The Politics

In the wake of last night's election, it is time to reexamine our ideas about what makes a legitimate government, and our relationship to the state.  Joseph W. says that we're down to persuasion or secession; persuasion is more desirable, because there is less danger of bloodshed, but clearly no extant arguments have been persuasive to the many.  We must think again on why we have a state, and what kind of state is desirable.  If we are to persuade, we must be persuasive; if we are to secede, we must know what we want to build.

For that reason, for a little while, we will be working through Aristotle's Politics -- just a bit every day, a workable amount that you can fit in to your lives.  I want to say a few things about the book to put it in context.

Aristotle was writing at the last hour of a grand political experiment that had little precedent in human history. The Greek city states had been organized in every possible way, from the pure democracy of Athens to the Spartan experiment to turn men into pure warriors.  There had been kings, there had been states ruled by a small group of aristocrats, and there had been democracies of different kinds.

Here as elsewhere in his thought, Aristotle was empirical:  this is a book about describing the kinds of government based on observation of how these governments have worked out in practice.  You will find that he doesn't have a clear answer to what kind of government is best.  The book is a taxonomy of kinds of governments, and the particular problems related to them.  It happens to be the case that the particular problem related to our current form, by the way, is just the one we currently observe:  the tendency of members of a democracy to vote themselves wealth, to be taken from others within the same state.

Although he does not finally prefer one system to another, Aristotle does have a standard against which he judges any form of government.  Aristotle's politics is linked to his ethics:  a state is righteous to the degree that it permits and encourages virtue in the individual.  The point of a good state is to permit a good man to live a good life.

Note that the state does not require virtue.  Plato's famous political works, the Republic and the Laws, were built around the question of whether and how the state could compel people to be better than they were inclined to be.  That is the Spartan project, more or less.  It led Plato to interesting places -- he was the ancient world's only advocate of complete female equality with men, for example, for reasons he spells out in the Republic.  On the other hand, he was also advocating complete government control of every aspect of life, including the breakup of families, in order to compel what he thought was the best kind of life.

That isn't what you'll find in Aristotle.  It's a different kind of book.  By coincidence, Aristotle's tutoring of Alexander the Great made this work irrelevant for centuries.  For that reason, throughout the middle ages, the Politics remained one of Aristotle's lead-read works, because no one was really thinking about the question of what kind of state to want.  It was only in the modern era that the question of designing a state from scratch became of interest again.

With that said, let's begin.  Remember that this is a voice from the ancient world, with very different assumptions about human and animal nature -- but with a great empirical insight into how men have organized societies, and what perils face each form of organization.  It happens to start with the issues most likely to cause intellectual rebellion in a contemporary American, questions of sexuality and slavery.  Struggle with those now, so you can see the value in what he is saying in spite of the cultural chasm.  What follows will be more interesting, the more you succeed in the opening struggle.

