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We are proud to present the latest, third issue of 'Kronos Philosophical Journal'. The issue comprises of excerpts from hitherto unpublished lectures by Leo Strauss on Aristotle, essays by American philosophers from Strauss' school of thought as well as Polish philosophers gathered around Kronos Journal. It also contains published for the very first time in English, pieces by Serio Quinzio on the end of Christianity.
For the last fifty years philosophy of history has been pursued in Poland along the lines drawn out by the Warsaw School of the History of Ideas. Its adherents–historicist in their inclinations–believed that the philosophical questions which the Ancients put forward were relevant only inasmuch as they helped to understand the world of today. The Warsaw historians were not particularly interested in why thinkers of old time gave the answers which they did and not others–they took them as their own if they conformed with their modern sensibilities and self-awareness. What matters for the historicist is the context which always determines the meaning of philosophical utterances: the question concerning truth was something entirely different for Pontius Pilate than it is for us, the Moderns. Time alters the meaning of philosophical concepts, redefines them, reshapes them without any apparent purpose or aim. Should anyone attempt to understand Plato, Dante or Machiavelli on their own terms–the way they understood themselves–his or her deliberations would run the risk of mutating into scientific fiction. It is impossible to reconstruct the historical context accurately and faithfully enough to be able to say that “Nautilus” has finally reached the shores of unadulterated truth about things past–no, truth is always a truth for us. Does that mean, however, that thoughts of ages past properly belong in a museum cabinet, or can they still exert influence? We can never know that beforehand. That is why we need to thoroughly examine the conditions–social and economic ones primarily–in which these thoughts evolved if we hope to distinguish their proper meaning from anachronistic sediment. Only thus rectified can thoughts of the past prove their usefulness for modernity. The Warsaw historians, infected by “the Hegelian virus,” assumed that every human thought, every truth, is a product of its own time and passes with it. But if this assumption is correct, we have to admit that there can be no transhistorical truth, no truth tout court, and that therefore the Warsaw historians themselves represent a short-lived phenomenon in the course of the human spirit’s development. We bid them farewell without any qualms.
The Classical thinkers–as Leo Strauss believed–did not claim that philosophy, and its truth, was limited to the time in which they happened to live and work. In Thucydides’ words, they wrote so that “their teaching would be the property of all future generations.” They wrote believing in the existence of transhistorical, eternal meanings which needed to be uncovered. For great thinkers always create “beyond time”–their ideas have their “roots,” but they do not have a history; they are not generated, they simply are. Strauss, however, did not reject history as such; he knew how to use it in revealing ways. It is sometimes useful to take into account the historical context of philosophical statements–he stressed–but this approach can only have a supplementary function. As Thomas Pangle rightly observes in his study of Strauss: “In studying the rare cases of authorial minds from the past whose liberation appears to be complete, we need to learn to see the author’s historical environment exactly as he saw it and conveyed it to his alert and demanding readers.” Abandoning this methodological rule is harmful to historical investigations; it is tantamount to an arrogant belief that we understand Ancient thinkers better than they understood themselves–that we are more modern and therefore wiser than them. It is more challenging, however, to listen to the great thinkers of past ages without interpreters; to let them say what they wanted to say and not what we would like to hear. The esoteric method of constructing their philosophical texts–Strauss argued–points to the existence of transhistorical meaning which is passed on beyond and above time like the holy fire from the temple of Zeus. The careful reader’s obligation is to try and grasp this esoteric message and to understand the text the way its author intended it to be understood. This means that philosophical texts always conceal a meaning which should not be spoken out loud because it can be applied in destructive ways. Responsible philosophers will not only avoid putting themselves at risk but will make sure not to hurt others unintentionally. Nevertheless, conflict seems inevitable: by challenging general opinions, the philosopher provokes the polis. A given thinker’s greatness is always measured by his nonconformism; his thought is valuable only inasmuch as it exceeds its time and undermines contemporary convictions–only dead fish go with the flow. Thus philosophy turns out to be a discipline very harmful to the proper functioning of the polis: it erodes its foundations of common sense, gossip and half-truths. The polis, in its turn, threatens the philosopher by imposing its “notions” on him. In such circumstances the philosopher has to practice the art of elusion: he accepts the city’s “notions” only outwardly and writes in such a way as to deceive the many while getting his message across to the intelligent few. The purpose of this is noble, however; it is a “noble lie.” The philosopher protects the polis against the consequences of his wild and subversive thoughts. Writing “between the lines” allows the philosopher to resist the power of the polis and–conversely–safeguards the city against the power of philosophical truth which becomes diluted and difficult to grasp by the many. The philosopher thrives on truth; the polis needs illusions, veils, myths and poets, since no community–imperfect in its nature–can live up to the demands which philosophy make on its practitioners.
