Aristotle Political Animal Essay Ideas

Daily Dabble in the Classics, Aristotle

Hence it is evident that the state is a creation of nature, and that man is by nature a political animal. And he who by nature and not by mere accident is without a state, is either a bad man or above humanity; he is like the

“Tribeless, lawless, heartless one, “

whom Homer denounces- the natural outcast is forthwith a lover of war; he may be compared to an isolated piece at draughts.

Now, that man is more of a political animal than bees or any other gregarious animals is evident. Nature, as we often say, makes nothing in vain, and man is the only animal whom she has endowed with the gift of speech. And whereas mere voice is but an indication of pleasure or pain, and is therefore found in other animals (for their nature attains to the perception of pleasure and pain and the intimation of them to one another, and no further), the power of speech is intended to set forth the expedient and inexpedient, and therefore likewise the just and the unjust. And it is a characteristic of man that he alone has any sense of good and evil, of just and unjust, and the like, and the association of living beings who have this sense makes a family and a state.

Further, the state is by nature clearly prior to the family and to the individual, since the whole is of necessity prior to the part; for example, if the whole body be destroyed, there will be no foot or hand, except in an equivocal sense, as we might speak of a stone hand; for when destroyed the hand will be no better than that. But things are defined by their working and power; and we ought not to say that they are the same when they no longer have their proper quality, but only that they have the same name. The proof that the state is a creation of nature and prior to the individual is that the individual, when isolated, is not self-sufficing; and therefore he is like a part in relation to the whole. But 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: he is no part of a state. A social instinct is implanted in all men by nature, and yet he who first founded the state was the greatest of benefactors. 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 the more dangerous, and he is equipped at birth with arms, meant to be used by intelligence and virtue, which he may use for the worst ends. Wherefore, if he have not virtue, he is the most unholy and the most savage of animals, and the most full of lust and gluttony. But justice is the bond of men in states, for the administration of justice, which is the determination of what is just, is the principle of order in political society.

Source: Aristotle, Politics, Book One, 350 B.C.E.

The Moral Liberal recommends: Complete Works of Aristotle, Vol. 1


Study Questions

What does Aristotle mean when he says "man is a political animal"?

According to Aristotle, the end goal of human life is happiness, which is found in the application of reason. This life of good quality is not possible except within the confines of a city. Man needs the leisure and the social interaction that citizens in a polis enjoy in order to enjoy achieve this happiness. As a result, non-citizens are unable to attain true happiness or rationality and are thus less complete, less human than citizens. To realize his true human nature, man must take part in political life, and so, Aristotle concludes, he is a political animal.

What are Aristotle's main arguments in defense of private property?

Aristotle argues that private property is not the root of man's wickedness, but rather a manifestation. Because man's wickedness runs deep, eliminating private property will not make man better. Aristotle suggests instead that education and moderation will eliminate vice. He also points out that the important virtue of generosity would not be possible if there were no private property with which to be generous.

Is a good citizen the same thing as a good man? Why or why not?

The ideal citizen is someone who best serves the ends of the city. Because there are many different kinds of constitutions, and each constitution calls for many different kinds of citizens, there must necessarily be many different standards for excellence in a citizen. However, there is only one universal standard for excellence in a man. Thus it is possible for a good citizen not to be a good man. The end goal of every city is to make a life of good quality possible for its citizens, but only the best citizens in the best city will be able to attain this end. A good leader, Aristotle suggests, is practiced at both ruling and being ruled, and so has all the necessary qualities that make a good man.

Suggested Essay Topics

Explain Aristotle's concept of distributive justice.

In what cases and in what ways can an oligarchy and democracy resemble one another? (Hint: demagoguery vs. dynasty.)

Why does Aristotle think that a strong middle class is important? How is this linked with his conclusions in the ##Nicomachean Ethics##?

According to Aristotle, what is the root cause of all constitutional change? Why are certain kinds of constitutions more susceptible to change than others?

Why does Aristotle give instructions on how to preserve a tyranny if he thinks tyrannies are evil?

Aristotle comes up with two conceptions of liberty: (1) an even interchange between ruling and being ruled; and (2) the freedom to do as one pleases. Which of these does he prefer, and why? What is the significance of simultaneously ruling and being ruled?

Trace Aristotle's debate between the life of political activity and the life of philosophical speculation. What arguments does he provide for each? Which does he ultimately conclude is better?

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