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Aristotle the Great

Aristotle was born in 384BC and lived to 322 BC. He was a Greek philosopher, logician, and scientist. Along with his teacher Plato, Aristotle is generally regarded as one of the most influential ancient thinkers in a number of philosophical fields, including political theory (Hines).

Aristotle was born in Stagira in northern Greece, and his father was a court physician to the king of Macedon. As a young man he studied in Plato's Academy in Athens. After Plato's death he left Athens to conduct philosophical and biological research in Asia Minor and Lesbos, and he was then invited by King Philip II of Macedon to tutor his young son, Alexander the Great. Soon after Alexander succeeded his father, consolidated the conquest of the Greek city-states, and launched the invasion of the Persian Empire (Honeycut). It was in this environment that Aristotle's' views and ideas of politics developed. As Alexander's teacher, Aristotle had a close tie to the political powers of Athens. Because of this tie Aristotle wrote Politics as a guide to rulers as to how to govern a country (Honeycut).

In Politics Aristotle lays out his ideal form of Government. It contains thought provoking discussions on the role of human nature in politics, the relation of the individual to the state, the place of morality in politics, the theory of political justice, the rule of law, the analysis and evaluation of constitutions, the relevance of ideals to practical politics, the causes and cures of political change and revolution, and the importance of a morally educated citizenry (Hines). He stressed that the ideal citizen and ruler must possess certain virtues, such as wisdom, temperance and courage. And the work as a whole echoes Aristotle's dominant theme of moderation.

Politics is an excellent historical source because of the close tie Aristotle had to the everyday business of government in Athens. It reflects the idealized values of the people and the influence of Aristotle's teacher Plato. The importance of wisdom and justice is also directly parallel the classical Greek ideology (Kemerling).

Aristotle believed that nature formed politics and the need for city-states government formed out of nature. Aristotle lays the foundations for his political theory in Politics by arguing that the city-state and political rule are "natural."

The argument begins with a historical account of the development of the city-state out of simpler communities. First, individual human beings combined in pairs because they could not exist apart. The male and female joined in order to reproduce, and the master and slave came together for self-preservation. The master uses his intellect to rule, and the natural slave uses his body to labor. Second, the household arose naturally from these primitive communities in order to serve everyday needs. Third, when several households combined for other needs a village emerged also according to nature. Finally, "the complete community, formed from several villages, is a city-state, which can attain the limit of self-sufficiency. It comes to be for the sake of life, and exists for the sake of the good life." (Fowler).

Aristotle backs up four claims about the city-state: First, the city-state exists by nature, because it comes to be out of the more primitive natural associations and it serves as their end, because only it attains self-sufficiency (Fowler). Second, human beings are by nature political animals, because nature, which does nothing in vain, has equipped them with speech, which enables them to communicate moral concepts such as justice, which are formative of the household and city-state (Fowler). Third, the city-state is naturally prior to the individuals, because individuals cannot perform their natural functions apart from the city-state, since they are not self-sufficient (Fowler). However, these three claims are immediately followed by a fourth: the city-state is a creation of human intelligence. "Therefore, everyone naturally has the impulse for such a [political] community, but the person who first established [it] is the cause of very great benefits." (Fowler)

This great benefit may be the laws of the city-state. Aristotle points out that the legal system alone saves them from their own savagery. It's interesting to see that Aristotle's view of nature transcends in his view of the human character and what the humans should be.

In Aristotle's Ethics he points out the popular view of what happiness was and maybe still is. Honor, pleasure and wealth are the things he believed the Greek people wanted to be happy. He stated that honor is a superficial aim because at any moment it can be taken away from us. Pleasure is enjoyable but is more an animal quality than human, and wealth is merely a means towards a greater good. Aristotle taught moderation; the pursuits of the above three vices are okay, but don’t make it an all encompassing goal.

In contrast to the three things he warned against spending your life on, there were about four things that he felt should be heartily sought after. Aristotle felt that everyone should possess these qualities, and they were crucial for a good ruler. Wisdom, courage, temperance and justice were the four virtues that Aristotle held so high. He felt that only through these four qualities could lead a person or a country to true happiness.

Aristotle's virtues parallel the thinking of other classical Greeks. One of the obvious reasons for this is that the teacher-student bond tied many philosophers. The great Socrates taught Plato, and of course Plato was Aristotle's teacher. Although, the influence of the teacher is very strong, the students also have showed that they can think independently and their works have a distinctly different taste to them.

Socrates, another of the famous classical Greeks, died for his views of wisdom and justice. Socrates used logic to tell himself and his colleagues that he must die for the sake of avoiding hypocrisy.



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