In "The Politics", Aristotle would have us believe that man by nature is a political animal. In other words, Aristotle seems to feel that the most natural thing for men to do is to come together in some form of political association. He then contends that this political association is essential to the pursuit of the good life. Finally he attempts to distinguish what forms of political association are most suitable to the pursuit of this good life. In formulating a critique of "The Politics", we shall first examine his claims as to what is natural to man and whether the criterion of the natural is sufficient to demonstrate virtue. We shall then examine what it is about political association that is essential to the pursuit of the good life. In conclusion, we shall see whether Aristotle's recommended mix of oligarchy and democracy is really suited to the practice of the good life.
It seems to me that there is indeed something more natural to man than politics. While it is true that wherever you find men you tend to find political associations, it is also true that not all human associations are political. Aristotle rightly points out the family is a basic form of association that is mostly apolitical. Religion brings people together, as does the economic desire to trade and pursue economic activity. None of these spheres of human activity can be said to necessitate politics. These spheres of human action however, are seemingly found wherever human beings can be found, hence they are more natural in the sense that they automatically arise. Aristotle's account of the formation of the state is pure historical rationalization. He says that the state is natural because it arises out of mor...
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...r to preserve virtue in the face of rampant vice than in times where individual virtue abounds in order to maintain stability and justice. The nature of politics is power over material things however, not virtue. Justice and virtue may be the professed functions and goals of politics, but this does not define what politics in fact are. A perplexing question however, is that of how the ideal constitution will be brought about when the virtuous have no interest in bringing it about precisely because virtue is defined by disinterestedness.
Barnes, Jonathan, ed. The Complete Works of Aristotle. 2 vols. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984
Lord, Carnes. Aristotle: The Politics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984
Nehamas, Alexander. Virtues of Authenticity: Essays on Plato and Aristotle. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999
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