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Aristotle’s Political Ideas

Aristotle’s Life in Brief

Born around 384 BC in Macedonia, Aristotle is known for more than one reason. At the age of 17, he was sent to Athens to pursue higher education. There he studied under Plato in The Academy. After his education, he continued there as an instructor.

After spending around 20 years at the Academy, Aristotle went back to Macedonia, where he became a tutor to King’s son Alexander (The Great). With the expansion of Macedonia under Alexander, Aristotle returned to Athens and founded his own school the Lyceum in 335 BC.

While Plato believed in philosophy and speculation as the way to gain knowledge, Aristotle preferred experimentation. He studied various subjects including biology, earth science, cosmology, politics, philosophy, ethics. Logics etc.

When Alexander the Great died in 323 BC, Aristotle (seen as a Macedonian sympathizer) was charged with impiety. A pragmatic scholar himself, unlike Socrates who embraced punishment and drank hemlock, Aristotle fled to the island of Euboea. Unfortunately he died shortly after in 322 BC at the age of 62.

Known as the father of Political Science, Aristotle’s book POLITICS remains an important contribution. He is also regarded as the originator of many important ideas like the rule of law, deliberative democracy, etc. in Western history.

Aristotle  is considered as the greatest disciple of Plato as well as the greatest critic of Plato. Actually he is not critic of Plato but trying to address the defects in the thoughts of Plato. (Reformed Plato).

Similarities.

Both belong to Socratic tradition and are critics of the sophists tradition.
Both give primacy to the state over individual.
Both believe in natural inequality.
Both equate poverty with ignorance.
Both lack faith in masses.

Differences.

The basic difference is in their perspectives.
If Plato is idealist, Aristotle is pragmatic. (Combination of idealism and realism.)
If Plato is perfectionist, Aristotle believes in moderation / golden mean.
If Plato is radical, Aristotle is conservative.
If Plato believes in ultimate knowledge, Aristotle believes in common sense.
According to Aristotle, ruler need not to be wise in the world of ideas rather he has to be worldly wise.


Aristotle’s theory of Idea (knowledge).

According to Plato, idea exists independently of this world. For Plato idea is independent of matter. However according to Aristotle, there is nothing outside this world. Idea is not independent of matter. Idea is present in the matter itself. We cannot ignore the physical world, just considering it as the world of illusions. To understand what is right and wrong, we do not require any special knowledge, we only require common sense.
Thus Plato is called as father of Political Philosophy because he established that the real world is the world of ideas, and philosophy is the ultimate source of knowledge.
Aristotle is known as father of Political Science, here the word science should not be interpreted in the literal sense. Aristotle as a father of political science denotes his practical approach, the importance he gives to the world of matter along with the world of ideas. Hence if Plato talks about absolute wisdom, Aristotle stands for practical wisdom.


Aristotle theory of State.

Prominent statements of Aristotle on theory of state.

Man is by nature political (social) animal.

State comes into existence for sake of life and continues for sake for good life.

State is highest of all associations.

One who can live without state is either a beast or God, he cannot be a man.

State is a union of family and religious.

Man is by nature political animal.

In above statements Aristotle talks about the importance of the state. He tries to show that man is by nature a political animal, which means nature has not made man in such a way that he can live without state.  Aristotle belongs to the Socratic tradition. And counters the sophists argument that state is conventional and man is measure of everything  or man is prior to state.

To prove that ‘man is by nature a political animal’, Aristotle gives following arguments.

1] On the basis of the analysis of the needs of man.
Nature has not made man self-sufficient. Even to fulfill basic needs, hence the first association is family. Family can fulfill some of the needs but not all of the needs, hence man has formed village. Village can fulfill some of the needs but not all of the needs, and hence man has created State. 
Thus State is the highest of all associations. Only State is capable of fulfilling all the requirements of man. Neither family is sufficient nor village is, the only institution which is self sufficient is State.
It also suggests that State is the ultimate institution, there is no institution of any significance beyond state and it deserves the highest share in man’s obligations in his life.