What then is philosophy’s attitude towards religious thought? Sergio Quinzio believed that no human community can survive long if it is cut off from religious “energy.” From this perspective, philosophy–impermeable to myth–is and has always been an alien element, an irreligious force in the ordinary man’s world. It constitutes a realm of freedom–freedom, above all, from moral and religious obligations–and as such is difficult to accept and potentially dangerous because it rejects all authority, including the authority of God. Such things, however, cannot be spoken of–the philosopher must learn to lie. As Strauss says: “The exoteric teaching was needed for protecting philosophy. It was the armor in which philosophy had to appear. It was needed for political reason. It was a form in which philosophy became visible to the political community. It was the political aspect of philosophy. It was ‘political’ philosophy.”
“Political philosophy” is the philosopher’s means of survival. Its main task is to convince the majority of citizens that philosophers are not atheists.
The third issue of the English edition of Kronos opens with a previously unpublished passage from Leo Strauss’s lectures on Aristotle. I would like to thank Professor Nathan Tarcov, the director of The Leo Strauss Center, for giving us permission to publish it.
INTRODUCTIONTO POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY
[A course given in the Winter Quarter, 1965, in the Department of Political Science The University of Chicago, Lectures 10th and 11th]
LS: [Tape begins late]–prescientific or prephilosophic thought. Whereas in modern times, these concepts are inherited, and they are ready for use; used, therefore, and, which is more important, transformed, but no longer originally required. Which implies that if we wish to understand the modern concepts which came into being through the transformation of those concepts inherited from classical antiquity, we have to return first to the classical basis if we wish to understand the modern concepts. Classical political philosophy, we can also say, is related to political life directly, not through a nonpolitical medium, such as the tradition of political philosophy, or, as in our age, a nonpolitical political science. And the simple sign of that is that in classical political philosophy there are no technical terms to speak of. The terms are terms used in ordinary political life, in the marketplace, in senates, in cabinets, but not peculiarly scientific or academic terms. Whereas the opposite is true in modern times, and to some extent already in the Middle Ages. The classical political philosophers tried to understand political life as the citizen and the statesman understand it, with this difference, that they tried to look further ahead or afield than the practical men do. But not in a different perspective. They are not, as it were, standing outside and observing political life, the big fishes swallowing the small ones, but in the perspective in which they are seen in political life.
One can also say that the method of classical political philosophy is presented by political life itself. In all political life we find conflicts between individuals and groups, conflicting parties asserting opposed claims, ordinarily in the name of justice. Both sides use arguments in support of their claims. Not all these arguments are solid; but they supply nevertheless the starting-point for any proper understanding of what supports the claim of the opposed parties. The method is therefore to follow up and consider critically the arguments presented on both sides, and on this basis, reach an impartial decision. Because this is the primary form in which the political philosopher appears: as the arbiter, the impartial arbiter, between the groups opposing opposed claims. An arbiter who will give each side its due. So the political philosopher is, then, primarily the umpire par excellence, the underlying thought being, he is a good citizen, and the duty of the good citizen is to make civil strife cease and to create by persuasion agreement among the citizens. He must not be a partisan.
Now in order to understand more fully the phenomenon of the political philosopher in its original form, we have to understand the fact that as the umpire, the political philosopher is a citizen like every other citizen: he belongs to this or that city. As a rule, by birth: son of a citizen father and citizen mother. As such, he cannot fulfill his function in a city other than his own. His work is not transferable from his city to any other city. Yet one observes soon that while this work as such seems to be nontransferable, there are necessarily in political life some skills which are transferable. For example, a general may be lent to an allied city, in ancient times as well as in ours. Or someone may be banished from his city, like Themistocles was from Athens, and he may prove to be an excellent advisor to the enemy of Athens, the king of Persia. Or later on, Alcibiades, who also had to flee from Athens, and yet was the best advisor whom the Spartans could find: since he knew the weaknesses of Athens better than anyone else, he could become an excellent traitor to his fatherland.
So there are skills which are transferable, and to the extent to which they are transferable, they are also teachable, in principle, like any other art. The teaching of the political arts developed first as that of one important part of the political art, which is the art of speaking. All political action, if it is reasonable, is based on deliberation. The deliberation takes place by means of speech. In a democracy, surely, that means, of public speech. And the art of public speech proved to be susceptible of being taught by teachers of that art, of the art of rhetoric. And prior to classical political philosophy, we can say, political science as a transferable thing had emerged as the art of rhetoric. And at the end of his Ethics, Aristotle takes issue with those people who say the political art is simply the art of rhetoric–a view which according to Aristotle is very erroneous. But at any rate, this was a fact, and this is surely not an accident, that the part of the political skill which was originally raised to the level of a teachable art was the art of rhetoric.