We'll read a few chapters every day.  Talk about whatever interests you in the comments.
Book One
Part I
Every state 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. But, if all communities aim at some good, the state or political community, which is the highest of all, and which embraces all the rest, aims at good in a greater degree than any other, and at the highest good.
Some people think that the qualifications of a statesman, king, householder, and master are the same, and that they differ, not in kind, but only in the number of their subjects. For example, the ruler over a few is called a master; over more, the manager of a household; over a still larger number, a statesman or king, as if there were no difference between a great household and a small state. The distinction which is made between the king and the statesman is as follows: When the government is personal, the ruler is a king; when, according to the rules of the political science, the citizens rule and are ruled in turn, then he is called a statesman.
But all this is a mistake; for governments differ in kind, as will be evident to any one who considers the matter according to the method which has hitherto guided us. As in other departments of science, so in politics, the compound should always be resolved into the simple elements or least parts of the whole. We must therefore look at the elements of which the state is composed, in order that we may see in what the different kinds of rule differ from one another, and whether any scientific result can be attained about each one of them.
Part II
He who thus considers things in their first growth and origin, whether a state or anything else, will obtain the clearest view of them. In the first place there must be a union of those who cannot exist without each other; namely, of male and female, that the race may continue (and this is a union which is formed, not of deliberate purpose, but because, in common with other animals and with plants, mankind have a natural desire to leave behind them an image of themselves), and of natural ruler and subject, that both may be preserved. For that which can foresee by the exercise of mind is by nature intended to be lord and master, and that which can with its body give effect to such foresight is a subject, and by nature a slave; hence master and slave have the same interest. Now nature has distinguished between the female and the slave. For she is not niggardly, like the smith who fashions the Delphian knife for many uses; she makes each thing for a single use, and every instrument is best made when intended for one and not for many uses. But among barbarians no distinction is made between women and slaves, because there is no natural ruler among them: they are a community of slaves, male and female. Wherefore the poets say,
"It is meet that Hellenes should rule over barbarians; "
as if they thought that the barbarian and the slave were by nature one.
Out of these two relationships between man and woman, master and slave, the first thing to arise is the family, and Hesiod is right when he says,
"First house and wife and an ox for the plough, "
for the ox is the poor man's slave. The family is the association established by nature for the supply of men's everyday wants, and the members of it are called by Charondas 'companions of the cupboard,' and by Epimenides the Cretan, 'companions of the manger.' But when several families are united, and the association aims at something more than the supply of daily needs, the first society to be formed is the village. And the most natural form of the village appears to be that of a colony from the family, composed of the children and grandchildren, who are said to be suckled 'with the same milk.' And this is the reason why Hellenic states were originally governed by kings; because the Hellenes were under royal rule before they came together, as the barbarians still are. Every family is ruled by the eldest, and therefore in the colonies of the family the kingly form ofgovernment prevailed because they were of the same blood. As Homer says:
"Each one gives law to his children and to his wives. "
For they lived dispersedly, as was the manner in ancient times. Wherefore men say that the Gods have a king, because they themselves either are or were in ancient times under the rule of a king. For they imagine, not onlythe forms of the Gods, but their ways of life to be like their own.
When several villages are united in a single complete community, large enough to be nearly or quite self-sufficing, the state comes into existence, originating in the bare needs of life, and continuing in existence for the sake of a good life. And therefore, if the earlier forms of society are natural, so is the state, for it is the end of them, and the nature of a thing is its end. For what each thing is when fully developed, we call its nature, whether we are speaking of a man, a horse, or a family. Besides, the final cause and end of a thing is the best, and to be self-sufficing is the end and the best.
Hence it is evident that the state is a creation of nature, and that man is by nature a political animal. And he who by nature and not by mere accident is without a state, is either a bad man or above humanity; he is like the
"Tribeless, lawless, hearthless one, "
whom Homer denounces- the natural outcast is forthwith a lover of war; he may be compared to an isolated piece at draughts.
Now, that man is more of a political animal than bees or any other gregarious animals is evident. Nature, as we often say, makes nothing in vain, and man is the only animal whom she has endowed with the gift of speech. And whereas mere voice is but an indication of pleasure or pain, and is therefore found in other animals (for their nature attains to the perception of pleasure and pain and the intimation of them to one another, and no further), the power of speech is intended to set forth the expedient and inexpedient, and therefore likewise the just and the unjust. And it is a characteristic of man that he alone has any sense of good and evil, of just and unjust, and the like, and the association of living beings who have this sense makes a family and a state.
