politics

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Analyse Aristotles View Of The City State Politics Essay

“He who is without a polis, by reason of his own nature and not of some accident is either a poor sort of being, or a being higher than man”.(Politics, Bk 1) Explain. Aristotle is one of the most well-known ancient politicians and philosophers in the world. His book The Politics is widely used as one of the founding subject books of political theory (Roberts, preface, 2009). In the first chapter of this book, Aristotle states that “He who is without a polis, by reason of his own nature and not of some accident is either a poor sort of being, or a being higher than man”. - Aristotle, the Politics. c. 334-23 BC. It is clearly that this sentence provides two pieces of information: Firstly, it is human’s nature trends to live in the form of polis; Secondly, living in polis is a common acknowledged natural behavior whereas is considered as a strange performance. In other word, human being by his nature can not live without polis. The purpose of this essay is to discuss how city-state constituted in Aristotle’s idea. And this point will be discussed from human nature and the difference from other species. It will then explain how the polis can suit for this nature of human beings and satisfy human needs.

It is obviously that there was no civilization existent few million years ago. In other word, the city-state is not unsolicited exist. According to the definition in Oxford dictionary, evolution is “the gradual development of something.” In the Politics, Aristotle points out that the polis is developed step by step from household, village and then to the city-state. Therefore, the establishment of city-state is also a progress of evolution which from elementary to advanced. Another definition of evolution which is according to Darwin’s evolution theory is “the gradual development of plants, animals, etc. over many years as they adapt to changes in their environment.” It can be seen that the evolution of living beings always has a purpose and the basic one is existence. It is the same for human beings. When a person plans to do something, he must have a reason for doing this thing and then act towards the end in view. (Shields, 2007, p. 306) The development of city-state is also a progress which has its purpose. Aristotle believes that every state is an association that formed with a view to some good purpose. - Aristotle, the Politics. c. 334-23 BC. The difference is that the polis reflects the common purpose of ‘good’ end by the citizens. And the final ‘good’ for human beings is perfection. Aristotle believes that “state belongs to the class of objects which the aim and the end is perfection.” - Aristotle, the Politics. c. 334-23 BC. The progress of the establishment of state reflects the changes of human’s “good” pursue of life until they reached to ‘perfection’---the polis. In other word, the establishment of polis is a natural result which follows the law of nature. Every person may not be against with this law to be away from the society unless he is “either a sort of poor being or higher than man.” Since the appearance of state is a ‘result’, as a basic factor, man, is naturally considered firstly.

As a most important component of city-state, Aristotle has defined man as a political animal - Aristotle, the Politics. c. 334-23 BC. It is one of the best known of Aristotle’s sayings. Here, the concept of political animal tempted quite a lot of disputes due to it considered ambiguous. Therefore, a deep definition and study is necessary. As Shields point out in his book Aristotle, “ a deep definition must be essence-specifying precisely because when we seek to understand what something is, we want to know what it is in its nature, and not merely how it my seem on its surface.” (Shields, 2007, p. 99)

Since the city-state is a particular type of association which other species have not. Man must have some obvious differences with other species. In effect, Aristotle introduced a large numbers of distinctions between animals in his book Historia Animalium. Firstly, in zoological, animals can be distributed into ‘gregarious’ and ‘solitary’; Secondly, the distinction between ‘political’ and ‘scattered’. (Historia Animalium, book A) In terms of the former idea, since it puts the human beings into the gregarious group as satisfy the living needs is a type of animal instinct, then the man should be thought as any other gregarious animals. Thus, it can not avoid that there is some special cases. For instance, lion is gregarious animal, however, on the Serengeti Africa, there always have some lions living without a pride. Sometime, they are the individuals which are not welcomed by the pride. But some young males which are put out because they are so strong that the lion king always worries about if its leader states will be replaced. Compare with human, these vagrant lions just like the bad men or super men in which Aristotle said “without a polis”. However, it is not persuasive to classify human completely into gregarious group just because this is his nature. After all, Human beings have some particular capability. Although it seems self- contradictory, Aristotle’s conclusion in Nicomachean Ethics K classified human as the animal which is both gregarious and scattered (Mulgan, 1974, p.438). Go back to the purpose of human life. In this book, Mulgan cited Aristotle opinion that “good life for man consists partly of philosophical contemplation which can be carried on quite independently of other people, and partly in the exercise of social virtues which can only be exercised in the company of others.” (Mulgan, 1974, p. 438) This idea represents a specific characteristic which is different from other species.

