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In relation to Aristotle's books Politics 1 and 2, how can you argue that all humans are social or political beings and what can you argue against that? What kind of arguments can be brought up against it?

  • First off welcome to philosophy.SE. This is a pretty big question. Are you asking for personal enrichment or homework? Also, there are many kinds of arguments that can be brought up against anything, so that's a very broad thing to ask about. – virmaior Oct 8 '18 at 5:41
  • I am asking for homework – Abhed Manocha Oct 8 '18 at 5:42
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    See Aristotle's Political Theory. – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Oct 8 '18 at 7:07
  • @MauroALLEGRANZA I have read that. And i want to know what kind of arguments can be brought against it and what can be aristotle's response to it. I have made one objection to his theory "they existed as individuals even in the state of nature where they had their own morals and aspirations." – Abhed Manocha Oct 8 '18 at 9:05
  • @ Abhed Manocha. I've added a bit to my answer. – Geoffrey Thomas Oct 8 '18 at 11:40
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Welcome, Abhed Manocha.

The thesis

The first point to note is that when Aristotle says that the human being is a political animal (zoon politikon - Politics I.i) he does not mean merely that we are gregarious, inclined to live in groups and to have some kind of political system. His idea is much more specific. He means that human flourishing or the good life (eudaimonia) consists in virtuous activity that can only take place in a specific institution, namely the self-governing city state (polis) in which citizens take turn and turn about in governing and being governed. Accordingly the polis or city-state belongs to the class of things that exist by nature (phusis) rather than convention (nomos). The polis is part of the natural order of things.

The polis is a koinonia (Politics I.ii), which implies a community, a group that acts together in pursuit of some goal, end or purpose of which they all approve. This purpose need not be worthy of approval. Only the true koinonia pursues the true good, which is the life of virtuous activity in which eudaimonia consists.

The polis, the zoon polikon, virtue (arete) and eudaimonia fit together in the following way. Only in the polis can a human being, as a zoon politikon, acquire the moral education by which the virtues can be gained and exercised. In the exercise of the virtues - listed in the Nicomachean Ethics - human flourishing consists. More than that, the virtue of practical wisdom (phronesis) is most fully exercised by taking part in the government of the polis - in the life of active citizenship with the extra responsibilities that the consequences of collective decision-making involve.

Objections

The Sophists objected to Aristotle's view of the polis, arguing that it was not a natural institution but merely a matter of convention, a contingent political unit set up for mutual convenience.

Also Aristotle talks of the human good and human flourishing as if these were objective realities but it is hard to see how Aristotle could prove their objectivity. Aristotle's views were connected with a pattern of ideas about a coherent and rational world (kosmos) in which each species had an essential nature and a telos, a goal or particular good towards which its development inherently tended. This teleological, purposive, goal-based view of reality does not fit well with modern ideas of relativism and the lack of purpose which we associate with evolution.

It is also questionable how much scope there is in a modern, complex, heterogeneous society for the community to act together in pursuit of some goal, end or purpose of which they all approve.

Aristotle's defence

  1. Aristotle can argue against the Sophists that their idea that the polis as merely a matter of convention, a contingent political unit set up for mutual convenience, misses important facts. The growth-point of the polis is the fact that some form of social organisation is by any standards a necessity of human life. Sexual unions, households, communities such as villages or small groups, are traceable from the earliest stages of human history. In important respects human beings are 'incapable of existing without each other' (Politics, I.2). This is the basis of the polis. Aristotle does not maintain that human thought and intention play no part in the creation of this particular institution - in this sense it is contingent and a product of human artifice - but it has its roots in and embodies the fact of mutual human dependency.

  2. Aristotle's conception of the essentially 'political' nature of human beings, in the specific sense defined above, is the point of intersection of an elaborate system of ideas connecting politics, ethics, metaphysics, and the philosophy of mind. Whatever we may think of his idea of human beings as 'political animals' it cannot be torn out of the context of this system and dismissed by mere reference to relativism and evolutionary theory. This doesn't make Aristotle's conception valid but it does point to supplementary defences which need to be dealt with before (and if) his conception is dismissed.

  3. Whether in a modern, complex, heterogeneous society the conditions are right or even possible for the kind of moral-based politics Aristotle describes is our problem, Aristotle might reply, not his. Aristotle lays down a range of conditions in which his kind of politics can be pursued. One is size; a vast city such as Babylon cannot accommodate the kind of political life he desiderates (Politics, III.3). Another is that while the extreme unity that Plato outlines in the Republic is unrealistic and undesirable ((Politics, II.2), a polis riven by factions or by great differences of wealth between the citizens is also unsustainable (Politics, V.7, VI.3). The fact that we cannot reproduce the political conditions under which Aristotle's political ideas can be adopted does not invalidate those ideas.

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Reading

The Politics, Aristotle, Trevor Saunders (revised by), T. Sinclair (translator), ISBN 10: 0140444211 / ISBN 13: 9780140444216 Published by Penguin Books Ltd 1981-09-17, London, 1981.

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    And in what ways can Aristotle respond to these objections? – Abhed Manocha Oct 8 '18 at 17:30
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    Aristotle's self-defence added. Best - GT – Geoffrey Thomas Oct 9 '18 at 9:39
  • and how can one object against his self defence? I am trying to connect the argument of john locke and Jean jacques rosseau and how will they object against aristotle – Abhed Manocha Oct 19 '18 at 18:28
  • You need to ask a separate question about Aristotle and Rousseau. That will be fine. Best - GT – Geoffrey Thomas Oct 19 '18 at 18:37
  • You asked for objections, then how Aristotle could defend himself against these objections. You now ask for objections to his self-defence. This could go on for ever. I'm not being negatively critical but it seems to me that the Original Question only asked for objections to Aristotle's view. Write back if you wanto to explain more - I'm here to help. But I definitely think Rousseau needs to go into a separate question just as you put Locke into a separate question. All the best - GT – Geoffrey Thomas Oct 19 '18 at 18:48

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