Aristotle's Political Virtues

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Aristotle's Political Virtues ABSTRACT: This paper argues that Aristotle conceives happiness not primarily as an exercise of virtue in private or with friends, but as the exercise of virtue in governing an ideal state. The best states are knit together so tightly that the interests of one person are the same as the interests of all. Hence, a person who acts for his or her own good must also act for the good of all fellow citizens. It follows that discussions of Aristotle’s altruism and egoism are misconceived. Why does Aristotle think that the good life must be lived in a state (polis)? It is usually supposed that the state serves to provide the security and stability that individuals need for virtuous acts.(1) Though it is also recognized that participating in the governing of the state could play some important, or even necessary, role in a good life, the predominant view is that happiness is mostly pursued individually or with friends.(2) Such private pursuits seem to R. G. Mulgan a bulwark protecting individual ends from subordination to those of the state.(3) The idea that happiness is a private pursuit is implicit in the contrast, formerly drawn often, between the egoism of ancient ethicists and the properly moral analyses of modern philosophers.(4) Recent writers have attacked this contrast, pointing to the importance Aristotle accords concern for others in friendship (philia) and the centrality of friendship in happiness.(5) Yet they, too, presume that happiness is mainly a private pursuit, for they imagine that concern for others manifests itself when the other's interest conflicts with one's own—as if, even among friends, personal interests must conflict and the person who furthers the interests of his friend doe... ... middle of paper ... ...rtues promotes the common interest. To conclude, the good life must be lived in a state because it is the life of virtue and virtue, or at least moral virtue, is best exercised in governing the state.(17) Aristotle claims that the polis exists by nature because, among other reasons, a person is not self-sufficient outside of it (Pol. I.2.1253a25-29).(18) What he means is hardly clear in its context; but if the foregoing analysis is correct, a person can realize his nature in the ideal polis because, in governing it, he exercises, to greatest possible degree, the human virtues. NOTES (1) R. G. Mulgan, Aristotle's Political Theory: An Introduction for Students of Political Theory (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987), p. 7. Mulgan would be right if he were thinking exclusively of philosophical pursuits. My concern here will be with the realization of moral virtues.

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