ARISTOTLE: Politics [Book I]

ARISTOTLE: Politics [Book I]

• Every community is established with a view to some good; for mankind always acts in order to obtain some good. The political community, which is the highest of all, aims at the highest good.
• He who considers the growth and origin of things, will obtain the clearest view of them. First, there must be a union of those who cannot exist without each other; i.e. of male and female, (this union is not formed deliberately, but from the innate desire shared by all living things to leave behind an image of themselves) and the union of a natural ruler and subject, so that the race will continue and for the preservation of them both.
• That which can foresee by the exercise of the mind is by nature intended to be lord and master, that which can give effect to such foresight is a subject and by nature intended to be a slave. Nature distinguishes between women and slaves.
• Out of these two relationships – male and female, master and slave – arise the family. The family is established by nature for the supply of men’s wants.
• When several families unite, and aim for something greater than the supply of basic wants, they form a village. The most natural village is that of a colony composed of children and grandchildren. The eldest family member ruled over the colony. This is why early Hellenic State were governed by kings.
• Several villages then unite into a community, which is the State. The State originates from the need to supply basic wants, and continues to exist for the sake of a good life. Since the early forms of society are natural, the State is natural too because it is the end of the earlier societies. Therefore, the State is a creation of nature, and man is a political animal.
• Nature makes nothing in vain, and man is the only creature endowed with speech. Voice, which is the mere indication of pleasure or pain, is common to all animals. Speech is intended to set forth what is expedient and inexpedient, what is just and unjust. Only man has any sense of good and evil.
• The State is prior to the individual because when an individual is isolated, he is not self-sufficient. The individual is a part of the whole, which is the State. A man who is unable to live in the State, or is entirely self-sufficient must either be a beast or a god.
• When perfected, man is the best of animals. But if he is separated from law and justice, and does not possess any virtue, then he is the most unholy and savage of animals, and the most full of lust and gluttony.
• The fewest possible parts of a family are master and slave, husband and wife, father and children. We must consider what each of these three relations is and ought to be. Another element of the household is the art of getting wealth. We must also consider this art.
• Aristotle will first consider the master slave relationship. As in any art, the manager of the household must have the proper instruments to accomplish the task of acquiring the basic necessities of life. Instruments can either be living or lifeless. The shuttle used for weaving is a lifeless instrument; the slave is a living instrument. Thus, a slave is defined as a man who is by nature not his own, but another man’s. The master owns the slave, as he owns the shuttle.
• Nature intends some man to be slaves. From the hour of their birth, some are marked out for subjection, some for rule. The ruling principle is innate in all things. Within the human body, the soul naturally rules the body. When the body rules the soul, a man is corrupted and unnatural. Thus, the rule of the soul over the body, the intellect and rational element over the passionate is natural and expedient. The rule of the inferior is always injurious. This same principle holds true for animals and all mankind.
• The man who apprehends reason, but does not possess it, is by nature a slave. For these men, slavery is both expedient and right.
• There are two types of slaves: slaves by nature and slaves by law that whatever is taken in war is supposed to be the victors. Slavery by law is unjust. The notion that because one man has the power of doing violence and is superior in brute strength, another shall be his slave is detestable. Where the relation of master and slave between is natural they are friends and have a common interest, but where it rests merely on law and force the reverse is true.
• The rule of a master is not a constitutional rule; thus, the different kinds of rule are not, as some propose, the same. Constitutional rule is a government of freeman and equals.
• Aristotle now inquires into the art of getting property generally, and acquiring wealth. Those whose food is not acquired by exchange and retail trade are: the shepherd, husbandman, brigand, fisherman, and the hunter. Some engage in two pursuits, such as hunting and fishing.
• Property, in the sense of bare necessities, seems to be given by nature to all; for some animals bring forth, together with their offspring, so much food as will last until the offspring is able to supply for themselves. Viviparous animals have up to a certain time a supply of food for their young in themselves, which is called mil. Furthermore, we may assume that plants and animals exist for the sake of man, to supply man with food, clothing, and various instruments because nature makes nothing in vain.