State is the precondition for good life.
Hence man cannot have fulfilled life without state. In the words of Aristotle, “State comes into existence for sake of life and continues for the sake of good life.” Thus on the basis of analysis of the needs of man, Aristotle proves, State as a natural institution and man as a political animal.
In the words of Aristotle, “One who can live without State, can be either beast or God, he cannot be man. It means one should possess ‘superhuman qualities’ of either beast or God to be able to live without State.

2] On the basis of Logic.
Though historically or chronologically man comes before State, but Logically State comes before man. How? Though man came first yet, the life of man, was not worth calling the human life, until and unless man has not formed the state.

3] Teleological Argument / School of Destiny.
Aristotle believes in the school of destiny. The destiny of man is, he has to live under the state. Nature has made man in such a manner, that he cannot avoid state.

Thus on the basis of above logics, he has established the importance of state in the life of man.

Critical Evaluation.

Weather State is natural necessity remains a matter of debate amongst political scholars. e.g. If Idealists believe that State is necessary and source of virtue, liberals believe that State is a necessary evil and anarchist believe that State is ‘unnecessary evil.’


Aristotle’s theory of Citizenship.

1st of all Aristotle tells who all will not be included in the category of citizens: slaves, children, women, old people. Besides the general rule of excluding foreigners. Aristotle also considers Birth and Blood as the criteria. Native born adult Greek male belonging to the propertied class.
According to him, citizenship is a duty. Duty towards the state. Duty to participate in affairs of the state, like law making and judicial business.

He excludes

1] Women because they are so much involved in the affairs of the family/household that they do not have time.
2] Children because they lack maturity.
3] Slaves on the ground that they do not have reason.
4] Old People because their physical condition remains uncertain.

Critical Evaluation

Aristotle’s theory of citizenship may not be treated as democratic and desirable. It is a narrow conception of citizenship. However we cannot discard his theory altogether.
He does make a sensible argument that citizenship is a duty, if citizens cannot afford to make qualitative participation, in the affairs of the state, there is no point considering them as citizens. Such persons will be citizens only in formal sense and not in any substantive terms.


Theory of Slavery

Aristotle suggests that slavery is natural as well as desirable/useful. Slavery was the institution practiced in ancient Greece. There used to be two categories of slaves. 1) Natural Slaves or Slave by nature.  2) Slave by law. (Prisoners of war)
Aristotle’s theory is about those who are slave by nature. According to him, nature has made two types of persons 1) Those who are slave by nature. 2) Those who are master by nature.  Those who are mentally strong are meant to be masters. Those who are physically strong are meant to be the slaves by nature.
He wants us to understand message of nature. Nature has made some persons physically strong so that they can perform the physical work for longer duration. Some men are mentally strong because nature want them to be involved in the works which require mental strength or reason.
Master posses two qualities: reason and courage. Those who are masters they are supposed to take decisions, hence those who can take decisions as well as have courage to stand by the consequences of the decisions are the masters. (Courage of conviction).
Those who are slaves by nature, do not have reason and courage. Courage is also important characteristic because if we do not have courage, we will not be able to make decisions.

Utility of slavery system.

It is useful to the economic system. Those who are physically strong can work for longer duration. It is useful for state. If master has a slave, slave will work for him and master can afford to make qualitative participation in the State.
It is useful for master. It will give opportunity to the master to enhance his virtues. It is useful for Slave. Some are slave by nature, and cannot live on their own, they need master and in the company of good master, at least slave will have opportunity to develop some virtues.
Aristotle also suggests that if slave develops virtues of reason and courage, master can make him free. He was aware that slaves are not being treated properly hence he suggest that masters should take care of the slaves properly.

Critical Evaluation

Slavery is natural. Slavery may be natural, but we do not live in nature. Survival of the fittest may be the principle in nature, it need not to be a principles in society. Socrates himself held that what is should not determine what ought to be, it should be viceversa.
In contemporary times, no amount of utility of the institution can justify slavery. Every person ought to be treated with respect. Human dignity is a principle which cannot be compromised. We can quote Immanuel Kant, he has given the principle of human dignity. “Each man in an end in itself. No one ought to treat other person as a means to an end.”  each person has its own intrinsic value and no one ought to be treated as a means of utility for other.
Aristotle’s theory of slavery also provides justification for myths like ‘Benevolent Despotism’, ‘White man’s burden’ & ‘Civilizing mission.’


