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Politics_(Aristotle)

Politics (Aristotle)

Aristotle's Politics (Greek Πολιτικά) is a work of political philosophy. The _Politics declared that the inquiry into ethics necessarily follows into politics, and the two works are frequently considered to be parts of a larger treatise dealing with the "philosophy of human affairs." The title of the Politics literally means "the things concerning the polis."

Composition

The literary character of the Politics is subject to some dispute, growing out of the textual difficulties that attended the loss of Aristotle's works. Book III ends with a sentence that is repeated almost verbatim at the start of Book VII, while the intervening Books IV-VI seem to have a very different flavor from the rest; Book IV seems to refer several times back to the discussion of the best regime contained in Books VII-VIII. Some editors have therefore inserted Books VII-VIII after Book III. At the same time, however, references to the "discourses on politics" that occur in the Nicomachean Ethics suggest that the treatise as a whole ought to conclude with the discussion of education that occurs in Book VIII of the Politics.

Werner Jaeger suggested that the Politics actually represents the conflation of two, distinct treatises. The first (Books I-III, VI-VIII) would represent a less mature work from when Aristotle had not yet fully broken from Plato, and consequently show a greater emphasis on the best regime. The second (Books IV-VI) would be more empirically minded, and thus belong to a later stage of development.

Carnes Lord has argued against the sufficiency of this view, however, noting the numerous cross-references between Jaeger's supposedly separate works and questioning the difference in tone that Jaeger saw between them. For example, Book IV explicitly notes the utility of examining actual regimes (Jaeger's "empirical" focus) in determining the best regime (Jaeger's "Platonic" focus). Instead, Lord suggests that the Politics is indeed a finished treatise, and that Books VII and VIII do belong in between Books III and IV; he attributes their current ordering to a merely mechanical transcription error..

A third possibility is that Aristotle intended to reorganize the already-completed Politics, but died before he was able to do so. The initial treatise would have had Books VII-VIII in between Books III and IV, but that later compilers altered the ordering based on an intended revision suggested by the Nicomachean Ethics. This theory would require that our version of the Nicomachean Ethics be later in date than our version of the Politics.

Overview

Book I

In the first book, Aristotle discusses the origin of the state and its composition. This leads him into the issues of slavery, household economics and natural and unnatural modes of acquiring goods, or the theory and practice of "wealth-getting".

Part II

"For man, when perfected, is the best of animals, but, when separated from law and justice, he is the worst of all; since armed injustice is more dangerous."

Part III "Seeing then that the state is made up of households..." Aristotle discusses the relationships within a typical household. First, there is a relationship of masters to slaves. Second, one between husband and wife. Third, there is the relationship of the father to his children. In this way the "man of the house", the master, husband and father, is conceived as the central political unit of the household. The topics of husband and father are discussed from Part XII.

Part VIII

"In the lives of men too there is a great difference. The laziest are shepherds, who lead an idle life, and get their subsistence without trouble from tame animals."

Part IX Aristotle distinguishes the use of a thing for its own value, from deriving value from things merely by exchanging them.

"There is another variety of the art of acquisition... Of everything which we possess there are two uses... a shoe is used to wear and is used for exchange."

Speaking of exchange through money, Aristotle says "it is worthless, and because it is not useful as a means to any of the necessities of life, and, indeed, he who is rich in coin may often be in want of necessary food..." Aristotle says people become avaricious and pursue money for its own end because of a confusion between the instrument of money (in exchange) with things that can actually be used...

"in this art of wealth-getting there is no limit of the end, which is riches of the spurious kind, and the acquisition of wealth. But the art of wealth getting which consists in household management, on the other hand, has a limit..."

Part X Aristotle discusses natural and unnatural forms of trade, saving special criticism for usury.

"There are two sorts of wealth-getting, as I have said; one is a part of household management, the other is retail trade: the former necessary and honorable, while that which consists in exchange is justly censured; for it is unnatural, and a mode by which men gain from one another. The most hated sort, and with the greatest reason, is usury, which makes a gain out of money itself, and not from the natural object of it. For money was intended to be used in exchange, but not to increase at interest. And this term interest, which means the birth of money from money, is applied to the breeding of money because the offspring resembles the parent. Wherefore of all modes of getting wealth this is the most unnatural."

Part XI Aristotle gives some anecdotes on the practice of wealth-getting in the retail trade. First he turns to the topic of monopoly.

