Task: You have to write two essays on the given topics. They should be based on the given texts. They should be around 2 pages(printed, Times New Roman, 12, 1.5p) and should be handed to the professor personally. For questions: DM Kali Dimitrova
Essay1: What are the six main types of constitution of the polis, according to Aristotle? Which type(s) exist in your country today?
Essay2: What are the differences between John Locke’s and Thomas Hobbes’ theories of the social contract and the state? Is your country nearer Locke’s or Hobbes’ theory?
Materials for Essay 1:
2. The Texts
The most important text for understanding Aristotleâ€™s political philosophy, not surprisingly, is the Politics. However, it is also important to read Nicomachean Ethics in order to fully understand Aristotleâ€™s political project. This is because Aristotle believed that ethics and politics were closely linked, and that in fact the ethical and virtuous life is only available to someone who participates in politics, while moral education is the main purpose of the political community. As he says in Nicomachean Ethics at 1099b30, â€œThe end [or goal] of politics is the best of ends; and the main concern of politics is to engender a certain character in the citizens and to make them good and disposed to perform noble actions.â€ Most people living today in Western societies like the United States, Canada, Germany, or Australia would disagree with both parts of that statement. We are likely to regard politics (and politicians) as aiming at ignoble, selfish ends, such as wealth and power, rather than the â€œbest endâ€, and many people regard the idea that politics is or should be primarily concerned with creating a particular moral character in citizens as a dangerous intrusion on individual freedom, in large part because we do not agree about what the â€œbest endâ€ is. In fact, what people in Western societies generally ask from politics and the government is that they keep each of us safe from other people (through the provision of police and military forces) so that each of us can choose and pursue our own ends, whatever they may be. This has been the case in Western political philosophy at least since John Locke. Development of individual character is left up to the individual, with help from family, religion, and other non-governmental institutions. More will be said about this later, but the reader should keep in mind that this is an important way in which our political and ethical beliefs are not Aristotleâ€™s. The reader is also cautioned against immediately concluding from this that Ar istotle was wrong and we are right. This may be so, but it is important to understand why, and the contrast between Aristotleâ€™s beliefs and ours can help to bring the strengths and weaknesses of our own beliefs into greater clarity.
The reference above to â€œNicomachean Ethics at 1099b30â€³ makes use of what is called Bekker pagination. This refers to the location of beginning of the cited text in the edition of Aristotleâ€™s works produced by Immanuel Bekker in Berlin in 1831 (in this case, it begins on page 1099, column b, line 30). Scholars make use of this system for all of Aristotleâ€™s works except the Constitution of Athens (which was not rediscovered until after 1831) and fragmentary works in order to be able to refer to the same point in Aristotleâ€™s work regardless of which edition, translation, or language they happen to be working with. This entry will make use of the Bekker pagination system, and will also follow tradition and refer to Nicomachean Ethics as simply Ethics. (There is also a Eudemian Ethics which is almost certainly by Aristotle (and which shares three of the ten books of the Nicomachean Ethics)and a work on ethics titled Magna Moralia which has been attributed to him but which most scholars now believe is not his work. Regardless, most scholars believe that the Nicomachean Ethics is Aristotleâ€™s fullest and most mature expression of his ethical theory). The translation is that of Martin Ostwald; see the bibliography for full information. In addition to the texts listed above, the student with an interest in Aristotleâ€™s political theory may also wish to read the Rhetoric, which includes observations on ethics and politics in the context of teaching the reader how to be a more effective speaker, and the Constitution of Athens, a work attributed to Aristotle, but which may be by one of his students, which describes the political history of the city of Athens.
Any honest attempt to summarize and describe Aristotleâ€™s political philosophy must include an acknowledgment that there is no consensus on many of the most important aspects of that philosophy. Some of the reasons for this should be mentioned from the outset.
