Lecture 1 – Aristotle, “Political Community and the Good Life”
Asterisks indicate points of particular importance.
I. Introduction to Aristotle
1. Life of Aristotle (384-322 B.C.E.)
384 – born in Stagira, son of court physician to King of Macedon.
366 – sent to study at Plato’s Academy in Athens at age 17.
347-348 – Plato dies; Aristotle leaves Athens for Asia Minor.
343 – Invited by King Phillip of Macedon to tutor his son, Alexander.
335 – Returns to Athens, opens his own school, the Lyceum.
323-322 – Death of Alexander the Great; Aristotle leaves Athens for Chalcis; dies.
2. Aristotle’s Cast of Thought
The mathematician; geometer
The developmental biologist
3. Political Philosophy & Human Nature
Like many philosophers, Aristotle conceives of political philosophy as based on an understanding of human nature.
II. The Political Community
1. Aristotle’s Politics politika = “things concerning the polis” polis = “state,” “city,” “city-state”
2. Polis, Community, and Good
Opening of the Politics:
“Every polis is a community of some kind, and every community is established with a view to some good; for mankind always act in order to obtain that which they think good.”
3. What is a Political Community?
1) What is a community?
“community” = koinonia
“common” = koinos
2) ***What kind of community is the polis?***
Is it like a household, a military alliance, a business partnership?
What kind of good is it oriented toward?
Who are the members of the polis?
What’s the relationship between individual and polis?
How is the polis ruled? Like a man over his household?
What sorts of things do the inhabitants have in common? “Should a well ordered state have all things, as far as may be, in common, or some only and not others?” (Pol. II.1)
4. What is a polis? -- Aristotle’s Method
5. The Parts and Generation of the Polis
6. ***Relation between Individual and Polis*** (Pol. I.2)
“The polis is by nature clearly prior to the family and to the individual...”
“Man is by nature a political animal.”
The polis is a creation of nature.
7. ***The Good of the Polis***
“every community is established with a view to some good” (Pol. I.1)
The polis originates in the bare needs of life, and continues in existence for the sake of the good life. (Pol. I.2).
“A polis is not a mere society, having a common place, established for the prevention of mutual crime and for the sake of exchange. These are conditions without which a polis cannot exist; but all of them together do not constitute a polis, which is a community of families and aggregations of families in well-being, for the sake of a perfect and self-sufficing life.” (Pol. III.9).
8. Two Questions
1) Why exactly is the polis directed toward the good life?
Might it not be possible for the polis to serve its function as a precondition of the good life without being directed toward the good life?
2) What is the good life?
III. The Good Life: Aristotle’s Ethics
1. Aristotle’s Philosophy of Human Action
“Every art and every inquiry, and similarly every action and pursuit, is thought to aim at some good” (NE I.1).
2. The Nature of the Human Good
This picture raises several questions about what is good for human beings:
Are the same things good for everyone? Or do different people have different goods?
Do we desire anything for its own sake? That is, are there any final goods?
If there are final goods, are there many, or is there a single final good for which everything is