Now this is insufficient, from the classical point of view. Deliberation deals in the first place with measures, as we would say–say, war and peace, and the other things–but also with things of a more permanent character. War or peace now, the question of the moment; the permanent things are the laws. Therefore, the more important, the broader object of deliberation is legislation. And that political science, in the original sense of the term, where it is identical with the political skill, the skill of the statesman, was raised to the level of a transferable teaching when it could become the teaching of the art of legislation, the highest political art; as Aristotle says, the architectonic art, related to all other arts as that of the architect to the carpenter and other artisans connected with building houses. As the net result, the political philosopher then comes to sight not simply as a legislator, but as a teacher of legislators. Every legislator has to do with the particular situation of this city, located here and there with these and these enemies, these and these resources, and so on. And he tries to do the best for that city. But he cannot do this without having implicitly notions of what is simply good for the city as such, notions which he adapts to this particular city, not necessarily being aware of the universal principles of preference implied in what he is doing here and now. The teacher of legislators, i.e., the teacher of men who are supposed to give laws or to elaborate codes for the most different cities, cannot possibly be bound by the requirements of this or that situation of this or that city. He must think primarily in universal terms. Now these are then the two figures, we can say, in which the political philosopher primarily appeared in Greece: the umpire par excellence, and the teacher of legislators. There is a connection between these two things. The umpire has to do with the settlement of controversies. Now the fundamental political controversy concerns, as we may provisionally say, the form of government: should it be a democracy, oligarchy, and so on. This is the fundamental controversy. And the settlement of this controversy is prior, it precedes legislation proper; for all laws are to be made with a view to the form of government. Inheritance, publicity of speech, whatever you have, depends on the form of government. Therefore, by being the teacher of legislators, the political philosopher is the umpire par excellence.
Now these two considerations of which I reminded you–the distinction between physis andnomos, and what is implied in Hegel’s remark about the difference of study in ancient and modern times–these two general considerations indicate the minimum conditions with which one must comply in order to have an access to classical political philosophy. But this is only a minimum condition. In order to understand classical political philosophy, or in order to study it properly, we have to wonder where we should begin our study of classical political philosophy. My answer would be, with Aristotle’s Politics. Not with Plato. For the writings of Plato, the Republic especially but the others too, are dialogues–not, as Aristotle’s Politics is, a treatise. In the dialogues Plato never speaks. One could say, while Plato never speaks, Socrates speaks, and Socrates is Plato’s mouthpiece. Yet this is not so simple, as is sufficiently indicated by the fact that Socrates was most famous for his irony. Never to speak oneself, and to have a spokesman who is famous for his irony: this is almost the same as if one were never to speak. More specifically, the word “irony” has undergone many changes in the course of the centuries, but in the primary meaning, or secondary meaning which for us is most important, it means to speak with a view to somebody, ad hominem, as the Latins say. So all remarks which, say, Socrates, or any other Platonic spokesman, makes are made with a view to the interlocutors: their situation, permanent or momentary, their character, their abilities, their social position. And in order to find out what Socrates would say about the same subject absolutely, not with a view to this or that type of man, one would have to translate the explicit statement into one which would be meant to be absolutely true. One would have to transform the relative statements into absolute statements, and this is not so easy to do. Whereas, in Aristotle, we hear Aristotle himself talking to us all the time. This difference between Aristotle and Plato is also the reason why it is not wise to begin one’s study of classical political thought with the dramatic poets, who of course speak as little by themselves as Plato does. And it would be a great mistake to believe that the choruses present directly the view, say, of Sophocles. Even in the case of the historian Thucydides, the most important, broad statements are not made by Thucydides himself, but by his characters in his speeches. And then, again, the question arises, What did Thucydides think of the wisdom and understanding of the particular speaker?
So it is most prudent to begin the study of political thought with Aristotle. As for the so-called pre-Socratic philosophers, we have only fragments of them; and to interpret fragments, to understand them properly, is infinitely more difficult than to understand complete books.
Now, as for how to study Aristotle’s Politics in a very external way, meaning which translation to use, I would think that the best translation available is that by Ernest Barker, in the Oxford edition, which is also available, I believe, in paperback. The translation is useful especially for this reason, that Barker gives in brackets explanations of the very terse statements which Aristotle makes and which, to begin with, would be wholly unintelligible. It is true that in this respect Aristotle becomes much more loquacious or talkative than he in fact is, and this peculiar charm that is characteristic of Aristotle is lost in that way. But you cannot have it both ways; and to begin with, one must be grateful for every help one can get. Barker has also written in this book a very useful introduction, in which he takes up an issue which is quite confusing and quite useless, namely the question of the so-called development of Aristotle’s thought from his early time, when he was sitting at Plato’s feet, until his old age, something which some philologists believed they could find out about; and Barker very wisely reaches the conclusion that it is impossible to say anything about that. Since you may be confronted with this issue of the development of Aristotle, it is quite good to read Barker’s sober argument.
