Political Authority and Obligation in Aristotle

Political Authority and Obligation in Aristotle

Political Authority and Obligation in Aristotle

Political Authority and Obligation in Aristotle

Synopsis

In medieval Britain people wore jewellery made of gold if they were rich, of base metal if they were poor; they might hoard their property, or give it away to guarantee that they would have friends when needed; and many of them paid tax on their possessions. In Gold and Gilt, Pots and Pins,David Hinton reviews the significance of artefacts in this period. From elaborate gold jewellery to clay pots, he looks at what possessions meant to people at every level of society. His emphasis is on their reasons for acquiring, keeping, displaying, and disposing of the things that they wore andhad in their houses. Drawing on a wide range of physical and documentary evidence, including objects from archaeological excavations and written sources, he argues that the significance of material culture has not been properly taken into account in explanations of social change, particularly in the later Middle Ages. He also explores how identity was created, and how social division was expressed and reinforced. An overall review that looks at evidence in Scotland and Wales as well as in England, this book ranges chronologically from the end of the Roman rule of Britain to the introduction of the new modes and practices that are usually termed 'Renaissance', marked by the changes in religion. Profuselyillustrated, the author provides a fascinating and illuminating window into the society of the Middle Ages.

Excerpt

The main purpose of this chapter is not so much to offer a full-scale assessment of the bearing of Aristotle's ethics on his social science as to sort out some preliminary issues regarding the viewpoint adopted by Aristotle in his political and legal theory which bear on the attempt to argue for the existence of political obligation in his social thought. The subject-matter of this chapter will also give us an opportunity to tackle some questions which will resurface differently shaped throughout the book: From which viewpoint does Aristotle approach social reality? Is he in the descriptive or the evaluative social-scientific business? (1.2) Is he in both? If so, can he get away with it? (1.3).

We shall first go into the extent to which his intended audience or 'readership', basically lawgivers and statesmen, is (not) an insurmountable barrier for the view that there is something akin to political obligation in Aristotle. The remainder of the chapter will take its cue from the identification of the main viewpoint adopted by Aristotle in his social philosophy and elaborate the way in which Aristotle's ethical theory bears on his legal and political philosophy. Having seen that Aristotle does connect description and evaluation in social science, we shall see whether this connection is established in a satisfactory way.

It is now a common view among its practitioners that social science should approach its subject-matter from the viewpoint of social agents, from what has variously been called the 'hermeneutic', 'internal', 'native', or 'practical' point of view. To be sure, there is some disagreement regarding how far the theorist is supposed to go down the road of the practical point of view. For example, is he simply to put himself in the position of the agent and just 'see things' as they appear to the agent, since there is no way to step safely outside the agent and/or his community, history, and culture? Or is the theorist rather to base his analysis on an evaluative notion of rationality in order to pass judgement on the

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