We have seen some of the Greatest learners in History come and go. these thinkers came up with ideas that went on to change the world for good, be it in normal or abnormal strategy, we ought to remember that people had once put their lives on the line to give the world revolutionary ideas. they risked it all to make sure that the things they had thought up a he time were indeed effective and worth considering, lets just continue to appreciate anyone and everyone that tries to make the world a better place.
Some of these Great Visionaries include the great Aristotle
Aristotle who Lived around (384 BC–322 BC) was one of the greatest philosophers of all time. Aristotle ’s influence is so extensive throughout the development of the history of ideas as to be matched only by Plato’s. Within the discipline of political theory, and the wider field of political science, Aristotle— known to St. Thomas Aquinas and other authors in the High Middle Ages simply as The Philosopher—is revered as one of the seminal figures in the canon. Aside from Plato, no student of politics and the human condition has shaped political and moral inquiry as much as Aristotle, and to this day he remains absolutely essential reading for anyone devoted to a fuller understanding of the nature of the human community. Like Plato before him, Aristotle began his investigation of political and moral activity from the premise of the centrality of the good. In the opening book of the Nicomachean Ethics, which Aristotle regarded as a requisite text to the further examination of legislation and constitutions in his Politics, he observes that ‘‘Every art, and every investigation . . .aims at some good.’’ But the good is not the Form of the Good embraced by Plato, but rather there are ‘‘as many ways of speaking of the good as there are ways of being.’’
The good is not a single, universal concept that exists in itself and ultimately beyond our immediate experience, but rather, good is understood as those things or activities that are desired for their own sake, according to their own principle of intrinsic worth, and not only as a reflection of a singular conceptual good lending meaning to all subordinate virtues. In other words, there is not, as Plato held, a singular Form of the Good that is the inward essence and highest purpose of all that exists. This is not to say that Aristotle regarded good as only subjectively understood, depending upon the case, for the intellect can make judgments affirming the intrinsic value of one thing or act in comparison to another, inferior thing or less worthwhile activity. But rather, that Aristotle appreciated the necessity of thinking of goodness in terms that lend accessibility to the object of investigation and its internally determined purpose. One must examine the nature of the subject before us with precision and care, and from there discern the character of the good toward which it aims, whether it is an object or an activity.
Objective knowledge of the good inherent to anything or activity can be discovered, but it is not through a study of the independent Form alone that such knowledge can be achieved. Instead, this objective knowledge is obtained through a conceptual dissection of the aspects and parts of the study at hand. Knowledge of the Good as Plato conceived it is simply beyond our reach, what is now needed is a practical catalogue of goodness as it is manifested through the variety of being, the multifarious nature of our many activities as human beings in the world.
But Aristotle still admits that there is a ‘‘final end,’’ a chief good that we seek, but it endures as a principle beyond our full understanding. Aristotle does not rule out the possibility of such a good and even recognizes that ‘‘the chief good is evidently something final,’’ but ultimately an ineffable principle that lends little to our knowledge of what is required to live a virtuous life within a community so dedicated.
Even though Aristotle states that we can speak of good in as many ways as we can speak of being in all its diversity, there are still only two basic types of good: directive or intrinsic (something that is good for its own sake) and secondary or subordinate goods (something that is good for a still further good, namely, a directive good). In his ethical writings, Aristotle grounds his observations of and prescriptions for humanity on the simple premise that the most directive intrinsic good for human beings is happiness. Happiness is always pursued for its own sake, and not for the sake of anything else. The acquisition of wealth, for example, if accumulated in moderation, is good, but it is a subordinate good to the higher end of happiness. A person seeks affluence as one ingredient for the achievement of happiness, but no one seeks happiness to become wealthy. This happiness of which Aristotle
speaks is a rendering of the ancient Greek term eudaemonia, which he clearly distinguishes from pleasure—particularly the kind of pleasure that might spring to mind for the modern reader. Eudaemonia is more clearly understood as a comprehensive well-being, a state of ‘‘flourish ing’’ within a person that leads to excellence.
This sense of happiness requires a condition of arete, which can be translated as both virtue and excellence. As an activity, pleasure aims at a good, but it is a subordinate good to the higher good of happiness as flourishing. To reduce happiness to pleasure alone is to commit a vulgarity.