Theory of Property

This comes in criticism of Plato’s theory of property (Plato’s communism). Aristotle has analyzed the systems property. He evaluates three systems.

1] Common ownership common use (communism).
It is neither good for the property nor society. Everyone’s property is no one’s responsibility. Common ownership is not productive as it is not enough motivating.

2] Common ownership individual use.
It is not logical and hence not practical. If ever found in practice, it will be very exploitative.

3] Individual ownership common use.
Aristotle considers this to be an example of his fundamental idea of “golden mean”. Property is a source of motivation, sense of achievement, productive, social stability.
Aristotle understood the negative aspect of extreme property. He believes that person should have moderate wealth. Person should contribute for the well-being of others. After all man is a social animal, society plays role in the life of man, man should also contribute to the society.
Aristotle’s idea comes near Gandhian idea of ‘trusteeship’.


Theory of Constitution

Aristotle’s theory of constitution is the most important reason to give Aristotle the title of the father of political science. Political science begins and ends with the state. State, constitution, their types, revolution are the areas discussed in his book POLITICS.
Plato’s REPUBLIC is like an encyclopedia. The book does not deal with the single subject, it deals with multiple subjects. e.g. Education, ethics, philosophy, sociology, literature etc. On the other hand, Aristotle’s book POLITICS deals with the core issues, hence it can be treated as the first textbook in the discipline of political science & he is rightly called father of political science.
He has given the theory of constitution after studying 158 constitutions. Plato’s theory is based on his imagination, where Aristotle’s analysis is based on the observations of the real constitutions, their analysis, comparison, classification. Hence his methodology can be called as more scientific or proto-science.

Aristotle does not make any difference in constitution, state and government.

No. of persons involvedIn interest of people (normal)In interest of rulers (corrupt)
OneMonarchyTyranny
FewAristocracyOligarchy
ManyPolityDemocracy

The best constitution/state is Monarchy, or the rule of ‘Philosopher King’ according to Aristotle. It is the best, but not the best practicable. Its practical form will be tyranny.
Polity is rule of many, but not so many, with means the rule of middle-class. It is best practicable form of govt. according to Aristotle.
Democracy is second worst form of government. It is rule of many ignorant poors. Democracy results into the emergence of ‘demagogic leaders’, which make people fool and establish tyranny.
Tyranny is the worst form of government.

Cycle of governments / Cycle of change

Change is the law of nature. Tyranny changes to aristocracy. Aristocracy gives birth to oligarchy. Oligarchy eventually turns into Polity. Polity gets transformed in democracy. And democracy degrades to tyranny. And the cycle continues…

Polity is the best practicable form of government (Rule of middle class).

Aristotle is known as father of political science. One of the reason is, his contribution to the theory of constitution. He has studied around 158 constitutions & on the basis of his analysis, he has given the classification of constitutions. On the basis of his observation and analysis, he suggests that Polity is the ‘Best Practicable’ form of government.
We can see the application of his principle of ‘golden mean’ while arriving at this conclusion. Polity is golden mean of oligarchy and democracy. Since it is situated between these two form in his classification. Polity is the rule of middle class. It avoids the extremes of the other two systems. e.g. Oligarchy is the rule of few rich while democracy is rule of masses or many ignorant poors. Polity is the moderation. It is a rule of rich, but not extremely rich. It is rule of many rather than few, but not of too many.

The rule of middle class is always better according to Aristotle because rich and poor both are susceptible to crimes. One commits crime out of arrogance and the other commits crime out of ignorance. Rich will not trust poor, poor will not trust rich. Hence either of the rule will not be stable. However both will trust the middle class. Hence the rule of middle class is more stable.
He gives the example of many great law-givers like Solon, coming from the middle class. Middle class posses reason and since they are not very rich, they are not arrogant and thus the rule of middle class is the best  practicable form of government.