One set of reasons has to do with the text itself and the transmission of the text from Aristotleâ€™s time to ours. The first thing that can lead to disagreement over Aristotleâ€™s beliefs is the fact that the Politics andEthics are believed by many scholars to be his lecture notes, for lectures which were intended to be heard only by his own students. (Aristotle did write for general audiences on these subjects, probably in dialogue form, but only a few fragments of those writings remain). This is also one reason why many students have difficulty reading his work: no teacherâ€™s lecture notes ever make complete sense to anyone else (their meaning can even elude their author at times). Many topics in the texts are discussed less fully than we would like, and many things are ambiguous which we wish were more straightforward. But if Aristotle was lecturing from these writings, he could have taken care of these problems on the fly as he lectured, since presumably he knew what he meant, or he could have responded to requests for clarification or elaboration from his students.
Secondly, most people who read Aristotle are not reading him in the original Attic Greek but are instead reading translations. This leads to further disagreement, because different authors translate Aristotle differently, and the way in which a particular word is translated can be very significant for the text as a whole. There is no way to definitively settle the question of what Aristotle â€œreally meant to sayâ€ in using a particular word or phrase.
Third, the Aristotelian texts we have are not the originals, but copies, and every time a text gets copied errors creep in (words, sentences, or paragraphs can get left out, words can be changed into new words, and so forth). For example, imagine someone writing the sentence â€œRonald Reagan was the lastcompetent president of the United States.â€ It is copied by hand, and the person making the copy accidentally writes (or assumes that the author must have written) â€œRonald Reagan was the leastcompetent president of the United States.â€ If the original is then destroyed, so that only the copy remains, future generations will read a sentence that means almost exactly the opposite of what the author intended. It may be clear from the context that a word has been changed, but then again it may not, and there is always hesitation in changing the text as we have it. In addition, although nowadays it is unacceptable to modify someone elseâ€™s work without clearly denoting the changes, this is a relatively recent development and there are portions of Aristotleâ€™s texts which scholars believe were added by later writers. This, too, complicates our understanding of Aristotle.
Finally, there are a number of controversies related to the text of the Politics in particular. These controversies cannot be discussed here, but should be mentioned. For more detail consult the works listed in the â€œSuggestions for further readingâ€ below. First, there is disagreement about whether the books of the Politics are in the order that Aristotle intended. Carnes Lord and others have argued based on a variety of textual evidence that books 7 and 8 were intended by Aristotle to follow book 3. Rearranging the text in this way would have the effect of joining the early discussion of the origins of political life and the city, and the nature of political justice, with the discussion of the ideal city and the education appropriate for it, while leaving together books 4-6 which are primarily concerned with existing varieties of regimes and how they are preserved and destroyed and moving them to the conclusion of the book. Second, some authors, notably Werner Jaeger, have argued that the different focus and orientation of the different portions of the Politics is a result of Aristotle writing them at different times, reflecting his changing interests and orientation towards Platoâ€˜s teachings. The argument is that at first Aristotle stuck very closely to the attitudes and ideas of his teacher Plato, and only later developed his own more empirical approach. Thus any difficulties that there may be in integrating the different parts of the Politicsarise from the fact that they were not meant to be integrated and were written at different times and with different purposes. Third, the Politics as we have it appears to be incomplete; Book 6 ends in the middle of a sentence and Book 8 in the middle of a discussion. There are also several places in the Politicswhere Aristotle promises to consider a topic further later but does not do so in the text as we have i t (for example, at the end of Book II, Chapter 8). It is possible that Aristotle never finished writing it; more likely there is material missing as a result of damage to the scrolls on which it was written. The extent and content of any missing material is a matter of scholarly debate.
Fortunately, the beginning student of Aristotle will not need to concern themselves much with these problems. It is, however, important to get a quality translation of the text, which provides an introduction, footnotes, a glossary, and a bibliography, so that the reader is aware of places where, for example, there seems to be something missing from the text, or a word can have more than one meaning, or there are other textual issues. These will not always be the cheapest or most widely available translations, but it is important to get one of them, from a library if need be. Several suggested editions are listed at the end of this article.
