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Aristotle Politics

1. Introduction: What is Political Philosophy?

Introduction to Political Philosophy (PLSC 114)

Professor Smith discusses the nature and scope of “political philosophy.” The oldest of the social sciences, the study of political philosophy must begin with the works of Plato and Aristotle, and examine in depth the fundamental concepts and categories of the study of politics. The questions “which regimes are best?” and “what constitutes good citizenship?” are posed and discussed in the context of Plato’s Apology.

00:00 – Chapter 1. What Is Political Philosophy?
12:16 – Chapter 2. What Is a Regime?
22:19 – Chapter 3. Who Is a Statesman? What Is a Statesman?
27:22 – Chapter 4. What Is the Best Regime?

Complete course materials are available at the Open Yale Courses website:

This course was recorded in Fall 2006

7. The Mixed Regime and the Rule of Law: Aristotle’s Politics, I, III

Introduction to Political Philosophy (PLSC 114)

The lecture begins with an introduction of Aristotle’s life and works which constitute thematic treatises on virtually every topic, from biology to ethics to politics. Emphasis is placed on the Politics, in which Aristotle expounds his view on the naturalness of the city and his claim that man is a political animal by nature.

00:00 – Chapter 1. Aristotle: Plato’s Adopted Son
12:45 – Chapter 2. Man Is, by Nature, the Political Animal
30:15 – Chapter 3. The Naturalness of Slavery

Complete course materials are available at the Open Yale Courses website:

This course was recorded in Fall 2006.

8. The Mixed Regime and the Rule of Law: Aristotle’s Politics, IV

Introduction to Political Philosophy (PLSC 114)

The lecture discusses Aristotle’s comparative politics with a special emphasis on the idea of the regime, as expressed in books III through VI in Politics. A regime, in the context of this major work, refers to both the formal enumeration of rights and duties within a community as well as to the distinctive customs, manners, moral dispositions and sentiments of that community. Aristotle asserts that it is precisely the regime that gives a people and a city their identity.

00:00 – Chapter 1. Introduction: Aristotle’s Comparative Politics and the Idea of the Regime
01:45 – Chapter 2. What Is a Regime?
13:58 – Chapter 3. What Are the Structures and Institutions of the Regime?
20:30 – Chapter 4. The Democratic Regime
34:35 – Chapter 5. Law, Conflict and the Regime
43:07 – Chapter 6. The Aristotelian Standard of Natural Right or Natural Justice

Complete course materials are available at the Open Yale Courses website:

This course was recorded in Fall 2006.

9. The Mixed Regime and the Rule of Law: Aristotle’s Politics, VII

Introduction to Political Philosophy (PLSC 114)

This final lecture on Aristotle focuses on controlling conflict between factions. Polity as a mixture of the principles of oligarchy and democracy, is the regime that, according to Aristotle, can most successfully control factions and avoid dominance by either extreme. Professor Smith asserts that the idea of the polity anticipates Madison’s call for a government in which powers are separated and kept in check and balance, avoiding therefore the extremes of both tyranny and civil war.

00:00 – Chapter 1. Polity: The Regime that Most Successfully Controls for Faction
07:30 – Chapter 2. The Importance of Property and Commerce for a Flourishing Republic
12:28 – Chapter 3. The Aristocratic Republic: A Model for the Best Regime
26:50 – Chapter 4. What Is Aristotle’s Political Science?
35:21 – Chapter 5. Who Is a Statesman?
37:54 – Chapter 6. The Method of Aristotle’s Political Science

Complete course materials are available at the Open Yale Courses website:

This course was recorded in Fall 2006.

Background Articles and Videos

Aristotle’s Politics

Aristotle’s Politics (Greek Πολιτικά) is a work of political philosophy. The end of the Nicomachean Ethics declared that the inquiry into ethics necessarily follows into politics, and the two works are frequently considered to be parts of a larger treatise, or perhaps connected lectures, dealing with the “philosophy of human affairs.” The title of the Politics literally means “the things concerning the polis.”