Further, the state is by nature clearly prior to the family and to the individual, since the whole is of necessity prior to the part; for example, if the whole body be destroyed, there will be no foot or hand, except in an equivocal sense, as we might speak of a stone hand; for when destroyed the hand will be no better than that. But things are defined by their working and power; and we ought not to say that they are the same when they no longer have their proper quality, but only that they have the same name. The proof that the state is a creation of nature and prior to the individual is that the individual, when isolated, is not self-sufficing; and therefore he is like a part in relation to the whole. But he who is unable to live in society, or who has no need because he is sufficient for himself, must be either a beast or a god: he is no part of a state. A social instinct is implanted in all men by nature, and yet he who first founded the state was the greatest of benefactors. For man, when perfected, is the best of animals, but, when separated from law and justice, he is the worst of all; since armed injustice is the more dangerous, and he is equipped at birth with arms, meant to be used by intelligence and virtue, which he may use for the worst ends. Wherefore, if he have not virtue, he is the most unholy and the most savage of animals, and the most full of lust and gluttony. But justice is the bond of men in states, for the administration of justice, which is the determination of what is just, is the principle of order in political society.
Part III
Seeing then that the state is made up of households, before speaking of the state we must speak of the management of the household. The parts of household management correspond to the persons who compose the household, and a complete household consists of slaves and freemen. Now we should begin by examining everything in its fewest possible elements; and the first and fewest possible parts of a family are master and slave, husband and wife, father and children. We have therefore to consider what each of these three relations is and ought to be: I mean the relation of master and servant, the marriage relation (the conjunction of man and wife has no name of its own), and thirdly, the procreative relation (this also has no proper name). And there is another element of a household, the so-called art of getting wealth, which, according to some, is identical with household management, according to others, a principal part of it; the nature of this art will also have to be considered by us.
Let us first speak of master and slave, looking to the needs of practical life and also seeking to attain some better theory of their relation than exists at present. For some are of opinion that the rule of a master is a science, and that the management of a household, and the mastership of slaves, and the political and royal rule, as I was saying at the outset, are all the same. Others affirm that the rule of a master over slaves is contrary to nature, and that the distinction between slave and freeman exists by law only, and not by nature; and being an interference with nature is therefore unjust.
Part IV
Property is a part of the household, and the art of acquiring property is a part of the art of managing the household; for no man can live well, or indeed live at all, unless he be provided with necessaries. And as in the arts which have a definite sphere the workers must have their own proper instruments for the accomplishment of their work, so it is in the management of a household. Now instruments are of various sorts; some are living,others lifeless; in the rudder, the pilot of a ship has a lifeless, in the look-out man, a living instrument; for in the arts the servant is a kind of instrument. Thus, too, a possession is an instrument for maintaining life. And so, in the arrangement of the family, a slave is a living possession, and property a number of such instruments; and the servant is himself an instrument which takes precedence of all other instruments. For if every instrument could accomplish its own work, obeying or anticipating the will of others, like the statues of Daedalus, or the tripods of Hephaestus, which, says the poet,
"of their own accord entered the assembly of the Gods; "
if, in like manner, the shuttle would weave and the plectrum touch the lyre without a hand to guide them, chief workmen would not want servants, nor masters slaves. Here, however, another distinction must be drawn; theinstruments commonly so called are instruments of production, whilst a possession is an instrument of action. The shuttle, for example, is not only of use; but something else is made by it, whereas of a garment or of a bed there is only the use. Further, as production and action are different in kind, and both require instruments, the instruments which they employ must likewise differ in kind. But life is action and not production, and therefore the slave is the minister of action. Again, a possession is spoken of as a part is spoken of; for the part is not only a part of something else, but wholly belongs to it; and this is also true of a possession. The master is only the master of the slave; he does not belong to him, whereas the slave is not only the slave of his master, but wholly belongs to him. Hence we see what is the nature and office of a slave; he who is by nature not his own but another's man, is by nature a slave; and he may be said to be another's man who, being a human being, is also a possession. And a possession may be defined as an instrument of action, separable from the possessor.