In Book Six of the Ethics Aristotle says that all knowledge can be classified into three categories: theoretical knowledge, practical knowledge, and productive knowledge. Put simply, these kinds of knowledge are distinguished by their aims: theoretical knowledge aims at contemplation, productive knowledge aims at creation, and practical knowledge aims at action. Theoretical knowledge involves the study of truth for its own sake; it is knowledge about things that are unchanging and eternal, and includes things like the principles of logic, physics, and mathematics (at the end of the Ethics Aristotle says that the most excellent human life is one lived in pursuit of this type of knowledge, because this knowledge brings us closest to the divine). The productive and practical sciences, in contrast, address our daily needs as human beings, and have to do with things that can and do change. Productive knowledge means, roughly, know-how; the knowledge of how to make a table or a house or a pair of shoes or how to write a tragedy would be examples of this kind of knowledge. This entry is concerned with practical knowledge, which is the knowledge of how to live and act. According to Aristotle, it is the possession and use of practical knowledge that makes it possible to live a good life. Ethics and politics, which are the practical sciences, deal with human beings as moral agents. Ethics is primarily about the actions of human beings as individuals, and politics is about the actions of human beings in communities, although it is important to remember that for Aristotle the two are closely linked and each influences the other.
The fact that ethics and politics are kinds of practical knowledge has several important consequences. First, it means that Aristotle believes that mere abstract knowledge of ethics and politics is worthless. Practical knowledge is only useful if we act on it; we must act appropriately if we are to be moral. He says at Ethics1103b25: â€œThe purpose of the present study [of morality] is not, as it is in other inquiries, the attainment of theoretical knowledge: we are not conducting this inquiry in order to know what virtue is, but in order to become good, else there would be no advantage in studying it.â€
Second, according to Aristotle, only some people can beneficially study politics. Aristotle believes that women and slaves (or at least those who are slaves by nature) can never benefit from the study of politics, and also should not be allowed to participate in politics, about which more will be said later. But there is also a limitation on political study based on age, as a result of the connection between politics and experience: â€œA young man is not equipped to be a student of politics; for he has no experience in the actions which life demands of him, and these actions form the basis and subject matter of the discussionâ€ (Ethics 1095a2). Aristotle adds that young men will usually act on the basis of their emotions, rather than according to reason, and since acting on practical knowledge requires the use of reason, young men are unequipped to study politics for this reason too. So the study of politics will only be useful to those who have the experience and the mental discipline to benefit from it, and for Aristotle this would have been a relatively small percentage of the population of a city. Even in Athens, the most democratic city in Greece, no more than 15 percent of the population was ever allowed the benefits of citizenship, including political participation. Athenian citizenship was limited to adult males who were not slaves and who had one parent who was an Athenian citizen (sometimes citizenship was further restricted to require both parents to be Athenian citizens). Aristotle does not think this percentage should be increased â€“ if anything, it should be decreased.
Third, Aristotle distinguishes between practical and theoretical knowledge in terms of the level of precision that can be attained when studying them. Political and moral knowledge does not have the same degree of precision or certainty as mathematics. Aristotle says at Ethics 1094b14: â€œProblems of what is noble and just, which politics examines, present so much variety and irregularity that some people believe that they exist only by convention and not by natureâ€¦.Therefore, in a discussion of such subjects, which has to start with a basis of this kind, we must be satisfied to indicate the truth with a rough and general sketch: when the subject and the basis of a discussion consist of matters that hold good only as a general rule, but not always, the conclusions reached must be of the same order.â€ Aristotle does not believe that the noble and the just exist only by convention, any more than, say, the principles of geometry do. However, the principles of geometry are fixed and unchanging. The definition of a point, or a line, or a plane, can be given precisely, and once this definition is known, it is fixed and unchanging for everyone. However, the definition of something like justice can only be known generally; there is no fixed and unchanging definition that will always be correct. This means that unlike philosophers such as Hobbes and Kant, Aristotle does not and in fact cannot give us a fixed set of rules to be followed when ethical and political decisions must be made. Instead he tries to make his students the kind of men who, when confronted with any particular ethical or political decision, will know the correct thing to do, will understand why it is the correct choice, and will choose to do it for that reason. Such a man will know the general rules to be followed, but will also know when and why to deviate from those rules. (I will use â€œmanâ€ and â€œmenâ€ when referring to citizens so that the reader keeps in mind that Aristotle, and the Greeks generally, excluded women from political part icipation. In fact it is not until the mid-19th century that organized attempts to gain the right to vote for women really get underway, and even today in the 21st century there are still many countries which deny women the right to vote or participate in political life).