Let us then turn without any further ado to the beginning of Aristotle’s Politics. And we will read at the beginning. Does everybody of you have the edition? Well, I will read.
Observation shows us, first, that every polis (or state) is a species of association, and, secondly, that all associations are instituted for the purpose of attaining some good–for all men do all their acts with a view to achieving something which is, in their view, a good. We may therefore hold that all associations aim at some good; and we may also hold that the particular association which is the most sovereign of all, the most authoritative of all, and includes all the others, will pursue this aim to the highest degree, and will thus be directed to the most sovereign, the most authoritative, of all goods. This most authoritative and inclusive association is the polis, as it is called, or the political association.
Now Aristotle goes, as we see, immediately into the midst of things. The Politics naturally deals with the polis. Now the first question which arises, to which we have alluded before, is how to translate “polis.” Barker follows the usual procedure by saying, “the polis, paren: or the state.” But we have been reminded by Collingwood, in some passages which I read to you, that this is a grave question whether one can translate in this manner. Some people say today, in order to avoid the difficulty, “the city-state”–which doesn’t make it better, because then we imply, of course, that we know what “the state” means, and there is a kind of state called the city-state–and believe they solve the question in this way.
Now let us look at a later political thinker and his definition of what Aristotle means, roughly, by the polis, and that is Thomas Hobbes. Let us see how he defines the polis.
I will not read what that is–
the multitude so united in one person, is called a commonwealth; in Latin, civitas.
But “civitas” was the traditional translation into Latin of the Greek “polis.” So “commonwealth” would be a tolerably good translation of “polis.” Let us also see another translation of the term by Hobbes, which is somewhat closer to our concern, in the Elements of Law, Part 1, Chapter 19:
This union so made is that which men call nowadays–
he doesn’t say, “a state”–
a body politic, or civil society, and the Greeks call it polis, that is to say, a city.
So you see, even in the seventeenth century, the word “state” was not yet necessary, was not the most natural for a man like Hobbes to use. Hobbes translates “polis” by “city,” which is the best translation of the word, and gives the equivalent in English of “a body politic or civil society.” Now we shall, then, not hesitate to translate “polis” by “city.” But we must be clear that this is only replacing one riddle by another; the riddle being the Greek word “polis,” and then we replace it by the riddle in English, called the “city.” For when we speak of city, we surely do not mean the polis. Think of the city of London, or the city in London, which has an entirely different connotation.
We have therefore to raise the question, What is the equivalent of “polis” in our world, in our language? Surely not “the state”; for when we speak of the state, we imply a distinction between the state and society. And the very beginning of the Politics which I read to you shows that this is excluded. When we speak of state and society, we do not say the state is the all-inclusive society and society is only a partial society. The simple and best equivalent in English to what the Greeks meant by the polis is the country. When you speak of the country–“The country is in danger,” for example–you also don’t make a distinction between state and society. You mean a single whole. The polis consists of the town and countryside; and so does the country, which consists of towns, cities, and countryside. “Country,” we may say, is the equivalent of “polis” on the level of our everyday citizen’s understanding. But this is not sufficient, because we are not simply thinking on that everyday level. I wonder whether the term “the country” is ever used in a scientific treatise within political science or sociology, although it will occur frequently in political speeches. This shows you the cleavage between prescientific understanding and scientific understanding, which is so characteristic of our age.
Now the passage which I read to you from the very beginning of the Politics shows that the polis is concerned with the most comprehensive good; whereas the other associations, the associations subordinate to the city, are concerned with subordinate, partial goods. Now the term which Aristotle uses for this comprehensive good is, in Greek, “eudaimonia,” ordinarily translated into English by “happiness.” Let us not go into this great question of how to translate “eudaimonia,” let us simply use the word “happiness” for the time being–the complete human good.
