Aristotle Politics


Aristotle - Politics Quotations from Aristotle, Politics

We find that Aristotle has no clear cut answer to the question ‘which is the best form of constitution?’ But finds plenty of warrant in the Politics for saying that the rule of one outstandingly good human, backed by just laws, is most desirable, if only it can be obtained. (Introduction, Politics)

The problems posed by ethical and political philosophy are not of a kind that can be solved once and for all and handed on to posterity as so much accomplished; and that the problems are still the same problems at the bottom, however much appearances and circumstances may have altered in twenty three centuries. How can humans live together? The world has grown smaller and more humans are forced to live together. The problem is larger, more acute and more complicated than it was when ancient philosophers first looked at it. How in particular can a top-dog and an under-dog be made to live together?’ (Introduction, Politics)

.. by nature man is a political animal. Hence man have a desire for life together, even when they have no need to seek each other’s help. Nevertheless, common interest too is a factor in bringing them together, in so far as it contributes to the good life of each. The good life is indeed their chief end, both communally and individually; but they form and continue to maintain a political association for the sake of life itself. Perhaps we may say that there is an element of good even in mere living, provided that life is not excessively beset with troubles. Certainly most men, in their desire to keep alive, are prepared to face a great deal of suffering, as if finding in life itself a certain well-being and a natural sweetness. (Aristotle, Politics)

The society that loses its grip on the past is in danger, for it produces men who know nothing but the present, and who are not aware that life had been, and could be, different from what it is. (Aristotle, Politics)

All who have meditated on the art of governing mankind have been convinced that the fate of empires depends on the education of youth. (Aristotle)

For the real difference between humans and other animals is that humans alone have perception of good and evil, just and unjust, etc. It is the sharing of a common view in these matters that makes a household and a state. (Aristotle, Politics)

To leave the number of births unrestricted, as is done in most states, inevitably causes poverty among the citizens, and poverty produces crime and faction. (Aristotle, Politics)

Phronimos, ‘possessing practical wisdom’.
But the only virtue special to a ruler is practical wisdom; all the others must be possessed, so it seems, both by rulers and ruled. The virtue of a person being ruled is not practical wisdom but correct opinion; he is rather like a person who makes the pipes, while the ruler is the one who can play them. (Aristotle, Politics)

It is clear that those constitutions which aim at the common good are right, as being in accord with absolute justice; while those which aim only at the good of the rulers are wrong. (Aristotle, Politics)

The usual names for right constitutions are as follows:

(a) Monarchy, aiming at the common interest: kingship.

(b) Rule of more than one man but only a few: Aristocracy (so called either because the best men rule or because it aims at what is best for the state and all its members).

(c) Political control exercised by the mass of the populace in the common interest: Polity. This is the name common to all constitutions. It is reasonable to use this term, because, while it is possible for one man or a few to be outstanding in point if virtue, it is difficult for a larger number to reach a high standard in all forms of virtue – with the conspicuous exception of military virtue, which is found in a great many people. And that is why in this constitution the defensive elements is the most sovereign body, and those who share in the constitution are those who bear arms.

The corresponding deviations are: from kingship, tyranny; form aristocracy, oligarchy; from polity, democracy. For tyranny is monarchy for the benefit of the monarch, oligarchy for the benefit of the men of means, democracy for the benefit of the men without means. None of the three aims to be of profit to the common interest. (Aristotle, Politics)

A man who examines each subject from a philosophical standpoint cannot neglect them: he has to omit nothing, and state the truth about each topic. (Aristotle, Politics)

Thus it is thought that justice is equality; and so it is, but not for all persons, only for those that are equal. Inequality also is thought to be just; and so it is, but not for all, only for the unequal. We make bad mistakes if we neglect this ‘for whom’ when we are deciding what is just. The reason is that we are making judgements about ourselves, and people are generally bad judges where their own interests are involved. (Aristotle, Politics)

So we must lay it down that the association which is a state exists not for the purpose of living together but for the sake of noble actions. (Aristotle, Politics)

.. the mass of the people ought to be sovereign, rather than the best but few- is not without difficulty, but has perhaps some truth in it. (Aristotle, Politics)

But it is not at all certain that this superiority of the many over the sound few is possible in the case of every people and every large number. There are some whom it would be impossible: otherwise the theory would apply to wild animals- and yet some men are hardly any better than wild animals. (Aristotle, Politics)

To let them share in the highest offices is to take a risk; inevitably, their unjust standards will cause them to commit injustice, and their lack of judgement will lead them into error. On the other hand there is a risk in not giving them a share, and in their non participation, for when there are many who have no property and no honours they inevitably constitute a huge hostile element in the state. But it can still remain open to them to participate in deliberating and judging. (Aristotle, Politics)

.. nothing emerges so clearly as the fact that the laws, if rightly established, ought to be sovereign, and also that officials, whether individually or as a body, ought to have sovereign power to act in all those various matters about which the laws cannot possibly give detailed guidance; for it is never easy to frame general regulations covering every particular. We said ‘laws rightly established’, but we have not yet discovered what sort of laws these ought to be, so the old problem remains. For as constitutions vary, simultaneously and in like manner the laws too inevitably vary, and are sound or bad, just or unjust; but this much is clear, that the constitution must set the pattern for the laws. (Aristotle, Politics)

We begin by asking whether it is more expedient to be ruled by the best man or by the best laws. Those who believe that to be ruled by a king is expedient think that the laws enunciate only general principles and do not give day-to-day instructions on matter as they arise; and so, they argue, in any skill it is foolish to be guided always by written rules.

For the same reason, it is obvious that the constitution which goes by laws and written rules is not the best. On the other hand, rulers cannot do without that general principle in addition: it provides something which, being without personal feelings, is better than that which by its nature does feel. Every human soul must have feelings, whereas a law has none; but in compensations, one might say, a man will give sounder counsel than law in individual cases. (Aristotle, Politics)

Perhaps here we have a clue to the reason why royal rule used to exist formerly, namely the difficulty of finding enough men of outstanding virtue .. (Aristotle, Politics)

Then, when a large number of men of similar virtue became available, people no longer tolerated one-man rule but looked for something communal, and set up a constitution. But the good men did not remain good: they began to make money out of that which was the common property of all. And to some such development we may plausibly ascribe the origin of oligarchies, since men made wealth a thing of honour. The next change was to tyrannies, and from tyrannies to democracy. For the struggle to get rich at all costs tended to reduce numbers, and so increased the power of the multitude, who rose up and formed democracies. And now that there has been a further increase in the size of states, one might say that it is hard to avoid having a democratic constitution(Aristotle, Politics)

. .we would have to say that hereditary succession is harmful. You may say the king, having sovereign power, will not in that case hand over to his children. But it is hard to believe that: it is a difficult achievement, which expects too much virtue of human nature. (Aristotle, Politics)

.. for desire is like a wild beast, and anger perverts rulers and the very best of men. Hence law is intelligence without appetition. (Aristotle, Politics)

The right constitutions, three in number- kingship, aristocracy, and polity- and the deviations from these, likewise three in number – tyranny from kingship, oligarchy from aristocracy, democracy from polity. (Aristotle, Politics)

A democracy exists whenever those who are free and are not well-off, being in the majority, are in sovereign control of government, an oligarchy when control lies with the rich and better-born, these being few. (Aristotle, Politics)

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