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Little is known of Aristotle’s personal history, intellectual versality and his perfect

comprehension of his teacher and master, Plato, whom he often admires, fondly criticizes
supplements and, in some cases, overtakes in philosophic acumen and intellectual
application. This is one aspect that has been brought out by the author very brilliantly and
with commendable insight. Undeniable, few know Aristotle and his background as a
member of a relatively wealthy family in Greece and its committed service to the
distinguished Macedonian courts.

All students of Ethics are fairly familiar with the Nichomachean Ethics, but they may
never know why it bears such an appellation or the personality behind it. This fact has
been documented very satisfactorily when the author recounts that Aristotle’s father,
Nichomachus, was a physician of some considerable repute and, therefore, as a physician
he must have adhered to some specific code of professional ethics.

Little wonder that Aristotle later became an embodiment of practically all known
scientific disciplines of his time, mainly because of the liberal exposure he enjoyed as an
intellectual factotum in the courts of kings and prominent Athenians. We are told that he
narrowly escaped the fate of Socrates by fleeing the wrath of the mob, which had secretly
contrived accusations against him for blasphemy and specifically for paying divine honor
to mortals.

It is particularly refreshing for the reader of this intriguing book to be reminded by

Aristotle that politics and ethics go hand in hand if human happiness is to be attained in
society. It is an open secret that many modern societies, especially in Africa, would rather
compromise one or the other for the sake of expediency and dubious advantage. Still less,
the adherence to moral virtues is spurned against by those who should lead by example
and impeachable moral conduct. This side documentation makes this book particularly
intriguing and attractive, since the moral foundations and moral excellence advocated by
Aristotle are not irrelevant even in our modern society.

Aristotelian dynamic state offers and guarantees nothing less than security for all its
citizens. And, as an institution, it must always be functional and, indeed, be found to
espouse a modicum of moral excellence through its leaders, who are generally assumed
to be wise and virtuous. Even this, in an African continuum, is an appropriate and potent
reminder for those who wield power or those who exercise it on behalf of the masses.
Moreover, it also becomes absolutely imperative that the state start worrying about the
goodness and badness of its citizens. Indeed this is a huge reminder of the uncontrollable
and inability on the part of the state to snuff them out. On matters of moral and even
political property, the state cannot be indifferent. It should always pose as an educational
institution, which aims at producing men and women of noble ideals and morals. Each
individual in the dynamic and functional state should reciprocate for the benefits that
accrue from it by guaranteeing its unbroken integrity and well-being.

The author very ably documents the issue of wealth within the state and quotes Aristotle
as saying that without a certain amount of wealth people cannot enjoy health, vitality or
pleasure, which are a sine qua non for a good life. Again, this documentation is very
welcome, valid and relevant to Africa, where the majority of the populations are
condemned to the state of abject poverty, often through no fault of their own. This, in my
view, should pose some palpable challenge for the bona fide leaders to rid their
condemned populations of the ignominious state of shameful poverty. The author very
ably remarks to the effect that a person, in utter poverty, is easily susceptible to the snares
of the rich, who may always be out to manipulate and exploit him and even to consign
and constrain him to a permanent state of servitude. It is obvious that if this state-
contrived servitude is let unchecked, all noble ideals of the state will hopelessly crumble.

Where wealth is legitimately owned, the distribution of it must also satisfy and conform
to the equitable principles of distributing it, strictly on the benchmark of distributive
justice. The observance of this rubric should guarantee the continued vitality of the state.
Once again, this is a robust reminder of what ideally ought to happen in Africa in order to
circumvent the vicious predicament brought about by the rampant inequitable distribution
of wealth. In this regard, Aristotle cautions against the selling of highest offices, in the
sense of commercializing them or exclusively facilitating the wealthy to ascend to power.
He emphatically cautions that wealth should never be the basis of allotting positions of
office. This caution, in my view, can never be more appropriate and valid, in view of
what we witness daily in African and elsewhere in the world.

Even more apposite is the remark that the exercise of power in every sphere must
stringently follow the principles of virtue and morality. And individual is just not a head
of his house if he does not possess and excel in superior virtue. As a matter of fact, the
hallmark and natural baggage of any citizen who scrambles for power should be tested
against the criterion of possessing natural ingredients of superiority in virtue.

The concluding chapter comes out very strongly in defense of the supremacy of moral
virtue in political life already alluded to in the previous chapters, and which now is
regarded as an all-encompassing principle upon which the best human society is founded.
The author brings out, most outstandingly, Aristotle’s arguments on this issue and
outlines the fate of those states that deviate from the observance of this cardinal
imperative. In this respect, the idea of national morality is injected into the discussion,
very much in the spirit of Aristotle’s political trajectory and projection.

This is an invaluable book written in the most persuasive, lucid and compelling style. It
has covered all that the uninitiated reader needs to know about Aristotle both as a person
and as a comprehensive philosopher. I would strongly recommend it as an introductory
and mandatory reading text for all upcoming philosophers, especially those who nurse
big ambitions to venture into the much more complex and abstract writings of Aristotle.

J.M. Nyasani (Ph.D. Cologne)

Professor of Philosophy, University of Nairobi



Aristotle fondly referred to by St. Thomas Aquinas as “the philosopher”, stands in

the history of thought as a great intellectual monument, superseding his much acclaimed
teacher and master, Plato. His rare ability of traversing the gamut of all disciplines of
academics poses him as the intellectual master of all who know. As a thinker and a
scholar, Aristotle eclipsed all knowledge together under the umbrella of his all
encompassing and high soaring mind. No branch of knowledge was alien to him. His
indiscriminate inquiry into what is led him to delve into a consideration;
Of ‘things human’, in the fields of ethics and politics (and also logic, poetry and oratory);
side by side with a study of ‘things natural’ (physics, medicine, and general biology); and
the methods and findings his study of ‘things natural’ were naturally linked with the
methods and findings of ‘things human’

Recognizably, of all the pupils of the high soaring teacher, Plato, Aristotle seems
to have come out as the only one to penetrate the sophistications of the master’s mind, to
detect and correct the pitfalls in Plato’s philosophy.
In all works where Aristotle follows Plato, this critical mind is manifest, and the
Politics is no exception. Where Plato is right, he takes without a question, but he does not
shy away from differing with Plato in points which he thought Plato was unnecessarily
abstract. He thus abandoned so many of Plato’s thoughts, to precipitate into a radically
different mode of thought, more empirical than Plato’s, a mode of thought based on
“facts of experience”. This development for Aristotle meant a break-through into what
Plato had initiated but imperfectly developed. From Aristotle’s own “mouth”

W. Jaeger quotes:

Upto now I have been using another method. I have made my ideal state by logical
construction [a legacy he received from Plato], without being sufficiently acquainted with
the facts of experience. But now I have at my own disposal the copious material of the
158 constitutions, and I am going to use it in order to give the ideal State of positive

Opposed to his master in various intellectual principles, Aristotle did not sever his
friendship with Plato. As is characteristic of sober minded intellectualists, Aristotle still
revered and recognized Plato’s genius. He retained a passionate admiration for his
master, of whom he fondly wrote that:

...he was a man whom the bad have not even the right to praise-the only man, or the first,
to show clearly by his own life, and by the reasoning of his discourses, that to be happy is
to be good.
This admiration of Plato shall characterize the whole of Aristotle’s thought and
especially ethico-political thought. That ‘to be happy is to be good’ is a principle which
Aristotle carried through his thought system as unassailable, and as the paradigm of good
human society.
Now, as has been alluded to, the fact that Aristotle differed in cast of mind, as
well as in certain fundamental intellectual principles from the man with whom he had
been for seventeen years, and whom he considered the noblest of thinkers to have ever
lived, is not disagreeable. Less still is it contradictory for Aristotle to disagree with Plato
and still hold so passionate an admiration for Plato. This gesture only shows that Aristotle
was one of the rarest sober minded thinkers, who understood the nature of academic
pursuance and that of friendship; that the two are not opposed, but is also not always
compromising. For so noble a mind that was Aristotle, to shrink from intellectual
opposition as an offence against friendship, and to suppress convictions for fear of being
misconstrued, would be a timidity of an unworthy kind.

Aristotle, reports say, was not a Greek, but a foreigner in Greece. Born in Stagira,
a small Greek colonial town, Aristotle flourished between the years B.C. 348, which year
is given as the most probable date of his birth, and B.C. 322, which date is given as
marking his death. Stagira, or Stageiros, was a town lying in the Northern part of Greece.
In this place Aristotle was born in around the year 348. Physically, Aristotle is said to
have been a short and slender man, with small eyes. He had an affected lisp so that in
speech, he would pronounce “s” in words which do not posses them. He is also said to
have been given to sarcasm in conversation, a disposition which definitely earned him a
good number of enemies.

Nichomachus, the father of Aristotle, was a physician, who belonged to a

prestigious guild of medics which was hereditary. He belonged to the group of esclepiads
as this group was called. He was, however, a physician of repute, attached to the court of
Amyntas II, the father of King Philip of Macedon.

Among the esclepiads, scholars report that alongside the learning of the alphabet
children were taught dissection so that they were as familiar with anatomy as they were
familiar with the alphabet. Very little wonder then that Aristotle, having inherited the
membership to the famous guild from his father, was scientific in all his thinking.

The proximity of Aristotle’s father to the King’s court was very helpful for
Aristotle’s1 future career as a scholar and teacher. Particularly, he was able to coach the
crown prince, Alexander, who was later to become Alexander the Great, King and
conqueror and establisher of the great Macedonian Empire, which event


Aristotle is basically a scientist. His methodology is that of scientific induction, starting

all his investigation from “facts of experience”, proceeding to the most general principles.
His precision is that of a medic, diagnosing a patient in order to prescribe the requisite
remedy for the patient’s ills. He employs this scientific procedure in all his works,
including ethics and politics. The politics portrays him as a scientific rather than
prophetic thinker, analyzing the society with a doctor’s eye-view, with the intention of
prescribing remedies for societies maladies. Particularly the doctrine of virtue which is
the mean between the two extremes of excess and deficient have been generally argued to
have come from Aristotle’s understanding of health as a balanced and proportionate state
between excess and defect.

Now with this fundamental orientation Aristotle approached practically every sphere of
knowledge establishing a n enormous literature. The Aristotelian corpus of works forms
an encyclopedia of knowledge which following e barker’s arrangement can be grouped in
eight categories. Each category concerned with a separate field of knowledge. These are
numbered as follows:
Logic, which Aristotle called analytics is numbered at the top. Aristotle covered these in
a number of treatises, which were later named the organon or instrument of knowledge.
Physics follows logic and is broadly concerned with the study of things of inorganic
nature. The third position is occupied by metaphysics which comes after the study of
things of inorganic nature. It is a study investigating the realms of the most primary
courses of things. It is in other words, prime of first philosophy so called on account of
his subject matter for it is concerned with the first causes and the prime mover.
Biology or the study of organic nature comes forth in the order immediately followed by
the study of psyche rendered by modern parlance as psychology. This study comes after
biology in much the same way as metaphysics comes after physics. Sixth in number is
Ethics or moral philosophy. Politics follows in the seventh position immediately after the
study of ethics. Roughly for the same reason and in the same way as metaphysics and
psychology follows physics and biology respectively. Politics is seen as a specification of
ethics. It is a manifestation of the disposition that has been created by a proper training in
good moral conduct. It is a way of life or an organized system of life showing the effect
of good education and laws found on proper moral principles. The “study of orational
persuasion and of poetic (or tragic) art of purifying the emotions by means of pity and
fear “closes the series of the encyclopedia of the eight branches of knowledge.
Apart from the treatises, Aristotle is said also to have written dialogues, which might
have been due to the tradition of the academy. Plato wrote dialogues and it may be
expected that many students followed their master’s style.
The works of Aristotle are generally difficult works. Aristotle is rather difficult, subtle
and deep thinker, penetrating into areas very uncommon to notice. Apart from being a
subtle thinker, Aristotle is also not a writer to admire. He is rather wanting to style and
charm of writing, a phenomenon which makes Aristotle’s books boring to read. It is often
difficult to follow the drift of his argument. H is always in the habit of frequent
digressions from arguments, occasionally presenting points which seem to conflict with
on another. Another difficulty in Aristotle is of a traditional kind. The works of Aristotle
have traditionally come down to us in a shape which scholars rather doubted. The order
and authenticity of the writings have always questioned. What was written before the
other is always a question researchers and systematisers of Aristotle’s debate on. Also, it
is a disputable question whether the writings are all authentic Aristotelian writings or
whether some are simply a tradition of a school rather than the work of a single thinker,
as certain scholars have been inclined to think. Scholars are greatly at variance in this.
Our point on this, however, is that, be it as it may, Aristotle’s thought is still in the
writings. The aim of a student of Aristotle’s thought should not be so much whether the
works are of a past inherited tradition or not, for that is a historical matter, but his aim
should be to extract, or disentangle the fundamentally authentic Aristotelian thought, the
system of reasoning which represents a true Aristotle, the scientist, analytic and piercing
as ever.


The politics, as the title suggests, is concerned with the polis, or to be precise, it treats the
about 158 examples of the polis, spread all over the Greek mainland, and the maritime
area of the Greek dispersion, which Aristotle had studied. It presupposes a small
Mediterranean world, bound to urbanity, or civic republics, standing in contrast with the
world of reality. Its methodology is rather analytic rather than historical. Aristotle
constructs the political community out of analyzing its element, but does not look into
what primitive records say about man in his pre-historic or historic development.
Like the other books of Aristotle, the polis is not a charming book to read. Much less is it
a book easy to understand. The depth and structure of the book make it a bother to study.
It is a deep penetrating book, but not a homogenous work. That it is a collection of
several different essays, assembled together under a single title, but not logically woven
together into a single treatise, its very noticeable from its haphazard structure. This is a
problem, the kind of which makes work very hard to reconstruct. What order of the books
must be followed, which essay or “book” was written after or before which becomes a
difficult, but central question for discussion, for unless we know the order of the essays,
we cannot follow the argument, the thought carried in an argument not followed,
obviously not understood.
Now following Aristotle’s argument in the politics is rather uncomfortable because,
reading the work, one readily notices that Aristotle jumps, rather inconsistently from
point to point, breaking up abruptly without a warning and occasionally with promises of
treating certain issues at later stages, promises, however, which he never fulfils. The lack
of flow in the treatise gives an impression that it was not written at a continuous sitting,
but at different intervals, which of each interval representing a totally different political
climate. The argument of scholars who suppose that the treatise was originally written in
the form of a dialogue, with Aristotle casting himself as one of the interlocutors
(probably the main interlocutor), that some parts of the treatise are lost seem to strongly
explain the difficulty and irregularity in Aristotle’s politics.
Given this technicality in the politics, the reader who wants to understand the work must
be uncommonly flexible in mind in order to understand the work.
Now, scholars are not agreed about the correct order of the books of the politics. Since, as
has been pointed out, the treatise has reached us in a questionable shape, scholars have
been at pains trying to reconstruct a possible original order of the treatise, from their own
research and analysis of the book itself. The issue however is still contested.
Generally, the politics is divided into six parts, each of which parts deals with a different
aspect of political life, but the treatment of these aspects of political life overlap one
another in the whole treatise somewhat haphazardly. This further makes the weaving
together of Aristotle’s work into a logical coherent whole very difficult.
The order of the book, which is inherited, and which seems to be the right order is the one
given by E. Barker, and runs like this:
The first section, in book I, deals with household management, which later ushers into the
considerations of the Polis; the second section, presented in book II, concerns states, both
theoretically and practically considered; the third section, presented in book III, deals
with the general theory of political constitutions-dealing mainly with the themes of: the
nature of citizenship, the principles of ‘distributive justice’ as understood by different
constitutions, and the idea of kingship; the fourth section, in books IV and V, address the
problems of actual politics- the political morphology of the different kinds of oligarchy
and democracy. Polity, or mixed constitution (a blend of oligarchy and democracy), the
relevance of different constitutions to different people, finally, the methods of structuring
the deliberative, juridical and executive organs of different constitutions; what E. Barker
calls “political pathology”, or the general causes of uprisings and revolutions in States,
collectively and severally, is dealt with in section five, presented in book VI. It outlines
the means of organizing democracies and oligarchies, the emphasis being now to secure
their stability; the last section, six, presented in books VII and VIII, outlines political
ideals, and sketches and ideal State.
This is the inherited order of the book, which as it is still presents difficult logical
problems. If we give it an alphabetical notation, we would number them, ABCDEF. Now
assuming that there was no order at all and that one was allowed to create his order, E
.Barker suggests that the rearrangement would be in three parts. The first part would be
dedicated to ‘the general principles of social and political theory’, which would include
the social theory presented in A and the political theory of C. Part II would be committed
to ‘political deals’; it would include the review of ideal states, in theory and in practice,
which is in B, it would include Aristotle’s own sketch of ideal State contained in F. Part
II would have the title of ‘political institutions’, and would consider the political
morphology and pathology of D and the political engineering of E. Thus, the order of the
books would be ACBFDE.
But Barker still suggests an alternative order. This would see part III inverted so that the
order of the books would then become ACDEBF.
Perhaps the best thing to do is to lease The Order of the books as they have been
inherited, for what is important, we reckon, is the thought. If the order in which it is
received may yield its understanding, we see absolutely no reason to look for other orders
which are just likely to complicate further, the already complicated treatise.
Centrally, the politics is treatise dedicated to ‘political philosophy’, or to the ‘true science
of politics’, as should be practiced by the true statesman. It outlines who should be the
ruler, or the princeps, in a well organized body politic. It describes the nature of the
“statesman”- the person or group of persons best qualified to govern the body politic.
Fundamentally, as shall be seen, the standard measure for any well organized body politic
is ethical. A good society is that in which practical politics is identified with personal
ethics. Every political endeavor must be seen in the light of a “’goal-directed’ social or
political planning, where an empirically and rationally determined good constitutes the
ultimate criterion as well as the ultimate aim.” In this connection, a true science of
politics is conceived as based on the principle of the highest good, be it moral, political or
social. It must be based on the understanding and formulation of this highest good or
highest end, and its realization through proper action considered in this perspective,
Politics immediately becomes metaphysics of Ethics.