Theory of Revolution & Justice.

Aristotle is a conservative. He is not comfortable with the change. Hence even the slightest change in governance, he call it as a revolution. In general revolution is sees as a complete overthrow of the system and normally a violent change.
Aristotle has done exhaustive study of causes of revolution. He has studied 158 constitutions. He has give the general causes and the particular cases of revolution. (regime specific).
According to Aristotle, weather it is a tyranny or aristocracy, the most common cause is the feeling of inequality. Hence if there is a inequality in the society, it may be real or imagined, there is a possibility of revolution. Hence Aristotle suggests that the ruling class should be extremely cautious that, people should not develop the feeling that they have not been treated equally.
The idea of equality is linked to the idea of justice.

“It is unjust to treat equal unequally and it is equally unjust to treat unequal equally.”

In above statement Aristotle has given his idea of justice and equality. He gives the theory in the context of describing the most common cause behind revolution. On the basis of analysis of 158 constitutions, he suggests that most common cause has been the feeling of inequality, real or imagined. As it is directly linked to the feeling of injustice.
His theory of justice is based on common sense, unlike the very abstract theory of justice give by Plato.

He discussed justice in two dimensions.

1] Rectificatory Justice: Which is linked to the system of grievance redressal, administered by courts. He gives the principle of proportion. It means penalty should be in proportion to the harm done.

2] Distributive Justice: Which is linked with the distribution of resources, honors, awards etc. In this case also he gives the principles of proportionate justice. Distributive justice can be called as social justice or public policy. According to him, state should reward the person in proportion of his contribution to society. A person whose work is more important for society ought to get more.
Hence he suggests that, it is unjust to treat equals unequally – which means two persons having equal merit are to be rewarded equally. He further says that – it is also unjust to treat unequal equally. Two persons who differ in merit – if state gives them equal treatment, they are bound to feel injustice.
We can link this theory with his theory of slavery. According to him, some are masters by nature and some are slaves by nature. If masters and slaves are treated equally, this itself is injustice.

Critical Evaluation:

Aristotle’s theory of justice is actually the justification of injustice. He believes that merit should be the principle of distributive justice. However according to the contemporary scholars, merit is a flawed argument. There is a link between merit and opportunities or circumstances. In a society like India, where there have been massive inequalities and injustice with certain sections of community, merit alone cannot be the principles so long there is no social levelling. Hence constitution of India goes for the principle of positive discrimination in favor of weaker sections of society.

Other Causes of revolution

1] Monarchy
Family conspiracies, jealousies,

2] Aristocracy or Oligarchy
Conspiracy by poor. Because poor will not trust rich ruling class.
e.g. CPC in Contemporary China.

3] Democracy – Rule of many poor and ignorant.
Conspiracy of rich against poor.

4] General causes
Universal passion for power and privilege.
Carelessness and corruption of the ruling classes.
Overreach of ruling classes.
Extreme inequalities of income and wealth.
Rivalries among different sections.
Sudden inflow of foreigners.
If ruling class ignores small changes.
If state reward those who do not deserve.
If state does not reward those who deserve.
Disproportionate increase in any aspect of any state.
Change is natural characteristic feature of this world. People like change.

Measures to deal with revolution.

State should cultivate the spirit of obedience among citizens.
State should educate citizens in civic virtues.
State should inculcate the feeling of patriotism.
State should treat the causes giving rise to revolutions.

Aristotle’s theory of revolution is relevant even in present times.

“Everywhere inequality is a cause of revolution.”

