Tuguegarao City, Cagayan. Atty. MICHAEL JHON M. TAMAYAO manages this blog. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nov. 19, 2010
Politics in its classical sense refers to a human endeavor aiming at the best end and primarily concerned with the ethical formation of the citizenry, of making them good and disposed for noble activities. Although it is true that ethics deals with the actions of human beings as individuals, and politics deals with the actions of human beings in communities, for Aristotle these two disciplines are intimately entwined. In Nicomachean Ethics, his most recognizable work in ethics, he says, “The end [or goal] of politics is the best of ends; and the main concern of politics is to engender a certain character in the citizens and to make them good and disposed to perform noble actions.” The “best of ends” here refers to “ultimate happiness,” which is likewise the objective of ethics. For Aristotle, the best way towards this end (ultimate happiness) is living a virtuous life, a life which is available only to those immersed in politics. To be ethical and virtuous, one must engage in politics, and in being political, one must engender a virtuous character.
Aristotle also wants to make it especially clear that politics, as well as ethics, is a “practical science.” Its aim is not just the attainment of “theoretical knowledge,” but rather of knowledge of how to live and act. Indeed, there is no advantage in theoretically knowing virtue without actually doing it and becoming good. Because of this politics is a difficult endeavor and available only to a few. In ancient Athens, only the citizens, comprising 15 percent of the population, participate in politics. For Aristotle and other aristocratic thinkers only the citizens have the experience and mental discipline to know and apply what they know.
Aristotle does not believe that there are universal and unchanging norms of moral conduct, something that guides us every step of the way. Instead, he believes that we must develop a disposition and a character, which when confronted with a particular political and ethical decision, helps us respond correctly and morally. In other words, what must be constant is the character of the person and not the laws governing the person. Thus, laws must provide an environment conducive for the formation of the individual, and not prescribe an unalterable code of conduct which each individual ought to follow.
We now tackle some of the most salient points of his work.
Aristotle identifies the “city,” which in Greek is “polis,” as the subject of politics. It is a political partnership which is the most authoritative of all since it embraces all other goods. The citizens are partners in this political community. Their goal is the achievement of the common good, which consists in virtue and happiness. Thus, a political community for it to be a city must have as its shared pursuit, the cultivation of virtue and experience of happiness.
Before the city came to be, it first started as a partnership of “persons who cannot exist without one another,” such as that between a man and a woman and that between a master and a slave. These partnerships formed the regular household, then grew bigger and formed villages, and eventually formed the fully self-sufficient partnership, the city. The city is not just a big village. Unlike the other forms of partnerships, which exist for the sake of living or surviving, the city exists for the sake of living well. It is geared towards the flourishing and individual excellence of the partners, and not merely for their survival. In addition, the citizens belong to the city, and could flourish only in a city. And inasmuch as each individual is a part of the city, it cannot survive without living in a city, just as a hand or a foot cannot exist without being attached to the body.
Man as a political Animal
Nature has been aiming at the creation of cities, for cities are necessary for the development and flourishing of man. Aristotle states that “[T]he city belongs among the things that exist by nature, and…man is by nature a political animal.” Men live together in groups, like bees and other herd animals, but unlike the latter, men have the capacity for “speech” or “reason.” This capacity allows humans to reveal what is advantageous and harmful, and what is just and unjust. Men use reason and speech to figure out how to live together. It is justice and virtue more than wealth and security that are the most essential elements of human partnership, of the city. Without the city and its justice, man becomes the worst of all animals, just as he is the best when he is complete by the right kind of life in the city.
Slavery, Women, Children
Aristotle believes in the hierarchy of nature, which hierarchy is also present in human life. Some are born to command, while others are born to follow. Those who give commands are those who are higher in the natural hierarchy. They possess qualities superior than the rest of humanity. They are called masters. Those who only obey commands are lower in the natural hierarchy. They are called slaves. They possess inferior qualities, which is the reason why they are unable to fully govern their own lives, thus requiring the superior men, the masters, to dictate unto them what to do.
The relationship of the master and the slave is mutually beneficial for they sustain the lives of each other. The master guiding the slaves and making their lives useful, and the slaves on the other providing manual labor for the masters, allowing the masters to engage in more sophisticated activities like politics and philosophy. Without the masters, the slaves will have no direction in life; without the slaves, the masters cannot flourish in their city. Basically, practicality led Aristotle to justify the validity of slavery.
For Aristotle, it is natural for men (males) to rule. Just as a master is superior to a slave, he is also superior to women and children. Aristotle’s reason: “The slave is wholly lacking the deliberative element; the female has it but it lacks authority; the child has it but it is incomplete.”
 NE 1099b30
 Women were excluded from political participation and were not considered citizens during the time of Aristotle.