Obviously, ‘philosophical contemplation’ and ‘social virtue’ as two reasons why human beings are both gregarious and solitary is not start from zoological point of view. In terms of living beings, nothing is more important than existence, human beings are not out of this ordinary as well. In order to satisfy the daily needs, human beings live together to form families. “The next stage is the village, the first association of a number of houses for the satisfaction of something more than daily needs.” – Aristotle, The Politics, book 1, p. 58. The first stage of human society reflects man by his needs of living trends to living together such as wife and husband, master and slave etc. However, ‘something more than daily needs’ reflects another purpose where man is distinguished from other gregarious animals. That is political life.

One of the most obvious distinctions between man and other animals is his sense of what is wrong and just. Aristotle said “The virtue of justice is a feature of a state; for justice is the arrangement of the political association, and a sense of justice decides what is just.” - Aristotle, the Politics. c. 334-23 BC. Obviously, this property of human has beyond the range of ‘daily needs’. It seems that ‘political’ is not an exclusive word which can only be used for human beings. Plato believes that man is not the only political animal. Other animal like bees, ants and cranes, are also political animals. (Mulgan, 1974, p. 439) In terms of this idea, Aristotle has given a dissenting view that although other gregarious animals like bee can also communicate their pleasure and pain with each other, they can not judge just and wrong and express their views of justice because they are unable to speak. - Aristotle, the Politics. c. 334-23 BC.

The associations as far as here, is constituted only in order to satisfy human’s basic needs. Just like other species, existence is one of the most basic reasons why man tends to live in an association. However, after the needs of existence are satisfied, man start to seek a satisfaction of further needs. Polis then is an association which can satisfy this requirement of human beings.

Separate the city-state from the development of human society. What glamour polis has which makes people can not be away with? And how the justice as a “final good” protected? Go back to Aristotle’s time the classical city-state is not like that in the modern time. Luce suggested in his book that polis as a social unit emerges “as a small self-contained community engaged in subsistence agriculture.” (Luce, 1978, p.2). The most classical expression of western polis is a lot of buildings and streets which is surrounded by a wall. And the city is further surrounded by the fields. It proves that the living needs are the foundation of a polis again. Thus a primary model of a polis has formed, then quoted above, Justice is the foundation of a state, and the law is just based on the manners which breeds from justice. Now a series of complete dominant institutions are demanded. In terms of the political structure of a classical society, “At the top stands the king, with his royal demesne and his herald attendants who prepare the banquet and enforce order in the court of justice. Next below him come the elders who act as judges, and finally the people, the demos.” (Luce, 1978, p.3) Thus, under this type of political system, citizens achieved the justice of the time. Although the slaves and women at that time have no social status, and the “justice” is not always that just, after a long time period, people gradually used to obey the authority of the dominant class. According to Weber’s concept of ideal types in political authority, people obey the present authority because “it has always been that way”. (Andrew, 1999, p.134). Therefore, every class in the polis plays their own roles. Rulers make the law which is follow the traditional justice, and people are enforced to obey the rule of law. If somebody refuses to obey this common recognized social norm, he will be thought is a bad man. If someone can exceed this rule even create a new rule, than he is higher than man. In effect, sages are not always existed and bad man is also a small part of human beings. Therefore, this political relationship between human beings and polis makes them interdependent.

Although Aristotle studied the political systems of 158 states, and he believes that the justice is the common recognized virtue of human beings which is the foundation of a polis. However, after all, he can not research circumstance all over the world. In effect, the views of justice are different in the different place in the world. Even in a small area, people’s ideas are different. Maybe, it is why some states are big and some are small. On the other hand, he ignored the power of religion. Even in the modern time, some countries are established based on a common faith. And sometimes, the doctrine of religions especially some ultimate ideas are not always recognized by other states, however, divine worship makes the believers get together and establish the polis.

To sum up, this essay separated Aristotle’s saying into two parts, human beings and polis. It discussed the relationship between man and polis from the following points: Firstly, human can not live without a polis because the living needs just like other animals; Secondly, human as a political animal which can judge just and wrong can not live without polis because it is a place which can satisfy his political needs. In spite that some special cases are existed, polis as an association is interdependent with human beings.

(1928 words)


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