Aristotle’s writings are powerful tools for scholars’ brains. Although in chronological
history today Aristotle’s thought represents the thought of about twenty three centuries
ago, it still stands as all invaluable for the modern political theorist and practitioner.
Scholars still agree that in the field of political philosophy, the little treatise of the politics
still extant forms part of “…the very best works yet written…” in the field.
What is important in Aristotle is the thought, not the time or the political milieu in which
the work was written. The student of Aristotle would simply go for the thought and try to
extract what is truly Aristotelian I the substance. Aristotle is basically a philosopher of
moderation in social behavior. This is found in his ethical thought, which is again closely
tied to his political thought. To understand Aristotle’s politics, this aspect of moderation,
enhanced by a proper training in oral virtue must be disentangled from the glossing
peripheral mattes he discusses. In the following chapters, the concentration shall be on
disentangling the authentically Aristotelian thought of moral virtue as a mid-way between
extremes, as a principle which must guide all social and political activity.


Reading through the politics, one readily discovers that Aristotle’s political thought
centers strongly around his moral thought. The politics, a treatise on Aristotle’s political
theory, grounds itself firmly on Aristotle’s ethical doctrine and the main ethical treatise
the Nocomachean Ethics is frequently referred to in order to clarify the nature and the
role of political life. This is because Aristotle regards politics and Ethics as disciplines
concerned with the same issue-that of the practical aim of promoting and maintaining
human happiness. Aristotle’s discussion of political issues is not restricted to particular
theme or area of approach, but it covers all areas of social interactions of the members of
State. He discusses the polis and the life of all its members in all its aspects. He treats a
society in which every activity has a political and moral implication. He sees politics and
ethics as inseparable aspects of society. Politics changes behavior makes laws to provide
leisure and prevents harm, while ethics lays the ultimate foundations of what is right and
wrong. Practical wisdom and politics are identical, and are to be seen embodied in the
wise man or moral Man. Aristotle calls the whole of Ethico-Political study a political
inquiry. Ethics is specifically concerned with the happiness of the individual members of
the State whereas politics is concerned with the happiness of man’s permanent
association-the State taken as an entity. The best mode of political organization is
measured by the well-being of individual members. For Aristotle one should not engage
in ethics and politics simply from theoretical curiosity, neither should ethics itself be
distinguished from the deliberation of people engaged in the pursuit of their various
purposes. The basic thesis of Aristotle is that the state exists for the sake of achieving fine
ends, by which he means morally plausible actions. It would be important to make
mention here immediately that the geographical conception of the State that Aristotle
addressed himself to is immensely different from what a modern man would understand
by the State today, and this has a considerable influence on his political theory. To a
modern man the conception of a State includes a large tract of land with millions of
people each person trying to compete with the rest for the scarce resources in the
environment which they share. It is not necessary, or even important that the members of
the state should know one another. For Aristotle however, the state is a small tract of land
of about 100sq. miles in which the people lived. It is a political group bonded mainly by
common blood, common speech, common religious practices performed in common
religious sites and common social habits. It is an integrated system of social ethics, a
small and intimate society which resembles a church and has no distinction between the
province of the State and that of the society. Economics simply meant the way
households and cities could be structured to live a good life. Wealth was considered as a
means to moral life and was to serve only that end.
Now Aristotle proposes his theory of moral virtue as the basic driving force of this
community. Virtue is core to both moral and political life, since the rational man is also
political by nature. Thus, in the politics book IV, Aristotle refers to the Ethics as a
foundation to the theory advanced presently. The view advanced in the Ethic about virtue
must act as groundwork, the point of reference to what the politics advances. He says
then, that:
If we wee right in our Ethics we stated that virtue is a mean and that the happy life is life
free and unhindered and according to virtue, then the best life must be the middle w ay,
consisting in a mean between tow extremes which it is open to those at either end to
attain. And the same principle must be applicable to the goodness or badness of cities and
states. For the constitution of a city is really the way it lives.

This reference is made to the Nocomachean Ethics Book II. Here Aristotle treats virtue
exclusively. He teaches that virtue is a fixed disposition which makes people perform
their actions in the best way, both as individuals and as a group. The book defines moral
virtue as a fixed disposition of the mind, by means of which person makes choices of
actions and controls emotions, and all this is done according to prudence. It consists
essentially in observing the mean relative to the person, the mean which is a mid-point
between two vices, one of excess and one of defect. Moral virtue is the capacity to find
the best possible way of action and reaction, which essentially is the concern of the state.
The state aims at the best possible life for each member. The State then must aim at the
mean relative to us, by which Aristotle means “that amount which his neither too much
nor too little, and this is not one of the same for everybody.”
Each human being seems to have his own version of what is right and what is wrong
depending on the person’s training and up-binging. Now if there are several states
(Governments and Constitutions), then this varied conception of what is right and wrong
should explain the phenomenon. People differ generally also in the conception of what
type of rule they take to be best for them. This makes matters somewhat difficult, but one
fact is important to remember: that virtue and happiness of a n individual depends on his
ability to strike the mid-pint in all activities; and it is also clear that the best State is that
which tries as much as possible to achieve happiness for its members-the happiness
which can be achieved only by the practice of virtue. This theme runs right through
Aristotle’s political treatise until the end. Everything that and individual does and
Individual and as a member of a political society must have this principle as its point of


It is important in our reckoning to try from the outset and give a precise description of
what Aristotle understands the nature of the State to be. The geographical understanding
it has been discovered, is immensely small in comparison to our modern understanding of
the same. This consequently makes it an integrated social group in which thee is not
distinction between the province of the State proper and that of the community.
Everybody knows one another, almost by name for they meet and interact in almost every
walk of community life. To understand this kind of community, one must get deeply into
the study of its component structures, investigating these, each according to the order of
its significance. Generally, in considering the State, Aristotle starts from the most basic
elements of it and ascends to the most general. He considers the questions: how should
the State be defined? How necessary is the State to man, and why must man live in a
State so far? Is it possible for a person to live outside the state? What services has
members of the State to expect from the State, and what duties have the members of the
State towards their State? Asking these questions, Aristotle tries to lay bare the nature of
the State, which fits very well with his philosophy of moral excellence.


Aristotle understands by the State, “and association of persons formed with a view to
some good purpose.” It is not any casual or chance association but has a definite aim,
which is the good life. It is regarded as a community of the highest level for its aim is the
good of the greatest number of people. It is a self-sufficient community that exists not
merely to provide the basic needs, but is for the sake of the good life. It has an
accumulated moral tradition to draw from and the physical efforts to serve the physical
needs of its members. It is around life-style, complete and somewhat self-contained. It
does not receive anything from others nor does it see itself as bound to give others. This
makes its greatest difference from any other associations which are formed with the
motive of mutual protection of interests, but lack self-sufficiency. These are normally
formed with the motive of attaining a particular good, for example, would not be called a
State by Aristotle. It is concerned with the good life, but in a very limited scope; and for a
rather small group of people. A State must also be an association of people within a
particular territorial boundary. In this sense, as Lloyd reports, it is different from a nation
which has no definite shape and is linked only by race. The Polis must be a unified entity
of limited size. Aristotle recommends a limited size of a State in order that its governing
might be easy. He thinks that if a State is too large, its members a State. Members of a
State should constitute such a number that can be addressed by one herald in one
assembly, or led by one general. It did not occur to Aristotle that as is the characteristic or
every organic substance, the State would undergo a process of development, however
slow the pace might be. He did not envisage the fact that people were bound to eventually
increase in their number until the small size of the territory could not contained them any
longer, and they would necessarily be forced to expand to other living spaces. He has an
ideal of a static City-State with a constant population and a non-changing constitution.
Aristotle conceives of the origin of the State as something natural. He was opposed to the
popular teaching that the State originated as a result of convention, and as such could
either be destroyed or not at the discretion of the covenants. He had himself developed a
philosophy of nature, in which any finality was seen as a result of a growth of an initial
potency to a final form or end, which is the essential nature of the thing. He applied this
general philosophy to man and to his development, seeing him as struggling upwards
from the potentiality of primary instincts to the form or nature of a political being-a being
aimed by its potentialities to live in a polis, and attains his full maturity in and through
such existence. He therefore conceives of the state as a natural ordinance for man. It is
natural not because it grows, but because it is the satisfaction of an immanent impulse in
human nature tending towards moral perfection; an immanent impelling force driving
men upwards through the various human societal forms to final political form. Aristotle
therefore considers it practically impossible for a person be a human and not to belong to
a state, this person must either too bad for a state or too good for state; he must either be a
beast or a god. The human being then is naturally political. This is so for one more fact;
the fact of discursive language. It is only man who is endowed with the gift of discursive
language which differentiates him from the other animals. Like man, other animals have
language through which they signify pain and pleasure, and indicate this to others, but
unlike man they do not have conceptual language to make conceive of what is good and
evil, thus conceiving what is just and unjust. But it is agreement on such matters of
justice and injustice which forms a family, a village and a state. Man having the
advantage of conceptual language then, finds himself better and naturally made for a
political association than any other animals which also have the tendency of living in
communities. Nature has fashioned man to live in a state and necessarily so.
The necessity of a state for man comes out of an inherent insufficiency in individuals
which can find remedy only when individuals pool their resources together. Now pooling
together of resources of a man and a woman makes up the family. According to a natural
instinct, a man finds himself coming together with a woman as his natural
complementary. Out of the union of man and woman then, children arise as a natural
consequence- this properly makes up the family. But if a man be of good means, that is, if
he be wealthy enough, he shall employ subsidiary help mates. All this set up shall form a
family. But it is a set up which is not self-sufficient, while the state Aristotle insists
should be self sufficient. So this association is not a state yet. For the sake of self-
sufficiency, the families will have to come together in mutual interdependence and the
result of this is a village, which still is not self sufficient. Because self sufficiency is
needed, one village shall become together with one another, to fill in the empty spaces in
one another, and the off springs of so many villages, mutually helping one another to
attain some good purpose finds it existence. This is what Aristotle calls the state,
therefore is a natural goal and the completion of the smaller human communities. It
develops as a young tree develops into a mature tree, or as a child grows into a mature
adult. This development however, must culminate in happiness of the individual
members of the state- and this does not depend on whether the members of the state are
expressly aware what their goal of associating with one another is to achieve happiness.
Whatever the motive of their first association, this shall eventually end up in happiness
that is living well.


We have already seen that the state is a conglomeration of individual formed with view to
some good end .now the state is the whole and individual are part .in order to investigate
the state well, we must then establish the position of individuals first. We study the whole
through its parts; for individual as we have said, are “parts of a state; and the virtues of
the part ought to be examined in relation to the virtue of the whole “2 Aristotle’s concern
is with good and bad societies as well as good and bad individuals just as his ultimate
question about human life is about the best life that each of us can live, so his ultimate
question about society is about the best society in which can life and pursue happiness.3
Now ,how does the virtues of the individual affect the state ? Perhaps it would be
important to distinguish here the individual we are talking about. The individual we are
addressing here is the ‘citizen’ and any individual .But who is a citizen? “A citizen is one
who chooses to rule with a view to a life that is in accordance with goodness.”He” is
one who has share in ruling and being ruled “2he is again described as “one of a
community, as a sailor is a member of a crew….”3A citizen resembles a member of a
crew, who has his unique function in the voyage and from this unique function, he get a
unique title by which he is distinguished from the other sailors, but this doesn’t make his
aim different from that of the other members of a crew .he does different job from the
other sailor, but with the same aim as them -which aim is the safety and completion of
the voyage .A citizen likewise, is a member of the community, carrying out unique
responsibility from the rest of the community members which makes him very dissimilar
from the rest ,but with the aim of “the safety of the community ,that is ,the constitution of
which they are citizens . 4now, given that the state is culmination of the entire individual
struggle, it becomes prior to all the individual for it’s the final realization of the fruits of
every individual .it is the sum total of all the individual contribution and so is a whole and
a whole is necessarily prior to its parts . Aristotle compares the state to the human body
while the individual to the part of the body. When the whole of the human body is
destroyed, there will not be the parts. A hand is so called when it does the function of a
hand for it is the function the capacity (dynamis), of a thing which makes it be what it is,
and when this is lost, the thing ceases to be what it has been .5but the hand cannot
function as a hand apart from the body .so is with the individual .he is a member of the
state who loses his position and function apart from the state .thus the state becomes
‘prior’ to the individual, since the individual is incapable of any function when separated
from the larger whole –he must be like apart in the whole .
A citizen, it seems is defined by his belonging to the community and carrying out
functions aimed at the safety and well being of the society. The community to which a
citizen belongs is the state. How do4es this citizen – a member of community, concerned
with the safety and well-being of the community stand in relation to the community?
It is important to stress here that for Aristotle, the idea of identity is very important. An
individual must remain an individual, and should not be submerged into the
indeterminate communal tide of the State. We should not lose sight of individuals for the
community, for there would be no community without the individuals. The individuals
become the prior in this case in the order of time while the community becomes prior in
the order of importance as whole is prior to the parts. It is therefore important for
Aristotle that each citizen retains and maintains his individual uniqueness, regardless of
belonging to the State. One of Aristotle’s bones of contention with Plato is on this issue.
Plato, Aristotle reports, thought that a State would be better if it was more of a unity that
a plurality. In the Republic BK. V, Plato has Socrates ask Glaucon thus: “can there be any
greater evil than discord and destruction and plurality where unity ought to reign? Or any
greater good than the bond of unity?” The, Aristotle sys, is absurd. It would be contrary
to the good life. A State should consist of a plurality of persons. An extremely united
State in the fashion suggested by Plato would at the end reduce itself to an individual
which is absurd. You cannot make a State of people all alike. “Difference in kind among
members (of a state) is essential.” The State should of course be a unity, but a unity of
dissimilar. The citizens differ in several aspects and it would be foolish to ignore this in
an attempt at an excessive unification of its members. The State does not become good
just because it is reduced to a unity, or thinking of the same concern in the same way.
Several despotic States would be good if mere unity mad estates good, but this is not the
case. Africa enjoys several despotic regimes which claim total unity of their members but
the states are still censured as contrary to the good life. Just mere unity does not make a
state good, for even a State whose members have been coerced into doing things
uniformly without complaints might pass for a very united state, but these does not make
such a State good. It is important that the citizens have different interests and concerns in
order to benefit one another. If one person is a musician and the other is a flute maker,
both will benefit from one another by extending each his concern into the field of the
other. In this case, both shall be complete each supplying what the other does not have. It
is only in this way that the citizens can achieve a self-sufficient life.” …the city adds
what I lack only if its different members contribute something different; I would not gain
a self sufficient and complete life if all of us were merely musicians or athletes….. ” this
is where Aristotle insists that “what defines the quality of a state is [not the mere unity of
its members but] the perfect balance between its different parts…” Anything a person
does in the state he should do as an individual only contributing to the goodness of the
state in his individually unique way. Individual talents are based expressed in such a
setting, each member doing what is within his power to improve the life of the state. This
is the setting again, which is correspondent to virtue. When each member is autonomous
and is acting independently according to his rational agency, it is easy to notice whether
or not people are virtuous. The life of virtue needs the greatest amount of autonomy. A
person who is always submerged in the group will not be responsible for any act
committed or omitted. The group is the unreality of the people. In the group the wicked
man may live very w ell, while the most virtuous may live very badly. A life of virtues
requires individual responsibility without which no human being can be creative and that
works towards the improvement of his life. In a state then, what is important for each
member to know is what kind of life shall be best for a man, as an individual member of a
state, retaining his individuality and autonomy as a member of the State.
Aristotle contends that the kind of life that a citizen should strive to live is a life of virtue.
It is impossible to contribute to the well-being of the state if one does not practice virtue.
A person, as an individual must have courage and self restraint so that he may achieve the
good life. He must be honest and intelligent. A person scared of flies and petty fights, one
would stop at nothing to gratify his desires for eating and drinking, “who will ruin his
closest friends, for a paltry profit, and whose mind also is either as witless as a child’s or
deluded as a lunatics,” cannot achieve any good life. “…to each man” therefore Aristotle
there comes just so much happiness as he has of moral and intellectual goodness and of
performance of actions dependent there upon…[Now it is important to note here that] the
same arguments apply with equal force to the state: the best and the best faring city is the
happy city, it is impossible for those who do not do good actions to do well. And there is
no such thing as a man’s or a city’s good action without virtue and intelligence. The
courage of a nation, or its justice or its wisdom have exactly the same effect and are
manifested in the same way as in the case of an individual, who by virtue of his share in
these is called just, wise, intelligent.