• The art of war is a natural art of acquisition practiced against men who, though intended by nature to be governed, will not submit. War of such a kind is naturally just.
• Thus, by nature there is on art of acquisition which is part of the management of a household; i.e. the art of acquiring the things necessary to life. The amount of property required for a good life is not unlimited, but an attainable amount supplied by nature to every man.
• There is another variety of the art of acquisition; i.e. the art of wealth getting. It is similar to the art of acquiring the necessities of life, but wealth is not given by nature like the necessities of life, wealth is gained by experience and art.
• Everything we possess has two use: the proper use, and the improper use. The proper use of a shoe is to wear it. The improper use is to exchange it for money or some necessity of life. Retail trade is not a natural part of acquiring wealth. However, only exchanging necessaries for necessaries is not a natural part of wealth getting, but it is not unnatural because the exchange is needed to satisfy the necessities of man.
• The more complex form of retail trade developed when inhabitants of one country depended on those of another to supply their necessaries, importing what they lacked and exporting what they had too much. Money originated because the necessities of life were too cumbersome to transport, and retail trade originated when man realized profit could be made by exchange.
• Some argue that money is a sham because it is not natural, it is conventional. If another commodity is substituted for money, then money will be worthless. Money is not useful as a means to any of the necessaries of life. Who is rich may often lack the necessary of food, like Midas whose insatiable prayer turned everything he touched into gold.
• The natural art of acquisition, which is part of household management and concerned with the provision of food, has a limit. The unnatural art of acquiring wealth by retail trade has no limit. Some people mistakenly believe that their purpose is to increase their money without limit, or at least not lose any of it. The origin of this disposition is that men are intent on living, not living well. As their desires are unlimited, they seek the means of gratifying those unlimited desires. They seek the means of obtaining bodily pleasures, and since the enjoyment of these appears to be dependent upon property, they are absorbed in the art of wealth-getting. They use every other art contrary to its natural end in order to acquire wealth. For example, the art of the physician aims at health, but men will turn the aim of the art into acquiring money. They turn every art into a means of getting wealth; this they conceive to be the ultimate end, and to the pursuit of this end they think all things must contribute.
• The discussion of wealth-getting is not unworthy of a philosopher, but being engaged in wealth getting is odious and disgraceful.
• Knowledge of livestock and husbandry are the two divisions of the natural art of acquisition. Commerce, usury, and hire (employment in unskilled and bodily arts) are the three divisions of the unnatural art of wealth getting. Cutting timber and mining are intermediary divisions in between the natural and unnatural ways of acquisition.
• Thales proved that philosophers can easily be rich if they desired, but they have different ambitions. Knowing by the stars that there would be a great harvest of olives during the following year, he gave deposits for the use of all the olive presses for the following year. When the harvest time came, and people suddenly wanted to use the presses to refine the many olives which were harvested, Thales charged what rate he chose. Thales says that his device for getting wealth is universally applicable; i.e. the creation of a monopoly.
• The male is fitter by nature to command than the female, just as the elder and full-grown is superior to the younger and immature; thus, the husband rules the wife, and the father rules the children. However, the natures of rule differ. The rule of a husband is constitutional, and the rule of a father is royal.
• Under a constitutional rule, all citizens are equal, and rule and are ruled by turns. However, the rule of the husband is permanent.
• The rule of the father is royal by virtue of love and respect due to age. A kin is the natural superior to his subjects, but he should be of the same kin or kind with them, and such is the relation of the elder and younger, of father and son.
• Do slaves have virtue such as courage, justice, temperance, and the like, or only bodily and menial qualities? Whichever way we answer the question, difficulty arises. If slaves have virtue, how are they any different from freeman? On the other hand, all men possess a rational principle, and thus it seems absurd to say they cannot possess virtue. Aristotle resolves this dilemma by asserting that all people partake in moral virtue, but only in such a manner and degree as is required to fulfill each person’s duty. The courage of a man is showed in commanding, the courage of a woman in obeying. The slave will only require so much virtue as will allow him to obey his master.

