Aristotle's Political Virtues Essay

3432 words - 14 pages

Aristotle's Political Virtues

ABSTRACT: This paper argues that Aristotle conceives happiness not primarily as an exercise of virtue in private or with friends, but as the exercise of virtue in governing an ideal state. The best states are knit together so tightly that the interests of one person are the same as the interests of all. Hence, a person who acts for his or her own good must also act for the good of all fellow citizens. It follows that discussions of Aristotle’s altruism and egoism are misconceived.

Why does Aristotle think that the good life must be lived in a state (polis)? It is usually supposed that the state serves to provide the security and stability that individuals need for virtuous acts.(1) Though it is also recognized that participating in the governing of the state could play some important, or even necessary, role in a good life, the predominant view is that happiness is mostly pursued individually or with friends.(2) Such private pursuits seem to R. G. Mulgan a bulwark protecting individual ends from subordination to those of the state.(3) The idea that happiness is a private pursuit is implicit in the contrast, formerly drawn often, between the egoism of ancient ethicists and the properly moral analyses of modern philosophers.(4) Recent writers have attacked this contrast, pointing to the importance Aristotle accords concern for others in friendship (philia) and the centrality of friendship in happiness.(5) Yet they, too, presume that happiness is mainly a private pursuit, for they imagine that concern for others manifests itself when the other's interest conflicts with one's own—as if, even among friends, personal interests must conflict and the person who furthers the interests of his friend does so only with some detriment to his own.(6) That a happy life mostly involves the cultivation and exercise of personal virtues, whether alone or with friends, is an assumption that interpreters have brought to Aristotle without, I believe, offering evidence. On the contrary, instead of individual virtue aided by a concerned friend, Aristotle's account of the best friendships emphasizes mutual interest and common activity. In this paper I shall go a step further: happiness not only requires living with friends in a state, but consists of governing a state. My aim is to show that Aristotle maintains that the best states are knit together so tightly that the interests of one person are the same as the interests of all and that the virtues he describes in his ethics are meant to be exercised in the governance of such a state.(7) It is just because governing the state (or rather the polis) fulfills the individual's potential for acts of virtue that the state is said, in the Politics, to be "by nature."


That some virtues are best exercised in political activity(8) can be seen from their definitions. Courage, for example, is a disposition toward a particular behavior in battle: "Properly (kurios) the courageous man...

Find Another Essay On Aristotle's Political Virtues

Aristotle: Why a life of contemplation is the happiest.

1200 words - 5 pages In Book X of the Nichomachean Ethics, Aristotle discusses the various lives that people lead in order to achieve true happiness. He suggests a particular few to be the best candidates for this, yet concludes the most pleasant to be the contemplative life. In this essay, I will examine Aristotle's reasons for believing that a life of contemplation and reason is the best one. I will also show how his argument is not persuasive due to his lack of

Compare and contrast the concepts of eudaimonia and happiness, and their respective roles in the ethical philosophies of Aristotle and Mill

2188 words - 9 pages a fundamental difference between them though, and this is related to the consideration of others in their doctrines.From the first line of the Nicomachean ethics; 'Every art and every enquiry, and similarly every action and pursuit is thought to aim at some good; and for this reason the good has rightly been declared to be that at which all things aim' (1094a19), Aristotle's ethical philosophy can be concluded. There are two basic aspects to

Aristotle vs. Hobbes: Equality.

2365 words - 9 pages equality would have applied to all citizens who participate in the political life of the city-state in which they live. By doing so, they would have acquired the human virtues and excellences, as well as achieve their natural telos as a "political animal" (Aristotle, p. 4). Only within a city-state, citizens are able to participate and enhance their political and practical reason, thus reach their human telos. As such, the city-state is "among

Comparing Plato and Aristotle

2127 words - 9 pages mastery of these abilities is called intellectual virtue. There are many similarities between Plato's and Aristotle's work considering Plato was once Aristotle's teacher. However there are also many differences. Plato claims there are three virtues in a stable state: wisdom, courage, and moderation. Aristotle says there are only two virtues: intellectual and moral. In Book II of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics he uses the idea of the mean to

Aristotle's Views on Citizenship

1606 words - 6 pages Aristotle's Views on 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