The polis is concerned with the complete human good. Now, by happiness Aristotle understands, above all, virtuous activity. And of course, this means that you dispose of the conditions of virtuous activity. So if you are very sick, for example, and for this reason not able to act virtuously in every respect, this shows indirectly that health is a part of happiness. But of course, different people have different views of happiness, and even the same people at different times of their lives. So one can assume, as men were more inclined to assume in modern times than in ancient times, that happiness is strictly subjective, and then of course it becomes impossible to define the end of the state in terms of happiness. Political society cannot be defined, then, as a society devoted to happiness. This is perhaps the best starting-point for understanding the peculiar obstacle which we have in understanding “polis.” Yet when we look around and admit that there is an innumerable variety of notions of what happiness is, we can nevertheless hold that there is something in common despite this enormous variety, and that is certain conditions of happiness. Whatever you may understand by happiness, you need to be alive to pursue your happiness. Furthermore, you must have the possibility of circulation–you must be free; if you are chained or jailed, you are not likely to pursue your happiness, whatever you may understand by happiness. And thirdly, you must have the possibility of pursuing happiness, as you understand happiness. I refer to a formula known to you all from the Declaration of Independence: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. They are understood here in the Declaration as man’s fundamental, natural rights. But one can also look at them from the other point of view, in no way contradicting, that they are the conditions for happiness, however happiness may be understood.
Here we have, then, this strange situation. Men are striving for happiness. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are only in the service of their enjoyment of happiness. Happiness is the end; life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are means, and therefore lower. But on the other hand, whereas happiness is wholly subjective–everyone understands something different by happiness–life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are objective. Whatever you understand by happiness, you need life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Now men pursue happiness as each one understands happiness. This takes place partly in cooperation with others, and partly in competition with others. This cooperative, competitive activity, where each aims at his happiness, produces a kind of web, we can say, and this web is society, in contradistinction to the state. The state only is concerned with the conditions as specified before. Now in this understanding of the relation of state and society, there is a peculiar ambiguity. In one respect, the state is higher; it aims at something which all need, something of objective validity. But these are all only means, and therefore lower. The highest is no longer objective. In order to overcome this difficulty, this dualism where the order of rank between the two elements, state and society, is ambiguous, one must turn to something broader, of which state and society, as hitherto understood, are parts. And modern man succeeded in discovering such a thing, or in inventing it. And this matrix, of which state and society and some other things are parts, is exactly what is ordinarily understood by culture. When you speak of the culture of a tribe or a nation, or a city, it means this broader thing, this broader association, of which state and society are parts. I would say that the concept of culture, now so widely used, is the equivalent of “polis,” on the level of theory, on the level of academic thought, as distinguished from citizen-thought, on which level the equivalent of “polis” is the country.
We would say, for example, that tragedy, dramatic poetry, belongs to culture–belongs to culture, but not to the state. Yet according to the classics, tragedy has a certain moral function, say the purification of certain passions; and the moral function is inseparable from the political function. Therefore tragedy belongs to the polis, as it in fact did in Athens. Surely tragedy is not exhausted by that moral-political function; but to the extent to which it transcends it, it belongs to the sphere of wisdom, of wisdom which is no longer a part of the polis. So in other words, what we would call culture is from the classical point of view a composite consisting of the polis on the one hand and of wisdom on the other. And we learn from this, incidentally, that our concept of culture presupposes a much closer connection between polis and wisdom than the classics’ did, that every polis, so to speak, has its peculiar wisdom–a thought which the classics implicitly rejected. Wisdom proper is universal, de jure; whether de facto is another question. Now by making this reflection (which could be enlarged) on the modern equivalents of “polis,” we do justice to the truth of historicism, namely, to the fact that radical changes have in fact occurred, so that the understanding of the most important and fundamental terms has changed. Now is there any point which you think needs some further clarification, or where you feel it could now be given? The last point which I made is perhaps most difficult to understand, that polis and wisdom are not only distinguishable, but have a fundamentally different character, insofar as the polis is always this or that polis, particular society, whereas wisdom is universal–de jure, as I said, if not necessarily de facto. Whereas our modern concept of culture implies an assimilation of these two things. Yes?
Student: But doesn’t the fact that the Greeks regarded tragedy as having a moral function, which was in turn was inseparable from a political function, imply that they regarded wisdom, at least in the form of poetry, as being more subordinate to political–?
LS: Yes, well, the word “wisdom” has many meanings. There is a practical wisdom which essentially belongs to practical, political life. I meant now “wisdom” in a severer and stricter sense, where it is theoretical wisdom, say, the understanding of man, in tragedy, for example.
Student: Well, the fact that tragedy and the tragic view has some theoretical wisdom in it, and yet the moral function of tragedy in Greece was inseparable from the political function [inaudible].
