Aristotle is one of the greatest thinkers, trail-blazers, and philosophical masters that has ever lived. His insights continue to inform in the subjects of Biology and Philosophy, and he is referred to as the father of Ethics and Zoology. His extensive knowledge in these categories helped him to make new connections and gain new insights during his brief but amazing life. Aristotle, in his works, refers to politics as ‘an organism’ and states that no one part can function without the other. Aristotle also encourages political partnerships, believes that the state should always come before the individual, and that man is a perfect animal only when in the presence of law and justice. These insights and values still hold true. Aristotle and his teachings help to define the modern world of politics, philosophy, and civilization.
Aristotle focuses on ideals, processes, and values that separate the individual from the state and the political system. The city is a natural community that is prior in importance to both the family and the individual. He also works extensively on the ideas and concepts of education:
* “[that]…education should be regulated by law and should be an affair of state is not to be denied, but what should be the character of this public education, and how young persons should be educated, are questions which remain to be considered.” -XIII Politics*
One of Aristotle’s most famous sayings is that “man is by nature a political animal”. Aristotle conceives politics to more closely resemble a living organism than a machine. His work with the natural world gives him insights into the structure and order of man within his natural political environment. He views Humans as an animal in political environment. He believes that humans will flourish if they live in a community together, because that is how they are meant to function. There are many ways that Aristotle and Socrates see this distinction in life. Socrates and Aristotle see culture as a restrictive force, something that holds one back from their political nature. This however, is an interesting distinction between civilization. Do they feel civilization is restricting, or only the culture within? Also, their examination of constitution and law is an interesting distinction. It seems as though they believe that laws are simply nothing more than laws, perhaps part of that culturally restricting force—whereas constitution speaks to the political nature of man.
“In the laws there is hardly anything but laws; not much is said about the constitution. This, which he had intended to make more of the ordinary type, he [socrates] gradually brings round to the other or ideal form. For with the exception of the community of women and property, he supposes everything to be the same in both states; there is to be the same education; the citizens of both are to live free from servile occupations, and there are to be common meals in both.” -XIII Politics*
Aristotle’s work goes on to say that humans are best served if they follow nature, and not culture. Aristotle believed that culture was a restricting force. An interesting part of Aristotle’s work are his conceptions of equality and freedom. Although he initially created the study of ethics, he believes that women could not be in ruling positions because they get carried away by their emotions.
“Again, if Socrates makes the women common, and retains private property, the men will see to the fields, but who will see to the house? And who will do so if the agricultural class have both their property and their wives in common? Once more: it is absurd to argue, from the analogy of the animals, that men and women should follow the same pursuits, for animals have not to manage a household.” -XIII Politics*
Aristotle also believes in the concept of ‘natural slaves’, that there are those who need the direction of others and are happy being told what to do. These slaves are born to serve and find fulfillment in service. These concepts, and the idea that men are clearly superior to women, are often characteristic of uneducated people today. This is an interesting distinction to make because of the amount of knowledge Aristotle had in his world. Because Aristotle studied so much of the natural world, it was only fitting for him to classify men within the natural order.
Ins spite of these anachronisms, Aristotle’s insights into how the human functions within politics will forever propel us forward to the deepest questions about community and being. The ideas that Aristotle writes about can also be applied to the project I am currently embarking on. His thoughts on the order and structure of man, and his place in the political system will help to shape my ideals and opinions in the coming months, especially the idea of politics and governmental systems as a living organism. I look forward to applying Aristotle’s teachings to today and gaining new insights from his centuries-old analysis.
-Aristotle. Aristotle’s Politics, http://www.constitution.org/ari/polit_00.htm, 1997/9/25, Maintained: Jon Roland of the Constitution Society