Lecture 9:Aristotle’s Politics Book III
Outline of the Lecture
1. Review of Book II:Aristotle critique of the Republic
a) The natural human inclination towards privacy/particularity; the conditions of
virtue (doing and living well, reason is a particular action)
b) But there is an important measure of agreement between Plato andAristotle;
the pathological quality of acquisitive behaviour; mere life usurps the good
2. Book III:Aristotle’s discussion of the nature of citizenship and the types of
a) How to identify citizens and the regime? What is the relationship between
b) Why is the regime such an important question forAristotle?
c) Aristotle’s typology of regimes; who rules and in what interest
d) The contest for power between democrats and oligarchs
e) Aristotle’s principle of distributive justice: is justice possible? Why or why
Review of Book II
• All human action is oriented towards some good, going towards some end. This is
also true towards human associations.
• Aristotle thinks of the polis or city as the highest most comprehensive association
because it aims at the highest most comprehensive ends. It encompasses the
family, civil society (the market), it’s the association that encompasses the sub-
• The good life is a life of virtue; guided by practical reasons.
• The fullest expression of practical reason forAristotle is activity in the service of
ones community. Citizenship is equal with the good life.
• We help each other to have the good life ex. Friendship, its essential we care and
regard for others
• The good life happens in the choices we make as individuals. It’s also important
that it has a political dimension.
• The origin of the city is mutual advantage. We can’t provide for all of our needs
on our own. We need the help of others
• We care more about the accumulation of wealth than the well being of our
• Aristotle says the city is a heterogeneous, complex place that is characterized by
its diversity. We ought not to try it make it more unified.
• He understands that human being is naturally inclined to the accumulation of
wealth, but they ought not to be addicted to it. He says Socrates is just wrong to
think shared property will be more cared for than private property.
• Virtue is supposed to be an act of sacrifice, but abolishing private property takes
away the feeling that citizens are giving back to society through tax Book III: Types of Regimes
People do not argue about whether or not to live in a society. Instead, what they argue
about is what sort of society it should be – they argue about the regime.As the form or
shape or structure or ordering of the city the regimes is the central issue of political
Different regimes are animated by different goals and different values; they have
fundamentally different accounts of what makes human life valuable. In other words,
what the regime represents a way of life.
• We’ve accepted democracy, so the only legitimate regime and political questions
we are arguing about are democratic ones. The ones in rule of the people. In
Aristotle’s view, democracy is just one regime competing against others.
Book III, Chapter 1: The Nature of Citizenship
In order to understand the nature of the regime (i.e, the nature of the city), you have to
examine that nature of citizenship; find the citizens, and you will have found the city,
found the regime.
But what problem doesAristotle raise with this approach? The contingency of
citizenship: a citizen in one regime will not be a citizen in another.
Aristotle’s Definition of Citizenship
“The citizen in the strict sense is best defined by the one criterion that he shares in the
administration of justice and in the holding of office” (1275a19, p.85 in the Oxford; see
also 1275b 12//87).
But what new problem is raised by the definition?
• Using families in a generational form of citizens—being born into citizenship.
However, the possibility of going back and finding that one person was not
naturally born into being a citizen – they were made a citizen, not legitimately
being a citizen.
• Aruler is a ruler whether justly or not.
Chapter 3: How do we decide whether it was the city that did something or only the
The city is the regime: with a new regime a new city comes into being.
Can we think of examples of this?
• When a new regimes replaces an old. Creditors will say that they new government
will owe the old one money. They have to pay their debts. But the new regime
will say no, those aren’t our debts and will unwillingly pay them.
• Only when the regime exists for common advantage rather than domination, do
there exist for the good of the city. Anewly installed democracy that works
towards the common advantage need not pay the debts of the tyrant – the disposal
• Aristotle says democracy too may exist through domination. He believes we are
dealing with two different cities. The difference between regimes are crucial
important. In fact when the regimes change, so does the city. • He is telling us that the identity of the city depends on its constitution – its
regime. It in fact is more fundamental than the city.
• Aristotle believes what makes a city a city is the regime—not its inhabitants or
• Cuba under and after Batista, Spain under and after Franco, Egypt under and after
Mubarak – same land, same people but not the same country
• What defines a city is its way of life – that depends on the regime.
Chapter 4: “What is the relation of the excellence of the good citizen to the
excellence of the good man?”
Is the virtue of the good person and of the dedicated, loyal citizen the same or different?
And in what regime are they the same?
The virtues of the citizen are variable and contingent – they depend on the nature of the
regime – but the virtues of the good person are single and complete. (cf. the Ethics and