Aristotle’s Politics

I. Who is in a City-State?

  • What are their roles?
  • What are their characteristics?

II. Reply to these responses:

1. In Aristotle’s opinion, the city-state or ”polis”, as he has referred to it as, must be the highest kind of such communities striving for the best. Aristotle makes this claim in the following sentence; ”Any polis which is truly so called, and is not merely one in name, must devote itself to the end of encouraging goodness. Otherwise, political association sinks into a mere “alliance” (Aristotle). In a city-state government, Aristotle proposed that families of women, men, slaves, and masters shall compose of the primitive community. Aristotle says the purpose of the power of speech is ”to set forth the expedient and inexpedient, and therefore likewise the just and unjust”. (Aristotle) For this reason, Aristotle, proposed that the government must be in the hands of either the few, the many or in some cases, just one. In one of Aristotle’s quotes, he makes the following statement: ”The night constitutions, three in number- kingship, aristocracy, and polity- and the deviations from these, likewise three in number- tyranny from kingship, oligarchy from aristocracy, and democracy from polity.” (Aristotle). Basically, what Aristotle is saying is that tyranny deviates from kingship and oligarchy deviates from aristocracy, or, in other words, tyranny is a government that has moved away from kingship, oligarchy is a government that has branched off from aristocracy, and lastly, democracy is a type of government that has diverged from polity. In Aristotle’s vision of City-State, he proposed that law rules supreme. Impersonal law, which is the type of law that represents community wisdom, is the law that Aristotle has proposed. Aristotle’s vision also proposes that the city-state is an institution of ethics, and that it exists for the promotion of a better wellbeing. Aristotle makes use of the following quotes to support his claim: ”The happy life is one in accordance with virtue and unimpeded”. (Aristotle) This quote means that in Aristotle’s vision of a city-state, a happy life goes hand and hand with virtue, and that it should not be meddled with. Aristotle had opposed commerce. He believed that the purpose of money is not to be handed out at interest, but rather, to be exchanged for services and goods. Aristotle’s vision for a city-state supported private ownership but also the common utilization of property as well. The following quote by Aristotle reflects this concept “It is evident, then, that it is better for property to be private, but to make it common in use”. (Aristotle) In regards to the roles of those who inhabit the city-state, Aristotle makes use of the following sentence: ”One ought not even consider that a particular citizen belongs to himself, but rather that all belong to the city; for each is part of the city”. (Aristotle) This means that the people as a whole have a key function in the society. Aristotle also says the following quote ”We must lay it down that the association which is a state exists not for the purpose of living together but for the sake of noble actions.” (Aristotle) This means that the type of government advocated by Aristotle is that not one that advocates for communal living together, but rather for the goodness of respectable actions among society. Aristotle has also made the following claim regarding constitutions, ”It is clear those constitutions which aim at the common good, are right as being in accord with absolute injustice; while those which aim only at the good of the rulers are wrong.” (Aristotle) The statement suggests that Aristotle supports constitutions which strive for the right things, but he opposes those which purely target the good of the leaders. Aristotle also makes another quote regarding the constitution of his well-envisioned city state: ”One citizen differs from another, but the salvation of the community is the common business of them all. This community is the constitution; the virtue of the citizen must therefore be relative to the constitution of which he is a member.” (Aristotle, 2016) Basically, this means that regardless of who the citizen is, one thing that they all possess in common is the common occupation of making the community better. For this reason, Aristotle proposes in his government plan that the citizen’s virtue must be linked to the city state’s constitution. Another quote Aristotle uses when regarding the characteristics of how the the city-state government should function, is the following ”When the the citizens at large administer the state for the common interest, the government is called by the generic name – a constitution” (Aristotle 2013). Basically, what Aristotle is saying is that the citizens effectively make the government a constitution whenever the manage the state as a whole for the interest of the common.

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2. According to Aristotle, the city is made up of communities. These communities are made up of households. Aristotle advances that the household is the most important component of the city and argues that these households cannot exist without the city. He recognizes that all the components that make the city are important because they contribute to different aspects that are important for the continuation of the city. Aristotle advances that “Those who suppose that the same person is expert in political rule, kingly rule, managing the household and being a master of slave do not argue finely” (Carnes, 2013). This claim points out that two important people for cities are those in the administrative roles and those that follow or are led. Based on this position, Aristotle suggests that the household (which is the most important unit of a city) is made up of two key relationships: a man and woman (marital relationship) and one between a master and slave. These relationships highlight that family and enterprise are key to the wellbeing of the city.

The family of man and woman is seen as an important procreating unit that keeps the city populated. He spends a little time addressing the importance of the family unit. Still, He is most important claim is based on how man and woman relationship. Man is treated as superior to a woman (based on the prevalent patriarchy system), and that the relationship between the two is predominantly to procreate (Carnes, 2013). This relationship is in line with the general argument of Aristotle that relationship and enterprise are the two key elements that constitute a city. The men are the leaders and the women followers. The household leadership forms a basis that later develops to the leadership of the community and the city. Men are leaders and women followers in the city-state that Aristotle talks about. In the second book, he argues for the wellbeing of children and women, recognizing that the servient relationship may lead to them being exploited. In line with the patriarchal mindset, there is a recognition that women are weaker, which explains why the men are seen as the heads of households’ villages and communities.

The most significant relationship is that between the master and the slave. It forms the basis of the political organization in the city. Aristotle argues that slavery is justifiable as there are people who are inherently made for slavery. He argues that there are people who naturally gravitate towards being ruled while others grow out to rule. Those designed to be ruled will only fair well if they are governed or ruled. Essentially, some people will only thrive as slaves. Aristotle argues that what is good for the master is also good for the slave (Carnes, 2013). The wellbeing of the master is entwined to the wellbeing of the slave. The slave is to be obedient and dedicated to ensuring the wellbeing of his master. These arguments advance the notion that slaves should accept their condition and that they would not fare better had they been born to or granted freedom (Carnes, 2013). The wellbeing of the relationship between the master and the slave is important for the city because it is a way to advance the welfare of important persons for the continuation of the city. It is also aligned with the notion by Aristotle that enterprise and the relationship between people in the community is vital for the wellbeing of the city.