“It is evident that the state is a creation of nature, and that man is by nature a political animal.”

“Man is the only creature which has sense of good and evil.”

“He who is unable to live in society, or who has no need because he is sufficient for himself, must be either a beast or a god.”

“Man, when perfected, is the best of animals, but when separated from law and justice, he is the worst of all. If he has not virtue, he is the most unholy and the most savage of animals, and the most full of lust and gluttony.”

“From the hour of their birth, some are marked out for subjection, others for rule.”

“The man who participates in the rational principle enough to apprehend, but not to have, such a principle, is a slave by nature.”

“Superior power is only found where there is superior excellence of some kind. Power implies virtue.”

“The art of war is a natural art of acquisition practiced against men who, though intended by nature to be governed, will not submit. War of such a kind is naturally just.”

“Some men turn every quality or art into a means of getting wealth; this they conceive to be the end, and to the promotion of the end they think all things must contribute. The origin of this disposition in men is that they are intent upon living only, and not upon living well; and, as their desires are unlimited they also desire that the means of gratifying them should be without limit.”

Political State aims at the highest good. Men and woman, natural ruler and subject. Out of these two unions, the family is formed to supply man’s wants. Several families unite to aim at something more than the basic supply of necessities. State originates in the need to supply men’s wants, and continues to exist for the sake of the good life. Man is a political animal because Voice vs. speech, sense of good and evil. The State is prior to the individual, without the state, the individual cannot attain its purpose of happiness. Most unholy and savage of animals. Beast or a god.. Three relations in a family. Living instrument. Nature intends some to be rulers and others to be subjects. Art of acquisition and getting wealth. Constitutional vs. royal vs. master rule. Virtue of slaves, females, and children.

In Book I of the Politics, Aristotle develops his theory of the State. The ideas presented in the Politics are very similar to the ideas presented in the Ethics. Aristotle believes that nature makes nothing in vain, and that everything aims toward some good. Aristotle argues that the end of the State is the same end as that of man, which is to attain happiness.

Aristotle claims that a man cannot attain happiness without the State; for a man is not self-sufficing. A man who lives without a State is either a beast or a God. Only man is sensible of good and evil, and a man who is isolated from the laws and justice of a State will degenerate into the most unholy and savage of animals, filled with lust and gluttony.

Having thus determined the purpose of the State, Aristotle proceeds to analyze the nature of it.

By observing the origin of something, one can gain a better understanding of its true nature. Consequently, Aristotle begins his investigation by examining the origin of a State. The basic unit of the State is the family unit. The family unit arises from the union of male and female. This union is formed for the continuation of the species. It is not formed deliberately; it is formed by an innate desire within every living creature to leave behind an image of itself.

The family unit comprises three relations: husband and wife, father and children, and master and slave.

Aristotle explores the master and slave relation first. He asserts that from the hour of their birth, some are marked out to rule, and others to be ruled. People who can perceive reason, but do not possess it are naturally slaves. These natural slaves require a master; otherwise they would not be able to rationally guide their life to attain happiness. Aristotle argues that slaves and masters derive mutual benefit from their relationship, just as the soul and body derive mutual benefit when the soul rules over the body.

Next, Aristotle discusses the art of acquisition related to household management. This art of acquisition is concerned with procuring the necessaries of life. There are diverse methods of acquiring these necessities. For example, a man may be a hunter, fisher, farmer, etc. There is, however, a limit to the amount of property a man can obtain to satisfy the basic needs of life. Aristotle contrasts this art of acquisition with the art of wealth getting. The art of wealth getting is unnatural and has no limit regarding the amount of wealth which can be accumulated.

This unnatural art originates in commerce. When inhabitants of a city become dependent on inhabitants of another city to supply them with basic necessities, the inhabitants import those necessities which they lack, and export those necessities of which they have too much. Because some of these goods are too cumbersome to transport, people developed portable currency, which facilitated trade.

Aristotle argues that money is unnatural. He asserts that everything has a proper and improper use. For example, the proper use of a shoe is to wear it. The improper use of a shoe is to exchange it for currency or some other necessity of life. Calamity stems from men using things unnaturally.

Some people maintain that money is a sham. They argue that if another commodity is substituted for the currently accepted currency, then the former currency will become worthless. Furthermore, currency cannot fulfill the basic requirements of life. Experience demonstrates that men can amass great quantities of currency yet perish from hunger. As seen in the tale of Midas, whose insatiable prayer turned everything he touched into gold. Currency, in other words, is not a means to satisfy the needs of men.

Nevertheless, some men believe that the purpose of their life is to increase their money or, at the least, not lose any of it. The origin of this inclination is that they are merely intent on living, not living well. They are concerned with bodily pleasures, which are infinite and insatiable. Because they focus on satisfying these infinite bodily desires, they require an unlimited amount of means to satisfy those desires; and thus, they use every art unnaturally towards this end. The art of medicine aims at health, not wealth, but man will turn this art and every other art towards the unnatural aim of wealth getting.

Aristotle concludes book I with an investigation into whether slaves have virtue, and whether the virtue of women and children are the same as men. Aristotle concludes that slaves, women, and children all have virtue, but that it differs in degree and manner from the virtues of men. Each individual possesses virtue which allows him to fulfill his or her duty. For example, the courage of a man is displayed in commanding, while the courage of a woman is displayed in obeying.

Complete Works of Aristotle


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