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Aristotle's definition of the polis

Political Science
Course Code
Rebecca Kingston

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Political Theory: Week 8 - November 3rd, 2010
- Four features:
o 1. Contain a diversity of people and associations brought together in the beginning to
meet basic needs
o 2. However, despite initial foundational aspirations to meet basic needs (e.g. security
needs), politics aims at the ultimate good
People not only seeking to live but to live well
Searching for happiness
In practice, most states misperceive this final goal, may try to aim at it, but for a
Hierarchy of models of government in Aristotle
o 3. Not only are states different insofar as they meet the highest goal in various ways but
the states themselves give themselves goals and identities that differ
E.g. Some states will define their goals in terms of military virtue (e.g. Sparta),
others envision other types of goals such as artistic excellence, economic
prosperity, health
x While people may be misguided and confused about all that the good
encompasses, people are not completely void of aspirations for justice
o 4. The political relation is specific because of its qualities of equality and reciprocity
(notion of ruling and being ruled in turn, taking turns at having power)
Aristotle emphasizes benefits of learning from both sides of the equation
Art of being a citizen is an important one
That being said, political relationships are only one component of a good life
x Understanding of virtue encompasses more than just the political life
x Strong ideal in Aristotle clinging towards theoretical wisdom, notion of
philosopher reflects on his own
x One component of person who exemplifies highest form of happiness
- Most politi}v}lo]vZ}(]µuvUµµvo]lWo}U]}o}v[
despair at this possibility, Aristotle searches for the means and ways we can achieve the more
limited good politics can give us
o Aristotle much more of an optimist than Plato
Constitutions and Citizenship:
- What is a political community?
o Not a military or commercial alliance, behind the regime is an attempt to live together in

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o Political relationship is one in which we can assume a common affection, a type of good
will, positive affect among people of a similar political community, involved in common
project to make all your lives better
- What is the identity of a regime?
o v[(]vP]uÇZµo}oµÇZ}v]µ]}v
o Constitution being not a written document so much as government, the ways in which
power is distributed, this in turn is also related for Aristotle to the types of principles or
types of values that underlie or justify the division and the distribution of power
o Book IV, Section I
o What is to be the governing body of the community, what is the end of the community,
different communities hold certain types of values and principles as more important
than others
These understandings of the goods help to discern who can or who cannot hold
Book VII, Section VIII, different men seek after happiness in different ways and
by different means, and so make for themselves different lives and different
forms of government
- Practical examples:
o Monarchies of old regime Europe, power conferred by status (or honour), if born of the
royal family, social standing determined influence on political community
Economy of power based on economy and inequality
o Piety, regime of curtain Afghan republic, acknowledges its good in part through
recognition of popular face in Islamic religion
President of the state has to be a Muslim
Shi[a law integrated into public matters and civil law
Anyone who converts to another religion can be punished with death
Piety to the Muslim religion defining feature of the good, determine who can
hold power and who is included and excluded from political community
o U.S., understanding of happiness of fulfillment of justice associated with economic
prosperity and freedom, those who are economically successful are often respected and
have greater access to power
Aristotle says even in a state that has a praise of money, can distinguish it from
a true oligarchy by looking at whether the wealthy exclude the poor from office
x Not the case in the U.S., not quite full-fledged oligarchy
x U.S. plays similar role as CarthaP]v]}o[]u
o Bhutan, aspiration in development of policy is no longer GDP, instead government has
decided to regulate their own work as a government on a new indicator, GNH (gross
national happiness indicator)
- Cov]µ]}vo}uu]uv}v[µ]ZZvµovvZ}µuv}
public declaration of principles, but general understanding of principles
- What makes for a citizen?
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