I have already noted the connection between ethics and politics in Aristotleâ€™s thought. The concept that most clearly links the two is that which Aristotle called telos. A discussion of this concept and its importance will help the reader make sense of what follows. Aristotle himself discusses it in Book II, Chapter 3 of the Physics and Book I, Chapter 3 of the Metaphysics.
The word telos means something like purpose, or goal, or final end. According to Aristotle, everything has a purpose or final end. If we want to understand what something is, it must be understood in terms of that end, which we can discover through careful study. It is perhaps easiest to understand what a telos is by looking first at objects created by human beings. Consider a knife. If you wanted to describe a knife, you would talk about its size, and its shape, and what it is made out of, among other things. But Aristotle believes that you would also, as part of your description, have to say that it is made to cut things. And when you did, you would be describing its telos. The knifeâ€™s purpose, or reason for existing, is to cut things. And Aristotle would say that unless you included that telos in your description, you wouldnâ€™t really have described â€“ or understood â€“ the knife. This is true not only of things made by humans, but of plants and animals as well. If you were to fully describe an acorn, you would include in your description that it will become an oak tree in the natural course of things â€“ so acorns too have a telos. Suppose you were to describe an animal, like a thoroughbred foal. You would talk about its size, say it has four legs and hair, and a tail. Eventually you would say that it is meant to run fast. This is the horseâ€™s telos, or purpose. If nothing thwarts that purpose, the young horse will indeed become a fast runner.
Here we are not primarily concerned with the telos of a knife or an acorn or a foal. What concerns us is the telos of a human being. Just like everything else that is alive, human beings have a telos. What is it that human beings are meant by nature to become in the way that knives are meant to cut, acorns are meant to become oak trees, and thoroughbred ponies are meant to become race horses? According to Aristotle, we are meant to become happy. This is nice to hear, although it isnâ€™t all that useful. After all, people find happiness in many different ways. However, Aristotle says that living happily requires living a life of virtue. Someone who is not living a life that is virtuous, or morally good, is also not living a happy life, no matter what they might think. They are like a knife that will not cut, an oak tree that is diseased and stunted, or a racehorse that cannot run. In fact they are worse, since they have chosen the life they lead in a way that a knife or an acorn or a horse cannot.
Someone who does live according to virtue, who chooses to do the right thing because it is the right thing to do, is living a life that flourishes; to borrow a phrase, they are being all that they can be by using all of their human capacities to their fullest. The most important of these capacities is logos – a word that means â€œspeechâ€ and also means â€œreasonâ€ (it gives us the English word â€œlogicâ€). Human beings alone have the ability to speak, and Aristotle says that we have been given that ability by nature so that we can speak and reason with each other to discover what is right and wrong, what is good and bad, and what is just and unjust.
Note that human beings discover these things rather than creating them. We do not get to decide what is right and wrong, but we do get to decide whether we will do what is right or what is wrong, and this is the most important decision we make in life. So too is the happy life: we do not get to decide what really makes us happy, although we do decide whether or not to pursue the happy life. And this is an ongoing decision. It is not made once and for all, but must be made over and over again as we live our lives. Aristotle believes that it is not easy to be virtuous, and he knows that becoming virtuous can only happen under the right conditions. Just as an acorn can only fulfill its telos if there is sufficient light, the right kind of soil, and enough water (among other things), and a horse can only fulfill its telos if there is sufficient food and room to run (again, among other things), an individual can only fulfill their telos and be a moral and happy human being within a well constructed political community. The community brings about virtue through education and through laws which prescribe certain actions and prohibit others.
