Aristotle's State Theory

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Aristotle’s claim that the state is the highest, most developed form of social organisation is at the centre of one of his major works, ‘The Politics’ . His theory focuses mainly on the state as a natural progression, and draws upon two central themes; ‘the good life’ and human beings as ‘political animals’ . Whilst Aristotle does raise many valid points, he does not convince us that the state is the pinnacle of social organisation. Although the state may be the highest form of social organisation, Aristotle fails to demonstrate how an active, political life equals a ‘good life’. Aristotle’s major use of teleology is another drawback, which limits his argument in many ways. To illustrate these concerns it is important to analysis Aristotle’s argument in its entirety and to put it in its context. Also, a critical analysis of his two major themes, that of ‘the good life’ and man as a ‘political animal’, will allow us to understand where Aristotle does indeed fail. Aristotle's 'The Politics' encompasses many themes and topics, some of which provide the basis for the state being the highest form of social organisation. Written during the fourth century BC , Aristotle’s work forms the basis for many arguments concerning philosophy and is still extensively used today. Aristotle claims that the state is a natural process, and in order to understand its complexity it is necessary to study the state in its “first growth and origin” . It is natural for human beings to live within the state and natural for humans to reach their potential within it. Furthermore, Aristotle also places a strong emphasis on good and evil in his work. The state is a natural process, and therefore it has a natural end, anything that disrupts this process is evil. Perfection is also important in Aristotle’s work, which can be achieved by man within the state. Aristotle’s teleological approach is highly important to his argument and reaffirms many of the points he raises. The good life is at the centre of the argument from Aristotle. Aristotle sees the good life as an active, political life, and it is only through this that human beings can achieve their “distinctive potential” . Another important point raised by Aristotle is the assertion that humans are ‘political animals’. Humans are given skills such as speech so that they differ from animals, and it is natural for humans to live an active, political life. These themes and assertions are all important in Aristotle’s claim that the state is the highest form of social organisation. However, a closer analysis of the above will demonstrate that Aristotle does not address all issues surrounding the topic. Aristotle does not see the state as an original creation, but rather a natural and evolving process which Aristotle sees as having 3 main stages . The first is the household; it serves the needs of its inhabitants and is strictly governed by the husband, who has rule over the wife and slaves. The household eventually develops into the village, which shares many of the aims of the household, but is more of a community and does more than just secure life. The final stage is of course the state, which has a body of power and is governed by a constitution. The state differs from the former as it does not only secure life, but it ensures a good life and is self sufficient to the needs of man . The state is able to offer happiness to its inhabitants, and it is the goal of the state to ensure a good life. The state is the only social organization that allows humans to reach their distinctive potential. Whilst the household and family deals with daily needs and the village expands its economy and trade, the state is a natural environment in which human beings can flourish and reach their potential. Viewing that state as an evolving process is the key to Aristotle’s claim that the state is the highest form of social organization. Aristotle’s close use of teleology is open to much scrutiny, and while one of his...
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