"There is the anecdote of Thales the Milesian and his financial device, which involves a principle of universal application, but is attributed to him on account of his reputation for wisdom. He was reproached for his poverty, which was supposed to show that philosophy was of no use. According to the story, he knew by his skill in the stars while it was yet winter that there would be a great harvest of olives in the coming year; so, having a little money, he gave deposits for the use of all the olive-presses in Chios and Miletus, which he hired at a low price because no one bid against him. When the harvest-time came, and many were wanted all at once and of a sudden, he let them out at any rate which he pleased, and made a quantity of money. Thus he showed the world that philosophers can easily be rich if they like, but that their ambition is of another sort. He is supposed to have given a striking proof of his wisdom, but, as I was saying, his device for getting wealth is of universal application, and is nothing but the creation of a monopoly. It is an art often practiced by cities when they are want of money; they make a monopoly of provisions."

Book II

Book II concerns criticism of Plato's Republic and other proposed and real constitutions.

Part V discusses property, and the concept of common ownership. He touches on subjects that are still present today, in debates about nationalisation and the model of economic man.

"Property should be in a certain sense common, but, as a general rule, private; for, when everyone has a distinct interest, men will not complain of one another, and they will make more progress, because every one will be attending to his own business. And yet by reason of goodness, and in respect of use, 'Friends,' as the proverb says, 'will have all things common.' Even now there are traces of such a principle, showing that it is not impracticable, but, in well-ordered states, exists already to a certain extent and may be carried further. For, although every man has his own property, some things he will place at the disposal of his friends, while of others he shares the use with them."

Aristotle extends the debate into a theory of individual self interest and action.

"Again, how immeasurably greater is the pleasure, when a man feels a thing to be his own; for surely the love of self is a feeling implanted by nature and not given in vain, although selfishness is rightly censured; this, however, is not the mere love of self, but the love of self in excess, like the miser's love of money; for all, or almost all, men love money and other such objects in a measure. And further, there is the greatest pleasure in doing a kindness or service to friends or guests or companions, which can only be rendered when a man has private property. These advantages are lost by excessive unification of the state."

Book III

  • Who is a citizen?
  • Classification of constitutions

In Book 3, Chapters 6-7, Aristotle establishes a famous classification of six types of rule divided on the one hand between those that are 'good' and those that are 'corrupt', and on the other, between the different number of rulers that make up the decision-making authority, namely, the one, the few, and the many. The good types include monarchy, aristocracy and polity, while the corrupt types include tyranny, oligarchy and democracy or 'mob rule'. Good government rules in the common interest while corrupt government rules in the interest of those who rule.

  • Just distribution of political power.
  • Types of monarchies.

Book IV

  • Tasks of political theory
  • Why are there many types of constitutions?
  • Types of democracies
  • Types of oligarchies
  • Polity as the optimal constitution
  • Government offices

Book V

  • Constitutional change
  • Revolutions in different types of constitutions and ways to preserve constitutions
  • Instability of tyrannies

Book VI

  • Democratic constitutions
  • Oligarchic constitutions

Book VII

  • Best state and best life
  • Ideal state. Its population, territory, position etc.
  • Citizens of the ideal state
  • Marriage and children

Book VIII

  • Education in the ideal state

Aristotle's classification

After studying a number of real and theoretical city-state's constitutions, Aristotle classified them according to various criteria. On one side stand the true (or good) constitutions, which are considered such because they aim for the common good, and on the other side the perverted (or deviant) ones, considered such because they aim for the well being of only a part of the city. The constitutions are then sorted according to the "number" of those who participate to the magistracies: one, a few, or many. Aristotle's six-fold classification is slightly different from the one found in The Statesman by Plato. The diagram above illustrates Aristotle's classification.

Notes

Sources

  • Jaeger, Werner (1923). Aristoteles: Grundlegung einer Geschichte seiner Entwicklung. Berlin. Trans. Richard Robinson as Aristotle: Fundamentals of the History of his Development, Oxford 1948.
  • Lord, Carnes (1984). Introduction to The Politics, by Aristotle. Trans. Carnes Lord. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Landman, Todd (2003). Issues and Methods in Comparative Politics. An Introduction (2nd ed.). Oxon: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-27270-X.
  • Ryan, Peter (2008). "A Theoretical Revolution As Exemplified Through the Regime and Rule of Law". Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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