Joseph W. said...

I think there's no need to include the long quotes - since the sections are readily available under your favorites link. That said, so many things...

Aristotle is mythologizing about both animals and early men - but he didn't have access to the knowledge we now do. It's a commonplace, and a correct one, that chimps are political animals - and if you compare chimp socieities with, say, the Yanomamo, you find enough similarities to tell you there's a good bit in human political instincts that doesn't fit Aristotle's model of ends and means...(both, for example, raid their neighbors and have a 30% adult death rate from interpersonal violence). I think this is why the irritating language you read about "alphas," "betas," and so forth among various human hierarchies (1) exists, and (2) has some truth in it, however irritating it may be.

Per this excellent book, the closest modern group (genetically speaking) to the earliest humans may be the !Kung Bushmen - but they do not incline to the strict head-of-family kingship Aristotle expects. Among their noteworthy characteristics are fierce egalitarianism (boasting about your great hunting kill, or failing to share it out fairly, are dangerous among them), low IQ (average 59, according to a study I linked you to at Cassandra's), and astonishingly high rates of interpersonal violence.

My favorite anecdote from the book is a conversation between an anthropologist and four seasoned !Kung hunters - he's already established that when they get angry enough, they shoot each other with poisoned arrows, hoping to kill. They're telling him about all the animals they've killed, so he asks about how many men they've killed...(I'm leaving out the symbols for the "click" sounds in their language) --

"Without batting an eye, Toma, the first man, held up three fingers, ticking off the names on his fingers...

"Bo, the next man...replied, 'I shot Kushe in the back, but she lived.'

"Next was Bo's younger brother, Samkxau: 'I shot old Kana in the foot, but he lived.'

"I turned to the fourth man, Old Kashe, a kindly grandfather...

"'I have never killed anyone,' he replied. Pressing him, I asked, 'Well, then, how many men have you shot?'

"'I never shot anyone,' he wistfully replied. 'I always missed.'"

Joseph W. said...

That brings me to this business of natural masters and slaves...Reading about a group like the !Kung or the Yanomamo, suggests to me that they oughtn't to be enslaved or even commingled with higher-IQ, civilized men, but rather left alone. (Which in practice they are - as long as they're occupying land that no one else really wants - that's why they were available for study in the 20th century.)

Aristotle presents, without really trying to demonstrate it, the notion that "natural masters" and "natural slaves" are determined simply by intelligence and foresight -- it doesn't fit what I've seen. Even in that model of a benevolent dictatorship, a well-run military unit, the highest IQ may belong on the staff rather than in the commander's chair, with the leader distinguished by other qualities - such as calm under pressure.
(Or, per the Richard Brookhiser quote in this article - "The wise leader should strive to have intellectuals on tap and not be one himself.")

I was interested to see him discuss the theorists who suggest the different kinds of leadership (mastership of slaves, management of household, political rule - I wonder he left out military leadership from the list) are the same. A few years ago at the Fort Sill library I ran across a book called Slavery in the Ante-Bellum South - I'm not sure if it was this book or not. But the author included a lot of quotes from DeBow's and other practical magazines for planters in the early 19th century, and I noticed some of the advice for slaverholders paralleled basic military leadership more closely than I liked to think. For example, one of the authors noted that new slaverholders (like new lieutenants?) were possessed of the urge to be too popular with the slaves, and had to adopt a personal distance as well as a willingness to use discipline to get the work out of them...that's something I want to look into more someday.

More thoughts must wait for later tonight.

Joseph W. said...

P.S. - I'm writing fast because of time, so please pardon any incoherence, but at the same time please force me to make it coherent...

Grim said...

I remember reading a similar sort of story about the Baluchi people, resident (mostly) in Pakistan. According to the book, which I believe is called The Lions of Baluchistan, a young man would not be considered marriageable if he had not killed at least one man.

Aristotle has a lot to say that is of value, but it's interesting how wrong he is about animals. It's not just chimps and other 'near' relatives. It's pretty clear that his thinking is wrong on animals like horses, which he treats as irrational when they pretty clearly do have some access to reason. There are a few areas like this where we can bracket off some clearly wrong concepts he is operating under -- his thoughts on animal/human reproduction are another such area.

Grim said...

As for slaves, what I think Aristotle is offering is a kind of account of what would make slavery justifiable. He's plainly opposed to most sorts of it, but he's got an account of when it might be acceptable. It's not just intellectual capacity, notice: it's not the ability to know what is right, but the ability to be ruled by your reason.

"For he who can be, and therefore is, another's and he who participates in rational principle enough to apprehend, but not to have, such a principle, is a slave by nature."