Only the virtuous person, one who is ‘‘foursquare and blameless,’’ flourishes, and thus only through the actualization of virtue in one’s soul can a human being really find true happiness. According to Aristotle, this virtue that constitutes true happiness as flourishing can only be found through habituation to the intermediate, to the mean between the extremes of excess and deficiency. Should one act in ways that are excessive (such as rash boldness without fear of anything) or deficient (such as cowardice in fear of everything) one would lead a vicious life. Virtue is found at the intermediate between the vice of excess and the vice of deficiency—not necessarily an equidistant mean (for rash boldness is closer to courage than cowardice, for example), but an approximation of some point between the extremes that pro motes balance in one’s inner self.
Thus the virtues of courage, temperance, generosity—even justice—are inculcated by habits and states of mind that exhibit a moderate disposition in all things. Virtue is always found at the mean, but to always act consonant to such balance is an arduous commitment. It cannot be done in isolation; human beings need each other—human beings by their very nature need the life that is enjoyed only in the polis. Just as all things and all activities aim at a good, so all forms of association, or partnership, aim at some good. That association which aims at the most complete good is the polis, for it is in the polis that human beings, the political animal, can live a life of goodness and nobility in common with each other. The good person is a person who is active, and as an active person, committed to a life of cooperation and friend ship with others toward a common good.
All associations enable human beings to realize this aspect of their nature, but the political sphere encompasses them all, and is thus aimed at the directive good—the flourishing of citizens in common purpose within the polis. The political begins from necessity, as Aristotle observes, but its aim is to go beyond necessity to a life of nobility, to live well rather than merely live. In the polis, we are accorded the only real opportunity to become excellent, and to perform virtuous deeds in devotion to the common advantage. Absent the polis, a human being is deprived of his or her humanity; thus, our nature is implicated with the need for politics. Gods who are immortal and without care and beasts who are self-sufficient owing to the simplicity of their needs and wants do not need cities and are thus outside the polis.
But the human being, who also seeks self-sufficiency but is incapable of achieving it in isolation, is by necessity a political creature. Indeed, it is in
cities that human beings can live justly, for with justice, humanity is the perfection of nature, without justice, the most wicked and depraved of all brutes. Embraced within the constitutions, laws, practices, customs, and, above all, friendships that frame the political space, citizens governing together promote those habits
that allow them to live well and to flourish—to find a virtuous happiness at the mean, Justice is the political virtue for Aristotle, and as such, it is the most complete virtue. Aristotle devotes the entire scope of the fifth book of the Nicomachean Ethics to the virtue of justice, the only virtue to be so treated. In Book Five, Aristotle categorizes justice on two levels: the more general sense of justice and what he refers to as ‘‘special justice.’’ Justice in the general sense is framed within the concepts of lawfulness and fairness.
In this way Aristotle acknowledges the deep connection between justice and law while at the same time avoiding a legalistic identification of the two concepts. Justice involves law, and yet it must be more than law; it must also include an equally important element of fairness. In this way Aristotle joins Socrates and Plato
before him in insisting on the translegal nature of justice. Additionally, Aristotle states that a general sense of justice is observed in its conduciveness to our happiness (eudaemonia), again illustrating the principle that happiness is the principal good for human beings, served even by the high-minded virtue of justice, and thus further lending a sense of nobility to the concept of happiness as flourishing. Finally, Aristotle remarks that justice is the most complete virtue in that it seeks the good of others, not just the good of the individual self. In this way the political content of justice is confirmed; it is only in the polis that persons as citizens can become
completely virtuous for it is only in the polis that one can exercise justice.
Special justice is also divided into three parts: distributive (proportional) wherein social and political goods are apportioned in the city based upon a notion of merit, rectificatory (restorative, corrective) wherein wrongs com mitted between citizens are addressed and a fair remedy restores the balance of the relationship, and what he refers to as ‘‘political’’ justice. Proportional justice recognizes degrees of merit, and thus admits that justice to some extent involves inequality based on desert. Rectificatory justice attempts to rectify a wrong and thus to restore a state of initial fairness, respecting to an extent an equality before the law. This type of justice is further divided into what Aristotle refers to as ‘‘voluntary’’ and ‘‘involuntary’’ transactions, a concept that loosely resembles our modern notion of civil and criminal law, respectively.
