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Essay on Aristotle And Citizenship
For Aristotle the human is "by nature" destined to live in a political association. Yet not all who live in the political association are citizens, and not all citizens are given equal share in the power of association. The idea of Polity is that all citizens should take short turns at ruling (VII, 1332 b17-27). It is an inclusive form of government: everyone has a share of political power. Aristotle argues that citizen are those who are able to participate in the deliberative and judicial areas of government (III, 1279a32-34). However, not all who live in a political association are citizens. Women, children, slaves, and alien residents are not citizens. Some groups; the rich, the poor, those who come from noble families and the virtuous, can claim power in the state.

Polis exits by nature, and human beings are naturally adapted to live in a Polis (II, 1253a1-3). Initially appears the family. Then several families amalgamate to form a village. When several villages amalgamate into a community large enough to be self-sufficient, they form a state, "Polis". Polis "comes to be for the sake of living, but it remains in existance for the sake of living well" (II, 1252 b28). According to Aristotle, studying the mature and fully developed specimen is the best way to understand the nature of being. To comprehend the nature of the thing one does not need to look to its origin but to its full development.

Every city-state exists by NATURE, since the first communities do. For the city-state is their end, and nature is an end; for we say that each thing's nature […] is the character it has when its coming-into-being has been completed. Moreover, that for the sake that something exists [its end], is best, and self-sufficiency is both end and best. [...] Then, a city-state is among the things that exist by nature, [consequently] a human being is by nature a political animal" (I, 1252 b29-1253 a3).

A "political animal" means an animal whose nature is to live in a Polis or city, not isolated or in small groups. Civilization is the natural state for the human animal. It is the natural state not in the sense that it is the original state, but in the sense that the natural goal of human development is life in cities.

Aristotle recognizes that "There is a natural distinction, […] between what is female and what is servile" (I, 1252 b1-2). However, they are normally subordinate to men: "…the relation of male to female is that of natural superior to natural inferior, and that of ruler to ruled" (I, 1254 b13-15). Women and children are ruled, not as slaves for the master's benefit, but for their own good, just as the rulers of a city must seek the good of the citizens, not the good of the rulers. The rule of husband over wife is a "constitutional" government. The rule of father over children is "royal" government.

"For a man rules his wife and children both as free people, but not in the same way: instead, he rules his wife the way a state man does, and his children the way a king does. For a male, unless he is somehow constituted contrary to nature, is naturally more fitted to rule then a female and someone older and completely developed is naturally more fitted to lead then some one younger and incompletely developed" (I, 1259a 39-1259b 4).

The relation of husband to wife is like the relationship of ruler to ruled in a constitutional government. In which citizens take turns to rule because the natures of the citizens are equal and do not differ at all, though it is customary to pay the rulers special respect; but in marriage, there is a permanent inequality.

"In most cases of rule the statesmen, it is true, people take turns at ruling and being ruled, because they tend by nature to be on an equal footing and to differ in nothing. Nevertheless, whenever one person is ruling and another being ruled, the one ruling tries to distinguish him-self in demeanor, title, or rank from the ruled; […] Male is permanently related to female in this way"(I, 1259 b5-9).

Slaves and women have virtues however they are always subordinate to free men. In Politics book one chapter 13, Aristotle makes a distinction between parts of the soul and kinds of virtue. He makes a distinction within the reason. One-part rules and the other is ruled. One part of the soul is deliberative/reasonable, it reasons, draws conclusions. The other is persuadable, the irrational/emotional part of the soul. It is reasonable in the sense that it is persuadable by reasoning, because the emotions are persuadable. Corresponding to the two reasonable parts of the soul there are two sets of virtues: intellectual and moral virtues. Intellectual virtues are of the reasoning ability. Moral virtues are of the persuadable part, the part of the soul that is capable of being influenced by reasoning. Slaves can have only the virtues belonging to the part of the soul that is influenced by reasoning, while women can also have the intellectual virtues, but in a subordinate way. "deliberative part of the soul is entirely missing from a SLAVE; a WOMAN has it but it lacks authority" (I, 1260 a12-13).

Aristotle never questions why a woman's deliberative faculty is without authority. He concludes that all human beings including slaves have moral virtue. All free men and women have intellectual virtue. However, in women the moral and intellectual virtues are marked by subordination.

"It is evident, then, that all those mentioned [i.e. to women, slaves and free men] have virtue of character, and that temperance, courage, and justice are not the same as those of women, as Socrates supposed: the courage is that of a ruler, the other that of an assistant, and similarly in the case of other virtues too" (I, 1260a 20-23).

Aristotle accepts the customary subordination of women to men without being able to justify it. Aristotle argues that some should rule and others be ruled. However, this is not proof that slavery is natural. Aristotle states that there are several kinds of rule "Despotical", "constitutional", "royal" (I, 1254 b4-5). Rule over slaves is only one kind.

In book VII of the Politics, Aristotle views that the virtuous (chapters 4-8) should hold power. "Rule" is something complex, done by means of many organs, control over which may be allocated in various ways to various sections of the population. Artisans or employees in farming or industry are instruments; human beings who are means to production of artifacts. "The citizens should not live the life of a vulgar craftsmen [artisans] or tradesmen. For lives of these sorts are ignoble and inimical to virtue" (VII, 1328 b40). Citizens live the life of virtuous activity, and farmers and artisans, who cannot live such a life, are excluded from citizenship. "Nor should those who are going to be citizens engage in farming, since leisure time is needed to develop virtue and to engage in political actions" (VII, 1328 b40-42).

The deliberative assembly should consist of the warriors, or older men of the warrior class. For those who control the weapons also control whether a constitution will survive or not" (VII, 1329 a12) This is just, and is founded upon a principle of conformity to merit. Various governmental functions are shared by the elders, while the men of military age perform the function of defending the Polis and are trained in the administration which they are to exercise later in life (VII, chapter 14). The ruling class should be the owners of property, for they are citizens, the citizens of a state should be in good circumstances. Artisans or any other class, which is not a producer of virtue, has no share in the state.

In Aristotle's view, the significant dividing line in politics is between rich and poor. The best practicable constitution will be one in which the interests of these two groups are balanced in a fusion of democracy and oligarchy; it is best because it is just and stable. "have them participate in deliberation and judgment […] but prevent them from holding the office alone" (III, 1281 b30). This combines oligarchy and democracy. To Aristotle, the best practicable state is the state in which some political functions are assigned to the many poor and other functions to the few rich, to produce a balance of the classes. How the balance is best achieved depends on circumstances. The balanced constitution may be called aristocracy or, if it is more democratic, "Polity".

For Aristotle the human is "by nature" destined to live in a political association. Yet women, children, slaves, and alien residents are not citizens. Only various groups; the rich, the poor, those who come from noble families and the virtuous, can share in the power of association. Artisans, trades persons, and those who do not own property are not given equal share in power of the state. They are not "citizens" in respect to ruling. Polity is "a mixture of oligarchy and democracy" (IV, 1293 b34), is an attempt to combine the freedom of the poor majority and the wealth of the rich minority (IV, 1294 a17). Rule is a complex of activities that can be allocated to different social categories. Polity is the form of government in which different organs of government are controlled by different sections of the population, in such a way that both rich and poor have a share of power. Because power is shared by all categories, all take turns to rule.


Reeve, C..D.C. trans. Aristotle Politics (Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, 1998)


Reeve, C..D.C. trans. Aristotle Politics (Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, 1998)
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