What Aristotle is describing here is a virtue of self-control. The natural slave knows what is wrong -- he "participates in rational principle enough to apprehend" -- so it's not really his intellect that is at fault. What he isn't able to do is to bring his life in accord with what reason tells him is right.

It's easy to see how this account might work if we were talking about a drug addict. He (or she) knows that the drug is ruining their life and health, but cannot actually order their life in such a way as to avoid it. Aristotle's argument is that they would be better off if someone else were placed in charge of their lives so that they did not have the disorder, and in fact that even these people themselves would see that they would be better off so.

We largely feel the same way: this is why we put people in prison, or mandatory rehab, for drug related issues.

Joseph W. said...

It's not just a "could be" though -

for in all things which form a composite whole and which are made up of parts, whether continuous or discrete, a distinction between the ruling and the subject element comes to fight. Such a duality exists in living creatures, but not in them only; it originates in the constitution of the universe; even in things which have no life there is a ruling principle...

...and then...

...the lower sort are by nature slaves, and it is better for them as for all inferiors that they should be under the rule of a master. For he who can be, and therefore is, another's and he who participates in rational principle enough to apprehend, but not to have, such a principle, is a slave by nature...

and before that:

...among barbarians no distinction is made between women and slaves, because there is no natural ruler among them...'s not just self-control (unless the translation is a seriously poor one) but even "rational principles" - if you can see them, but not "have" them, then you're a natural slave. I assume he admits a community of barbarians includes members who have more self-control than a serious drug fiend, yet he puts the entire peoples in the servile category. Go further - look at the way he distinguishes the types of work:

Nature would like to distinguish between the bodies of freemen and slaves, making the one strong for servile labor, the other upright, and although useless for such services, useful for political life in the arts both of war and peace. someone who is a perfectly good wrangler, gunsmith, or plowman, but his mind is just not up to political theory, is a servile to Aristotle. (And he goes on to say that work that provides only necessaries, like cooking and farming, is by its nature "servile.") No, I think you are reading him too kindly.

This business of "Nature would like" brings me to the other observation I wanted to make...

Grim said...

No, I think he means this literally:

Nature would like to distinguish between the bodies of freemen and slaves, making the one strong for servile labor, the other upright...

Aristotle, in the Metaphysics explains why human beings have a long intestine. There's a reason for it: It is so that we can digest food over a long time, which frees us from food-seeking behaviors so that we can contemplate with our reason. That fact about us is a necessary condition for the rational nature he takes to be essential to humanity.

He has a similar point about standing upright. The human body is straight so that we can contemplate the heavenly bodies, which play an important role in his metaphysics. They are eternal and exhibit perfect motion, and the mind that can be devoted toward understanding them is a better kind of mind. But it needs a straight back.

(Which, actually, we agree with him here too. We reserve special respect for Einstein because of what he taught us about the movement of the heavenly bodies. It's our amazement at this wonder that underlies our respect for astronomy: or, as Kant said at the end of his second critique, the two things that fill him with ever increasing wonder are 'the moral law within me, and the starry sky above me.')

Grim said...

Now there's a more general point about the way that Greek households organized work. They had a different idea about the value of labor; Hannah Arendt is very good on this if you're inclined to her.

You're wanting to stand up for the dignity of honest work. That's a very American point, but it doesn't get at the ancient Greek understanding. The point isn't that such work is improper or merely servile: Odysseus was plowing his fields when the army came to get him, in Homer.

The point is that work done in the intimate space of the family is merely a necessity. The real thing that distinguishes an individual is his action in public. Of course you plow, you arrange that your household does the things it needs to do to support you physically. But that is merely the base level of human life. It is in the public life -- in the polis -- that the Greeks looked to excel.

So the sense is that someone whose life is wholly devoted to the intimate is servile, because they never rise out of that sphere. It is not that work in that sphere is not worthy. It is -- if Odysseus can do it, it is fit for any hero to do. But it is servile to stop there.

Grim said...