A citizen; must be capable of participating in happiness, t hat is, living well without
ultimately means performing virtuous actions. But virtue, according to Aristotle, is
impossible for a person who does not have the advantages of leisure and freedom,
Happiness which the human association called the state aims at, is “concomitant not with
toil but with enjoyment.” This requirement then effectively closes slaves and manual
workers out of the framework of citizenship. These groups of people are effectively
excluded form citizenship since the nature of the occupation does not allow them to have
freedom necessary for active citizenship. The slave is excluded because he had no
freedom to direct his own activities. He always acts at the prompting of his masters and
as such cannot be virtuous. Virtue needs self-initiation and self-direction for one’s
actions, the benefits which the slave does not have. The virtuous person chooses freedom
for himself: for he wants to guide his life by his own rational agency, not by mere
conformity to the will of another. The manual worker also is too busy with his work that
he has not freedom to proactive virtue. Whatever work he engages in does not result from
self-initiation as such, but from necessity. He therefore cannot be said to be virtuous and
happy, if he is not happy then he is not a citizen. A citizen then must be a virtuous man.
But it must be remembered also that the argument about the citizen apply with equal
force to the state. The State, we can say is an individual extended, since “the best man
and the best state must have the same distinguishing features…” A good citizen will
make a good State; a bad citizen will make a bad state. So the quality of a state will
depend on the quality of its members.
When Aristotle speaks of citizens, he means not a few people of any distinction
whatsoever, but he talks about the ordinary man who lives with the average standard of
goodness. He means the people “whose standard of virtue does not rise above that of
ordinary people…” The less sophisticated lot whose ambition is not to have high
educational standards which demand great natural abilities nor are they ambitions for
great wealth. They are people who seek to live a humanly possible life, which many
people may be satisfied about, and not an ideally perfect life. They need “a constitution
within the compass of the greatest number of cities.” These are the people whose
goodness or badness will affect the State accordingly. Each of these people must remain a
distinct and independent individual capable of practicing virtue independently, for the
sake of the good life of the State.
If a good State is a result of good citizens, who then is a good citizen? Must a person be
good as an individual first, so that he might be a good citizen or is the goodness of a good
citizen different from the goodness of a good man?
Aristotle treats this question in a way which seems very confusing ad difficult to
understand. The goodness of the good citizen and that of the good man are different,
though this seems an unfortunate state of affairs for Aristotle. It would have been much in
order if the goodness of a good citizen was the same as the goodness of a good man. It is
only in this way that the State can really be good, and this realizable if the goodness of
the good citizen is within the reach of all. “But it is impossible for all to have the
goodness of the good man, unless it be an essential condition for good city that al its
citizens be good men.” This passage of Aristotle seems clear enough, but when the
immediately preceding passage is quoted, then thee comes a problem which seems to be
that of chance rather than design. Explaining why the goodness of the good man is
different from the goodness of the good citizen, Aristotle says that in order for the
goodness of the good man and the goodness of a good citizen to be the same,
…the goodness of the good citizen must be within the reach of all; only so can the State
itself be really good. But it is impossible for all to have the goodness of the good man,
unless it be an essential condition of a good city that all its citizens be good men.
Now this argument is incoherent, the incoherence which seems to be brought about by an
unfortunate misadventure with words. The first premise talks of the goodness of the good
citizen, and recommends that it is only when the goodness of the good “citizen” is within
the reach of all that the State can be really good, but the second premise talks of the
goodness of the good man and says that a city would be good only if the goodness of the
good man and sys that a city would be good only if the goodness of the good man is
within the reach of all (which is unfortunately impossible), that the State can really be
good. The argument, in our opinion, would have been more coherent if it ran like this: the
goodness of the good man must be within the reach of all; only so can the State itself be
really good. But it is impossible for all to have the goodness of the good man, unless it be
an essential condition for a good city that all its citizens be good men.
The problem could possibly have occurred wit the editor or the translator of Aristotle’s
work. While he meant to say the goodness of the good man, so it seems, by the slip of the
pen he wrote, the goodness of the good citizen with the first premise which makes the
argument somewhat inconsistent.
Why does Aristotle say that the goodness of the good citizen is different from the
goodness of the good man?
It has already been pointed that a citizen is a member of the community whose aim is the
safety of the community to which he belongs. If this is the case, then
…the goodness of the citizen must be goodness in relation to constitution; and as there
are more kinds of constitution that one, there cannot be just one single perfect goodness
of the good citizen. In the other had we do say that the good man is good in virtue of one
single perfect goodness. Clearly then it is possible to be a good ad serious citizen without
having that goodness which makes a good man good.

A citizen who is a member of tyrannical constitution can be a very good citizen who
knows all the fundamental tenets and codes of conduct of such a constitution, without
being himself a good man. A person, who is an oligarchy, may know very well how to
make wealth at the expense of the others, and thus keep his oligarchic constitution going
very well, he is a citizen, a member of the community interested in the safety of the
community, but is not a good man himself. So the goodness of the good citizen is
different from the goodness of the good man. But it is desirable that the goodness of the
good man be the same as the goodness of a good citizen, if the State is to be r ally a good
State and this is only possible if it is legislated as essential that a good State must have
good men. So it is possible to have a good ruler who is not a good man.
Now, are thee cases where goodness of a good man and goodness of a good citizen have
been discovered to be the same? Yes. Such are cases when the good ruler, who is also a
good man, has taken care of his people. “a good ruler is normally taken to be both good
and wise, and wisdom is essential for one who engages in the work of the State.” But we
also say of a goo man that he is wise and intelligent. Theses cases however, are extremely
r are in real life.
What is this particular goodness of a good citizen Aristotle is talking about? Here is
Aristotle’s answer: “but it is surely a good thing to know how to obey as well as how to
command, and I think we might say that the goodness of the good citizen is just this-to
know well how to rule and be ruled.” A person who proposes himself or prompts others
to propose him as the life ruler of his people then, cannot be a good citizen. A good
citizen must allow his fellow citizens to exercise their powers to rule also. It is important
that people learn to rule and be ruled. This is essential if a State is to be good, for
everybody needs to contribute to the safety of the State by taking part in its governance.
One must know how to be obedient to law and authority, and how to exercise authority
and enforce law. A person who w ants to know how to rule must first learn that by
allowing himself to be ruled, just as a person in military training learns to command by
allowing himself to be commanded. “The good citizen must have knowledge and ability
both to rule and be ruled. That is what we mean by the goodness of a citizen
understanding the governing of free men by free men.” Aristotle regards citizenship as an
office, a position of authority in the state. To be a citizen means to take active part in the
affairs of the State, which means to rule-but it also means to subject oneself to the laws
governing the affairs of the State-and therefore, to be ruled. The citizen who lives like
this shall be good all through “whether ruled or ruling.” Aristotle describes such a person
as a real Statesman, a person capable of being in control of the State’s affairs either as an
Individual or in conjunction with others. He is not s lack when left to work on his own,
but does not also over-burden or lord over the rest when he has to work with them
Every citizen shall be like this if he is not only concerned either the welfare of the
constitution to which he is a member, but also with the good life. The State must be a
“community of like persons whose aim is the best life possible.” Citizens of the State
should be similar and generally equal and should all strive to this end. Each individual
should be concerned with virtue, not only his own but that of the others too. This is what
shall produce satisfaction and comfort; when members are able to exercise “all [their]
good qualities and their fullest possible use.” This is happiness- the well being of a State
which “cannot exist apart fro virtue.” Aristotle envisages here, a State “that possesses just
men who are just absolutely and not just simply relatively to some postulated


For what reason does the State as distinct from any other association exist, and to what
basic needs does it address itself? What is it that makes the State particularly different fro
any other association? This must be decided or else the State would not be different from
any other human association and we would not have any reason for according it any
special consideration different from that of the rest.


Now every State must have as its purpose the duty of achieving the good life for its
members. By the good life is meant the happy life for the sake of the individuals of the
State. A State, Aristotle writes, is not like an association “concerned with mutual
protection or trade pact, where parties are not concerned with the quality of the citizens of
the other [party] or even with their behavior, whether it is honest or dishonest.” A State is
much more than this. It is an association that must also “have an eye to the goodness or
badness pr the citizens.” This is the chief distinguishing mark or a State from any other
human association. “…that which is genuinely and not just nominally called a State must
concern itself with virtue.” A genuine State must be concerned with the oral quality of its
members; otherwise it would fall short of the standard of a State. It would not be any
different from other associations whose main concern is mutual protection against
violation of rights. Of course, the State must also be concerned with the protection of the
rights of his members and the production of external goods that individuals cannot do
without, and as we shall soon see, these external goods are indispensable if we are to
exercise virtue at all. The State must promote the exchange of goods and services for the
general well-being of its members.
Nevertheless, the chief concern of the State must be with the quality of its members and
not with the amassment of wealth however important this might be. Without this concern,
the State-partnership becomes no more different from a mere alliance, under which
condition”…Law becomes a mere contract or …’a mutual guarantee of rights’; and quite
unable to make citizens good and just, which it ought to do.” The s\State’s main aim is to
“enable all, in their household and their kinships, to live well, meaning by that full and
satisfying life.” The State as an association then does not exist merely for the purpose of
enabling people to live together, “but for the sake of noble actins.” Only the person
capable of living by decision can do noble or fine actions. One must participate in the
deliberations and decision making in the affairs of the State. This is part of the main
reason why slaves and the lower animals cannot form a State for they are incapable of
living by decision and consequently of noble actions. They are not guided by moral
principle in their living. The State is also not an association concerned with amassment of
wealth and economic exchange.
Sparta is criticized for “while they [Spartans] hold rightly that all that men strive for is to
be won more by virtue than by vice, they wrongly suppose that the objects striven for are
greater than virtue.” This is an unfortunate situation. “Virtue…[must] be practiced for its
own sake…”. The motive for which h one does something makes a considerable
difference. If one tries to behave well in order to win the approval of interested parties, or
people of authority, or to achieve some material gain, this demerits his behavior however
beautiful the behavior might be. But if a person does something for its own sake, for the
intrinsic goodness of the thing without any far fetched motives, the behavior becomes
noble and virtuous. Now the success of a State depends on the measure it eggs its
members to perform noble deeds for their own sake. It must encourage its members to
fulfill their various capacities for virtue. The moral development of the individual
members of a State is the only thing which means the perfection of the State=the
perfection which is the benefit of only the corporate citizens, not those who are simply
associate members of the State. A State whose members are bent towards the
performance of good deeds is a praiseworthy State. The members who contribute to the
State by performing noble actions surely deserve a large share of State benefits than those
who are inferior in “the essential goodness that belong to the Polis. Similarly they are
entitled to a larger share than those who are superior in riches but inferior in goodness.”
Now this living well is seen as having its own intrinsic merit, so that political activity is
not for any instrumental purpose, but is in itself self-sufficient and self-fulfilling.

People are not all alike in a State and it would be absurd to expect them to be so. Their
diversity is what makes a State what it is. How then do we make sure that all the
members of the State attain the practice of virtue, upon which practice by all members,
the State will be a good one? Now this is done by education. “All men’s well being”,
Aristotle writes, “depends, on two things, one is the right choice of target, of the end to
which actions should tend, the other lies in finding the actions that lead to that end. These
two may just as easily conflict with each other as coincide.”
At times a person may choose his aim very well, but fail to choose the right means to
achieve the aim. At times very good means are employed, but to a wrongly chosen end.
At times both the end and the means are wrongly chosen. For example, al men desire to
be happy and to live the good life, but not all achieve this aim, either because they dong
know what happiness or the good life s, or they don’t choose the right means to tit, or
they fall in both the knowledge of the good life and the choice of the means. But we have
already discovered that well being consist in virtue; the ability to make the right choice in
every circumstance, whether of the end or the means and a State whose members live in
this way is a good and happy State. Now it is upon the State to educate the members on
how to make their right choice of the end and choose the right means to it. The State’s
concern should be the training of its members in mattes of right living. The State must be
an educational institution which aims at producing men of fine practical import. Its chief
aim should be to train the young and sustain the mature in good moral living. The State
basically is a moral institution which has a hand in every moral issue. It therefore gives
guidelines in every moral field in the State. It educates people on the right age to marry,
how many children to have and how to bring them up. Marriage is a moral issue and the
State is necessarily obliged to address it. The first and greatest t State benefactor is the
lawgiver. It is him with whom the task of designing such education for the State is
charged. He ought to arrange the type of education the citizens must receive and in what
manner they are to receive it. Education then must be a matter of legislation and State
concern. The kind of education recommended for the for citizens must concern virtue: it
must be a liberal education. This means that what is taught must be valuable in itself; it
must not be a liberal education. This mans that what is taught must be valuable in itself; it
must not be taught with in utilitarian view. A thing becomes illiberal when it is done with
a motive of gaining something else and not because in itself it is good. This is not to say
that the k knowledge of useful things should not be imparted to the citizens at all. What is
meant is that not every useful thing should be taught to the citizens. If a State decides to
teach its members about useful things, that is, things which make it easy to live, this
training g must not be in degrading affairs. Only such useful knowledge as to make the
citizens not utility minded, or “-------------” should be imparted to them. What type of
study does Aristotle consider “---------------”? Here is Aristotle’s answer. “Among
degrading activities and vulgar pursuits we must reckon all those which render the body
or soul or intellect of freemen unserviceable for the demands and activities of virtue”.
Now it is only virtue that has its own intrinsic merit; it is practiced for its own sake and
not for the sake of something else. The legislator then ought to train the citizens in moral
virtue. This education, it is recommended, must start at a t ender age of the citizen to be.
Development in virtue depends on proper formation of emotions, habit, and immediate
response, and this takes quite much time and effort. Their t raining them must start from
early childhood when one is still docile enough to form his character easily. Training in
virtue is imperative. It is only by this training that the political association can achieve its
aim and also be preserved. “There is no doubt that where this is not do ne the quality of
the constitution suffers every time”. It is important to note that moral propriety is not a
matter of mathematical calculation, but a matter of perceptual expediency. It consists in
observing the mean by instances of conduct actually sanctioned or condemned in
accordance with the prevailing situation. Moral virtue or refinement of character s not
engendered by nature, but by a careful process of habituation. One gets to be proficient at
doing noble deeds by const ant practice of doing the same. Now wrong habits are also
engendered exactly in the same manner. One practices doing bad things until it becomes
part of his dealings so much so that the capacity to appreciate what s good becomes
considerably eradicated. The citizens then must be trained in good habits responsible for
god character. Good character generally is a tendency to choose the mid-way in any
action or reaction, while bad character tends to exceed or fall short of the mean.
Education is meant for Aristotle to produce refinement of character-the ability to do the
just right thing in every circumstance of behavior. “The prime object [of education]
therefore must be not any animal quality but nobility of character”. The education of the
citizens then must include the training in the activities of virtue. The planner of education
n must include in his teaching material the explanation that:-
We need courage and steadfastness for the work, intellectual ability for cultured leisure,
restraint and honesty at all times, but particularly at times of peace and leisure. For war
forces men to be obedient and honest, but the enjoyment of property, peace, and leisure is
apt rather to make men violent and self assertive. Therefore most sound morality and self
restraint are demanded of those who are conspicuously successful and enjoy the blessings
of prosperity….

Now, that each man has his own version of what enjoyment means is
true. Men do not agree to what enjoyment is, and”…each man decides for
himself following his own character and disposition, the finest character
choosing the highest kind of enjoyment on the loftiest plane”. Due to this
reason it becomes imperative that people receive education on spending

A good education shall address these very important issues.

Individuals must be trained to behave well both at leisure and enjoyment of
goods of fortune and at bad times of turmoil and scarcity of goods of
fortune. Aristotle thinks that it is a mark of inferiority not to behave well,
and especially so, during a period of leisure. It is and inferior mark “to
appear good when working or on military service but in leisure and peace to
be not better than slaves”. The training in virtue then must be taken seriously
if a state is to be a good state.
The training and education in a state must not aim at producing people
who aim only at making wealth. The good city is not made so by amount of
goods of fortune it has. “It is not in fortune power to make a city good”. This
is why “training in virtue therefore should not follow the Lacedaemonian
model. …They value good things and enjoyment more than the production
of virtue”. Sparta also lends itself to this criticism. They agree that virtue
should be the main concern of people, but they go ahead and strive for
objects of fortune.

Richard E. Flathman also subscribes to this view. Education in his

mind, should be aimed at making cultivated and sensible characters, capable
of proper judgments in practical living. A person of an educated mind must
be calculative upon circumstances; he must be a teacher of self. Once a
person has been t rained as a good individual, he will be generally be good
as a good professional and as a good citizen. He shall be able to improve
public opinion on the great concerns of practical life. This is the kind of
education which is regarded by Aristotle “not as being useful but elevated
and gentlemanly”.

The education given to citizens must also include the nature of the
constitution of the State. The education must reflect the kind of life that the
people are living or the life they want to live. The good legislator then, has a
task of surveying “the city, the clan, and every other human association and
see how they can be brought to share in the good life and in whatever degree
of happiness is possible for them”.

Since “the same guiding principles that are best for nations are also
best for individuals,…it is these [same principles] that a law-giver or
whoever, must instill into the minds of men”. He must train them to live a
cultured life. The citizens must know for example, that the aim of military
training is not to bring others into subjection, unless they are those who
deserve such a t treatment, but for self protection against external
aggression, and for winning for themselves a position of leadership.

When designing education for the State, the law-giver or whoever,

must ask himself this question, “’with that end in view should the best
constitution be designed’”? This shall direct the designation of his
education. The best constitution should produce mobility of character.
The education of the members of State, it had been noticed, must be
structured by the law-giver, who is the Statesman. But it must not remain an
individual affair. “…the oversight of education must be a public concern, not
a private affair”, where each man brings up his children the way he likes.
In all matters that belong to the whole community the learning to do them must also be
the concern of the community as a whole….it is not right either that any of the citizens
should think that he belongs just to himself; all citizens belong to the state, for each is a
part of the state, and the care naturally bestowed on each part naturally looks also towards
the care of the whole.

A study of music is recommended in this regard. This is because,”…

music belongs to the class of things pleasant, and …it is virtue there in to
enjoy rightly, to like and dislike the right things…, so if a person is disposed
to judge and enjoy music rightly, we reckon this person to be capable “of
right judgment and of taking pleasure in good morals and noble actions”. It
has the value of cultivated pleasure. The young should therefore learn it, not
because it is useful or necessary for specific purpose but because it is liberal,
that is, it is proper for a fee man and is noble.


The state, our investigation has revealed, is basically a moral

community concerned with the moral well-being of its members. All its
functions in one way or another have moral implications. It is therefore
imperative according to Aristotle that the state should try to set all its life
within moral parameters. Any state which operates outside the moral frame-
work cannot achieve the end for which it exists. It must be in the interest of
the state to train its members in moral uprightness for it is the moral quality
of the individual members of the state which will determine the quality of
the state. Each individual’s moral well being must be considered for each
individual stands to the state as parts stand to whole. No single individual
then should be ignored for his position is conspicuously important. Ignoring
him means injuring the State by cutting off a certain part or it; but as the
human body suffers when part of it is cut, cutting off a part of the State,
however small it might seem means that the whole State will suffer, at least
because it will be incomplete. Not only the State should but the individual
also has a duty to contribute to the well-being of the State. The goodness of
the State is exactly like the goodness of the individuals so that the degree of
refinement exhibited by the individual is the very degree of refinement the
State exhibits. Bad individual means a bad St ate, likewise, good individuals
means a good State. It is evident then that both the State and the individual
exist for the good of the other. One should not be ignored for the sake of the
other, for without the one, the other cannot exist.

The State and the person generally are not opposed, for they are for
the well-being of one another. One of the ways that the State and the
individual work for the well-being one another is by maintaining the
economic conditions necessary for the life of both the State and the
members. Aristotle grants that without property, life cannot be possible. The
next question for consideration in our frame-work is: what is the relation that
obtains between wealth, the St ate, and the individual? We must consider
here whether wealth is absolutely necessary for attaining the good life of the
State or not. We must also consider how its presence affects the State and its
development, and its development, and how this affects the individual
members of the State and their development.


