The Politics of Philosophy: A Commentary on Aristotle's Politics

By Michael Davis | Go to book overview

Chapter Eight
Poetry and Politics:
Politics Book 8

Book 7 prepares us for the importance of education to the best regime, but we still wonder at the extended treatment of music and poetry in Book 8. At first glance, it is certainly odd that a hardnosed book about politics marches us to the conclusion that music is the goal of political life. Perhaps we need a second glance.

By arguing that the pursuit of the necessities of life can in the best regime be made coincident with the pursuit of the kalon, Book 7 seems to lead to the happy conclusion that political virtue, which is a means to an end, can be reconciled with that virtue which is an end in itself—philosophical virtue. The good life and the means to the good life consist in the same activity. Book 8, less sanguine, seems to argue that esoteric philosophic virtue depends on exoteric political virtue. If Book 7 tells us that building the city's walls can be satisfying for its own sake, Book 8 tells us that poetry and music cannot be understood other than as reflections on building walls; they are beautiful reflections on the useful. Were the city itself the perfect poem—the coincidence of the beautiful and the useful—then poetry would not need to be taught within the city.

The argument about education concerns, first of all, whether it is education of thinking or of character and, second, whether it should be directed at the useful, at virtue, or at what Aristotle calls here extraordinary or odd things (ta peritta). It looks as though education of character means education to virtue. Education of think

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