Political justice is discussed in less detail. One dimension of political justice is ‘‘legal,’’ defined in terms of the conventions of place and relative to a particular regime. What is just in Athens may not be just in Sparta, or what might be just in one way in one city may be just to a different degree in another. Here Aristotle again reminds us of the importance of law in the notion of justice. Yet again, Aristotle is convinced that justice involves much more than conventional legalistic concepts, for he also speaks of a natural justice that is the same for all human beings everywhere. Aristotle remains vague on precisely what this natural justice is, but he does not equivocate in his assertion that justice must be constituted by a translegal and universal principle. One aspect of natural justice might be available to us by returning to the doctrine of the mean. As justice is a virtue, it must also be intermediate between two extremes, but in this case, it is not an intermediate between an excess and deficiency of justice (as you really can’t have an excess of justice), but rather between the commission of injustice (a blameworthy vice) with impunity and the suffering of injustice (an unjust condition but not an unjust act and thus blameless) without recourse. Justice is always found where injustice is neither com mitted nor suffered; the manner in which this objective principle is understood or realized will itself vary according to context.
The discussion revolving around political justice exemplifies Aristotle’s desire to convey the importance of actual cases and to acknowledge the diversity of custom and its importance for human happiness, while at the same time seeking a higher principle that leads us toward what is essentially human. There are many types of legal justice and therefore many kinds of cities can achieve a practical justice under the conventions that govern their particular case. But there is only one principle of justice—a first principle—that is natural and common to all human beings. And, there are many types of political systems or regimes, but as he claims in the Ethics, ‘‘only one system that is by nature the best everywhere. ’It is in the Politics that Aristotle investigates the possibility of a best regime, but he does so by using a different approach than Plato. He is
not interested in attempting to discover a paradigmatic ‘‘city of speech,’’ as Socrates does in Republic or as the Athenian Stranger considers in his ‘‘second best city’’ discussed in Plato’s Laws. Aristotle does seek types and patterns, but they must have a stronger connection to the practicalities of public affairs, and therefore the best regime will more readily be set into practice. Indeed, Aristotle rejects Socrates’s Form of the polis in Book Two of his own Poli tics, arguing that what Plato envisages through Socrates is in reality not a city at all. The political is marked by plurality, but Plato’s paradigm is an extreme case of unity, one that when closely scrutinized resembles more a family, or even one individual, than it does a political community.
For this and other reasons, we cannot turn to Plato’s singular concept for the key to political justice and its practical limitations and frustrations, but rather we must begin anew by examining the various ways in which different kinds of cities can become just and right. To forward this investigation, Aristotle develops a typology of regimes that closely resembles that which was provided by the Eleatic Stranger in Plato’s Statesman. Based on determining whether or not a city is under the rule of the one, the few, or the many, this typology established by Plato and refined by Aristotle will provide the fundamental categories for the comparative study of regimes within the tradition of political theory, and fix the terminology in the lexicon of political inquiry that we still use today. For Aristotle (and for Plato in Statesman), there are six basic regimes, three correct or constitutional (the good regimes) and three deviant or lawless (perverse regimes). The good regimes are characterized by their ends; in this case, the end toward which they aim is the common advantage of the city as a whole. Good regimes rule lawfully and govern citizens (those who are equally capable of ruling and being ruled) rather than subjects (those who do not participate in ruling). Monarchy (or kingship) is the rule of one that is good or correct, for in monarchy the king will rule law fully for the benefit of the citizens first and fore most. Aristocracy literally means rule by the few who are the best (the most virtuous and the most intelligent), and is a regime that most closely resembles Plato’s Form of the polis with significant modifications (for example, the aristocrats who would be wise and brave like Plato’s guardians would nonetheless own property, and it is clear that women would not share power). Correct rule by the many would be what Aristotle calls a constitutional polity, or simply polity, as distinct from a democracy.
Democracy is the least perverse of the incorrect regimes, but incorrect all the same as it would consist of government of the many who are poor, lawlessly ruling for their own private advantage rather than for the good of the whole city. Oligarchy (rule by the few who are not the best but whose power is solely attached to the possession of wealth) and tyranny, the latter being the worst possible regime, constitute the remaining deviant regimes.
While Aristotle does allow for three general types of good regimes, in the Ethics he clearly stated that there is one regime that is best everywhere. By definition, aristocracy would seem to be the best regime, for nothing could surpass government by those who are the wisest and the most virtuous (and again, indirectly recall ing Plato’s Form of the polis in its essence). But as stated before, Aristotle seeks not only the universal paradigm, but a model of a regime that can be realized by human beings, a regime within the grasp of the majority of humankind.