The literary character of the Politics is subject to some dispute, growing out of the textual difficulties that attended the loss of Aristotle’s works. Book III ends with a sentence that is repeated almost verbatim at the start of Book VII, while the intervening Books IV-VI seem to have a very different flavor from the rest; Book IV seems to refer several times back to the discussion of the best regime contained in Books VII-VIII.[1] Some editors have therefore inserted Books VII-VIII after Book III. At the same time, however, references to the “discourses on politics” that occur in the Nicomachean Ethics suggest that the treatise as a whole ought to conclude with the discussion of education that occurs in Book VIII of the Politics, although it is not certain that Aristotle is referring to the Politics here.[2]

Werner Jaeger suggested that the Politics actually represents the conflation of two, distinct treatises.[3] The first (Books I-III, VII-VIII) would represent a less mature work from when Aristotle had not yet fully broken from Plato, and consequently show a greater emphasis on the best regime. The second (Books IV-VI) would be more empirically minded, and thus belong to a later stage of development.

Carnes Lord has argued against the sufficiency of this view, however, noting the numerous cross-references between Jaeger’s supposedly separate works and questioning the difference in tone that Jaeger saw between them. For example, Book IV explicitly notes the utility of examining actual regimes (Jaeger’s “empirical” focus) in determining the best regime (Jaeger’s “Platonic” focus). Instead, Lord suggests that the Politics is indeed a finished treatise, and that Books VII and VIII do belong in between Books III and IV; he attributes their current ordering to a merely mechanical transcription error.[4]


Book I

In the first book, Aristotle discusses the city (polis) or “political community” (koinōnia politikē) as opposed to other types of communities and partnerships such as the household and village. He begins with the relationship between the city and man (I. 1–2), and then specifically discusses the household (I. 3–13).[5] He takes issue with the view that political rule, kingly rule, rule over slaves, and rule over a household or village are only different in terms of size. He then examines in what way the city may be said to be natural.

Aristotle discusses the parts of the household, which includes slaves, leading to a discussion of whether slavery can ever be just and better for the person enslaved or is always unjust and bad. He distinguishes between those who are slaves because the law says they are and those who are slaves by nature, saying the inquiry hinges on whether there are any such natural slaves. Only someone as different from other people as the body is from the soul or beasts are from human beings would be a slave by nature, Aristotle concludes, all others being slaves solely by law or convention. Some scholars have therefore concluded that the qualifications for natural slavery preclude the existence of such a being.[6]

Aristotle then moves to the question of property in general, arguing that the acquisition of property does not form a part of household management (oikonomike) and criticizing those who take it too seriously. It is necessary, but that does not make it a part of household management any more than it makes medicine a part of household management just because health is necessary. He criticizes income based upon trade and says that those who become avaricious do so because they forget that money merely symbolizes wealth without being wealth.

Book I concludes with Aristotle’s assertion that the proper object of household rule is the virtuous character of one’s wife and children, not the management of slaves or the acquisition of property. Rule over the slaves is despotic, rule over children kingly, and rule over one’s wife political (except there is no rotation in office). Aristotle questions whether it is sensible to speak of the “virtue” of a slave and whether the “virtues” of a wife and children are the same as those of a man before saying that because the city must be concerned that its women and children be virtuous, the virtues that the father should instill are dependent upon the regime and so the discussion must turn to what has been said about the best regime.

Book II

Book II examines various views concerning the best regime.[7] It opens with an analysis of the regime presented in Plato’s Republic (2. 1–5) before moving to that presented in Plato’s Laws (2. 6). Aristotle then discusses the systems presented by two other philosophers, Phaleas of Chalcedon (2. 7) and Hippodamus of Miletus (2. 8).

After addressing regimes invented by theorists, Aristotle moves to the examination of three regimes that are commonly held to be well managed. These are the Spartan (2. 9), Cretan (2. 10), and Carthaginian (2. 11). The book concludes with some observations on regimes and legislators.

Book III

  • Who is a citizen?