The State, we have seen, is a self-sufficient community. It lacks nothing and

stands in need of nothing from any other groups of people. This is what
Aristotle understands by a happy State. Now its is Aristotle’s thesis that a
State cannot achieve the good life if it cannot afford for itself certain
amounts of leisure and relaxation. But leisure and relaxation are impossible
for a State whose members have no basic necessities. A person possesses
certain amounts of wealth to enable him to think of high matters of virtue
and good living-matters which are not concomitant with turmoil. Wealth
then is important for the well-being of a State. Now, how precisely does
wealth influence the well-being of a State? Is there a certain amount of
wealth possession beyond which it would be unwise to possess, or should
the limit to wealth possession be determined by individual greed influences
the well-being of a State? Is there a certain amount of wealth possession
beyond which it would be unwise to possess, or should the limit to wealth
possession be determined by individual greed or avarice? Should members
of the State bend towards and unreasonable amassment of wealth or should
they have a limited amount of wealth as required by the rules of good living?


The State, we have seen is a natural entity which emanates from the
very inner make-up of man. The State’s function however, is different from
the functions of any other human societies, for as we have seen also, it is
only the State, which is concerned with the behavior and character of the
members of the association. Now, the State also must provide for the
members what is conducive for the exercise of noble actions- the means to
self-sufficiency. It is only in this situation that the State can really be said to
be happy, that is, living the good life. The good life it is agreed must be a
happy life. The Nicomachean Ethics says that, “as far as the name goes, we
may almost say that the great majority of mankind are agreed about this, for
the multitude and persons of refinement speak of happiness, and conceive
‘the good life’, or ‘doing well’ to be the same thing as being ‘happy’.”

But nobody would style a person happy, who is utterly miserable and
has nothing to eat, nowhere to take shelter and no cloth to wear. One must
have at least a minimum of material wealth, for as Aristotle says, “…neither
life itself nor the good life is possible without a certain minimum standard of
wealth.” A person needs to possess external goods to afford him a relative
peace of mind t olive a reflected life. Wealth then is among the good things
in a State. Aristotle considers wealth a real good for the State since without
wealth people are rendered unable to live. “ without a certain amount of
wealth we cannot enjoy health, vitality, or pleasure, and without these
things we cannot live well.” People who are deprived of all the factors which
make life easy, who lack the externals that give them the simple comforts of
life cannot live well. These people are better than slaves who are forced to
work under the supervision of their master on whom the slaves depend for
anything they want. A person who is utterly poor shall be in servitude to
those who are rich, and this can manipulate him in a way they feel right for
them. Now it is important that a person possesses some amount of material
goods to afford a relatively comfortable life, but it is also of great
importance to remember that wealth must be regarded merely as an
indispensable condition to happiness or as an auxiliary means and useful
only instrumentally. Now according to Aristotle, what is instrumental must
be priced secondarily. It is preceded in importance by that which it serves as
an instrument. Such goods must be seen principally as means to ends and not
as ends in themselves. They are therefore not entirely valuable in
themselves, but as serving others. Now if wealth is a means which serves an
end, it follows that it must be limited to and by the end that it serves just as
every tool is limited to and by the end it serves. “Wealth is a tool and there
are limits of usefulness.” Wealth should not serve any purpose than for
which it is possessed, that is enabling its possessor to live a good(virtuous)
life, and neither should it be more or less than is required by the good life
which it serves.

Important though wealth is to a city, it must be given a very secondary

pride of place. Its nature is such that it is only an accompaniment in good
living, but does not lay exclusive claim to importance in a states well-being.
It must then be regarded only in so far as it plays its role of enhancing the
good life. It is a tool for that matter, and it is a splendid thing to remember
here that a tool has a limited use. A pen is limited to work only as a pen, it
can’t serve as a piece of chalk, and even in its service as a pen, it can serve
only in as far as it has ink and is capable of being used to write. Once it runs
out of ink, it runs out of use too. Again, one needs probably only one pen to
write a letter of one page. A person who takes one hundred pens, all in
perfectly good conditions as pens should be, in order to write such a small
letter is obviously not doing the right thing. The same is the case with every
other good of fortune. They must be possessed in the right measure, the
measure in which they shall be conducive to the good life.

While it seems that there must be a limit to every form of wealth, in practice we find that
the opposite occurs, all those who are amassing wealth in the form of coin go on
increasing their pile without limit….[this is most likely because these people] are eager
for life but not the good life…. Others again, while aiming at the good life, seek what is
conducive to pleasures of the body.

The general run of mankind does not seem to notice that wealth must
be kept just as much as it is conducive to virtue. At the expense of the good
life, men increase their pile of coin, thinking that in this way they shall
achieve the good life. Money was invented as a convenient means to
facilitate the exchange of such goods which may be difficult to carry about,
especially when the exchange is to be transacted over a long distance.
Money should simply serve as a common measure for other goods. Yet as
trade continues, the acquisition of money becomes an end in itself, so that
money is identified with wealth, while it should only serve as a measure of
wealth. People give money so much value that they start to engage to usury,
that is, the exchange of money for money. This way of becoming rich is
unnatural for Aristotle, and it happens because people overate money. They
take money to be possessive of value in itself apart from the function of
being a measure for exchange. They are eager to live the good life, but seem
to choose wrong means for that good life. This means their choose are only
conducive to the gratification of the pleasures and emotions of the body,
than the achievement of the good life. In regard to the value of money it is
important to pay attention to what Von Leyden says, and this is also in the
position of Aristotle.
When money became the measure of scarcity as well as the abundance of articles of
trade, it was used as a means of pricing commodities in accordance with their supply. But
since… the basic standard of measurement in commerce is the usefulness if commodities,
money (by general agreement) came to be accepted as the measure representative of the
principle of demand. The reason why it was called “money” (nomisma) lay in the brief
that its existence, development and functions are well determined by either custom or
law(nomos), not by nature; and so it was thought to be within men’s power to change its
value or indeed to make it wholly useless.

We hold that this view is not contrary even to the facts of experience.
That money is liable to depreciation, dependent on convention (for the
currency of one country is not equal in strength to the currency of any other
unless it is agreed that they be so), and representative of demand, which
fluctuates, loudly support this fact. But the conception of the position and
purpose of money seems to be the exact opposite of this even in our own
time. Instead of money remaining within the power of men to determine its
value, men are within the power of money to determine their value, so that
money can make a man wholly useless. The worth of a person is judged by
how much money the person has, so that the more money one has the better
he is. Very small wonder then that corruption in the form of stealing money
is nowadays equated to a lawful and even a virtuous action, so that taking a
bribe is not considered to be morally wrong at all. In fact, refusing to eat
when there is opportunity is more likely to raise eye brows.

The process of amassing wealth [money-making] arises out of vice-

the vice of excessive love of self. The excessive self –love is also called
selfishness, and this, “is condemned and rightly so,[since] selfishness is not
simply love of self but excessively love of self. So excessive greed to
acquire property is condemned…” a person needs only as much wealth as to
allow him to live the good life, by which is meant a virtuous and liberal life.
It must be remarked that Aristotle is not against the possession of wealth as
such, but against the uncontrolled possession of wealth. He concedes that
wealth affects happiness in that the lack of a certain amount of it will render
happiness unattainable; but he refuses to admit that wealth belongs to the
essence of happiness. The good life”consists in the exercise of good qualities
and their fullest possible use.” This means the exercises of virtues, including
the virtue of liberality, which however, is possible only for a person who has
wealth. Wealth therefore becomes real good for Aristotle for it is a
necessary means to the exercise of virtue, a condition without which we
cannot live well.” unfavorable external conditions,” as T. Irvin reports,
“impede virtuous activities… most obviously those characteristics of
magnificence and magnanimity.” Wealth must be possessed for the sake of
these activities which should be the right motive for possessing any good of
fortune, for “we do not say that a man uses his wealth gently or bravely, but
that he uses it virtuously and liberally. These then are essentially the right
attitudes towards the use of wealth.”

Wealth then, must not be used for a different purpose from the one
said above. Now since we had ascertained that the same arguments which
can be advanced in the case of individuals also apply with equal force to the
state, it follows that in relation to wealth, the state also should guard against
useless amassment of wealth. A state must have as much wealth to allow it
to be liberal, but must not amass so much wealth which shall attract the
aggression of the other neighboring states because of envy. The very state
also must not amass so much wealth which will cheat it into going to war
with the neighbouring states. Wealth is meant to produce leisure conducive
for the practice of virtue, not to produce war. The statesman then must
maintain an economic and military system which will produce leisure, not
aggression. Rich people fomenting wars within their own states for whatever
reason, be it because of sheer or sadism would not be good for living in a
state for they do not know the reason for which they have the wealth. Any
war triggered by wealth as its motive is a war of blame for wealth must not
under any circumstance, lead people to fight each other. But the order of the
day seems to be that whoever has more wealth must try to subordinate the
rest who do not have, either by waging war against them, or by
impoverishing them further. This should not be the use of wealth. Wealth
should be used to enhance the performance of virtue, and this means further
that we must only have the amount of wealth which is requisite for this
function, and this amount of wealth should not be too large. People should
have more abundance of character than goods of fortune, but in real life,
Aristotle still notes a disappointment. People are still not agreed about how
much wealth they should possess in comparison to the high qualities of
character.”…[they] suppose that it is sufficient to have a certain amount of
goodness, ability, character, but that there is not limit set t the pursuit of
wealth, power, property, reputation and the like.”

People have a wrong supposition. They forget to remember that:

…it is not by means of external goods that men acquire and keep the virtues but the other
way round, and to live happily, whether suppose it [sic] to consist in enjoyment or in
qualities of character or in both, does, in fact accrue more easily to those who are
outstandingly well-equipped in character and intellect, and only moderately so in the
possession of material goods, more easily, that is , than those who have more goods than
they need but are deficient in the other qualities…External goods [then] being like a
collection of tools, each useful for some purpose, have a limit; one can have too many of
them, and that is of no benefit or even a positive nuisance to their possessors. It is quite
otherwise with the goods of the mind, every single one of the minds good qualities is
needed and the more there is of each the more useful it will be.

The conception of limit readily crosses over to that of the mean. As

the boat (which example Aristotle also uses) is limited to its end by mean
size, so too is wealth limited to its end by mean size. It is limited to
moderate possessions by the end of a virtuous life. Wealth must therefore be
possessed to such amount as is necessary to produce good life. We need
material goods at any time of our life, “but when the natural disposition is
good.” Cities must design education which shall dispose people will in their
character and good qualities. People must be taught that, “… life is best,
both for individuals and for cities which has virtue sufficiently supported by
material wealth to enable it to perform the actions that virtue calls for, ” not
that we should acquire too much wealth which shall make us aggressive and
self-assertive, as is happening in our own days when politicians and all those
who succeed to rise to the top of the others acquire too much wealth than
they can virtuously use, and so they turn it to the most sordid of uses;
waging war to gain the pleasure of subordination other human beings. This
attitude does not make a person any better than a slave-and a slave of a very
base kind; a slave of inanimate things, a slave of wealth, things over which
one should have despotic authority. The uncontrolled possession of external
goods is harmful, or at least useless to the possessor. The goods of character
however, are good at any rate, in fact more so when one has them to the
excess. A person cannot complain that his friend is too virtuous and so
should be avoided, unless one intends an irony with this. External goods
however, must have a stop somewhere, for their excess in itself constitutes
badness of a kind.


We have just concluded that a State needs wealth in order that virtue
may be practiced, but wealth must serve strictly as a means to the attainment
of virtue and not as an end in itself. Now the next question is. How should
this wealth be acquired and owned? Should it be acquired and held
communally in a kind of central bureau, or should each person be let to
acquire and own his wealth privately? Now it must be premised immediately
that Aristotle is for the idea that each person should acquire and own his
property privately. This is very important for the quality of any State. It is
the manner of distributing wealth, as to the manner of distributing honors
and responsibilities of public office in the State which shows how the State
is oriented towards the practice of justice as a virtue, and to this particular
meaning as a principle of equality and desert, and thus to the well-being of
the State. Any attempt to deny people the privilege of acquiring and
possessing their property on a private basis is very detrimental to the well-
being of the State. Aristotle disagrees with Plato very strongly in this issue.
Plato tried to legislate against what is natural for man. The possession of
private property is rooted in man’s nature; it is rooted in the private
pleasures of the body, pleasures of good food, drink, and sexual enjoyment
which every human being enjoys. These pleasures are natural and necessary.
They are not bad in themselves, except in the manner in which they are used.

Plato, Aristotle reports, proposes in his Republic that State wealth and
property should be owned by the community. In the fifth book of the
Republic, Plato proposes that “…the wives of our guardians are to be in
common, and their children are to be common, and no parent is to know
neither his own child, nor any child his own parent.” Plato seems not only to
recommend such an arrangement for the guardian class only, but for
everybody in the State. He goes on to say in the Republic that “the
community of wives and children among our citizens is clearly the source of
the greatest good [unity] of the state,” for “can there be …any greater good
than the bond of unity?” Wives, slaves and children (if these can be rightly
called property), should be owned and used communally. Such an
arrangement would, in Plato’s mind, produce a feeling of unity in a State and
the more a State is united, the better. Aristotle is against this teaching. His
argument is that however much this proposal may sound plausible, and made
in good faith, it really does not fit within the frame-work of things which can
achieve what it is portrayed to be able to achieve.

The feeling of affection will definitely be erased by such kind of

arrangement. In a society where every man owns every son, the feeling of
affection will die off. A person is bound to take care of that which he knows
for certain to be his own than that about which he is not sure. Take a case
where there are one thousand men and a corresponding number of one
thousand boys, and each of these men claiming the fatherhood of each of
these boys; each of these boys also claiming to be the son of each of these
men. Aristotle sees this situation as abhorrently detrimental to the so called
sons. No man will take keen interest in caring for any particular “son”,
because he will not be sure if that son is really his. Here one can see an
Aristotle who knows that blood is thicker than water. Again, that which is
owned by many tends to suffer neglect by all who possess it; because each
person thinks that the other is taking care of it. The family must not be
abolished. All men cannot call all women their wives and still remain
friends, or at least not hostile to one another. There is very likely to occur a
hostility and conflict of a very bitter kind among men who share women in
this manner. Plato intended all men to call all women their wives and all
children to call all men their fathers, so that each woman is only a fractional
wife of each man and each child only a fractional child of each man. This
arrangement is sure enough to dilute the social bonds instead of
strengthening them. Now what follows as a consequence of the weakening
of these social bonds is the weakening of moral prohibitions against assault
and injuries against parents and next of kin, and the monstrosities of incest
and homosexuality will characterize the community. Now to abolish the
private family leads, as Strauss and Crapsey report,
…to the abolition of most of the prohibited degrees of sexual intercourse, and in
consequence to the introduction of many forms of familiarity which lead to immoral
intercourse. The claims of morality cannot thereby be enhanced but rather dissipated.

Nobody can style such a community good. With such terrible perverse
intercourses not even the slightest form of friendship can exist in a State. But
for a community to survive, some form of friendship among its members
must be present. This is the mind of the Nicomachean Ethics also. “…
friendship appears to be the bond of the state; and law-givers seem to set
more store by it than by justice, for to promote concord, which seems akin to
friendship is the chief aim,…” Now Plato’s arrangement is destined to
destroy just this friendship which is very important for the stability of the
State. It is true that if all men were friendship which his very important for
the stability of the State. It is true that if all men wee friends, then there
would not be any need for justice, and therefore no need for law. Law comes
in only where friendship can not be established. If all people in the State wee
friends, or at least looked at one another as friends, they will be genuinely
concerned with the well-being of one another and there would be no
incriminations. This would be the condition recommended for a State. But
Plato is spoiling this very desirable condition by proposing a system of
property ownership of children communally, there is also another danger. If
sons are owned in common, scenes of “assault, homicide, both intentional
and unintentional, feuds and slander” would be very rampant. Where there is
no blood relationship to respect there is bound to arise a very bad
recklessness and loose living. Relational consciousness I s very important
for moral behavior. Parental consciousness s and the authority that goes with
it goes a very long way to form a person’s character, and a person without
such consciousness and authoritative influence is definitely bound to lack
strange moral principles, and thus develop weak moral conscience. The
resultant recklessness in living bound to this disposition may have far
reaching effects, and one may, in his loose living commit morally irreputable
acts with the very parent he is supposed to fear, and the closer the
relationship the more unholy the act.

Such a society, Aristotle writes, would be productive of very perverse

sexual behavior. A son shall have sexual activities with his parent, not
knowing who she is, a daughter with her father, a sister with her brother, and
this kind of incest is unholy in a society.

Wives too must not be owned communally. A situation in which every

woman is owned by every man is not conducive to virtue, especially the
virtue of self-restraint. Plato who advocates for the common ownership of
wives is openly throwing a way the practice of…virtues [especially] self-
restrain in sexual passion (for it is a virtuous thing to refrain from another’s
wife through self discipline)….”

It is clear that the proposal Plato makes about the ownership of wives
and children is outrageous. “in a state in which wives and children are
shared the feelings of affection will inevitably be very lukewarm, father
being unable to say ‘my son’, son unable to say ‘my father’ [husband unable
to say ‘my wife’, wife unable to say ‘my husband’].”

This condition is simply destructive of the harmony it is intended to

produce. It is “directly opposed to the results which good legislation ought
to aim at, and which moreover are those which in the Republic Socrates
thinks can be produced by ordering matters in this way….” The main area of
disagreement with the communism proposed by Plato is that it aims at
producing the greatest amount of unity in the state, but it mistakes the nature
of political unity. To push unity beyond a certain point changes the state into
a family and a family into a man. But in doing this, you do not unite the
state, but destroy it.

Now “human property” (wives, slaves and children) must not be

owned communally. But how about useful property, the goods conducive to
daily subsistence, shall they be owned communally or privately? Plato still,
in the name of unity, proposes the communal ownership of this type of
goods. In the Republic, Plato contends that “… there is unity where there is
community of pleasures and pains-where all citizens are glad or grieved on
the same occasions of joy and sorrow, so that where there is no such a
feeling the city is disorganized. Such situations, he teaches, “… commonly
originate in a disagreement about the use of the terms ‘mine’ and ‘not mine’
in the same way to the same thing.” So let the goods conducive for daily
living also be possessed communally.

Aristotle can not accept this kind of teaching. Let each person own his
property privately, only that the private ownership of property must have”…
a moral basis in sound laws.” This is what shall produce a good and unified
state where every citizen rejoices at the success of another or joins in the
sorrow of another. Plato proposes the communal ownership of things
assuming also that in this way, wealth would be used by all members of the
state. This is not true. “It is the personal qualities of the individual that
ensure their [the property’s] common use. “The law-giver’s task is not to
make sure that property is owned communally, but to see that the citizens
are disposed to use their wealth communally.

