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Politics - Aristotle - Summary

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University of Toronto St. George
Political Science
Clifford Orwin

The PoliticsBooks I and II THE HOUSEHOLDRead I1Some people think cf Plato Statesman 258e 259d The distinction between king and statesman or politician A kingly or royal regime is rule over free subjects by one who is their superior in virtue who rules continually without being subject to law a political or constitutional regime or polity is one in which the citizens are equals and take turns to rule under law This is explained in Politics I7 The compound should always be resolved into the simple elements a principle borrowed from Plato The elements of the state are villages households individuals Book I of the Politicsis mostly about the household Aristotle begins chapter 2 by saying that if we want to obtain the clearest view of things we must consider them in their first growth and origin compare Plato Republic 369ab Readings p 59 In the next few paragraphs which are omitted in the Readings Aristotle discusses the elements from which the city originates First comes the family then several families unite to form a village when several villages unite into a community large enough to be selfsufficient they form a state city polisoriginating in the bare needs of life and continuing in existence for the sake of a good life 1252 b28A political animalAt this point another and distinctively Aristotelian principle comes into play that the nature of something is best seen not by analysis into elements or by looking to its origins but by studying the mature and fullydeveloped specimen To understand a things nature you do not look to its origin but to its full development In nature the fullydeveloped instance is the goal or end toward which development takes place so if you look to the end you can understand the earlier stages of developmentIf 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 For what each thing is when fully developed we call its nature Hence it is evident that the state is a creation of nature and that man is by nature a political animal 1252 b301253 a3A political animal means an animal whose nature is to live in a polis or city not isolated or in small groups Civilization from Latin civitas a city is the natural state for the human animal It is the natural state not in the sense that it is the original state but in the sense that the natural goal of human development is life in cities This is a rejection of the idea common at the time and since that civilization is artificial conventional unnatural Aristotle would have agreed with the 18th century writer who said I cant remember who it was that it is natural to man to be artificial On the contrast between convention law nomos and nature physis see Thucydides V105 Readings p 40 and compare I76 Readings p 112In Aristotles philosophy nature in Greek physis from which we get physicsnature is the principle of growth or development a things nature is what makes it develop in a certain way and development is for the sake of its goal Aristotles physics is said to be teleological from the Greek word telos a goal or end according to Aristotle every nature exists for some purpose However he did not think that nature was designed by a mind Aristotle did believe for philosophical reasons in a supreme being or god but he believed that the world had existed eternally that it was not created by God that God was not the designer of things Natural purposes are so to speak blind and unconscious except in human beingsRead the extracts from chapter 2 1253a 739 Readings p 101A comment1253 a19 The state is by nature clearly prior to the family and to the individual not prior in time but more fundamental Its nature is what the thing is when fullydeveloped this goal or end determines the various stages that lead to it and is prior in that sense PropertyReverting to the method of analysis into components Aristotle goes on in chapters 3 and 4 omitted from the Readings to discuss the family or household starting with its property including slaves Property includes possessions and instruments which Aristotle distinguishes Possessions are means to human activity and instruments are means to the production of artifacts the products being either possessions or instruments ie means either to further production or to human action Artisans or employees in farming or industry are human beings who are means to production slaves are human beings who are possessions means to actiondomestic servants secretaries The slave wholly belongs to the master 1254 a13In chapter 3 when he talks about the slave as part of the household Aristotle raises a question Some say that the rule of a master over slaves is contrary to nature and that the distinction between slave and freeman exists by convention only and not by nature and being an interference with nature is therefore unjust 1253 b203 In chapter 3 he does not pursue the question of the justice of slavery but he takes it up again in chapter 5 our next extractIs slavery justRead I5For that some should rule and others be ruled this is not by itself a proof that slavery is natural since there are as Aristotle often says several kinds of rule rule over slaves being only one kind he says this for example in the very first chapter of the Politics Readings p 101 So the fact that some are rulers others ruled is irrelevant to showing that some of the others should be slaves In fact everything at least down to 1254 b16 is irrelevant to the question
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