Aristotle has given an exhaustive theory of revolution based on the analysis of 158 constitutions. Aristotle stands for stability and according to him, even a small change is revolution. While Marxist idea of revolution is violent overthrow of state and complete change in economic structure of state, and similar is the idea of revolution from common man’s perspective.
He has given general and regime specific causes e.g. In Monarchy it is family conspiracy, in democracy it conspiracy by rich people. And general causes include passion for power, poor governance.
However according to Aristotle, most common cause has been inequality because it gives rise to injustice. He believes in proportionate equality. In words of Aristotle,  ‘It is unjust to treat equals unequally and it is equally unjust to treat unequal equally’ e.g. If masters and slaves are treated equally, it will generate resentment among masters.
We may disagree with Aristotle’s concept of equality and justice, but we cannot ignore Aristotle’s view that inequality has been the principal and universal cause behind all revolutions. Whether it is French revolution or Russian evolution, Chinese revolution or recent Arab Spring.


Aristotle on Law

“Law is a reason without passions.”

Aristotle is known as father of constitutionalism or rule of law. The rule of law represents the limitations on the powers of executives. Executive has to act according to the law, they cannot act in an arbitrary manner.
This theory comes in context of criticism of Plato’s theory of Philosopher King where he gives absolute powers to the Philosopher King. He rejects Plato’s views on the ground of utopianism, inherent dangers: he will turn up into a tyrant.
Not only rule of law and rule of knowledge is same, at the same time rule of law has some additional benefits. First he proves that rule of law and rule of reason is same. 1] Law is also a product of reason. 2] Law is a outward manifestation of reason. (Reason is in the soul, Law is in the book of law.) 3] Both law and reason serve similar purpose. To guide what is right and what is wrong.

Additional Benefits
Law is a reason without passions, which means law is impersonal. Law represents collective wisdom of ages, whereas philosopher King represents the wisdom of a person in a given situation. It is true that rule of law has some limitations e.g. Law may be rigid, or law may be silent. However rule of law is a ‘Golden mean’. One should not sacrifice good for the sake of best.
Plato himself accepted the limitations of his ideas and changed his views in his book “The laws.”


The authority of statesman is different than authority of masters. – Aristotle

This statement comes in context of criticism of Plato’s theory of philosopher king.
According to Plato, state is a large family. Philosopher king is like a father and citizens are like children.  Like members of family, they should sacrifice for each other. Like the authority of father is absolute on children, the authority of king is absolute on citizens.

According to Aristotle, state is not a family, but family of families.  Authority of statesman has to be seen different from the authority of master. Authority of master is absolute in the family, on wife, children and slave. Authority of statesman cannot be absolute. Citizens are adults, they come together to make laws.
The best approach to make laws is through deliberation. Aristotle recommends polity as the best practicable form of government. Different families have different interests, hence when they come together, they can negotiate with each other. State is not unity but unity in diversity. Hence the authority of the statesman cannot be equal to the authority of master. Hence the principles of family cannot be applied on the state.
[ Locke’s theory of property is also similar to Aristotle’s theory of property.]

Aristotle as a father of Political Science

Plato is known as father of political philosophy. Whereas Aristotle is known as father of political science. Here we should not see science in a very specific sense, science should be understood in terms of Aristotle’s practical and common sense based approach.
If Plato lives in the world of ideas, and rejects this world as a world of illusion, Aristotle suggests that we cannot reject the world of matter as simply the world of illusions.  If Plato’s King is wise in the world of ideas, Aristotle’s ruler is worldly wise.
Aristotle also deserves to be called as father of political science because he was the first person to apply some sort of scientific method. i.e. the method of biology, which is reflected in his theory of constitutions. (Classification of constitutions). Plato’s REPUBLIC is encyclopaedic in nature whereas the core idea of Aristotle’s POLITICS is the theory of state & Constitutions. His book POLITICS can be considered as first textbook in political science.
Aristotle is originator of many significant ideas like rule of law, deliberative democracy, he is a source of influence on political scholars in all ages. e.g. There is influence of Aristotle on St. Thomas Aquinas in medieval times, John Locke in modern times and Hannah Arendt in Post modern times. Hence it is appropriate to call Aristotle as a father of political science and it is rightly suggested that the “entire western political philosophy is nothing but ‘footnotes’ to Plato and Aristotle.”

Posted in PSIR 1A

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Jaywant

Democracy is the worst form of Gvt. Please check.

Varaprasad kommu

Democracy is the 2nd most worst form of govt.