And that, I think, is a feminist point in the modern era. They likewise tend to assert that homemaking isn't wrong or bad, but that a woman who does nothing else does not distinguish herself. They look down on her as a kind of slave, a servile figure. Once again, we have the same concept today, if you know how to see it right.

Joseph W. said...

It was interesting to see that Aristotle talks about the "Ends" of things set by "Nature" - implicit is the view I saw in Cicero's Nature of the Gods, that the common myths about the gods are not even worth discussing, so obviously false are they. But in this talk of "Ends," if I'm reading him rightly, he seems to be talking about conscious, purposive ends, and not just metaphorical ones...

Now I can't really blame him. This is two millenia before Linnaeus, let alone Darwin, and creationism was quite a logical conclusion to reach before that science was done. But it might be pertinent to ask him whether the "End" of a woolly mammoth was to eat and graze and make little mammoths, or to die when the ice retreated.

I'm concerned this may affect the value of the rest of the work -- if he imagines that political forms are the "Ends" of human existence, in the sense that some great Mind envisioned them, it might leave him beliving an "ideal" political form must exist, something I am far from accepting. (Though you tell me he doesn't reach a conclusion so maybe he doesn't fall into this error.)

I mean, de Tocqueville is often quoted as saying that democracy is inherently unstable, because the masses will eventually figure out they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury and wreck the whole enterprise. And I think our own recent history doesn't exactly refute him. But from what I know of the history of monarchy, it's got its own attendant evil - the only way to change dynasties is through violence, and the monarchies I know about, when they really were monarchies and when they ruled over rich countries, went to war often just to determine who the ruler would be...and are at least tempted to tyranny just to keep themselves in power. Given that politics works out the consequences of our human mentality, and that mentality didn't evolve in a way that guarantees sound economic or strategic thinking, there's no guarantee that any form is going to be "optimized" and stable. Lucky us if there is one, if it's compatible with wealth, survival, and the Good Life. But I worry that his "creationist" mentality might incline him to assume it.

A question - when he gets into comparing the different Greek forms, has there been any independent study of how accurate he was?

Joseph W. said...

(Didn't see your last 3 comments before entering that one - reading them now...)

Joseph W. said...

(having now read them) Oh, I never doubted that this idea of his is around today, implicit and explicit. We get it with extra intensity from the envious academic or other writer, conviced that the successful investor or executive who out-earns him is really his inferior...and more generally from leftists throughout my lifetime, eager to show that their ideology is more sophisticated and "nuanced" than the Right's, with the subtext that we aren't really fit to debate with them at all, but only to be ruled by them...

Grim said...

Aristotle does think that there is purpose, or ends, in nature; but the argument isn't the extended sort of argument you're constructing. The end of any species -- wooly mammoths included -- is the continuation of the species. That's a pretty ordinary sort of 'end,' which in fact seems to be really true: the members of any given species seem to have a natural drive for reproduction. We can dispute whether it is the species or the genes themselves that are the real drivers in constructing and enforcing this "end," but it is an end that we do seem to have.

Mammoths are an interesting example, because Aristotle didn't know about them. One of the things he assumes to be true about species is that they will succeed in reproduction at the necessary levels. Extinction isn't something that he knows about: that's a concept we have, but that the ancients did not have.

The end of human existence includes reproduction, for Aristotle, but also the exercise of rational nature. This influences his ethics (virtue is a kind of strength, or capacity, because it allows us to pursue happiness; happiness he defines as the exercise of our vital powers in a way aligned by reason with excellence), and therefore also his politics (because the end of a good society is the good life for good people). However, it doesn't lead him to believe in an ideal form of society -- that's Plato. It leads him to a kind of general idea about what any good society should include, but not in a way that I think you'll find objectionable. It is possible to have a good monarchy or a good constitutional system, if they continue to be ordered so that their members can pursue the good life on their own terms; it's possible for either form to become bad if they become exploitative.

Grim said...

...conviced that the successful investor or executive who out-earns him is really his inferior...

There's actually an important difference between this example and Aristotle's, which is that investment is a public act. Aristotle has a lot to say about ways in which wealth can be used in public that he finds highly virtuous.