Aristotle defends the institution of private property because he sees it

as conducive to the exercise of virtue, especially the virtue of liberality. The
reasoning runs that ”….there is very great pleasure in giving, helping
friends and associates, making things easy for strangers, and this can only be
done by someone who has property of his own.

The law-giver in setting up a good state, should now just make sure
that “each person has his own possession” and also that each person is
disposed in such a way that “part of these he makes available for his own
immediate circle,” while, “part he uses in common wit h others.” This is an
arrangement, which in Aristotle’s opinion, shall be characteristic of a good
State as opposed to the one proposed by Plato. A State ordered in this
manner has all the advantages cited above, while,
None of these advantages is secured by those who seek through the abolition of private
ownership the extreme unification of the state. And, what is more, they are openly
throwing away the practice of two virtues,-self-restraint in sexual passion…and private
generosity. The abolition of private property will mean that no man will ever do any act
of liberality, for only in the use of money is liberality made effective.

To say that property must be owned privately for Aristotle does not
mean to deny that there should be unity in a State. The polis, admittedly, is a
community, a having things in common. It is a community of communities
and as such embraces something common to everyone. Aristotle
recommends, however, that this can best be realized, and more so nobly
when people are allowed to own their property privately, and at the same
time are encouraged to use them in community in others. This does not mean
that the members of the State should take to egoistic tendencies which
destroy the sense of unity in a State, and Aristotle does not intend by this
arrangement to down play the significance of unity of a State. “…Certainly t
here must be some unity in the state, but not an absolutely total unity.” Not
“the extreme unification of the state,” which reduces the State to an
individual. Aristotle proposes a unity which is far from total or a unity which
is not extreme. This is the unity of friends and people equal in virtue, which
he believes can be achieved through sound education in moral conduct. Just
to lay legislation about property ownership and use does not unite the State.
The issue is that the citizens should be trained in their character and intellect,
to afford the unity worthy of a State. Now, whether Aristotle accuses Plato
rightly is a matter of dispute. Ernest Barker seems to be in the defense of
Plato against the socialistic accusations Aristotle levels against him. Plato,
Barker says, is not advocate for the socialization of property as such, but for
the removal of private property from the ruling class to allow them free time
to commit themselves to the art of ruling well. The private property
defended by Aristotle, Barker says, was not really in danger and was very
well protected. Barker seems t have overlooked a very important statement
Plato made in Book V of the Republic. Plato says overtly that differences in
a State come about because of the manner in which h the words ‘mine’ and
‘not mine’ are used in a State in relation to the same thing. Now if such is
the cause of them disunity in the State, then its opposite should be able to
maintain the unity of the State.


Wealth is important for a State, as a means to the performance of virtue and
must be owned by citizens on private basis to give them a chance of
practicing virtue-especially the virtue of liberality. Should this wealth be
owned by only a section of the state that has the skill and ability to make
money or by even those who do not have such specialties? Must there be a
fixed amount of wealth to be owned by an individual, beyond which is
illegal to own, or should the size of a person’s wealth depend on the strength
of his muscles? The issue here is not that of a cheap kind which would take a
single arithmetical step of division to solve. It involves the greatest use of
practical wisdom since it is a very delicate one which can easily plunge the
state into irrevocable chaos. Particularly it is an issue which tests our
disposition to the part of justice as a moral virtue which is termed
‘Distributive justice’. Distributive justice is the idea of fairness in dispensing
honors, offices, wealth and all the other benefits in the state. It is the “…
equal treatment of equals, so that treating like cases differently or unequals
equally must… be unjust.” Aristotle here, addresses the problem of how to
render the principle equality and inequality compatible with that of fairness
and how to combine the facts of individual and social differences in civil life
with demands of justice and cohesion.

Now Aristotle’s considered opinion is that in dealing with these issues

we must fundamentally remember that ”…equality of property has
considerable effect on the partnership which we call the state…” a state,
Aristotle remarks, is an association of free and equal men, and it is only fair
that in terms of distribution, these people should get equal amounts of
wealth. If this is not done, then surely there will be dissatisfaction, and
incriminations will follow. The Nicomachean Ethics is very clear on this.”…
it is when equals possess or are allotted unequal shares… that quarrels and
complaints arise.” It is in wealth distribution that the extent to which justice,
particularly distributive justice is manifested. The best and best faring state
is also that in which there is no great disparity among the members in regard
to property holdings. The state must be well disposed to the part of justice
which deals with distribution. Distributive justice is not so much the
principle of: to-each-according-to-his-needs, and, from-each-according-to-
his-abilities, as to the fact that to-each-according-to-his’s-desert. A person
gets as much wealth as he is really and not just apparently in need of. This
further implies that a person should not possess so much wealth in all
disproportion to the rest of the members of the state to the extend of
rendering all these people destitute. Now one of the best ways to breed
dissension (especially among the masses) is to maintain disparity in property
holdings. When state property is not equally distributed, common people
tend to be rebellious (men of superior standing however, revolt if offices and
honors are not equally distributed). The ideal political community is that in
which the citizens will be, “… if not equal, then certainly not too unequal in
their wealth…” Sparta is guilty of maintaining this property inequality. In
Sparta,”…we find that some Spartans have far too much property, others
very little indeed; the land has come into the possession of a small number.
This … is due to errors in forming the constitution.”

This situation, Aristotle notes, has a very bad impact on Sparta. It

makes tax payment very insufficient and inefficient. Those who own land
and are therefore rich enough to pay t axes, seem to be in a club formed for
mutual protection of interests: “…they do not inquire too closely into e ach
other’s contributions to the treasury” with the result that the law giver finds
himself to have “produced a city which has no money but is full of citizens e
ager to make money for themselves.” A State cannot exist in such
arrangements. Too few people possessing wealth does not produce a happy
city. “…being happy must occur in conjunction with virtue, and in
pronouncing a city happy we must have regard no t to part of it but to all its
citizens. It is also clear that property must belong to these…” A country
where more than a half the total population lives in dire poverty, and
virtually all professionals have no jobs to support them cannot claim well-
being for itself. With so many energetic citizens unemployed because thee
are no funds to pay them for their services, while a few people have an
excessive amount of money, we cannot expect the State to be headed for
anywhere than ruin. This to be precise is the very root of the injustice of
totalitarianism and dictatorial l governance. Just as G.H. Sabine remarks, in
a State “…if there is a small class of the very wealthy, government will be
likely to fall into the hands of a clique. And when this happens it will be
hard to prevent the abuses of factional rule.” Property holdings can very
easily be manipulated to assure power succession by only a few people from
a wealthy lineage. A State can easily groom power successors by giving
them enough wealth to afford for them the leisure to engage in politics,
while keeping the majority so impoverished that no one shall have the
chance and leisure to engage himself in politics. This is the surest way to
build and oligarchy and has been very successfully used by several political

But perhaps the issue here is not of equality of property. The issue
instead is of fixing the amount of property, mid-way between the extremes
of excess and d effect. In fixing an equal amount of property for everybody
there is a problem, for, “equality of property may exist and yet the level be
fixed either too high, with resultant excess of luxury or too low, with
inevitable discomfort, [so]…it is not enough for a legislator to equalize
property-holdings.” Again there is further problem with just the mere
equalization of property. What level and equalizer of property may take to
be the best f or the members of a State to have may not be fair to everybody.
If two bags of maize can feed a family of five people for two months, it
would be very unfair to expect a family of light to take the same number of
days feeding on equal measure of maize. They would probably need a half
the original amount more to see them through the month safely. From here it
becomes clear therefore that, it is difficult to establish h what is equal using
a general standard since equal shares would not be always fair, and shares
need not always be equal.

What seems right for the legislator is that”…he must aim at fixing an
amount mid-way between extremes.” This may produce a city which does
not have too much nor too little.

But even here, strikingly, Aristotle still has his reservations. Even the
fixing of the amount of property mid-way between the two extremes of
excess and defect may not be enough to produce a good city wit good
people. “…it is more necessary to equalize appetites than property.” As
Strauss and Crapsey report, “the root of injustice seems to be the abolition of
the limits upon the desires of the body of which man, alone among the
animals is capable.” It is more important that appetites of individuals do not
run wild and wayward in all opposing directions, exceedingly
disproportionate to the virtues and noble life. A legislator must remember
that he must tame the appetites of the people, and that this “can only be
done” under the provision of “adequate education under the laws.” When
every member of the S t ate has had his appetite tamed by appropriate
education under the law, then fixing of an equal amount or of the mid-way
amount of property between the two extremes may be practical.


Wealth it is agreed is an important element of the State and has a
considerable influence on the political organization. No State can do without
wealth. But Aristotle issues as tern warning about the attitude that political
figures should entertain concerning wealth and political offices. His concern
is that political offices should not be commercialized in such a manner that
only those who have wealth may ascend to them, or in such a manner that
they inspire financial gain. “…While we must look for wealth for the
purpose of securing leisure for the discharge of duties of office, it is a very
bad thing that the highest offices themselves shall be for sale ….”

The assumption that a miserable man cannot be a good leader

because of the lack of the appropriate disposition necessary for leadership is
very true for Aristotle. One needs some wealth at least to afford him some
peace of mind, to think about high matters of office-work. Office of
leadership therefore needs a person who has some minimum amount of
leisure which office-work demands, and this is only possible for a person
with some wealth. But Aristotle takes great exception with the idea that the
importance of wealth for the discharge of the duties of public office should
make ascendance to public office depend on wealth. The fact that a person
of some wealth should hold office, should not make the offices be “sold” to
these people who have wealth. Aristotle thinks the situation is very bad. In
places where the
Practice is legal and customary; wealth becomes of more account than merit and causes
the whole nation to be bent on money making. Whatever is valued by the highest
authority, that inevitable becomes the aim of the rest, whose opinion simply follows suit.
And whenever merit is not the most highly prized thing, there a firmly aristocratic
constitution is impossibility.
This, in Aristotle’s eyes, is a good reason to inspire carefulness in
charging people wit h the responsibilities of high offices. A person who
ascends to office by the aid of his wealth is bound to be irresponsible to
anything else than wealth. Because they have bought their way into office,
they see the office as an investment for them. In this disposition they will
always want to make the most out of their office. They will have the
tendency to get their fill before they are removed from office.
People who lay out large sums of money in order to secure office look [so Aristotle
thinks], not unreasonably, for some return. Even the poor but honest man will want his
profit, so it could hardly be expected that the not so honest, who has already put his hand
in his pocket, should not want his profit too. Therefore it should be those who are best
able to do the work of office that should be appointed to that office.

Holding office should not be a source of financial gain. The very

sensitive posts, especially the legal and the financially offices, should be
given only to “those who are best able to do the work.” The treasure’s office
needs a man with greater virtue than is commonly found. Of course there
must also be the expertise demanded by his office, which is found common
with every contender, again there must be loyalty to the state and these are
held to be very necessary, but goodness of character is needed above
everything else, for it serves the purpose of controlling one’s emotion, which
is important for the sake of securing the common good, but also one’s own
private interest appropriately. In a constitution where political offices are a
source of financial gain, revolutions are very likely to occur. The people
normally become jittery and start an uprising, because of either envy or

Generally, the masses do not like to hold public offices. They would
want to be allowed time to attend to their private affairs, “but they do not
like to think that officials are helping themselves to public money. Their
resentment becomes two-fold; they are deprived of both office and profit.”

But we had already pointed out that the partnership called the state is
meant to enable its members to achieve the good life. Now a state which
achieves a revolution for its members cannot be said to have achieved the
good and cultured activity for them, unless one is dishonest. At all costs
then, must such arrangements where public office inspires profit-making be
avoided. It is only in this way, Aristotle remarks,
That it becomes possible to combine democracy and aristocracy in a single state. It would
then be possible for both the upper class and demos to get what they really want, for it is
democratic that holding office should be open to all, aristocratic that only the upper class
should fill them, and this is exactly what will happen when there is no profit to be made
out of offices.

When Aristotle says that wealth should not be the basis of allotting
positions of office, he does not (as we have indicated), say that the poor
should take positions of office. To let the poor hold high offices is not only
unrecommended, but also dangerous. The Spartans do it and this has caused
problems to their constitution. The poor people they elect in office cannot
avoid helping themselves to public money because “their lack of means
makes them open to bribery.” Because of the power these people have, they
succeed in amassing quite colossal amounts of wealth which allows them to
“live a life of ease, while the rest have a very high standard of strictness in
living, so high indeed that they really cannot live up to it but secretly get
round the law and enjoy the more sensual pleasures.”

People of very meager means, then, should not hold office. This
corrupts the state. Carthage follows this principle. It appoints into office,
only those people of high wealth and high merit. Carthaginians believe that
it is impossible for a man without ample means to be a good ruler or to have
leisure to be one. But even then, the principle is not very good; there still is
an error in the Carthaginian constitution. The Carthaginian law-giver seems
here to stress so much on wealth than merit. Wealth is needed for the
position of ruler ship, but it is not the most essential condition. Wealth, it
must be stressed, has no absolute claims to political power, for the state is
not a trading company. Of course wealth definitely has moral consequences
and must not be overlooked in considering the political life of a person.
However, Aristotle’s major contention is that this has no value in itself so
that even if it must be considered, then it must be considered only
secondary. Virtue and merit should be looked at primarily so that if there is a
person of outstanding virtue and ability, this person should be let to rule. it
would be wrong to subject this man to the rule of his inferiors; he is a god
among men. if the god among men has not enough wealth conducive for
discharging the duties of office, then Aristotle recommends that this should
be provide, just to secure the rule of god rather than let men destroy
themselves by bad ruler ship. People of such outstanding capabilities should
not be ostracized as happens in many governments in our time. It is a sign of
loss of purpose to dispense with these people. Aristotle advices that “…it is
most essential that from the very start provision shall be made for the best
people to have leisure and not in anyway depart from standards of propriety
either in behavior or in the occupation, not only while in office but also as
private citizens”
Aristotle insists that equality of citizens, which he hold to be
important for the running of the state, is best achieved when consideration is
made concerning deserts, merits, and one’s contribution to the interest of
the public. Irrelevant issues such as skin color, ethnic group or geographical
position must not determine ones position in leadership-and least should
wealth does that. Qualities which are not relevant to the performance of an
action must be left aside while considering the performance of that action.
Even if they should be important, then we should look at their relative
importance. The more important one should be given the greatest
consideration and the others should work to support it. To explain the point
further, Aristotle gives an analogy of flute-playing to parallel the point. So
he remarks:

If one man outstandingly superior in flute –playing, but far inferior in birth or good looks
(even supposing that birth and good looks are a greater good than flute – playing, and
greater in proportion than the superiority of this player over the rest), even so I say the
good player should get the best instrument. For superiority is only relevant when it
contributes to the quality of the performance, which wealth and good birth do not do at

Now Aristotle propounds a kind of preferential treatment which is not

just unjust .in considering allotments of positions, it is necessary that a more
competent person be made to perform the duty for which he is more
competent. This is not an unfair treatment though it is obviously unequal.
We hold that preferential treatment is not always unjust ad it is sometimes
the best thing to do. In fact, it can well be argued that the interests of
equality are best served if preferential treatment is viewed and practiced in
its proper manner. It is the improper practice of preferential treatment which
is responsible for the claims to injustice. The best means to eliminate
injustice is probably to secure the acceptance of all justifiable inequality
which results from the proper practice of preferential treatment. If two
people of different abilities are made to perform the same duty and one,
because of his natural endowment outshines the other in performing the
duty, it is only just that the candidate who outshines the other should be
charged with the responsibility of carrying out that duty. To insist that both
the people should perform the duty is just as unjust as to let the incompetent
candidate perform the duty. There is a sense in which treating people equally
is very unjust, just as treating people unequally is just in certain respects.
Aristotle understands this clearly and thus proposes that it should be the
expert se to be looked for when considering responsibility allotments. What
is just and equal is secured best only when the most capable candidates fill
key posts and if people with expertise exercise authority.

In considering positions of government three conditions are necessary,

for those who are to hold power. There must be loyalty to the existing
constitution, the capacity for the work involved and the kind of goodness
and honesty that belong to the particular way of life in question, for “the
moral standards are not the same in every constitution, so that differences in
the notion of rightness are inevitable.” Now, not everybody, Aristotle
remarks, can possess all the said qualities at once. One person may have this
quality but is deficient in the others. How then, Aristotle asks, does the
choice of a person to take a particular office take place?

It seems, for Aristotle that two factors must be considered here- “the
qualities that are general among all men and those that are les common.”
There are qualities, like military prowess which are less common and so
depend largely on experiences do not require honesty. It is the other way
round in the case of an office which involves oversight of other men and
safe custody of goods; this requires honesty above the average…”

Aristotle has interposed the issue of honesty, which is in the realm of

virtue. But is virtue really necessary in a political office? “…if both loyalty
and capability are present, what need is there of virtue? Will not these two of
themselves bring about all that is needful?”

This is not the case. Virtue is very necessary. Aristotle does not trust
people to do their functions well outside of virtue. “… Men may possess
these two qualities and still be morally incapable; and if they are incapable
of doing what is best, what is right, for themselves, whom they know and
love, will they not also be on occasion incapable of doing what is best for
their country?”

It seems for Aristotle that without virtue every arrangement shatters to

pieces. The partnership called the State cannot stand outside the influence of
virtue. Men must know what is virtuous and what is not, and must ne able to
cultivate this in themselves and be able to do what is right for themselves
first, then with such a basic orientation they ca n be trusted to do what is best
for their nation.

Aristotle does not condemn people to poverty. He recognizes that
poverty is and evil and an evil which must be eradicated. Both individuals
and the State need wealth, not only for life, but more importantly for the
good life. Lack of wealth can render a very virtuous man incapable of
holding to his moral uprightness. However, wealth must strictly serve as a
tool, useful only for the purpose of achieving the good life. Its acquisition,
distribution and use must be guided only by this end. Wealth, according to
this frame-work, must not be manipulated to have absolute claims on
people’s lives at the expense of virtue. The surest way to build a perverted
society is to make wealth an end in itself so that people feel their ultimate
fulfillment rests on wealth. Wealth is not the ultimate aim of a political
community-people do not form a State in order t a mass wealth, but to live
together well.

