POLS-214 Study Guide - Four Causes, Habituation, Aristocracy
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Aristotle “Politics” Concept Notes
Four Causes: Aristotle believed that everything, whether it is a physical object or an intangible skill or
deed, had four ‘causes’ that were necessary in order for a thing to be. While Aristotle said ‘causes’ it is
perhaps better to say ‘explanations’. In order to understand a thing, you must understand all four of its
causes. The causes are an explanation of the necessary conditions in order for a thing to be. Firstly there
is the final cause, the purpose or telos of a thing which guides the other causes. Second, there is the
formal cause, which gives the thing boundaries and limits where it ends and other things begin. Thirdly,
there is the efficient cause, which is the thing that brings change and causes something to occur. Lastly,
there is the material cause, which is essentially the matter which the thing is made up of.
Telos: The telos, or final cause is the last and most significant of Aristotle’s four causes. A ‘telos’ of an
object is as Aristotle put it, something’s end, or something’s purpose, goal, or aim. However, that
definition fits well when looking at mankind and the objects we create, and not especially well in the
natural world. The final cause of something that is made is whatever purpose the artisan had in mind
when he made it. Now the final cause of natural objects, such as a tree, is whatever end a tree has, most
likely to be a tree, not what purpose man has given it. This is because the final cause of objects is always
internal to them, and exists without conscious reflection, or thought. Aristotle used the teleological
model as a model for cause and affect, which differed from the standard linear model of cause and
effect. To the linear model of cause and effect, things in the past cause things in the present; However,
to the teleological model of cause and effect, the whole is the cause of the part, regardless of
chronological order. For example, the teleogical cause and effect of a frog, is that the frog is the cause of
the tadpole, because the tadpole on its own will naturally become a frog.
Man is by nature a political animal: Aristotle stated that the telos of mankind is to live in the city, and
participate in politics. Human beings are by nature political, and not merely social. Social implies living
together, while political implies living together for the authoritative good, or rather the good of society
and the polis. As Aristotle believes that the whole is prior to the part, so he believes that the city is prior
to the household and prior to each man individually. Nature gave men voices so that they can be social,
like other animals that have voices and are social, however men also have the power of speech, and
through speaking we can differentiate between good and bad, and justice and injustice. The best arena
for speaking and debates about justice, and by extension politics, is the city, and therefore through our
living and participating in politics in a city is mankind fulfilling its telos.
Household: The household is the step above man living alone in the wilderness. A household is
established because it is required in order for man to get the things we need in order to live.
Reproduction is needed for the household to come into being as well as continuing to exist, therefore by
extension a household requires at least a man and a woman. Household life consists mainly of what
Aristotle calls ‘Mere life’ or daily needs which are practiced in the household. Daily needs are the most
animal like in nature, and therefore are the least rational needs. Life in the household is organized
around the production and consumption of goods, and basic life needs. It is once mankind has mastered
their household and mastered necessity can they turn to the more advance forms of life, the polis.
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Polis (how it comes about): The Polis, or City, is to Aristotle the final cause and ultimate goal of
humankind. Households are centered on daily needs, or ‘mere life’, and therefore are based in
necessity. A collection of households is called the village. A village is organized around non-daily needs,
which are more rational than daily needs, because non-daily needs bring into question time. In order to
consider non-daily needs you need to look into the future and plan in order to realize them. However, a
household, and by extension a village, is not self-sufficient and therefore in order to be a self-contained
unit without need for expansion or change, a village must eventually grow into a city, or polis. The polis
is self-sufficient, and is in fact the ultimate goal of human life.
Polis (what is it and what it is for): According to Aristotle, the Polis or City exists for the sake of living
well. Living well is to live life at its fullest above the mere necessities that life in a household consists of.
Humans are political animals, and our purpose in life is to live in cities and participate in politics.
According to teleological theory, the city or polis is the whole to the part of individual households, and
therefore the city is prior to each of us, and it is the nature of humans to exist in cities. We live in cities
because the social aspect allows us to debate on justice, injustice, and gain support from others in order
to further the authoritative good, and improve life for all citizens within the polis. We debate because
we are rational beings, and we are naturally interested in discovering the best course of action. We
discover the best course of action by pursuing logical, rational arguments and giving reasons for what
we do, and the best place for this is in a social setting, specifically the polis.
Natural Slaves: Aristotle believed a slave to be an animate instrument of action used to acquire the
things used for the sake of living well. In simple terms, it is a tool to some other end. A slave is a living
tool that is subordinate to the master, and the ends of the master. Therefore to be a slave is to not have
an end of your own, but rather your end is to serve the master in the way that is most fit. Aristotle
believes that some men are by nature, slaves. He believes that men are born to either be ruled, or rulers
themselves, and by extension slave or master. Natural slaves are men who exist solely to use their body,
and do nothing else because they do not understand that there is more to life, and therefore they will
do nothing to change their circumstances. For natural slaves it is better to be under the rule of a master,
for then they are at least contributing to the end of someone who understands the political life and
nature of mankind.
Necessary household management: Mankind gather together in households because it is essential in
order to progress past the levels of beasts and master the everyday necessities. Necessary household
management consists of all those skills and activities that contribute to the mastering of everyday life.
For example, agriculture is part of necessary household management in that it allows man to have a
controllable and constant supply of food, which will remove the chance and luck involved in foraging for
every meal. Animal husbandry, hunting, war or piracy, all of these exist so that men living in households
can obtain the necessities they require in order to live a bare and simple life, but still life with a certainty
above that of animals or beasts.
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