Justice and Society
While most political sciences typically just look at the overall structure of a society, Aristotle’s is based on any kind of structural dynamic in a society, including both the broad political structure and the different groups that are part of the societies (ie. farmers, city-workers, politicians), family structure, and relationships with unbalanced power dynamics between individuals. The structure is uniform across the board, allowing for consistency in every aspect of citizens’ lives. Unlike Plato, who proposes the ideal society as one that functions ideally, Aristotle explains that his politics intends to achieve the good life. Happiness is the end goal of a city – happiness for all citizens.
Aristotle is a political naturalist, believing that forms of rule and domination are natural. This dynamic appears in a variety of ways. This extends to the man and woman, the master and slave, etc. For example, he believes that those who are masters have a natural ability to rule while a slave does not have the same abilities, rather they have natural inclination to do labor and to be ruled. Aristotle extends this to a political structure with natural rulers ruling and natural workers staying in their place and working. We would typically consider this, how, as extremely oppressive and discriminatory.
Aristotle proposes that the skeleton of a city-state is a constitution. This isn’t necessarily the same as an American constitution which is a written document, but rather common ideologies, virtues, and ethical principles that all abide to – similar to the soul of a body. This kind of constitution provides a uniformity to those living in the state through criteria for political offices. He is wary of progression, innovation, and, of course, revolution, because it shakes the way that individuals are able to follow the laws. This we may consider problematic from our contemporary perspective, as the laws may not keep up with social change. In Aristotle’s ideal society, social innovation or challenging social norms would likely not have a place at all.
Additionally, Aristotle proposes justice as equality or fairness, though differently from the way that Rawls does, centuries later (keep this in mind as we move forward in the class). Rather than being in favor of equal division of goods and services, Aristotle believes that assets should be distributed based on merit. This also goes for political voice and representation, clearly standing opposed to democracy, where everyone’s voice is considered equally. He is in favor of an aristocracy, which proposes that political representation and rights should be assigned to those who are the “best people”, those who understand and embody the values of the constitution the most. They are the citizens who should rule. However, Aristotle does not set a formal standard for who is the best, aside from saying that they are those who are the most virtuous, given the values of the society. This likely results in those who are part of the upper class having the most claim over politics, and as we see in current societies, keeping the poor in their current places.
These are only a few of the ideas presented in Aristotle, and I’ve written them in a very basic way. The ideas and arguments he presents are much more complex, and elements of his works continue to be extremely influential of contemporary political science, theory, and philosophy.
What does Aristotle mean by citizens? Are farmers and those who have “lower natures”, thus “lower roles” in a society count? If not, are they guaranteed happiness under his structure?
What kinds of problems do you see with political naturalism? If we were to bring this into our current day society, what groups do you think would be targeted?
Aristotle’s political philosophy has been revered through the centuries and he is still respected. When he believes that some people have natures that are intrinsically superior to others – and this just so happens to coincide with race, gender and class, in his belief – does this idea penetrate our society?