Now it is also a f act that the way a State ‘lives’ depends not only on
what value it gives to wealth, but also on how it channels it power
mechanisms, and this is influenced greatly by the economic organization of
a State. Power may be structured so that only; the rich have access to it, or
so that only the poor may rule whoever rules, the society will define itself
depending on how the poser is structured and exercised. Aristotle addresses
this point I fine details in his political writing. Our next issue here is to
tackle the power in the State, and to outline how this can be brought to bear
positively upon the life of the citizens of a State.


For the sake of order and efficient running of any social unity, there
needs to be a hierarchy of command. The family, no less than the state needs
this structure. Aristotle starts by giving the chain of command in a
household. Nature has ordered things to take a very pragmatic course.
Without this order, it seems for Aristotle that there will be total chaos in the
society. There must be someone who holds the right to say “yes” and “no”
on behalf of the rest and the rest, to accept and respect his decision. As Von
Leyden says, “… among the elements forming a political association, there
must be an office for the dispensing of justice.” Judicial and deliberative
offices are essential to all states, so that where there exists no such
organization; life becomes very miserable and in-human. The greatest of
political problems lies precisely in the issue of organizing a society in which
more or less every member shall be considered under the judicial organ, and
be satisfied at least partly that his or her rights are not being infringed upon
or tampered with in any way. In this realm the question of justice obtains
very greatly, in fact just in the same measure it obtains in the question of
distribution of goods. The problems that must necessarily be addressed here
include how the authority to be a judge over a group of people is acquired
and by what means, how the authority must be exercised once it has been
acquired, and who should this authority and why? Today the same questions
are not alien to our own political inquiries. Of course one might not expect
us to address them in the same fashion as Aristotle did for our situation is
certainly different from that of Aristotle. A political community as large as
ours definitely has more intricacies than were known to Aristotle, and the
question to which Aristotle addresses himself take a more complicated twist
today than they did during Aristotle’s time, for our own community is more
diverse than was Aristotle’s. However, these considerations still bear on us
just as heavily as they did on Aristotle during the time of the polis.


Aristotle starts his investigation of this aspect of power from the

family, but skips the village and instead, goes to regard the state. In the
family, nature has provided each member with the appropriate work for him
or her. A man is made to have power over his children and wives and slaves.
This is so because a man has a kind of superiority over his wife, children
and slaves.”…as between male and female,” Aristotle remarks, “the former
is by nature superior and ruler, the latter inferior and subject. And this must
hold good of mankind in general.” The rule of husband over wife suggests
for Aristotle a kind of aristocracy, for the husband rules over his wife
because of a kind of goodness, which he acquires because of what nature has
made him to be. A man naturally is a master: he “… is not called master in
virtue of what he knows, but simply in virtue of what he is: master…”

A man is naturally a ruler because nature has endowed him with

reason, and this makes him be a ruler as in the soul, the distinction between
rulers and ruled is that found between the rational and non-rational. Man has
priority over wife and child and slave on account of his capacity to reason.
The female, man’s wife, has rational faculty but her rational faculty is
inoperative. The child has one which is under-developed. (let it be premised
here that Aristotle is speaking of male and not female children, for the
female children will be have a rational which is not operating even as
adults). The slave, who seems to be the lowest of these people, doesn’t have
reason. “…he… participates in the reasoning faculty so far as to understand
but not so as to possess it.” The family, we realize here, is composed of the
two elements, one rational, another non-rational, or at best semi-rational. But
for life to be possible, the rational must be dominant. The man then, being
the only rational element of the family, must be dominant; he becomes
master over the rest and the rest follow and ‘live his life’. Now the man does
not become dominant because of his physical strength, but because of his
rational faculty, which gives him the privilege therewith of practicing virtue.
From the outset we realize then, that the primary criterion for acquiring
authority is the possibility of performing morally excellent actions. To be
incapable of performing morally excellent actions is to be incapable of
becoming a leader. He is a role model for those he rules and from his virtue,
the rest get their appropriate virtues according to their order of seniority.
Aristotle insists that the leader of the household (and in fact no less than the
leader of a state, as shall presently be seen,), must be appropriately
possessed of virtue, and it is not difficult to understand why Aristotle insists
on this,
For if he that rules is not to be self-controlled and just, how shall he rule well? And if the
ruled lacks virtue, how shall he be ruled well For if he is slack and disobedient, he will
not perform his duties. Thus it becomes clear that both ruler and ruled must have a share
in virtue but there are differences in virtue in each case…

A master of the house acquires power because he has that goodness

connected to ruler ship, and has the power to translate this goodness to
action. This makes him worthy of being obeyed. He seems outstanding and
superior in virtue to all the other members of the household, and, “it is only
when one man is superior in virtue and in the ability to perform the finest
actions that it becomes right to serve him and just to obey him.”

Now, we are talking about household, but about a household which

culminates in a state, which is its natural perfection. What we find in the
household then must be found in the state, only the size changes. The state
becomes a magnified household, which can be understood well only after
considering its parts, many households, for as we had discovered, the virtue
of the whole must be considered in relation to the parts, and the arguments
which apply to individuals therefore, must apply to the state with equal
force. Every “household is part of a state; and the virtue of the part ought to
be examined in relation to the whole.”

A state then, just as the household, cannot do without some chain of

command. It is obvious, and Aristotle recognizes, that the state “cannot do
without administrative officers, and there must be people capable of holding
office and rendering services of this kind to the city…” there must be
statesmen, capable of carrying out the duties of a state, without which life
can be very chaotic. A state in which nobody is concerned with the issues of
justice and injustice, whether some person or persons go against the rights of
others is not better than a park of wild animals. In fact it would be a
linguistic extravagance to style such a community a state in the first
instance. There must be a rule and order of some kind, at least to make us
say ‘this is a state’. Aristotle is against the wanton individualism represented
by the proponents of extreme democracy and those who oppose any form of
authority-they neither want to be ruled nor do they take the trouble to design
order, but are only eager to criticize where they see or assume disorder. For
Aristotle, there must be authority and dependence, and this is not an
arbitrary imposition of a sadist who wants to subject us to suffering by
lording over us, but nature itself is the ground of this order. From birth it can
be seen that men must in a way be dependent upon some authority,
otherwise there would not be human life in earth. It also seems that there are
people who are just born to depend and their whole existence is that of
dependence. In this regard, the mentally retarded and the otherwise maimed;
especially from birth lend themselves as ready examples. These and
probably many others must necessarily be under authority for their survival.
This being certain that there must be some authority controlling state
organization, Aristotle’s further question centers’ majorly on who should
have the privilege of holding political office, whether a group of a few
deserving individuals or the general body of citizens should hold the office,
and what qualifications should be considered necessary for this kind of

Now it must be premised immediately that, for Aristotle, the major

criterion for awarding or acquiring position of political leadership, just as
has been in the case of household, is basically ethical. What is meant here is
that for Aristotle, the issue is not just that there is some person who is
uncommonly virtuous. That they are a hundred or one does not matter so
much as to the fact that they are a hundred virtuous men or one virtuous
man. The wielder of authority, (be he an individual or a group of
individuals), must hold the authority by some right of his or their superiority
in virtue, just like the master in the household is superior to the rest of the
members of the household in virtue. “…. A king is made king by the good
men on account of his superiority in virtue or deeds of valour, or the
superiority of his virtuous family. “1… in every case a king should be
chosen in the light of his personal goodness.”2 now we had found out that
judicial and deliberative activities are very essential to any state and no state
can escape them and still merit the name state, but it is not just their
existence in a state which counts. What is of the greatest significance here is
how they perform the functions for which they are designed. Their purpose
is mainly to secure the common good of all the citizens and it is important to
remark here with Von Leyden that, “in order for them to serve the Good,
they must have performed by men of ability.” 3 The interests of justice and
equality and of the common good in general can be secured if the most
capable candidates fill the key posts, and people with requisite expertise
exercise authority.

To be a leader then, one must have qualities of first class. Aristotle

sees Sparta at fault in this regard for, Sparta u recommendedly ignores the
quality of leaders, and “” … even the Spartan law-giver himself does not
believe it possible to produce good men of first class quality. He certainly
has no confidence in kings reaching that standard.” 1 This situation always
produces for Sparta, kings who are always in constant feuds, which the
Spartan law-giver wrongly thinks is quite agreeable.2 Spartans do not let
people of merit take office while the fact is that a person who acquires
power must merit it, and must get it because of that merit and not any other.

The system of acquiring power should not depend on merit, but

ambitions. The Spartan law-giver seems to give people power by playing on
their appetites to let them be elected in a powerful office, called the
(gerousia)3 and this is “silly”.4

Begins by making the citizens ambitions and then uses their ambitions as a means of getting
people elected into the gerousia; for no one not ambitious would ask to be elected. Yet the truth is
that men’s ambition and their desire to get on and make money are among the most potent causes
of calculated acts of injustice.5

Now, it must be distinguished that there are two types of ambition. The
fourth book of the Nicomachean Ethics gives this distinction. There is the
noble ambition, which is concerned with noble honors’. This is praised, and
a person of this kind is sometimes called ambitious, but nobly, as opposed to
the derogatory ambitions to which Aristotle refers here. This kind of
ambitious is blamed for it either seeks more honors than is right, or from
wrong sources.6 this kind of ambition is wrong, and should not be a means
to acquiring power. The key to achieving morally good political leadership
is to sacrifice this kind of ambition is set to be concerned about nothing else
other than what his ambition demands. This might include the desire to get
on and make money, as Aristotle says, and this shall be productive of
embezzlement of public funds. It is certainly not wrong or far fetched for
Aristotle to demand that people of less wealth not be charged with important
responsibilities. What we need as much as possible is to construct a political
community in which virtue but not wealth shall be the key consideration.
But Aristotle envisages a case in which the poor conditions of a responsible
person will induce him to covet the wealth brought before him by his
position, which he will definitely help himself, if we take the principle that
nobody will fail to get what he needs while he really needs it and he is in the
power of getting it, to be true. This shall immediately cause an imbalance in
the society. People enriching themselves with the property of the community
are worse than any dictator around for they deprive the society of life itself.
This condition is most unwarranted. Aristotle then, is quick to commend a
few constitutions which rightly consider merit in awarding positions or
charging their members with important responsibilities. Carthage is an
example of such a constitution.

Carthage, unlike Sparta, elects only people of eminence to high

political posts. “This is important”, Aristotle remarks, for, “persons of low
degree appointed to have control of weighty affairs can do a lot of
damage…”1 but about Carthage also, there is a problem. Though Carthage
appoints people of eminence to taka control of weighty affairs, it insists too
much on electing people of wealth to take these posts. This is due to its
belief that a poor man cannot be a good ruler, or have enough leisure to do
so. But his seems to deny the best but poor rulers a chance to exercise their
talents. Lack of wealth must not bar a person from being a leader if he merits
it. Provision should be made so that any person capable of ruling may have
the required leisure for ruler ship, the leisure which shall not male him
depart from the standard of propriety.2 now it is easy to see how Aristotle
applies the idea of the mean between the extremes here. The extreme of
judgment of a person’s worth by the amount of material possessions under
his custody is passionately repudiated. In as much as wealth may be an
important condition to good ruler ship, its not to be the absolute determinant
whether a person may rule or not. Merit should be priced as more
fundamental and what we mean by merit not simply the ability to rule, but
the moral propriety necessary for ruler ship. This stands between wealth and
poverty as a mitigating factor. If there should exist a poor man among many
rich ones who has the moral requirements necessary for ruling, this man
should rule. What should be considered is that if his poverty may in the long
run make him depart from moral uprightness, then some wealth should be
set aside for his use so that he may have the appropriate atmosphere for
ruling. Carthage disregards the fact that merit should be counted top in the
number of conditions for leadership, and only apportions political offices to
people with wealth. This makes it exposed to the risk of hoarding political
offices. People bribe heavily minded for the sake of attaining power to
decide weighty affairs and to give law for people to follow. The concern of
the people is not the information of a good political society grounded on
moral uprightness which is held to be the best of intentions for a leader to
have, but the gratification of desires. This is not what a human society
should be and good governance according to the rules of propriety is greatly
at variance with this.1


The state, for Aristotle, is composed of different elements, as we have

seen. This is not only important for the contributions to the public good and
the subsequent development of a state, but is indispensable if there is to be
state at all. But it must also be remembered that it is precisely in this issue of
difference that the greatest problem of states lies. How these different
elements of the state must be brought to contribute to the development of the
state equally becomes the greatest of problems. The question which
immediately presents itself for consideration in this connection is: “… are
there reliable criteria for grading men and the relative merits of their social
functions and achievements” without possible claims of unfair treatment or
unfair reward in some dealings? How specifically should power holding be
distributed between the highly disparate members of the state in such a
fashion that no section of the members complains of being left out of the
power stream or of not being considered when important decisions of the
state have to be made? Should the already powerful a possible sharing of
power with the powerless or should the powerful not care at all about what
the fate of the powerless is? In other words, where should power lie in the
majority in the state or in the few privileged individuals? Now Aristotle
addresses himself to this question directly and attempts an answer which
seems to offer a solution to it if really taken seriously. Aristotle contends
that in order to achieve a fairly good state with as little complaints of unfair
treatment as possible at all among its different elements, state power and
authority must be as balanced and evenly distributed as possible. The basic
assumption here is that citizens are dissimilar in their unique ways of
contributing to the development of the state, but basically they are the same
by virtue of their being citizens. Their differences in various capacities and
natural endowments must not be misconstrued for a difference in their
natures. They are equal and similar as citizens and state authority ought to be
“constituted on the basis of [this] equality and similarity between citizens.”
Following this principle of equality of citizens in their nature, Aristotle
proposes as the most defensible, and perhaps, even the truest, answer to the
question who should power in the state? The principle that the majority
should have the power shared and used collectively. A constitution does not
only mean for Aristotle the life the citizens live, but also the organization of
offices which carry out public business, that is the way the chains of
command are arranged and distributed in the state, and this is best realized
when every member of the state partakes of what moderns call the ‘National
Cake’. Aristotle proposes as the best of principles then that the citizens must
lay equal claim to “the right to take it in turns to exercise authority, to
govern.” This is the most appropriate way of making sure that the
community is woven into an integrated whole, for to borrow the works of
Von Leyden, “…it is by mutual and proportionate contributions that a social
community is held together.” Offices discharging import and duties of the
State must be very well distributed, and the standard measure of the
distribution is the degree of participation that members exercise in decision
making in the political organization. Power must not rest on the hands of one
person, but on all the citizens, who are the majority. It seems nobler and
proper to let the whole community have power on their lives and to decide
what kind of life they want to live. No single human being should take it
upon himself to decide for the people what education, for example, is good
for them and to force it on them without giving the people a chance to decide
whether to proposed education is relevant to their purpose or not. This is a
form of tyranny which cannot be plausible to anyone. It is only a tyrant who
imposes the kind of education he wants with the aim of making people
subject to him. A proper rule which is in accord with virtue demands that the
citizens should decide on the matters affecting their lives themselves. The
life of the State is the life of the whole citizen body and not of any single
individual or group of individuals. Any decision taken then must involve the
whole community and must aim at the coming good, and this can only be so
when the decision is made by the community.

Aristotle, we had discovered, sees the end of the State as always directed
towards the good life. The good life was also discovered to be tantamount to
the common good. The right kind of authority then, is that which is
exercised in the interest of the common interest. Now depending on how a
body politic approximates to the good life which is the interest of the whole
community, its constitution is labeled either as right, or normal, or as,
wrong, or perverted. This is what is in accord with virtue and especially the
virtue of absolute justice. For Aristotle therefore, the constitutions that
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. They are all deviations from the right standard. They
are like the rule of master over slave, where the master’s interest is paramount. But the state is an
association of free men.

The many should be sovereign because they have an advantage of

complementarities. Now Aristotle maintains that in governance, quality is
better than quantity, but only in its relevant consideration. Quantity must not
be totally ignored in favor of quality even in situations when quality might
be a source of bad governance (at least indirectly). Both quality and quantity
must be considered and each weighed against the other. G.H. Sabine
explains that Aristotle favors numbers,
…because he believes in the collective wisdom of a sober public opinion and thinks that a large
body is not easily corrupted. But especially for administrative duties men of position and
experience are the best. A State that can combine these two factors has solved the chief problems
of stable and orderly government.

In a situation where there are no good people or where they are fewer,
it is wise that they do not be left to have sovereignty at their hands, but the
many should, “for it is possible that the many no one of whom taken singly
is a good man, may yet taken all together be better than the few [best], not
taken individually but collectively….” many people untied for a common
good are more likely to succeed with better results than a single or only a
few professionals. He admits that the people as a whole have a combination
of qualities that allows them to deliberate wisely and to judge better than
specialists. He is not at odds then, with the advocates of popular rule which
claims that popular assembly should exercise judicial powers, elect
representatives and call them to account after their tenure of office. He
would admit that it is the general body of citizens which knows best how the
‘shoe pinches’, and how much the ordinary man is prepared to suffer, and is
therefore a better judge of the situation than the professional who observes
from his ivory tower but is not directly involved in the game.

That the group possesses a collective wisdom is unquestionably

evident for Aristotle. Cases of judgment concerning musical art are a better
witness to this. In a musical t heater, the majority, each of whom is not an
expert in music, produces a better judgment on a musical performance than
one single expert in music. As they listen to the concert, each person judges
his own part of the music, the part which appeals to him, and when all these
are brought together, they become a judgment upon the whole. Likewise, in
cases of power and authority. “Where there are many people, each has some
share of goodness and intelligence, and when these are bought together, they
become …one multiple man with many minds. So too in regard to character
and powers of perception.”

Aristotle favors a rule in which offices are distributed in such a way

that everybody has a chance to participate in decision making, but he grants
also that it is important to charge very special duties with people of special
skills necessary for these duties. Not everybody can perform every duty
whatsoever. Charging several ordinary men who may not know the
intricacies of government to rule is perilous to both the State and the rulers.
The Citizen may very well know ‘how and where the shoe pinches’, but may
not know ‘why the shoe pinches the way it does’. The citizen therefore, may
not have the remedy for his problems even if he may know what they are. It
takes a professional to know why there is the problem, and how this problem
can be remedied. Positions that matter then are to be managed by the best
and most competent men, but the people should have a considerable power
to hold the governing class in check by the possibility that they may use the
power to call the governors to account for what they do, but so long as the
governors proceed with moderation, they are left free t o do their work
adventurously. A law-giver or anybody who is charged with, or who takes
upon himself the responsibility of framing a constitution must make sure
that power is not concentrated on only one person or a few people. This
causes a flaw in the constitution and prevents efficiency.