LS: The moral function belongs together with the political function. It is the purpose of the city to make the citizens good, and doers of noble deeds, as Aristotle says. That is inseparable. And Aristotle calls the whole teaching, which includes his Ethics, a kind of political investigation. That is not the point. I mean, the difficulty doesn’t lie there. Well, let me start from another phenomenon which I have to touch upon later, without which one cannot understand this whole of classical <thought>. Our present-day thought, and already since some centuries, is based on a fundamentally different understanding of the relation between theoretical wisdom and ordinary human life than the classics had, and especially Aristotle had. And the change was effected by that great movement popularly called the Enlightenment, but which is much more than the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century, which comprises already the seventeenth century. According to the Enlightenment, wisdom can be spread, can be diffused among the whole population, and therefore the difference between the theoretically wise and the theoretically nonwise ceases to be very important. Does this thought make sense to you? The very notion of an Enlightenment of this kind is absent from classical thought; and therefore there is no simple harmony between philosophy and the polis, between wisdom and the polis. Wisdom is, according to its own intention, universal; the polis is necessarily particular. You see, what we have done in modern times is also shown by the following point. The word “culture,” which means only cultivation in itself–say, of the soil; but of course, men then speak also of the cultivation of the mind–was also used in former times in the singular: cultura mentis. But then in the nineteenth century people began to use the term “culture” in the plural–“cultures.” That is to say, cultures were now understood to be particular in the same way, or almost the same way, in which political societies are particular. Whereas according to the older notion there is only one culture of the mind or of the heart. This assimilation of the culture of the mind to political life is a modern phenomenon, which underlies our present use of the term “culture.” Today in the ordinary meaning, even in anthropology, culture has nothing whatever to do with any cultivation of the mind. When we speak of the culture of juvenile delinquents of a certain district, we do not think seriously of any cultivation of the mind. That is a still further step. But originally, in the nineteenth century, “culture,” even if used in the plural, meant high culture. Then it was applied to every, quote, “culture” of every tribe, and then finally of course also to every subdivision of any society, however small and deplorable.
Now let us first follow Aristotle’s argument. Aristotle goes on to prove that the polis is the highest and the most comprehensive association; and he tries to prove that by considering the most important among the other associations. These are the family or the household, and the village. At this point we take up his discussion.
Man, when perfected, is the best of animals; but if he be isolated from law and justice he is the worst of all. Injustice is all the graver when it is armed injustice; and man is furnished by nature with arms which are intended to serve the purpose of prudence and virtue, but which may be used in preference for opposite ends. That is why, if man is without virtue, he is the most unholy and savage being, and worse than all others in the indulgence of lust and gluttony. Justice belongs to the polis; for justice, which is the determination of what is just, is an ordering of the political association.
Now what has he in mind here? Let us first take another consideration. The polis comes into being out of natural associations, such as the household. Therefore it is itself natural. In a sense, it is even more natural than the preceding associations. Why? Because all the other associations are in a way imperfect. They do not fulfill all of man’s natural needs; being imperfect, they point to the city as its perfection. The end of a natural thing is most emphatically the nature of the thing. A simple example: if we want to know the nature of a horse, we look at a grown-up horse in a good state of health, etc., meaning that a colt, or a sick horse, is a defective horse. The nature of a thing is the thing in its perfection. The point with which Aristotle is here concerned is not only that the polis is natural, but above all that it is natural as city, namely, as essentially different from the household. Some other thinkers to whom Aristotle alludes, the most important of whom is Plato, had asserted there is only a quantitative difference between the household and the city. Aristotle says, No, there is a qualitative, an essential difference, and that is to say, in other words, the polis is natural precisely in its character as polis and not merely as an overgrown household. The key implication of that is that if the polis is by nature–the thesis with which in a way the whole book begins–then the polis is not by convention. It is not by contract, to use the term used later on very frequently.
This being the case, that the polis is by nature, it follows that man is by nature the political animal. And why? Because what is the peculiarity of man? The thing characteristic of man, the specific difference of man? The fact that man possesses logos, speech or reason. And speech or reason is the reason why man is political. Aristotle says man is more political, more social, than all other social animals. Logos, speech or reason, socializes much more than anything else could. For without logos there would be only a sensual awareness, in particular, awareness of pleasure and pain. And this does not bind men together to the same degree as other kinds of awareness. Through logos we have awareness also of just and unjust. We can go a step further and say that the perfect union of two human individuals, of two individuals in general, is possible only in and through thought: if they think identically the same. Such an identity regarding feelings can never be known, even if they use the same words. If you take the simplest case, where they follow the same demonstration of the same theory, there can be no doubt that their thoughts are fully united–they think exactly the same.
The polis is natural to man also in another sense. As Aristotle explains more fully later on in Book 7, the city is what we would call a fairly small society: a society in which everyone knows, not everybody else (that would be a village), but in which everyone can know an acquaintance of everybody else, so that he can find out about that man, for example, if he is running for office, by direct knowledge. Also, the polis as Aristotle understands it is a society large enough to fulfill all man’s essential natural needs, and small enough so that it is commensurate with the limitations of man’s natural powers of knowing and of caring. In a way, we all know President Johnson and Vice President Humphrey; but in which way? From the TV. That is not knowledge in the sense in which you know someone with whom you have grown up, or who has grown up with your parents, and so on. In other words, one can say that a polis is a society small enough that it can be addressed by a speaker without the help of any artificial things. They can be assembled in body and addressed by him.
