Lecture 10:Aristotle’s Politics Books IV-VI
Outline of the Lecture
1. Review: The radical conclusion of Book III
2. Books IV-VI: the practical books
a) The metaphor of the athletic trainer
b) Variations of democracy and oligarchy
c) Aristotle’s best practicable regime: polity, or constitutional government
d) Discussion of revolutions: causes and methods of prevention
The city as fundamentally diverse and heterogeneous place
The heterogeneous nature of the city, and of the claims to power present in it: virtue,
Aristocrats the cultivation of virtue and good character through moral education
Oligarchs the pursuit, and accumulation of wealth
Democrats the provision of military defense, peace and security
• All these correspond with each other – we can’t exclude any political power nor
• Why does Aristotle think that perfect justice cannot be achieved in the city? The
principles of non-exclusion and incommensurability
• Even his best form of regime is only an approximation
• Purest forms of only one sort of regime is injustice – it’s the combination of all
three that defines justice in the true form
• If this was similar to the republic, the politics would have ended here, because the
point is that they would show the perfect just city but then explain that it was
impossible to play out because it is too demanding
• That’s why Odeus is the hero of the myth of Er because he knows true happiness
can only happen in philosophical compensation
• Aristotle doesn’t think the life of philosophy is the best kind of life. The one that
suited Plato and Socrates didn’t suit him so well.Aristotle thinks ethical virtue is
a form of activity. We have to have the opportunity to display our virtue in action
and be bale to develop our moral character thru cultivation.
Book IV-VI: The practical books
“Most of the writers who treat of politics, even if they deal well with other matters, fail
when they come to matters of practical utility. We have to study not only the best
constitution, but also the one which is practicable, and likewise the one which is easiest
to work and most suitable to cities generally” (1288b35-38/ p.134 of the Oxford.)
• Apractical program for politics should model around physical training; because
they are not only concerned with perfect regimen for perfect physique but what’s
good for everyone (a top flight athlete and the rest of us)
• Apolitical teacher needs to know what is possible and desirable not just for the
best city but all cities.
• He also needs to know what regime the people can be easily persuaded to adopt. • The purpose of these books like their content is practical.Aristotle’s trying to
provide a comprehensive set up of institutional possibilities.
• The good life is a life of activity, engagement, cultivating friendships and being
apart of the city
Variations of Democracy and Oligarchy
The regimes that look to the common advantage are correct regimes: the regimes that
look only to the advantage of the rulers are deviant.
Number of Rulers CommonAdvantage Advantage of the Rulers
One Kingship Tyranny
Few Aristocracy Oligarchy
Many Polity Democracy
• There are two ways of classifying: 1) by the number of rulers 2) if they rule for
common advantage or themselves
• Oligarchs are animated by the pursuit of wealth
• Democrats are animated by the pursuit of freedom
• Aristocrats are animated by the freedom of virtue
• Aristotle shows in Book IV that each of these distinct regimes also has distinct
• Cities are no acknowledged to be even more diverse and complex with varieties
within the oligarchs, aristocratic and democratic parts.
• Aristotle says that at the end of the day one cannot be both rich and poor.
• He says democracies will vary as the demos vary.
• Aristotle thinks the worst kind of democracy is unrestrained. He thinks better
forms of democracy will give some recognition to property.
• One of his biggest fears is that the many will use their political power to seize and
redistribute private property.
• ForAristotle, mere life always comes before the good life. It’s also balanced that
mere life will assert the good life. Thinking that the city ought to pursuit wealth
rather than anything else.
• Why is polity the best practical regime? Because it balances the two regimes that
cannot be combined: rich and poor. It’s an intermediate kind of arrangement
between the claims of wealth and the claims of poverty (arbitrariness).
Books IV, Chapter 8: Polity, orAristotle’s best practicable government
“The (way of polity) is to combine elements rom both (democracy and oligarchy), and to
mix elements of the oligarchical rule with elements of the democratic” (1294b1-3/p. 154
of the Oxford)
Polity is a blend of democracy and oligarchy; it is the regime of moderation; that
makes citizens disposed to virtue: “Since it is admitted that moderation and the mean are
always best it is clear that in the ownership of all gifts of fortune a middle condition will
be the best. Those who are in a middle condition are the most ready to lis