I brought up the feminist example not to criticize it, but because I think it's one of the points where feminists really have hit upon something important. It is the case that people who remain sequestered at home, in the intimate space, end up missing out on some big parts of human life. It is good for people, men or women, to get out and do something else in public -- whether it is joining a choir, or working at a charity, or otherwise simply engaging in a freely chosen activity that expresses something about what they feel is important in life.

The bias isn't against earning, here, but against remaining on one's farm or in one's house and not engaging in the public life. Actually, especially the technical trades come in for a lot of praise in Aristotle -- he takes them as a kind of example for thinking about how knowledge works.

Grim said...

Although, as you'll see in today's readings, Aristotle doesn't think much of people who devote their lives to making money above all else. A technician he respects as a man of knowledge; and he says that a man should know how to buy and sell, and understand what sort of horses give the best return and where to sell them.

But he pretty plainly regards the purpose of economics as supporting the good life of friendship, though, charity (he speaks of forms of charity at length in the Nicomachean Ethics), and similar things. He says that the state and the household both "presuppose" a certain pursuit of wealth, but he clearly does not respect making the gaining of wealth one's chief focus in life.

And of course he shares the ancient world's hatred of usury, meaning for him as for the others any form of collecting interest on loans. That's a form of wealth-getting we've come to accept as beneficial, but Aristotle like others does not so regard it.

I suppose that means I should amend my comment about investment. Insofar as a man invests in a ship, or a fleet of goods going from here to there, Aristotle would regard that as something like statesmanship: a form of helping the city (and one's house) achieve the wealth that states and households "presuppose" as necessary. But if someone simply loaned money for it to be done by someone else, and expected a return on that loan, that would be usury of the type that the ancients despised.

Joseph W. said...

Thanks! - It's interesting, and you can see the parallel between extinction of species and states (I mean only in this sense, that "Nature" does not guarantee survival, or even the hope of survival, to either one).

It may be late in the day before I read or talk about the second section but I'm enjoying this.

douglas said...

Nature might even intend for some species to go extinct- in that I mean that the mammoths, for instance, purpose may have been to procreate for a time then to die off, making room for other species to prosper. To everything there is a time.

Grim said...

It's possible to think of "nature" that way, but it's important to understanding Aristotle to know that he does not. He defines what he means by "nature" in Physics II: nature is 'an internal principle of rest and motion,' a technical phrasing that really means two things:

1) The principle that governs how a thing will move is internal to the thing;

2) Therefore, a thing's nature is defined by what kind of thing it is. Aristotle simply doesn't imagine an overarching "Nature" that governs everything.

That may be surprising given some later Aristotelian accounts, which take his idea of the unmoved mover and proceed to do just that. But that isn't what Aristotle was talking about.

Later in the Physics, he explains using a metaphor about causes. What causes the grass to grow? The falling of the rain. So why does the rain fall? To make the grass grow.

That sounds like your overarching Nature, but Aristotle explains that it is really not. The rain falls for the grass only if we are considering it from the perspective of wanting grass: the grass's nature is bound up with the rain that way. If you're a farmer, the rain may very much be 'for the grass' according to your understanding.

But rain also has its own nature, which takes no cognizance of the grass at all. It falls because (as he quite rightly says) of cooling and condensation in the air.

Note that this isn't the overarching 'Nature' you're thinking of, but it also isn't 'hey, it's all a bunch of accidents.' There is a connection between the rain and the grass -- in a way, and from a certain point of view. The connection is causal, and from that perspective the rain has its end in the production of grass. But that's only one way of thinking about it, he says: it's also possible to think about the rain in itself, and find all of the necessary causes to explain why it falls without reference to the grass at all.

Ymar Sakar said...

How about we just kill everyone we dislike in a duel/war and let God sort out who was Right and Wrong at the end.

Grim said...

It won't solve the problem, because man is a political animal. Whoever ends up left alive still has to sort our what kind of political order is best, and what they want out of it.

douglas said...
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