In the passage which I read to you, Aristotle makes it clear that man, to the extent to which he is not political, to which he is prepolitical or apolitical, not by accident, but incapable of living with others, is very bad. What Aristotle speaks about here reminds of what Hobbes says of the state of nature and what he expresses by saying that man is by nature, i.e., without social discipline, without being subject to laws, asocial. But what is the precise difference between Hobbes and Aristotle? That is of some importance. Now why is man such a nasty being, according to Hobbes? What makes him so nasty? What Hobbes calls pride, concern with being superior to others and with being recognized as superior by others. This is the reason why Hobbes regards him as asocial. Now Aristotle would reply, “But what you say proves men’s asociality, proves men’s sociality. A being who is radically dependent on the opinions of others is a radically social being.” In other words, Hobbes has not thought deeply enough. He mistakes antisociality for asociality. But these antisocial people you see and hear a lot these days, are of course, in a very radical sense, social; they are so much concerned with being important, as they call it, and since they cannot become important by legal ways, they try to get it by illegal ways. But “important” means, of course, being looked up to by others, a radical sociality. Hobbes mistakes sociality for benevolence. But malevolence also is social; also antisocial. And a radically asocial being would not be in this sense malevolent.
Now the Aristotelian doctrine that man is by nature social became the traditional doctrine throughout the ages until it was attacked, especially by Hobbes, in the seventeenth century. And in seventeenth and eighteenth centuries there was a running controversy between those who said that man is by nature social and those who denied it. The doctrines asserting men’s natural sociality were at that time called the socialist doctrines, and the others the antisocialists. You see how much the meaning of these terms has changed. By the way, what is true of socialism applies, of course, in a way still more to individualism. For example, the Stoics are famous for their individualism; but in this sense they are of course socialists, because they too teach the natural sociality of man. This only in passing.
Now when Aristotle says that the polis is by nature, he means more than that the polis is not conventional. He excludes also the view that another kind of political association is by nature, at least to the same degree as the polis, and that is the ethnos, in Greek; we can translate it by “tribe” or “nation”: a nonurban association of nomads, or tillers of the soil, or whatever have you. One can explain the exclusion of the ethnos in the following way. Man is born for civilization. “Civilization” is derivative from civis (citizen) andcivitas; and there is also a Greek equivalent for that, [inaudible] to polis. Man is born for civilization; and in a tribal life, he cannot find that.
The proposition that the polis is natural means, furthermore, that the city is not sacred. When Homer and other poets speak of the city, say, of Troy, they call it the “sacred city”; Aristotle calls it natural. This is also an important consideration. It is confirmed by the fact that in Aristotle’s discussion of the virtues in the Ethics, piety does not occur. Aristotle emphasizes in the Politics that the concern with divine things is a part of the concerns of the city–temples, sacrifices, and so on. But he indicates the ambiguous position of this concern by the following remark. In enumerating what the concerns of the city are–one, two, three, four, five, and so on–he says, at the fifth and at the first place, the concern with the divine things. In other words, from one point of view, this is of course the most important, the first place. But from another point of view, it is not. This is a hint which needs thinking through. The concern with the divine things is a part of the concerns of the city, but also it transcends the city, namely in the form of philosophy, which from Aristotle’s point of view is of course the highest form of the concern with the divine things.
This view is, by the way, also confirmed by the Republic. The venerable old man Cephalus, the father, at the beginning goes out to sacrifice, whereas Socrates discusses the best political order with the younger men. One could find other examples. Surely this peculiar secularism must not be identified with the modern secularism, for the simple reason that Aristotle was not a man of the Enlightenment. But the situation is clearly enough indicated at the beginning of Plato’s dialogue Timaeus, where a man, an interlocutor, has been reminded by Plato’s Republic of the old Egyptian order, in which the place occupied in Plato’s Republic by the philosophers is occupied by priests, and he is not aware of the difference, as Socrates or Plato were. The polis is definitely not a priestly order, although it necessarily includes priests.
Now the bulk of the first book of the Politics is devoted to the household as the most important part of the city, or to the management of the household. Management of the household is in Greek oikonomia, from which the English word “economics” is derived. In a way, Aristotle takes up the economic questions, but all within the context of the management of the household. The question of finance and any public economy is not taken up in any way.
