Citizens and Statesmen: A Study of Aristotle's Politics

By Mary P. Nichols | Go to book overview

Chapter 1
THE ORIGINS OF THE CITY

(Books I and II of the Politics)

In the first two books of the Politics, Aristotle explores the dual origins of the city. He gives two explanations of why human beings are political animals and why the city is natural. Human beings are political animals, in the first place, because they are rational, the animals possessing speech. They can fully exercise their capacity for reason and speech only by communicating with others about what is advantageous and just. Politics is natural because it calls forth the exercise of humanity's highest natural capacity. On the other hand, Aristotle also presents the city as a natural growth, analogous to any other living being, in which there appears little room for any distinctively human activity. Moreover, that growth is more violent than harmonious—the result of conflict engendered by physical needs and disruptive passions. Human life is to a large extent ruled by necessity— by compulsion or force, rather than calculation or choice, by the needs of survival rather than concerns of nobility (see Metaphysics, 1015a20‐ 32). But while the city comes into being for the sake of life, Aristotle says, it continues to exist for the sake of the good life (1252b29-30). Politics involves both the necessary and the noble (1291a16-18).

In the first section of this chapter, we shall examine Aristotle's arguments for the naturalness of the city, which reveal the tension between the city's two ends. In the second section, we shall examine Aristotle's argument for natural slavery and his reservations about acquisition. We shall see the extent to which human beings are like other animals controlled by their need for survival as well as the possibility that they establish cities based on deliberation, choice, and political rule. The key to this development is the family, whose relationships originate in necessity but come to involve virtue and

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Citizens and Statesmen: A Study of Aristotle's Politics
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Citizens and Statesmen - A Study of Aristotle's Politics *
  • Contents *
  • Preface vii
  • Introduction 1
  • Chapter 1 - The Origins of the City 13
  • Chapter 2 - Finding a Place for Beast and God 53
  • Chapter 3 - Turning Regimes into Polities 85
  • Chapter 4 - The Best Regime and the Limits of Politics 125
  • Chapter 5 - Citizens, Statesmen, and Modern Political Theory 169
  • Endnotes 177
  • Works Frequently Cited 223
  • Index 227
  • About the Author *
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