Obsessed with the need for moderation, Aristotle cautions also against
the people holding excess powers. This is dangerous in Aristotle’s opinion,
for it is the form of government which is productive of demagogues. This
kind of situation comes about when the population has not only the power to
check the rulers, but to use in making trade in political meetings.
Demagogues seize these opportunities and float their shares of false hoods to
the people half price of colorful language, in order to win the emotional
support of the people, who are also swayed very easily by the colorful
language of the demagogues. After they (the demagogues) have successfully
sold their shares to the people, they turn against the people and demand back
their shares with exorbitant premiums placed on them. Aristotle finds
Carthage guilty of this vice. Carthaginians have a poor plan of job
distribution. In Carthage, one man has several jobs concentrated on him and
this does not seem to be in order “for surely work is best done when task is
performed by one man.” When man is both a shoemaker and a sea-fairer, he
cannot do both jobs equally efficiently. He has to do one more efficiently
and the other less efficient. One must stick to a job that he can do best and
leave others to the rest who can do them. Shoemaking must be left to the
best shoemakers, sea-fairing to the best sea-farers, in that order.
So too in the work of government where the city is not too small to allow of it, it is more
statesmanlike, as well as more democratic, that a variety of people should share in the
offices for …in this way the work is more widely distributed and each individual task is
performed more efficiently and more expeditiously.

This then, according to Aristotle, should be the manner in which

power must be distributed in a state. No power monopoly should be
encouraged in a State. The state is an association of equals and all power
then must be shared equally. This is more in keeping with virtue. Nobody
will be seen to be in the extreme of despotism, but the state ruler ship will
always be in the mid-way. This is a mark of a good state. Their ought to be
an interdependence of some sort in a state, where one depends on the other
for this kind of work, and another depends on the other for a different kind
of work. “… Interdependence and not allowing any set of people to please
only themselves is a good thing.” It is a “form of administration”, which
“satisfies the men of culture and distinction…” an administration in which
corruption will hardly occur shall be a most pleasing type and this is what
will happen when many people are in charge of the government. It is very
difficult to influence and corrupt them all. But where only a few people are
in lead, corruption is very possible. A few people can easily be squared and


The exercise of power in every sphere where power operates must
follow the principles of virtue and morality for Aristotle. A man is the head
of his house, but only because he is superior in virtue. He exercised power in
virtue of this superiority. Due to the fact that he has reasons, it is assumed
that the man necessarily has the correct notions of right and wrong, and this
makes him responsible for ruling and training of his house in virtue. Even
for the slave who doesn’t possess the rationale faculty, it is supposed that he
should rely on the master’s measure of virtue. “…the master ought to be the
cause of such virtue as is proper to a slave.” The master must inculcate in his
slave some moral virtue. In fact, Aristotle means “moral virtue and not …the
fact that as master he can t each his slaves to be good at their task.” He must
make sure that his slaves have an appropriate moral virtue, “…enough to
ensure that he does not neglect his work through loose living or mere [r]
recklessness”. It is seen here that even to a slave , Aristotle recommends that
the exercise of power should not be despotic, but must be within the virtuous
frame-work. Treating a slave as a slave; issuing orders to him arbitrarily is
not a thing to be proud of. It does not constitute nobility. “…there is no
worth or dignity in treating a slave as a slave, and issuing instructions to do
this or that is no part of virtuous or noble activity.

Now just as the exercise of power within the household needs to

operate on virtue, so the state also needs virtue. We have already discovered
that a state needs some machinery to run its organs. There must be some
people charged with the duty of making decisions where matters of justice
are disputed upon. ”now if all this must exist in cities and must act in
accordance with morality and justice, it becomes essential that there should
be more possessed of virtue among those who take part in the work of the
city.” For Aristotle, statesmanship is an art of science, aiming at the
direction of political life to morally valuable ends rationally chosen. This
demands wisdom and intelligence of a lofty plane, which for Aristotle is
different from “…the mere sharpness of a designing politician, the bungling
of a popular assembly, or the rhetorical cleverness of a demagogue or a
sophist” (qualities which seem to be the very endowments of several
leaders). The statesman of Aristotle must be an uncommonly wise and
intelligent man. He must be well informed of the principles such as are
necessary for constructing the best state possible and must be able to
construct for the masses a form of government which will be understandable
and practicable even to those of ordinary moderate intelligence. This can be
achieved if only the exercise of power must be controlled by what is
virtuous. A person who has power must exercise it with a view to producing
the finest results of the moral behavior. Free men ought to be ruled in this
way, and it is the best form of rule since the “life of a free man is better than
the life of a despotic ruler”. The “…rule over free men” Aristotle insists “is
nobler than despotic rule and more in keeping with virtue.” A ruler who is
too cruel to his people definitely does not regard nobility as the ground for
his rule in Aristotle’s view. Those in power then, Aristotle cautions, should
not be cruel to their subjects. If they become cruel, they risk the destruction
of their constitution. Subjects who are too cruelly treated soon get disgusted
and become revolution minded, and may easily cause an uprising. Aristotle
advices, therefore, that kingdom should “always tend towards greater
moderation in their use of power. The fewer those spheres of activity where
power is absolute, the longer will the regime surely last.” The type of rule
which meets or at least attempts to meet this requirement is constitutional
rule. For this reason then, Aristotle favors always constitutional government,
and his fashion of ideal state is purely constitutional and not despotic, even
if the ideal state should have only one very enlightened ruler who is a
philosopher. A single person must not rule but the constitution. The reason
which makes Aristotle insist on constitutional government is freedom. It is
only in constitutional rule that freedom is achievable.” The relation of the
constitutional ruler to his subjects is different in kind from any other sort of
subjection because it is consistent with both parties remaining free men, and
for this reason it requires a degree of moral equality or likeness of a kind
between them…”

But when leaders are too cruel to the people, they expose themselves
and the constitution to attack. Every State which is run in this manner must
witness a revolution. A State which has such an arrangement, but has not
incurred an uprising must surely have some extenuating circumstances
explaining the passivity of the people. It may be, Aristotle says, that the
section of the State that is powerful is also numerically superior while the
less powerful is numerically inferior, and when such is the case, then a revolt
will not arise since the numerically inferior will not risk contending against
the numerically superior who will obviously obliterate them. “it is for this
reason that those who are superior in goodness hardly ever star t a
revolution; they are few against many.”

Aristotle cautions strongly against the use of “excessive power.” This,

he says, “…is to be seen in any case where one or more men exercise power
out of all proportion to the state or to the power to the citizen body.”
Totalitarianism of this kind is dangerous to the State, and goes against the
aim of the State, which is meant to be the bet possible life. It is this way of
handling power which causes the ruin of cities. Uprisings do not hit nations
because the ruled just decide to be uncontrollable, but they are always
instigated by the holders of power, either directly or indirectly. Thus
Aristotle remarks that
The important thing to remember is that those who area responsible for the exercise of
power, whether they are individuals or organs of government or tribes or what you will,
great or small, it is they who cause the disturbance that leads to revolution. They may do
so indirectly, as when the rest, jealous of their power, begin a revolution, but also
directly, when they themselves are so superior that they are no longer content to remain
on terms of equality with the rest.

A fair treatment must always prevail in exercise of power. The idea of

equality and justice must be up-held. Power groups which distribute honors
and privileges in a manner disproportionate to merit are obviously going
against propriety. People do not want to see themselves degraded and others
exalted, when all deserve equitable treatment. “…those who see others
honored and themselves degraded soon become revolution-minded,” and
these people are right to be revolution minded for “the situation is certainly
unjust wherever the honor or the dishonor is contrary to desert, but it is just
whenever it is in accordance with deserts.” Excessive power is productive of
several monstrosities. A ruler must not place himself on a plane too lofty
such tat he treats his fellow citizens like slaves. The authority of a
constitutional ruler over his subjects must be necessarily different from that
of a master over a slave. The slave is presumed to be a lower kind of being
who must by nature is guided by the wisdom of the master for he is
incapable of ruling himself. This is at least the ground upon which slavery is
justified. Now rule over free men must not follow this kind of trend. But
most rulers do not seem to notice this fact. They think that others must be
dominated or ruled, whether they like it or not. This is obviously out of
order. It is not statesmanship or even lawgiving, since it is not even lawful
itself. Rulers, however, are so ken on it that
[they]…seem to think that domination and government are one and the same thing; they
have no compunction amount inflicting upon others what as individuals they regards as
neither just nor beneficial to themselves. For themselves and among themselves they ask
for just government but treatments of others they do not worry about what things are just.

Power should not aim at subjection and subordination. Even the aim
of military equipment should not be to subject certain groups of people. It
should be a well organized practice, aimed at: (1) saving ourselves from
subjection by others (2) winning for ourselves a position of leadership
exercised for the benefit of others, not to subject them, and (3) exercising the
rule of a master over those who deserve it. Others, the general plan in
military equipment should be aimed at least a blushing “peace and a cultured

When speaking about the best form of governance, Aristotle also

speaks of the rule of the law. Constitutional government must operate within
the bounds of the law. No governance outside of the law can be good
governance. It is the law which provides the impartial legal force which is
unaffected by desires, for it has the impersonal quality which no single
human being can have. This further means that the rule of law must go
together with the rule by the most able. Rule of law and rule of the most able
are not alternatives. A state which has good laws with bad custodians cannot
be a good state. The laws themselves will be useless for they will not be
followed by any one. Likewise, a state which has good rulers who work with
bad laws will not be a good state either. The best state then, must combine
both good laws and good leaders. With this combination, Aristotle intends to
achieve a state which is run within the precincts of moral virtue. Leaders
will tend to a moderation of their use of power and will not tend towards
subjugation of others. Outside of the law however, ruler ship cannot concern
itself with the good of the community. The exercise of power must be in the
interest of the public. The ruler must rule over willing subjects. His rule
must not be an arbitrary rule which does not consider what is good for the
well being of the majority. Law therefore must be imparted as a necessary
part of the moral ideals of the state which is indispensable. True rule must
consist in subordination to the rule of law, and this perfectly consistent with
the freedom of the citizens, which also is the very condition under which
virtue can be practiced. A part from law nothing can happen in the state
which is in conformity with virtue. To be within the rule of law is very
necessary and noble, for
As man is the best of all animals when he has reached his full development, so he is
worst of all when divorced form law and morals. Wickedness armed is hardest to deal
with; and though man while keeping his weapon can remain disposed to understanding
and virtue, it is al too easy for him to use them for the opposite purpose. 1

The law, Aristotle says, is the mean. 2 this is why governments which
do not operate within it falls short of right action always. It is the law which
tries to strike a balance wherever and whenever there is an imbalance
somewhere. When a leader operates within the law and he tries then, to get
the mean in very action “for the law is the mean”, and this is the essence of
justice. Aristotle is here referring to positive laws which are written statues.
These are the laws he says we cannot afford to live without and live well.
They are fundamental. However, it is worth remarking also that moral laws
are more fundamental than positive laws. They are the basis upon which
positive laws rest and so they are more abiding and binding than positive
laws. They should therefore be held in a higher regard than positive laws.1
Positive laws should ultimately reflect the laws.

The apparent absence of mindfulness of the law has brought problems

to the Cretan constitution. Crete has an office called the Kosmoi, which is
very flawed. Whenever one or the whole of the “Kosmoi” is to be removed
our of the office, it does not follow any proper legal order. Any removal
from office is always by way of conspiracy, “which may be party engineered
by some of their own number or wholly by persons form outside.”2 in
Aristotle’s opinion, nothing could be more out of tune with the good life
than this way of firing people. Apparently this may seem a misdemeanor,
but it involves a terrible miscarriage of justice. It is better to have some legal
regulations governing such cases rather than the whims of people which are
susceptible to fluctuation.3

In Crete, the situation becomes worse when there are no “Kosmoi”. A

scene close to anarchy comes about where powerful people intending to
escape the consequences of the law take bands of their friends and of the
people and use these to sow quarrels among the people. This society cannot
be called a politeia, “but only a dynasteia, a system based on violence.” 4
this practically us the cessation of the state and “it is indeed a dangerous
state of affairs when those who wish to attach the state are also those who
have the power.”5

Sparta is also censured in this regard of the exercise of power;

Spartans have the office called the “gerousia”, a council of elders charged
with making decision on matters of dispute. This, Aristotle reckons, is
composed of “good men”, well trained in manly virtues.”6 one would expect
Aristotle to agree with such kind of order, but amazingly Aristotle repudiates
it. Now it is not difficult to see why he disapproves if this arrangement.
What is disagreeable here is that “members of this board remain there for
life……1”, but “…. The mind grows old no less than the body” and so “….
It is very questionable whether they ought to continue to have power to
decide important cases”.2 A person who has an unlimited term of office is
bound to misuse the office for he knows nobody to take it from him until he
is dead. This makes the members of the Lacedaemon an “gerousia” misuse
their office. In fact observations have shown “….. That those who serve on
this board allow the conduct of public business to be corrupted by bribery
and favouritism.”3 This is as a matter of fact very contentious. For how long
a person should rule is in fact a problem characterizing every political
community. People who ascend to power think it should be their monopoly
and would not allow any other person to rule. They set themselves as
absolute monarchs over the people they govern and rule them with the rule
of master over his slaves. There must be a limit then, to the term in which
one may exercise power, and not be allowed to exercise power all through


Aristotle, as we have been concerned to expose in this chapter,

maintains that there must be a regulative authority in any social unit, and
that human life cannot reach a meaningful end without this set-up.

The person or persons to exercise this regulative authority must be

identified suing an ethical criterion. A man must be morally upright in order
to qualify as a leader of the people. A person deficient in moral nobility must
not be allowed to take charge of such important and weighty affairs as
governance. Wealth does not fully account for getting positions of
leadership, though it is important. Very poor people too must not be
entrusted with leadership, for those can loot the country and ruin their

Now alongside this, we realize that Aristotle maintains that the

exercise or authority must be done nobly and virtuously. Power must not be
allowed to rise above virtue. Such, he maintains, shall without doubt corrupt
those in power, who shall in return not work for the benefit of the whole
citizen body, but for their own benefit. In this connection, Aristotle
recommends that a single person is not, in fact, the best to be allowed to
rule, but the general citizen body should do this always. The general citizen
body is favored by Aristotle because of the collective wisdom that they have,
which is unparalled by the wisdom of any single individual.

The basic thesis of Aristotle generally is that of excellence by

moderation. Cases concerning power are very delicate cases and must be
treated with a lot of caution. They are the kinds of cases, we reckon, which
cause insurrections and/or destruction of States. Considering this primarily,
Statesmen must try as much as it is possible to maintain a moderate
organization which shall ensure that members averagely have the
satisfaction to make life rather peaceful.

Now, our next programme is to try to provide an independent view,

using the premises we have found from our analysis of Aristotle. This
decision is guided by a basic principle that not to follow Aristotle in his
teaching concerning the importance of moral virtue for politics does not go
well with the exigencies of good governance. The next chapter is concerned
to expose this view, and to attempt to show that the theory of moral virtue,
and therefore Aristotle, is indispensable for good governance.

From what has been exposed above, it becomes manifest that a patient
study of Aristotle reveals that political life by necessity, demands to be
within the precincts of moral virtue. The state, the only political community
in which man is fulfilled, aims primarily at the well-being of its members,
and this in Aristotle’s system, cannot be achieved without keeping moral
virtue at the central position of state life.

This principle is not only Aristotelian, that is, it does not have
relevance only as far as Aristotle’s political theory is concerned, but it seems
to be an all-encompassing principle, and the most primary principle upon
which the best human society may be built. It is upon this principle that the
consideration of Aristotle becomes very significant for the modern political
theorist and practitioner. The principle ceases to be a principle of over
twenty-three centuries ago, but carries its rich importance up to our own
days. It becomes a useful tool to refer to in case of judging political
communities, and in gauging political principles which work for or against
the well-being of the state.

The different states (or rather governments), are so in regard to the

moral virtue principle. The states which are not founded upon moral grounds
fall short of the expectations and purpose of themselves, and the degree of
deviation from the moral foundation for a state, determines the degree of the
deviation from the purpose and expectation of a state.

Several political systems obtain in our day, some of which in our

reckoning are deviations from the right purpose of the state. Absolute power
governments, which tend to concentrate state benefit on small sections of the
state fall among these systems. Political theorists propounding such political
systems seem not to understand the right purpose of the state and the means
to achieve it. To know what is right does not necessarily mean to do what is
right, but it is an important step towards doing what is right. Nobody can
seek for good which he has not understood, or even vaguely perceived. It is
a considered opinion here that those who fashion political systems which are
deviations, have largely not understood the purpose of the state, which we
take to well-being of individuals, both as a group and severally, and that the
means to achieve this is to make the practice of virtue the central concern of
the state.

Problems of co-existence, we have said, are perennial problems, and

are so recalcitrant that no conceivable solution possible seems to meet them
head-on. The age-old trend is that they always cause disharmony among
beings, otherwise meant to live harmoniously with one another, which
means of living is the only means to ensure their natural fulfillment. These
problems, elusive as they may seem to be, may be met heads-on. Their
recalcitrance, in our reckoning, is because political theorist and practitioners
try to find solutions beside the point. The Aristotelian theory of moral virtue
seems to provide a thread, uniformly joining the elements responsible for the
creation of a happy and harmonious political life than any other theory may
promise to do. Followed earnestly, the theory promises to be able to dissolve
all political problems which seem too intricately woven to be disentangled.


Aristotle’s theory of moral virtue ties the individual to the state very
necessarily. Each is responsible for the other. The development of the state
depends on its citizens, and the development of the citizens on the state.
Precisely, the state stands to the citizens in a relation of a whole to its parts.
Without the parts, there will not be the whole, and the quality of the whole is
determined by the quality of the parts taken severally and in sum.

Now, the problem of political harmony which seems to be a much

contested problem in modern times depends greatly on the conception of the
relation which obtains between the state and the individual. How far should
the state exercise authority and regulative power over the individual without
injuring him? How far should the individual extend his exercise of freedom,
without injuring the state? In other words, how far do we maintain a
harmonious “unity in diversity” in a state?

Aristotle’s political theory seeks to establish the grounds upon which

unity in diversity may be maintained. Aristotle seeks to reconcile the idea of
individual autonomy and communal integration. In his scheme, both the
individual and the state have a role for one another, and none is subordinate
to the other.

Individualism is an important aspect for the development of the state.

