The Politics: Overview
However, the Politics is not subservient to the Ethics. Aristotle's claim is not that cities
must exist to serve the ends of individuals. Rather, he claims that individuals are to a
large extent defined by the cities they live in and that man can be fully human (i.e. fully
rational) only by participating in the city. The city is a complete whole and each
individual is a mere part. The city is thus more important than the individual.
The tension between practical and speculative reasoning is central to the Politics.
Practical reasoning is necessary for political and social matters, while speculative
reasoning is necessary for theoretical and philosophical problems. Ultimately,Aristotle
concludes in both the Ethics and the Politics that speculative reasoning is superior, as it is
through a proper exercise of this faculty that man achieves true happiness.
WhereasAristotle views the exercise of speculative reasoning as an end in itself, he
considers the exercise of practical reasoning an integral means to this end. Because an
individual cannot learn to exercise his reason properly outside the confines of the city,
and because the city is able to function only as a result of man's practical reasoning,
practical reasoning is thus a prerequisite for the exercise of speculative reasoning.
Interestingly,Aristotle never concerns himself with questions of how much authority the
state should have over the individual.A central question of modern political philosophy is
the extent to which the state should be able to impose itself on the freedom of the
individual. This question would not have made sense toAristotle because he saw the goal
of the city and the goal of the individual as identical. While his assertion—that the
individual is only a subservient part of the state—might seem mildly totalitarian, his view
was that the individual could have no truly rational needs or interests outside the confines
of the state.As a result, it would be absurd to desire any kind of individual freedom in
opposition to the state.
"Justice" might seem an odd term for what is essentially the right to hold more
distinguished public offices. It is important to remember, however, that in a Greek city-
state, serving in public office was essential to citizenship and was a high distinction.
Further, those who occupied places of high distinction were