destroy private friendships from
    emerging to preserve themselves.
   Public works and wars are essential to the preservation of
   Most regimes are oligarchies or democracies according to
   Change from better to worse and from worse to better is
    an essential possibility of regimes.
On Revolution, From Politics. Book
V, Chapter 1-2
Oligarchy is based on the notion that those who are
  unequal in one respect are in all respects unequal;
  being unequal, that is , in property, they suppose
  themselves to be unequal absolutely. The democrats
  think that as they are equal they ought to be equal in
  all things; while the oligarchs, under the idea that they
  are unequal, claim too much, which is one form of
  inequality. All of these forms of government have a
  kind of justice, but tried by an absolute standard, they
  are faulty; and therefore, both parties, whenever their
  share in the government does not accord with their
  preconceived ideas, stir up revolution.
Contributions and Influences
   Aristotle has been in the Medieval Latin and
    Muslim worlds, as well as in modern European
    thought though much of modern science has
    been built upon refuting Aristotle.
   Henry Veatch contends that the reasons for
    rejecting the legitimacy of Aristotle’s approach
    are now themselves under assault opening the
    doors for reconsidering Aristotle.
   Aristotle’s understanding of the relationship of
    principles to prudence is a lasting contribution to
Contributions and Influences
   The cyclic nature of history that the Greeks
    understood indicates we are likely to see the things
    described by Aristotle repeated.
   Aristotle is a realist who has not given up on the good
    and the best.
   Aristotle acknowledges there is more to life than
   Aristotle was committed to the small polis because
    larger political bodies made the practice of virtue
   Aristotle allowed space for both the mature human
    being and the philosopher in his best regime.

Shared By: