POLITICAL THINKER IS INFLUENCED BY THE CONDITION IN HIS ENVIRONMENT. DISCUSS THIS IN REGARDS TO ARISTOTLE
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From the inception of society, man’s problem has remained unchanged: adapting to society in which he finds himself. As a result, man has constantly been search of answer to various questions like: What is the nature of the state? What is its purpose? What is the nature and limits of authority? How is government formed and dissolved? Why and when is a revolution necessary? The attempt of seek solution of this questions and more have brought into focus the concept of political thought.
Some of the major political thinkers throughout history include Plato, Aristotle, Hobbes, Locke, Hume, Rousseau, Burke, Wollstonecraft, Kant, Hegel, Bentham, Mill, and Marx. These thinkers all had their own important contributions to the development of modern political theory.
POLITICAL THINKER IS INFLUENCED BY CONDITION IN HIS ENVIRONMENT: ARISTOTLE
Aristotle’s wide-ranging researches into what would now be considered the natural sciences, as well as in logic and other areas of inquiry, manifested respect for the opinions of “the many and the wise” as a starting-point for philosophical understanding. His approach likewise manifested appreciation of the multiplicity of forms of knowledge, in particular the cleavage between theoretical understanding of the world as it necessarily is, and practical knowledge of how to deliberate about acting in relation to whatever “could be otherwise.” Uniting his accounts of phenomena as different as plants, animals, ethics and politics, was a teleological structure of explanation.
Biological creatures work to fulfill the realization of their end or telos, a specific way of living a complete life characteristic of the plants or animals of their own kind, which is the distinctive purpose that defines their fundamental nature—just as human artifacts are designed and used for specific ends. While every human being, in acting, posits a particular telos as the purpose making that action intelligible, this should ideally reflect the overall natural telos of humans as such.
Here, however, arises a problem unique to humans. Whereas other animals have a single telos defining their nature (living the full life of a frog, including reproduction, being the sole telos of each frog, in the example used by Lear 1998), humans both have a distinctive human nature—arising from the unique capacity to use language to deliberate about how to act — and also share in the divine nature in their ability to use reason to understand the eternal and intelligible order of the world. Practical reason is the domain of ethics and politics, the uniquely human domain. Yet the political life is not necessarily the best life, compared with that devoted to the divinely shared human capacity for theoretical reason and philosophical thinking
Aristotle (384-322 BC) The Politics
Like his teacher Plato, Aristotle was interested in the nature of the political as such and deeply normative in his approach to politics. He was, however, more empirical and scientific in his method, writing treatises instead of dialogues and often handling his materials with considerable detachment. The result in the Politics is a far-reaching and often penetrating treatment of political life, from the origins and purpose of the state to the nuances of institutional arrangements. While Aristotle’s remarks on slavery, women, and laborers are often embarrassing to modern readers, his analysis of regime types (including the causes of their preservation and destruction) remains of perennial interest. His discussion of “polity”— a fusion of oligarchy and democracy — has been of particular significance in the history of popular government. Finally, his contention that a constitution is more than a set of political institutions, but also embodies a shared way of life, has proved a fruitful insight in the hands of subsequent thinkers such as Alexis de Tocqueville.
Ethics and Politics by Way of Law
In considering practical reason to be the domain of both ethics and politics, Aristotle follows Plato in drawing no sharp line between those two domains (see on this point for ancient testimonies and modern arguments respectively, Bodéüs 1993: 22–24 and 59–63, and Vander Waerdt 1991, though for a contrary argument, see Duvall and Dotson 1998). In fact he closes his Nicomachean Ethics by remarking that for most people, the practice of ethics can only be ensured by their being governed by law, which combines necessity (compulsion) with reason. Because, for most people, the ethical life presupposes government by law, the student of ethics must become a student of political science, studying the science of legislation in light of the collection of constitutions assembled by Aristotle and his school in the Lyceum. All but part of one of the over one hundred items in this collection reported in antiquity have been lost: a considerable part of the analysis of the “Constitution of Athens” was recovered from a papyrus discovered in the nineteenth century.
Aristotle’s theoretical claims about the nature of politics in the Politics must be understood against this backdrop. The legislator (whose standpoint is adopted in the Politics, see the entry on Aristotle’s political theory) needs to have a grasp of the nature of politics as such (pursued especially in Books I and III); an understanding of the major faultlines in the interpretation and practice of politics (pursued especially in Books II and IV–VI); and a grip on the structure and characteristics of the specific city for which he aims to legislate (pursued also in Book II for existing constitutions and constitutional models; Books IV–VI for types of flawed constitutions; and Books VII–VIII for the “best constitution” (1323a14).
