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Aristotle and the State

Unless we are ostracized and stateless, we are members of a state. Or as they say, "No one is an island."

In a book that his translators have created, The Politics, Aristotle (384-322 BCE) began:

Observaton tells us that every state is an association, and that every association if formed with a view to some good purpose. I say 'good', because in all their actions all men do in fact aim at what they think is good.

Aristotle described the state as natural (of nature). "Man is by nature," said Aristotle ,"a political animal." Man is political "in a sense in which the bee is not, or any other gregrious animal." Because, claims Aristotle, nature has "endowed man alone among the anminals with the power of speech." Speech, he says, is something different from voice, possessed by other animals.

A society of people need to speak to one another and make an agreement that brings at least a degree of unity. Laws need to be made.

Aristotle believed in a balance between the powers of the state and the rights of individuals, and between regimentation and anarchy. He claimed that the state should not be so powerful or all encompassing that it fails to offer a good amount of liberty to its individual citizens – which put him at odds with Plato's totalitarianism.

As a man of his times (no excuse), Aristotle described slavery as natural. He saw the Greeks as naturally superior to non-Greeks. Aristotle advised Alexander the Great to turn those non-Greek he defeated into slaves. (Alexander ignored him.)


Copyright © 2016 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.