And here we see the link between ethics and politics in a different light: the role of politics is to provide an environment in which people can live fully human, ethical, and happy lives, and this is the kind of life which makes it possible for someone to participate in politics in the correct way. As Aristotle says at Ethics1103a30: â€œWe become just by the practice of just actions, self-controlled by exercising self-control, and courageous by performing acts of courageâ€¦.Lawgivers make the citizens good by inculcating [good] habits in them, and this is the aim of every lawgiver; if he does not succeed in doing that, his legislation is a failure. It is in this that a good constitution differs from a bad one.â€ This is not a view that would be found in political science textbooks today, but for Aristotle it is the central concern of the study of politics: how can we discover and put into practice the political institutions that will develop virtue in the citizens to the greatest possible extent?
Having laid out the groundwork for Aristotleâ€™s thought, we are now in a position to look more closely at the text of the Politics. The translation we will use is that of Carnes Lord, which can be found in the list of suggested readings. This discussion is by no means complete; there is much of interest and value in Aristotleâ€™s political writings that will not be considered here. Again, the reader is encouraged to investigate the list of suggested readings. However, the main topics and problems of Aristotleâ€™s work will be included. The discussion will, to the extent possible, follow the organization of the Politics.
Aristotle begins the Politics by defining its subject, the city or political partnership. Doing so requires him to explain the purpose of the city. (The Greek word for city is polis, which is the word that gives us English words like â€œpoliticsâ€ and â€œpolicyâ€). Aristotle says that â€œIt is clear that all partnerships aim at some good, and that the partnership that is most authoritative of all and embraces all the others does so particularly, and aims at the most authoritative good of all. This is what is called the city or the political partnershipâ€ (1252a3) (See also III.12). In Greece in Aristotleâ€™s time the important political entities were cities, which controlled surrounding territories that were farmed. It is important to remember that the city was not subordinate to a state or nation, the way that cities are today; it was sovereign over the territory that it controlled. To convey this, some translations use the word â€œcity-stateâ€ in place of the world â€polis.â€ Although none of us today lives in a polis , we should not be too quick to dismiss Aristotleâ€™s observations on the way of life of the polis as irrelevant to our own political partnerships.
Notice that Aristotle does not define the political community in the way that we generally would, by the laws that it follows or by the group that holds power or as an entity controlling a particular territory. Instead he defines it as a partnership. The citizens of a political community are partners, and as with any other partnership they pursue a common good. In the case of the city it is the most authoritative or highest good. The most authoritative and highest good of all, for Aristotle, is the virtue and happiness of the citizens, and the purpose of the city is to make it possible for the citizens to achieve this virtue and happiness. When discussing the ideal city, he says â€œ[A] city is excellent, at any rate, by its citizensâ€™ â€“ those sharing in the regime â€“ being excellent; and in our case all the citizens share in the regimeâ€ (1332a34). In achieving the virtue that is individual excellence, each of them will fulfill his telos. Indeed, it is the shared pursuit of virtue that makes a city a city.
As I have already noted at the beginning of this text, he says in the Ethics at 1099b30: â€œThe end of politics is the best of ends; and the main concern of politics is to engender a certain character in the citizens and to make them good and disposed to perform noble actions.â€ As has been mentioned, most people today would not see this as the main concern of politics, or even a legitimate concern. Certainly almost everyone wants to see law-abiding citizens, but it is questionable that changing the citizensâ€™ character or making them morally good is part of what government should do. Doing so would require far more governmental control over citizens than most people in Western societies are willing to allow.