At the beginning of Book IV (1288b1–39), Aristotle offers a fourfold account of what the expertise regarding constitutions must encompass. As glossed by Eugene Garver (2011: 107), and drawing on standard Aristotelian terminology distinguishing formal from material causes, these include: “The first, ‘that which is best in the abstract’…orients politics around the end of politics, the best life. The second, the best relative to circumstances, starts with the material cause and organizes political inquiry around the best that can be made out of given material. The third, the best on a hypothesis, starts not from the true end of politics, but any posited end, and so looks for means and devices that will preserve any given constitution. The final inquiry, the search for ‘the form of constitution which is best suited to states in general,’ articulates a formal cause that can organize almost any material, any kind of people.” These four elements of expertise regarding constitution are not tidily segregated in different parts of the text; they are pursued variously, sometimes in combination, and draw on wider discussions of the nature of politics and the human good that are threaded throughout.
The Politics begins by setting the stage for the first kind of understanding of constitutions identified above, by offering an analysis of the teleological ends of life and the human capacity for speech which together support its two most famous contentions: that “it is evident that the state is a creation of nature, and that man is by nature a political animal” (I.2, 1253a2–3). While for some modern readers this sentence asserts that political participation is necessary for virtuous human flourishing (as for Irwin 1990), others contend that “the argument that man is a political animal does not imply that man must participate in politics to become virtuous, only that he must literally be a part of a polis and live under its laws.” (Mulgan 1990: 205) In either case, as Hannah Arendt (1958) emphasizes, Aristotle’s understanding of civic unity insists on respect for human plurality as the condition of political action; in Book II, he criticizes Plato’s Kallipolis for interpreting the requirement of civic unity in so extreme a fashion as to have obliterated the properly political domain altogether (Nussbaum 1980). Nevertheless, civic unity is still an aim of Aristotle’s ideal virtuous regime, and a limited Platonic spirit survives in the common meals that this regime would offer to all citizens: VII.10.
In another famous contention of the work—that “a citizen is one who shares in governing and being governed” (III.13, 1283b42–1284a1, also translatable as “ruling and being ruled in turn”), the Greek dictum of citizenship among equals is presented as an analytical truth, leaving open how such equality is to be conceived in practice. The citizen “shares in the administration of justice, and in offices” (III.1, 1275a23–24). In defective regimes, the good citizen and the good man may come apart. The good citizen of a defective regime is one whose character suits the particular regime in question (whether oligarchic, or democratic, say) and equips him to support it loyally; hence he may be deformed or stunted by a role of holding (or a role of holding accountable) offices defined on incorrect terms. In “the best state,” however, the citizen is “one who is able and chooses to be governed and to govern with a view to the life of excellence” (III.13, 1284a1–3). In such a state, “the citizens must not lead the life of artisans or tradesmen, for such a life is ignoble and inimical to excellence” (VII.9, 1328b39–41), nor that of farmers, as political participation requires leisure. Here the limitations and exclusions among actual humans licensed by the principled formulation of the possibility—requiring actual realization—of human virtue become apparent.
Aristotle recognizes that there are other possible claims, or as it were titles, to political rule: “There is also a doubt as to what is to be the supreme power in the state:—Is it the multitude? Or the wealthy? Or the good? Or the one best man? Or a tyrant?” (III.10, 1281a11–13). He develops in particular detail the arguments that might be made on behalf of the many and the knowledgeable one respectively. The many can judge, as they did in Athenian dramatic audiences, juries, and the Assembly (where they “judged”, by voting on, the merits of something advanced for their consideration, whether a play, an indictment, or a speaker’s proposed resolution). Aristotle uses the image of a collectively provided feast to illustrate the potential superiority of such collective judgement; how to interpret this image (whether as a potluck, Waldron 1995, Wilson 2011, Ober 2013, or in a more aggregative way, Bouchard 2011, Cammack 2013, Lane 2013a) and other images that he uses is a matter of some renewed controversy (for a recent review, see Bobonich 2015). But the lesson Aristotle draws from the various images is clearly limited to vindicating a role of the many in electing and holding accountable incumbents of the highest offices rather than in holding such offices themselves (III.11, 1281b31; Lane 2013a). The many can contribute to virtuous decision-making in their collective capacity of judgment—presumably in assemblies and juries—but not as individual high officials (Lane 2013a, 2014b, Poddighe 2014).
In the contrasting case of the one supremely excellent person, Aristotle argues that such a person has, strictly speaking, no equals, and so cannot be made justly to take a turn in rule, holding office for a time, as one citizen among others. Instead it is right that such a person should rule without the term limits that political office would ordinarily require:
If, however, there be some one person, or more than one, although not enough to make up the full complement of a state, whose excellence is so pre-eminent that the excellence or the political capacity of all the rest admit of no comparison with his or theirs, he or they can be no longer regarded as part of a state; for justice will not be done to the superior, if he is reckoned only as the equal of those who are so far inferior to him in excellence and in political capacity. Such a man may truly be deemed a god among men ….men like him should be kings in their state for life (III.13, 1284a3–11…1284b32–34; cf. III.17, 1288a24–29).