“He who has the power to take part in the deliberative or judicial administration of any state is said by us to be a citizen of that state; and speaking generally, a state is a body of citizens sufficing for the purpose of life. But in practice a citizen is defined to be one of whom both the parents are citizens; others insist on going further back; say two or three or more grandparents.”

  • Classification of constitution.
  • Just distribution of political power.
  • Types of monarchies:-
  • Monarchy: exercised over voluntary subjects, but limited to certain functions; the king was a general and a judge, and had control of religion.
  • Absolute: government of one for the absolute good
  • Barbarian: legal and hereditary+ willing subjects
  • Dictator: installed by foreign power elective dictatorship + willing subjects (elective tyranny)
  • Book IV

    Aristotle’s classification of constitutions

    • Tasks of political theory
    • Why are there many types of constitutions?
    • Types of democracies
    • Types of oligarchies
    • Polity as the optimal constitution
    • Government offices

    Book V

    • Constitutional change
    • Revolutions in different types of constitutions and ways to preserve constitutions
    • Instability of tyrannies

    Book VI

    • Democratic constitutions
    • Oligarchic constitutions

    Book VII

    • Best state and best life
    • Ideal state. Its population, territory, position etc.
    • Citizens of the ideal state
    • Marriage and children

    Book VIII

    • Education in the ideal state

    Aristotle’s classification

    After studying a number of real and theoretical city-state’s constitutions, Aristotle classified them according to various criteria. On one side stand the true (or good) constitutions, which are considered such because they aim for the common good, and on the other side the perverted (or deviant) ones, considered such because they aim for the well being of only a part of the city. The constitutions are then sorted according to the “number” of those who participate to the magistracies: one, a few, or many. Aristotle’s sixfold classification is slightly different from the one found in The Statesman by Plato. The diagram above illustrates Aristotle’s classification.


    1. ^ Lord, “Introduction,” 15.
    2. ^ Lord, “Introduction,” 19, 246n53.
    3. ^ Jaeger, Aristoteles.
    4. ^ Lord, “Introduction,” 15–16
    5. ^ Lord, “Introduction,” 27.
    6. ^ Nichols, Mary (1992). Citizens and Statesmen. Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
    7. ^ Lord, “Introduction,” 27.

    Further reading

    • Barker, Sir Ernest (1906). The Political Thought of Plato and Aristotle. London: Methuen.
    • Davis, Michael (1996). The Politics of Philosophy: A Commentary on Aristotle’s Politics. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.
    • Goodman, Lenn E.; Talisse, Robert B. (2007). Aristotle’s Politics Today. Albany: State University of New York Press.
    • Keyt, David; Miller, Fred D. (1991). A Companion to Aristotle’s Politics. Cambridge: Blackwell.
    • Kraut, ed., Richard; Skultety, Steven (2005). Aristotle’s Politics: Critical Essays. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.
    • Simpson, Peter L. (1998). A Philosophical Commentary on the Politics of Aristotle. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.
    • Nichols, Mary P. (1992). Citizens and Statesmen: A Study of Aristotle’s Politics. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.
    • Lord, Carnes (1982). Education and Culture in the Political Thought of Aristotle. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
    • Miller, Fred D. (1995). Nature, Justice, and Rights in Aristotle’s Politics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
    • Mayhew, Robert (1997). Aristotle’s Criticism of Plato’s Republic. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.


    • Barker, Sir Ernest (1995). The Politics of Aristotle. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780199538737.
    • Jowett, Benjamin (1984). Jonathan Barnes. ed. Politics. The Complete Works of Aristotle. 2. Princeton: Princeton University Press. ISBN 9780691016511.
    • Lord, Carnes (1984). The Politics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 9780226026695.
    • Reeve, C. D. C. (1998). Politics. Indianapolis: Hackett. ISBN 9780872203884.
    • Simpson, Peter L. P. (1997). The Politics of Aristotle: Translation, Analysis, and Notes. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 9780807823279.
    • Sinclair, T. A. (1981). The Politics. Harmondsworth: Penguin. ISBN 9780140444216.

    External links


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