1676 words - 7 pages Aristotle 'is by nature a political animal'. Aristotle's view of humanity, nature and politics was rooted in the social life of Ancient Greece, and was very different from our own. His father was a doctor and a royal physician, and this medical background may have started Aristotle's interest in science. When Plato died in 347B.C, Aristotle left Athens. He joined a small group of Platonists in Assos on the eastern coast of Aegean. In 343 B.C Aristotle

Aristotle's Legacy in the Federalist Papers

2047 words - 8 pages Aristotle's Legacy in the Federalist Papers While the government of the United States owes its existence to the contents and careful thought behind the Constitution, some attention must be given to the contributions of a series of essays called the Federalist Papers towards this same institution. Espousing the virtues of equal representation, these documents also promote the ideals of competent representation for the populace and were

Explain Aristotle's belief that the "right attitude to property" is the key to justice in the household.

1649 words - 7 pages Aristotle as a philosopher on a variety of subjects approached his work with a unique scientific teleological argument, asserting that everything in nature has a specific function and a purpose to fulfil it. Intrinsical to his argument is his claim that "man is a political animal", meaning that only within a civic community, or Polis can he successfully fulfil his purpose in life, to achieve Eudaimonia. Literally translated, this is taken to

The King

778 words - 3 pages Aristotle), I want you to show how the person you have chosen embodies something like Aristotle's " prudent man [or woman]" / "man [or woman] of practical wisdom." In other words, I want you to focus on two related questions:1. What does it mean to be a person of good moral character according to virtue ethics?2. It what ways does the person you have chosen measure up as a person of good moral character?In answering these questions do not be

Proof of Courage

1513 words - 6 pages The problem with the definitions of courage that we covered through the course of this semester is that they are very narrow yet the basic definitions are too broad. As a result of this, each needs to limit the scope of the definition at length. Do we really separate definition of courage for each specific circumstance? Just to name a few, we have battlefield valor, political courage, courage to partake in burdened virtues, religious courage

Human Nature And The Declaration Of Independence

1487 words - 6 pages couldn't belive in it) he comes to a different conclusion that doesn't agree what the founding fathers said. Aristotle's begins by analyzing the political structure starting at what he see's as the most basic of human unions (man and woman). Aristotle writes,      "In the first place there must be a union of those who can not exist without each other; namely of male and female, that the race may continue (and

Similar Essays

Aristotle His Life, Works, And Influence

1223 words - 5 pages . Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics is an analysis of character and intelligence as they relate to happiness. Aristotle distinguished two kinds of human virtues: moral and intellectual. Moral virtue is an expression of character, formed by habits reflecting repeated choices. A moral virtue is always a mean between two less desirable extremes. Courage, for example, is a mean between being a coward and and being rash. Intellectual virtues are not subject to

Magnanimity. Essay

1757 words - 7 pages honors the magnanimous man claims for himself do not benefit himself alone, for those honors necessarily entail exertion on behalf of the political community. On the basis of Aristotle's argument in book 2 of the Nicomachean Ethics, one must conclude that the great-souled man does owe his virtue in large part to someone else. A magnanimous man's moral excellence, and hence his worthiness of great honors, can be said to be to a great extent the

Aristotle: His Messages Of Virtue And Moderation In Politics

1409 words - 6 pages relevance of ideals to practicalpolitics, the causes and cures of political change and revolution,and the importance of a morally educated citizenry. He stressed thatthe ideal citizen and ruler must possess certain virtues, such aswisdom, temperance and courage. And the work as a whole echoesAristotle's dominant theme of moderation. Politics is an excellenthistorical source because of the close tie Aristotle had to theeveryday business of government

The Life And Works Of Aristotle

2258 words - 9 pages later, astronomers and poets alike admired his concept of the universe. Zoology rested on Aristotle's work until Charles Darwin modified the doctrine of the changelessness of species in the 19th century. In the 20th century a new appreciation has developed of Aristotle's method and its relevance to education, literary criticism, the analysis of human action, and political analysis.Not only the discipline of zoology, but the world of learning as a whole, seems to amply justify Darwin's remark that the intellectual heroes of his own time 'were mere schoolboys compared to old Aristotle.'