On one recent reading, this implies that virtuous monarchy does indeed count as a political regime, albeit one in which only one or a few of the citizens are eligible to hold the highest offices (Riesbeck 2014). Yet this argument is left at the hypothetical level. In the absence of such a superlatively virtuous, even godlike individual, the formulation of political rule as involving some kind of turn-taking by a large body of sufficiently virtuous citizens remains preeminent (though even this should not be read to imply that all should in fact alternate in office, or even that all should necessarily be eligible for all offices).
As Aristotle turn to consideration of the best constitutions relative to particular (and imperfect) circumstances, the major issue is conflict between rival factions over the basis for defining equality and so justice. In the Nicomachean Ethics, Book V, Aristotle had identified two types of equality: geometrical, or proportional to merit; and arithmetical, or proportional to mere numerical counting. In Politics III.9 he picks up this distinction and aligns it with the conflict between oligarchical and democratic justice. As he later puts it, “Democrats say that justice is that to which the majority agree, oligarchs that to which the wealthier class agree…” (VI.3, 1318a18–20), while truly aristocratic justice would enfranchise only those equal in virtue. This attention to the actual political contentions of rival Greek groups leads into a discussion of the relative goodness and badness of imperfect regimes, modeled in part on Plato’s Statesman. Whereas that Platonic text had distinguished monarchy from tyranny, aristocracy from oligarchy, and good from bad democracy on the basis of obedience to law (all these regimes being conceived as lacking the genuine political knowledge of the true statesman), Aristotle instead makes the dividing line the question of ruling for the common advantage as opposed to ruling for the advantage of a single faction. The “bad” democracy, for example, rules for the faction of the many as opposed to the faction of the few, whereas the “good” democracy—which Aristotle baptizes “polity”, using the general word for “constitution” (politeia) —rules for the advantage of all citizens.
Aristotle augments this analysis with appeals to historical narrative, overlapping with the narrative of Athenian political history offered in the Constitution of Athens compiled by him or, more likely, by members of his school. On his telling in the Politics, Athenian democracy had degenerated from an aboriginal democracy of non-meddling farmers (VI.4), through various intermediate forms, to a democracy (seemingly that of contemporary fourth-century Athens) in which men rule, not laws. Yet this trajectory does not prevent him from asserting that in general democracy is “most tolerable” of the three perversions (IV.2, 1289b4–5) and noting that it at least involves the characteristic political liberty of ruling and being ruled in turn (VI.2).
A further major turn in the analysis comes when the question of some single “best” regime is replaced by a question about not what is “best” in the “ideal” sense, but the good constitution “that is easily attainable by all” (IV.1, 1288a37–39) and in practice best for most cities (IV.11). This Aristotle calls the middling regime: a political, because sociological, mean between oligarchy and democracy, in which the middle classes hold the preponderance of both wealth distribution and political power. Thus it is attainable through reform of either an oligarchy or a democracy, the most prevalent constitutions among the Greeks. Strikingly, his example of such a regime is Sparta: presented as a case of a characteristically democratic distribution of education (among citizens only, of course) coupled with the characteristically aristocratic principle of election to offices rather than selection by lot (IV.9) (though to be sure, democracies such as Athens made use of election for certain of the highest offices as well).
Aristotle can in many ways be seen as defending some fundamental tenets of Greek ethics (such as the value of justice), but doing so by means of advancing revisionist philosophical doctrines and distancing themselves from the ways in which those tenets were interpreted by the democratic institutions of their day. The range of ethical and political views which they, along with their Hellenistic successors, laid out, continue to define many of the fundamental choices for modern philosophy, despite the many important innovations in institutional form and intellectual approach which have been made since. Many of those innovations, indeed, came in response to a revival of the ancient skeptical and relativist challenges: challenges already known from their evolution within ancient political philosophy itself.
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Barnes, J. (1984). The Complete Works of Aristotle, 2 vols., Princeton: Princeton University Press.
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Mark F. Griffith, (1997) “John Locke’s influence on American government and public administration”, Journal of Management History, Vol. 3 Issue: 3, pp.224-237.
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Dobson, A. (1993). ‘‘Afterword,’’ in A. Dobson and P. Lucardie (eds), The Politics of Nature , pp. 229 –34. London: Routledge
Barry, J. (1999). Rethinking Green Politics: Nature, Virtue, and Progress. London: Sage.
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