Thus Aristotle seeks that regime which is not only best, but most practical, and it is in the constitutional polity, the lawful rule by the many for the common advantage, where Aristotle finds an ideal regime that ordinary human beings can achieve and sustain. Like democracy, a polity is the rule of the many, but not the many poor for their own advantage, but rather the many who govern together as citizens dedicated to the common good. As it is a regime wherein most people can live a virtuous life, it stands at a mean between two vicious regimes: oligarchy and democracy. By mixing in elements of both, and by adhering to the lawful pursuit of goodness, the polity achieves the rule of the many without slipping into the selfish varieties of democracy that precipitate mob rule and encourage demagogues. Resting on an expanded and stable middle class that reduces the conflict between wealth and poverty and promotes a modest affluence, a polity attains a stability not enjoyed by a monarch or an aristocracy. While these latter two regimes are also good, and in their own way can be said to be best, they are difficult to obtain and even more difficult to sustain. A polity that governs an essentially middle-class society reduces faction and thereby stabilizes conflict. Moreover, under a polity, which Aristotle assumes will be guided by the kind of education that engenders virtue among the citizenry and is assisted by rule of law, the people as a whole will achieve a kind of wisdom that exceeds even the philosopher. This depends on the conditions of a free, educated, and moral body of citizens, but for Aristotle, this is within reach under the framework of a constitutional polity.
As stated above, the purpose of a good regime is to guide citizens toward a life of virtue, for while the political springs from the need to live, its final purpose is to live well, meaning to flourish in that happiness defined by a virtuous life. This prompts an inquiry into the relationship between the good citizen and the good man. Aristotle observes that it is possible to be good in terms established by a given regime, and thus act as a good citizen relative to the expectations of the city. It is clear that good citizenship does not make one a good person—which is an objective standard produced by a life habituated to the mean, regardless of circumstance. Hence the good citizen and the good man are not identical. Nonetheless, remembering the purpose of the political, which is to ensure a life worthy of human dignity, the best regime makes it possible, and perhaps more than likely, for a good person and a good citizen to become identical. Once again Aristotle is sensitive to the particularities of the case while maintaining a firm conviction in the need to follow the principle. There are many kinds of good citizens, but only one kind of good person. In most regimes this is irrelevant, but in the better regimes the goal to reconcile the duties of citizens with the character of good persons is ever in view. For these and other reasons, we cannot depend solely on the government of men, but rather, we must ultimately adhere to a government of laws. Aristotle admonishes that even a good person will abuse or distort power, and to rely solely upon the rule of men is as if one were to give oneself over to wild beasts.
The law is ‘‘reason without passion,’’ and as Plato also stated in his Laws, a thing divine. This is why, for Aristotle, it is always preferable to live under the rule of law than under the rule of men, for it is only through the rule of law that we can commit ourselves to the common interest in a fashion that hews closely to the principle of justice. It is here, in the just city lawfully directed, that human nobility and perfection are actualized to the widest possible extent. While much of Aristotle’s political thought has much to recommend even to the modern reader, his writings are not without controversy. Aristotle’s praise of the contemplative life as the highest life is also seen as an indication of a lower regard for politics than the balance of his writing would otherwise indicate, and perhaps reveals an antipolitical side to this most important of political scientists. Notorious by our standards and unlike his predecessor Plato, he follows conventional mores in his insistence that women are not capable of sharing political power. Indeed, whereas Plato states that men and women share the same essential nature, Aristotle concludes that women are ‘‘incomplete men.’’ This is not to say that women are less than human, and Aristotle does regard the role of women to be vital in the household. It also must be remembered that this position was in line with the attitudes of his times, and would have been received as uncontroversial. Additionally, not only were women incapable of acting justly within the polis, but also barbarians, or non-Greeks, whom Aristotle considered, consistent with the attitudes of his culture, bereft of civilization. ‘‘It is mete that Greeks should rule barbarians,’’ according to Aristotle, not because they were less human, but because they lacked the benefits accorded the high civilization of Greek culture and language.
Not only barbarians, but even those who engage in physical labor—including mechanics and craftsmen—possess a sensibility that prevents a fuller understanding of the subtleties of political life. Finally, slavery is another issue that, for the modern reader, impugns Aristotle’s claim to enlightened political understanding. Aristotle describes two kinds of slavery, one artificial and thus unjust, but one natural and therefore acceptable, even necessary. Natural slaves are those human beings who are incapable of governing themselves, and thus are in need of the mastery of another. Again, this seems benighted by our standards, but Aristotle’s conception of slavery in this instance was not conventional, and he was critical of slavery justified by any other standard. There are many other facets to Aristotle’s political thought, too many for us to consider
here and the reader is encouraged to pursue her or his inquiries still further. Any genuine investigation of political theory requires some exposure to the principles developed by Aristotle, and the closer we read his texts and legacy for clues into the best life for human beings, the more we benefit from the many questions and issues raised therein.