Having seen Aristotleâ€™s definition of the city and its purpose, we then get an example of Aristotleâ€™s usual method of discussing political topics. He begins by examining opinions which are â€œgenerally accepted,â€ which means, as he says in the Topics at 100b21, â€œare accepted by everyone or by the majority or by the philosophers â€“ i.e. by all, or by the majority, or by the most notable and illustrious of themâ€ on the grounds that any such opinions are likely to have at least some truth to them. These opinions (the Greek word isendoxa), however, are not completely true. They must be systematically examined and modified by scholars of politics before the truths that are part of these opinions are revealed. Because Aristotle uses this method of examining the opinions of others to arrive at truth, the reader must be careful to pay attention to whether a particular argument or belief is Aristotleâ€™s or not. In many cases he is setting out an argument in order to challenge it. It can be difficult to tell when Aristotle is arguing in his own voice and when he is considering the opinions of others, but the reader must carefully make this distinction if they are to understand Aristotleâ€™s teachings. (It has also been suggested that Aristotleâ€™s method should be seen as an example of how political discussion ought to be conducted: a variety of viewpoints and arguments are presented, and the final decision is arrived at through a consideration of the strengths and weaknesses of these viewpoints and arguments). For a further discussion of Aristotleâ€™s methodology, see his discussion of reasoning in general and dialectical reasoning in particular in the Topics. Further examples of his approach can be found in Ethics I.4 and VII.1.
In this case, Aristotle takes up the popular opinion that political rule is really the same as other kinds of rule: that of kings over their subjects, of fathers over their wives and children, and of masters over their slaves. This opinion, he says, is mistaken. In fact, each of these kinds of rule is different. To see why, we must consider how the city comes into being, and it is to this that Aristotle next turns in Book I, Chapter 2.
Here Aristotle tells the story of how cities have historically come into being. The first partnerships among human beings would have been between â€œpersons who cannot exist without one anotherâ€ (1252a27). There are two pairs of people for whom this is the case. One pair is that of male and female, for the sake of reproduction. This seems reasonable enough to the modern reader. The other pair, however, is that of â€œthe naturally ruling and ruled, on account of preservationâ€ (1252a30). Here Aristotle is referring to slavery. By â€œpreservationâ€ he means that the naturally ruling master and naturally ruled slave need each other if they are to preserve themselves; slavery is a kind of partnership which benefits both master and slave. We will see how later. For now, he simply says that these pairs of people come together and form a household, which exists for the purpose of meeting the needs of daily life (such as food, shelter, clothing, and so forth). The family is only large enough to provide for the bare necessities of life, sustaining its membersâ€™ lives and allowing for the reproduction of the species.
Over time, the family expands, and as it does it will come into contact with other families. Eventually a number of such families combine and form a village. Villages are better than families because they are more self-sufficient. Because villages are larger than families, people can specialize in a wider array of tasks and can develop skills in things like cooking, medicine, building, soldiering, and so forth which they could not develop in a smaller group. So the residents of a village will live more comfortable lives, with access to more goods and services, than those who only live in families.
The significant change in human communities, however, comes when a number of villages combine to form a city. A city is not just a big village, but is fundamentally different: â€œThe partnership arising from [the union of] several villages that is complete is the city. It reaches a level of full self-sufficiency, so to speak; and while coming into being for the sake of living, it exists for the sake of living wellâ€ (1252b27). Although the founders of cities create them for the sake of more comfortable lives, cities are unique in making it possible for people to live well. Today we tend to think of â€œliving wellâ€ as living a life of comfort, family satisfaction, and professional success, surrounded by nice things. But this is not what Aristotle means by â€œliving wellâ€. As we have seen, for Aristotle â€œliving wellâ€ means leading a life of happiness and virtue, and by so doing fulfilling oneâ€™s telos. Life in the city, in Aristotleâ€™s view, is therefore necessary for anyone who wishes to be completely human. (His particular concern is with the free men who are citizens). â€œHe who is without a city through nature rather than chance is either a mean sort or superior to man,â€ Aristotle says (1253a3), and adds â€œOne who is incap