Every individual is an important member of the community to which he
belongs, and his contribution is greatly valuable to the state. States which try
to lose sight of individuals are therefore obviously deviating from the aim of
the state. It is a virtuous thing to let every member of the state, to as far as
possible, exercise his talents in a free atmosphere, and it is only in this way
that citizens can engage in their duties adventurously. A state in which
citizens try to free adventure, is obviously posed for both material and
spiritual development.
The individualism we mean should not be construed to mean anarchy
too. Anarchy is a situation brought about by extreme liberalism which leads
to lawlessness. This is obviously destructive. What we mean here is close to
the liberalism which leads to lawlessness. This is obviously destructive.
What we mean here is close to the libertarian theory of J.S. Mill. It is a
theory which grants liberty and freedom to the individual, to an extent that
the individual is not perilous to the state. It grants that the individual must
not be ruled despotically, he must not be enslaved and his conscience should
be free. He must have autonomy over his private affairs and is free to hold
his independent views on any issue. This is the view proposed by J.S Mill,
too. Every individual, Mill contends, is autonomous and is sovereign over
his private affairs, his body and minds. Nobody should prescribe for the
individual what he should do with himself and whatever concerns him

Now what is proposed here, which is Aristotle thesis too is close to

this, but differs in rigor. Mill seems to fall short of the golden mean. He goes
to the extreme by propounding what in our opinion is extreme liberalism. An
individual needs autonomy, but must not over-stretch the autonomy to injure
the rest. A virtuous and free person is also mindful of what role he has to
promote the well-being of his neighbors through his good example as an
individual. This is what Aristotle is taken here to mean when he says in the
eighth book of the politics that people should not behave as though they
belonged only to themselves. They belong to the state. They are members of
the overall community, and whatever they do in private, they must consider
what effect it has on the overall community, whether or not it improves the
quality of the community, the member of which he is. Such is the nature of
“unity is diversity”. It is the way to ensure national integration, and it is a
correction on the extreme liberalism of Mill, which is likely to lead to
thoughtlessness and anarchy.

The individual, against Mill, is not all sovereign in private matters.

One must assess what effect his behavior had on the neighbor. To be free
does not mean to be wayward; it means to be the initiator and controller of
one’s actions, and to be responsible for the actions. This is the conditio sine
qua non, for virtue. One can only be intelligently integrated with the rest of
the members of his community if he understands the reason for, and freely
chooses to enter into, such integration. This is more noble, adventurous and
in keeping with virtue, than a coerced integration because of a political
ideology or creed, sentimentally shared in by a group of people. Such a state
would at best be described as “uniformity” and not integration, or unity, in
the real sense. Anything, but virtue and intelligence can be the cause
togetherness, and this cannot be beneficial to any state.

Following the above exposition, it is necessary that any state whose

aim is to achieve the good life should try as is within its ability to promote
individual freedom. Absolutist and totalitarian governments which do not
mind whether they violate the right freedom for individuals cannot be good
states. In a well-doing state, there ought not to be oppression of any kind,
whether it is intellectual, political or economic. Each person’s opinion,
whether diverse, must be taken seriously, for each is considered as part of
the whole community, without whose freedom and virtue, the whole
community cannot be free and virtuous.

Now, the issues we are discussing here do not apply only on cases of
behavior and non-material conditions of life. A state is not rich because a
few individuals are rich, but because taken severally, the citizens have
enough wealth for themselves. If every individual has enough to satisfy the
basic needs, the whole state has enough to satisfy the basic needs. A state of
thirty million people cannot be said to be rich because ten thousand people
have too much wealth to a useless extent, whereas the rest are rendered
destitute. Less still can this state be said to be virtuous, for the grounds for
virtue are obviously eroded. Wealth is important for virtue, and is a state is
said to be virtuous by virtue of the fact that its members are virtuous, then all
the members must practice virtue, and it is evidence that wealth must belong
to these too. Now, in a state where only a very small section holds wealth,
with a very large section having no wealth at all, there cannot be the
practiced of virtue, by either section of the people. The larger section needs
wealth in order to have the leisure and freedom to practiced virtue. The
smaller section has wealth, but to an extent which cannot allow them to
practice virtue. Too much wealth makes their possessors over- assertive and
over-indulgent, and cannot be modest and wise. Only a moderate amount of
wealth can produce the condition for practicing virtue. If a state has to be a
good and integrated state, practicing virtue for its own sake, then every
individual must have a moderate amount of wealth, to provide the requisite
condition for doing well, and to avoid suspicion; to avoid one section of the
people remaining always, below the others in terms of material wealth, and
the others setting principle in the society. “.. if men are friends there is no
need justice between them; whereas merely to be just is not enough—a
feeling of friendship is also necessary.”1

The issue of sovereignty seems a much contested issue, especially to

the contemporary man, who is aware that there is no more slavery of any
human being in any way, at least in principle. Political sovereignty is
basically the sovereignty of states and the individuals within them. No state
may possibly pronounce itself sovereign, which is state under the
supervision and subjection of another state. The same must be said of
individuals too. Nobody may possibly pronounce himself as free without at
the same time announcing that he is not a slave of anybody, or community
of people.

Now, as it seems that the sovereignty of a state first means that its
individuals must all be free and sovereign most states seem not to
understand sovereignty in this way. Sovereignty seems to be understood
only in the larger context of one state not being subject of another. This,
however, seems to be a misplaced emphasis. Sovereignty must not be
considered only along territorial bounds, but most importantly from within
the states. The sovereignty of a state in our reckoning first means the
sovereignty of individuals. Without the individuals there cannot be the state,
and it would be absurd for the citizens of a state to be slaves, yet the state
claims to be sovereign. The degree of “internal sovereignty”; the sovereignty
of the individual members of the state, should determine the degree of
external sovereignty”; sovereignty in relation to other states, that the state
commands. This is especially so when we consider the fact that a state which
has its members all slaves, shall not have patriots to defend it against
external subjection. Its members are all disgruntled, and ready to sell it to
any prospective provider of the much more desired goods, be they material
or intellectual. A state which upholds “internal sovereignty” as important
however, shall have patriots who will make sure that the state is not subject
to any external oppressive rule. A state which has as many political and
ideological prisoners composing half its total population risks losing its
sovereignty to other states. It shall have patriots and statesmen to defend it
from foreign enslavement, for those who would do this themselves would
need external forces to free them from internal enslavement. Internal
enslavement In point of fact, is the destruction of the state.

Now, there is a close connection between the problem of individual

sovereignty in the state and what we call here political functionalism.
Political functionalism is a complex process which involves manipulation of
citizens in such a way that they become tools functioning to deliver political
power to a few privileged people at the top. It is a process which is mostly
prevalent in democracies, where demagogues take bands of the people and
use them to sow quarrels among the members of the state, to keep them
divided in order to manipulate them easily. Tyrannies and oligarchies also
have this. Political functionalism is a very potent tool for monopoly of

Now this political tactic may take various very subtle and intricate
forms. One thing, however, is important to remember, that it is practiced in
deviations of states; in states which do not place the performance of virtue
central. Every state whose concern is not the well-being of its members has
at least a means of reducing its members to mere functionaries.

The most rampant ways of doing this include among others,

structuring of education to baser concerns; impoverishing the citizens
economically, thus making them always in want of what to eat; promoting
only a few people to positions of power, cutting off the rest from knowing
and handling weighty affairs of state concern; dividing people along
preferred sections (in our days the division is along the lines of the tribes in
a state).

The structure of education in states shows the kind of life the state
wants for its members, whether it is a life of ignorance and slavery, or
whether it is a life of intelligence and freedom. A state, as Aristotle says,
must structure a kind of education which aims at creating liberal minds. The
teachings of liberal arts must be instrumental in this. Now it is agreed that
the state also needs goods of fortune to be able to practice nobility in action.
These too and they way to get them must be taught to citizens. Nevertheless,
these must not predominantly a state’s education as happens in states which
disregards the importance of virtue. States which do not intend intelligence
and freedom for their members do not allow for the inclusion of liberal
education into the school curriculum. This helps to keep the citizens
ignorant, condition which makes it easy to enslave the people. To make
people predominantly wealth oriented and to deny them liberal knowledge is
to deny them the means necessary for reflection upon their life. The mental
development becomes entirely wanting in them and do not care whether the
state is concerned with nobility or not. They will not be concerned with
nobility. Their aim is to Ames wealth to useless extent, and this for them
constitutes development. But this is the basis upon which the creator of any
society spells doom for that very society; it is a “society of pigs and
scavengers” where everyman eats everyman, which society cannot survive.

Education must include training in liberal disciplines, which impact

the importance of virtue suffers internal unrest and subsequent destruction
always. It is with a proper disposition of the mind that goods of fortune
become more dangerous and of all things they become tools for destruction
rather than necessary for good life. Training in the use of goods of fortune
must rest upon that of virtue, without which base the society is destroyed.

The sway that political practitioners want hold of power makes them
enjoy the sufferings of the masses, and lay strategies to perpetuate that
suffering. Aware that the people shall not have any need of them if the
people have the basic necessities, politicians work to impoverish the people
so that the people may always be kept in want of help from the leaders.
People are normally self-assertive when their life is materially average. The
politicians however, get his power from, and exercise it over, people who are
poor and so not self-assertive. This makes the politicians amass so much
wealth, impoverishing the masses in the process, so that the poor masses
may always look upon him as a blessed man who holds the right to power
since he has wealth. In fact, wealth has been so closely associated with
political power that to think of a poor man vying for a political post is
abominable for the people, the rich no less than the poor.

Now this and other means of keeping power and making people tools
for political gains, come because of lack in goods of the intellect. Of course
it is accepted that wealth is necessary for life, and more so for political life,
but his must not be above nobility, as we have revealed in the foregoing
argument. Where wealth becomes of more account than virtue, the
community as we have remarked, becomes that of “pigs and scavengers”
and such is obviously contrary to the aim of a state.


The human society is that meant especially for the sake of attaining
man’s highest good, which good is moral fulfillment or well-being. The
ultimate and requisite human satisfaction is in the attainment of his moral
good. All human man oeuvre, we intimate, aims either directly or indirectly
at this end, and if this end is not fulfilled, man will always be in turmoil with
himself and with his neighbor consequently. There shall be and imbalance,
which if not corrected, the society shall be impoverished and destroyed.

How to find a lasting solution for this turmoil, which always finds its
residence in human societies, is perhaps the greatest of all human problems.
The general run of mankind think that the solution is found in possessing
colossal amounts of material wealth, rather than moral wealth. No sooner do
they possess large amounts of materials wealth under their command, than
they feel an increase in their unfulfilment and emptiness. The large amounts
of material wealth and power create only a wider moral gap-always

The opinion which seems to prevail and endure over the rest is that of
national moral heritage, for any state which needs and aims well-being for
its members. This needs to be achieved by all means, for this seems to be the
only way that the moral emptiness which makes living together for people a
source of danger, rather than a source of fulfillment may be achieved and
maintained. The virtuous should be instrumental in teaching a moral
doctrine which should be followed by the state, and the training in this must
find primary consideration in school curriculum. The virtuous must not fear
to force their will over the many but non-virtuous, for fear of persecution.
This is cowardice contrary to virtue. The example of Socrates seems too
hard an example for people to follow, but his seems to be the best example.
The virtuous Socrates defended his nations against its adversaries, but also
defended the nations against it self. An insurrection for the sake of nobility
is better than a massive bloodshed caused by naught, slavery and greed of
the non-virtuous. People inferior in morally plausible deeds must be
prevailed upon not to tale charge of weighty affairs. Poor they in moral
goods, these people will impoverish the people over whom they shall be
placed-and as such, they should be denied any privileges’ over the people.

The theory we advance here can ne called the theory of “preferential

treatment”.1 Preferential treatment is warranted where and when it is
relevant to the issue in question. It is detrimental to a state that its top-most
governor be a merchant and a person skilled in usury, when there are people
well trained in civil government. This could obviously be a misplacement of
responsibilities, upon which poor management is consequent. Most
importantly, those who have reputable moral integrity must be charged with
weighty affairs at the neglect of those who are inferior in moral repute. This
arrangement is sure enough to produce a strong culture of moral uprightness
which shall be inherited by the following generations. This seems in out
opinion, to be the best way to be followed by states, to achieve a good life
which is fulfilling to both the ruling and the ruled.


The thesis has been mainly concerned to find out in Aristotle political
treatise, a work rather unconnected and illogical, a general running thread
which forms the basis of the work. Also it has been the concern of the thesis
to disentangle the line of thought which seems to represent the authentic
Aristotle, from what scholars have suppose to betray a tradition of a school
rather than the though of a single thinker. Ultimately, an attempt has been
made to identify certain implications of this on the present society in
general, and to draw certain conclusions from Aristotle which are pertinent
to good living for the present time.

Generally, Aristotle outlines a political theory which we call a

“humanist political theory”. By “human political theory” is meant that
political theory which considers the individual as well as the communal
welfare, betterment, fullness of life, and true happiness as a matter of prime
concern. Politics must be politics looking toward individual and communal
excellence. Aristotle goes against radical philosophies which conceive of the
state as “…. Only machine for the protection of life and property”.1

In Aristotle, we learn “…. That ethics and political are inseparable;

that we must not do evil in order to gain power: and that the justice of the
state and the justice of the individual are the same.”2

We learn to blend the role of the state and that of the individual, and
to upload both as important and necessary for each other. Aristotle’s politics
is that of moderation and not of unlimited will to power; it not of the will to
surmount man and arise above all else as the superman,3 or as the
Leviathan,4 ruling all like slaves. Aristotle goes against the rule of the man
“delivered from the gods and worship, fearless and fear-inspiring, great and
lonely” a man for whom there is nothing grave enough not to be done.5
virtue is indispensable in Aristotle’s politics. He does not conceive of it as
“preachers of death”. The destruction of virtue is the destruction of the state;
once virtue has been destroyed in a state, then the state becomes an
invention, a snare for the superfluous, which as Nietzsche contends, must be
killed for the sake of better things. This is Nietzsche’s state, whose death
leads yet to another death, the death of the good life by the introduction of
the necessary man.

Where the state ceaseth, there beginneth the man which is not superfluous;
there beginneth the song of the necessary man, the single, irreplaceable
melody. Where the state ceaseth, I pray you look there, my brethren/Do
you see it, the rainbow, the bridge to the superman?

This is the teaching of a destroyer of humanity, for to construct the

state without virtue is to destroy the state, and the state thus destroyed
through the rule of the superman who considers taking note of what is
virtuous suggests weakness of the intellect, is the ultimate destruction of the
whole humanity.

Aristotle teaches a philosophy of politics which keeps peace, law and

order central. In Aristotle “…we acknowledge that the best form of
government is that which is most permanent, and that the freedom of the
individual when carried to an extreme is suicidal,” but also that the
subordination of the individual to the state, if pushed to an extreme is
equally suicidal.

Aristotle’s thought, we maintain, is of primal practical significance. It

is only in his principle of moral excellence that the problems continually
besetting human societies can find adequate solution. Aristotle however,
never saw that this principle is so rigid that it cannot allow for any
dishonesty. Certain theories and practices he sanctioned are simply
outrageous. “Aristotle was no believer in equality.” This is dangerous for the
teacher of virtue and the father of metaphysics.

Aristotle’s philosophy lays grounds for the subordination of women.

Strangely enough, Aristotle thought that women are of a nature inferior to
men. There mental capacity he says is not fully developed as that of men are.
Of children too, Aristotle taught what is intolerable. He did not consider
children autonomous beings, just for the mere fact that the child is still
growing and has not reached the fullness of development. Children then
cannot be regarded as human beings in Aristotle’s frame-work but Aristotle
by so denying the child fullness of humanity, lays grounds for abuse of
children, for if they are not fully human, they will not have cause for
complaint if they are denied a human right. What is more absurd than this,
Now, most absurd perhaps of all the absurdities we have exposed here
is the fact that Aristotle, of all the philosophers, sanctioned slavery, of all
practices. Basing his argument on the conventional theory, as E. Barker
suggests, Aristotle constructs a theory which sadly perpetuates slavery.
There cannot be slaves by nature as Aristotle wants his readers to believe. A
person’s physical appearance has nothing to do at all with his mental
disposition. Aristotle wants to build his justification for natural slavery on a
wobbling foundation; that people of robust physique are made for hard
manual labor and so are slaves. This is a non-sense, strangely coming from

In general, the dichotomy that Aristotle notices between human beings

does not exist, at least in the manner that Aristotle notices it. Meeting
Aristotle on his own field, we pronounce that every human being is a
substance of a rational nature, and this is what spells the human being, not
the time the person is born, the physical anatomy, or any other accidental
character of a person. It is Aristotle himself who defined a man in words still
current today: man is a rational being. It becomes particularly difficult to
understand how Aristotle could so dishonestly establish categories between
human beings, whom sense experience shows to be fundamentally the same
in nature. This is still more difficult to understand of the inductive thinker,
who operates from the facts of experience, and has as a guiding principle,
the theory of moral excellence which commands honesty. Virtue requires
that we become inflexibly committed to truth and honesty and not be
adapted to conditions for the sake of some influence, even if it be the threat
of pain and discomfort inflicted on us. To hold that certain people are lower
than others as Aristotle seems to maintain is not only a contradiction, but
exhibits too, a notoriously dishonest disposition.

One more point may be advanced against Aristotle. This concerns the
state and its development. Aristotle’s is an organic conception of the state,
that is, it conceives the state as a living organ, developing naturally from the
primitive stages, to its full and mature development. This seems to be the
most rational conceivable theory of the offspring of the state, carrying off all
the credits from rest of the theories. But Aristotle limits the state to a
retarded development. He limits the size of a state to about 10,000 sq. miles
which limit does not notice that the “organic state” needs a larger space for
development. Seeing his pupil Alexander the Great, expanding his sway on
the world, Aristotle should have immediately thought of global state, a state
for which his theory lays good grounds for.
Now, we make as a last statement that the theory of moral virtue is
supreme to all other theories upon which any conceivable political
community may be founded. Any political practitioner must make central
aim of performing noble actions and the political situation satisfying every
citizen shall thus be achieved.


Allan, the philosophy of Aristotle. 2nd ed. London: Oxford University

press, 1970.

Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics. With an English translator by H.

Rackham. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1970

---------------, Politics. Trans. with intro. By T.A Sinclair, Middlesex:

penguin books, 1959