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Politics , Book VII

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  1. Politics, Book VII Aristotle’s ideal state PHIL 1003 2008-09

  2. What are your affiliations? Family? Other community, e.g. church? State?

  3. The current financial crisis: What do you think the investment bankers deserve? What are the responsibilities of states?

  4. What is the best way of life? • The answer determines the best form of state because: • “…those…lead the best life who are governed in the best manner of which their circumstances admit” (1323a15-20); • “the happy state may be shown to be that which is best and which acts rightly” (1323b30).

  5. Goods necessary for good life • Three kinds of goods necessary for best (good) life: • What should be the ratio of these goods to each other? • External goods; • Goods of body; • Goods of soul.

  6. Role of external goods “…happiness, whether consisting in pleasure [of acting virtuously] or excellence, or both, is more often found with those who are most highly cultivated in their mind and in their character, and have only a moderate share of external goods” (1323b1-5; emph. added).

  7. What should be the ratio of these goods to each other? • Necessity of all three is “almost universally acknowledged” (7.1); • Hedonists set no limits to external goods • Require only a moderate excellence • But for Aristotle • The “facts” show that “mankind does not acquire or preserve the excellences by the help of external goods, • but external goods by the help of the excellences” (1323a35-40).

  8. Role of chance (luck) • Ancient Greeks placated gods to secure good fortune; • Aristotle implies this is not the way to secure happiness. • Happiness depends to a degree on external goods, and therefore luck • “…it is for the sake of the soul that goods external and…of the body are desirable at all” (7.1). • “…herein…lies the difference between good fortune and happiness; for external goods come of themselves and chance is the author of them”; • “…but no one is just or temperate by or through chance” (7.1).

  9. Hence, neither luck nor external goods are key to happiness; Your own conduct is!

  10. What Happiness is not H. = Pleasure, but how understood? • As “life of grazing animals” (hedonism, amusement, relaxation or other pastimes)? • No! either slavish or means to other ends (NE 1095b17-20, 1176b30-35); • “no one would allow that a slave shares in happiness” (NE 1177a5-10); • As honor? “too superficial”! (NE 1095b25) • As wealth? No! only means to an end! Common Greek notion: doing well, flourishing, pleasure.

  11. Happiness = eudaimonia (Gr.) • Self-sufficiency: • “by itself it makes a life choiceworthy and lacking nothing” (NE 1097b15); • Includes other ends (virtues) pursued for their own sake, • e.g. temperance, magnanimity, understanding; • Happiness = activity, not a state (NE 1176b); • “…the human good turns out to be the soul’s activity that expresses virtue” (NE 1098a16-17)

  12. Relation of good to function The good of a thing (its happiness) depends on its function: “…living is apparently shared with plants [and sense-perception with animals], but what we are looking for is the special function of a human being….The remaining possibility, then, is some sort of life of action of the [part of the soul] that has reason” (NE, 1098a). What kind of action?

  13. Which way of life is best (7.2)? • Absolute power: “because the possessors of it are able to perform the greatest number of noble actions” (1325a35-40); • Objections? • Alien, like Aristotle—no obligations, but also no stake in the system; • Citizen, with obligations? • “…we do not say that a man who takes no interest in politics is a man who minds his own business; we say that he has no business here [i.e. in Athens] at all” (Thucydides, Funeral Oration of Pericles);

  14. Other possibilities • Business? • Military? • Philosophy? • The “contemplative” life, along with that of the statesman, “appear[s] to have been preferred by those who have been most keen in the pursuit of excellence” (1324a30).

  15. Philosophic (contemplative) life • “this activity is supreme since understanding [reason] is the supreme element in us, and the objects of understanding are the supreme objects of knowledge” (NE 1177a20) • It expresses virtue • It is continuous • It involves leisure (activity of politician is not as leisurely) • It is self-sufficient, has no end beyond itself; • It is “god-like,” a life for him who has “a divine element in him” (NE 1177b25-1178a).

  16. Necessity of excellence (arētē) • “…neither individual nor state can do right actions without excellence and wisdom”; • “the happy state may be shown to be that which is best and which acts rightly”; • “Thus, the courage, justice, and wisdom of a state have the same form and nature as the qualities which give the individual who possesses them the name of just, wise or temperate” (7.1). • “…the excellence of the good man is necessarily the same as the excellence of the citizen of the perfect state” (5.18).

  17. Aristotle’s Ideal City (7.4-17) • Describes the necessary natural resources, planning, economic and religious activities, community life; • Stipulates right conditions for marriage and procreation; • Exposure of infants and abortion to limit population (1335b20); • Separates economic from political activity; • Analyzes the purpose of the state, does not simply take it as a given; • Stipulates that education is for good of city so it should be a common (not private) endeavour; • Stipulates the best kind of music for citizens to hear.

  18. Ways to promote solidarity: Common meals • “As to common meals, there is agreement that a well-ordered city should have them” (7.10); • Refers to model set by Sparta; • Open to all citizens (this does not mean everyone, however!); • Problem of poor not being able to contribute; ½ of public land allocated to support meals.

  19. Common meals:HKU Philosophy Dept

  20. Question • Given that • 'the happiness of the individual is the same as that of the state', • And Aristotle mentions that war-like pursuits can be means to attain happiness; • What if a war causes long-term suffering to its people, can the state still be happy? • Or would the state always be happy because of the political leaders and the people's wisdom and good actions?