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LS: –except that he defended slavery. Now that is true, he defended slavery; I shall speak of that immediately. But it is not sufficient to know only this fact, because then one doesn’t know why he defended it and what are the conscious limitations of his defense. Well, Aristotle starts from the fact that slavery is a controversial thing. Some people say, to rule as a master over slaves is against nature; for it is merely by nomos that one man is a slave and the other a freeman, and by nature there is no difference. And since it is not by nature, it is unjust; it is merely an act of violence, nature is violated by that institution.
Aristotle states the problem in these very simple terms: Is slavery natural or conventional? If it is only conventional, it is, as matters stand, unjust. In order to answer this question, he must of course define what is a slave. The answer is, a possession, a piece of property, which is animate–not like a pot, or a hammer. But more specifically, an animate tool, not for the purpose of production of things, but for the purpose of life, or use, or action. Life is action or use, not production. Production is only in the service of life, but not life itself. In other words, slavery is not understood here as a tool of producing things in mines underground or in factory-like undertakings, but as a household slave, as a helper for man in his life. Aristotle asserts that slavery properly understood is natural. In order to show that, he starts from the fact that the whole of nature has a hierarchic character. Everywhere we find higher and lower; something which by nature rules, and something which by nature is ruled. The example nearest home is the difference between the mind, the soul, and the body. Desire, passions belong to the soul in contradistinction to the mind. And the mind is by nature the ruler of the desires and passions. And the soul in its turn is the ruler of the body. Also, the difference between the male and female, which is not limited to the human race, is a sign of the hierarchic character of nature, the male being the ruling part. The soul rules the body, Aristotle says, like a master does, i.e., as if the body were a slave, namely by sheer command, not by persuasion. We cannot talk to our body as we can talk to our anger, for example. And therefore the mind rules the passions, politically, by persuasion.
Now the slave participates in speech sufficiently as to be able to listen to speech, but not to have logos within himself. This is Aristotle’s definition. And such a man is therefore justly enslaved, and no violence is done to him; on the contrary, for him it is useful to be a slave, just as it is useful to his master to have him as a slave. Now what then is a natural slave? A man who can understand, in the way in which no brute animal can understand, and yet not sufficiently that he can guide his own life; he needs someone else to guide him. Take an example of someone who can understand the command, “Bring five logs into the house–one, two, three, four, five.” He can do that, no dog could do that; but on the other hand, he couldn’t take care for himself, because he might be wholly incapable of controlling his desire for alcoholic beverages, and for other things. The greatest presentation of what Aristotle understands by a natural slave, now from the less amiable side, is the presentation of Caliban in Shakespeare’s Tempest, where, if you remember the situation, the thought that Caliban deserves to be controlled by Prospero, and at Prospero’s command to be tricked by Ariel, and so on, is not a shocking suggestion. The question is, How great can the political relevance of this fact be? Aristotle thought it is very great. So slavery is therefore natural, if applied to people who are by nature slaves. If it is applied to people who are not by nature slaves, it is plainly injustice. So, for example, to enslave people merely because they have been taken as prisoners in war–this is unjust.
Now we will see later on that this is not the last word of Aristotle on the subject. Later on, in Books 7 and 8, where he describes the best commonwealth as he sees it, slavery is taken for granted; and he proposes there that the slaves be given the prospect of emancipation. Now this would be clearly impossible in the case of natural slaves, because they are by definition people who cannot be emancipated, because they cannot take care of themselves. Therefore, Aristotle must there assume that you will have also slaves who are only slaves by convention, i.e., who are unjustly slaves. How this can be reconciled with what we read in Book I, we must postpone.
Aristotle continues the discussion as follows.
It is clear from this explanation of what the slave is that the rule of a master and political rule are not the same,
as Plato among others seems to have considered it.
For the one, political rule, is rule over free men, the other is over slaves. And the rule within the household is monarchical, for every household is ruled by one man; while political rule is the rule over free and equals. The ruler is not called ruler with a view to the knowledge which he possesses–
as when we say a man is a physician with a view to the fact that he possesses the ability, skill, and knowledge of the physician–
but because he is such a one.
Meaning, because he is a master.
And the same applies also to freemen and slaves–
they are not freemen or slaves because of peculiar knowledge which they possess.
Aristotle goes on to say that this does not mean that there is not a certain kind of knowledge which slaves, for example, must have. There was a man in Syracuse, he tells, who had a school for slaves, where they learned the kinds of things they had to do in the household; and it is also possible to say there is a kind of knowledge which the master needs, in order to give commands to the slaves. But Aristotle says this is not something grand, this kind of knowledge, and he who can afford it will have a bailiff who takes care of this kind of knowledge. And the masters themselves will need a political life or will seek for wisdom. Here you have the simple alternative: the truly human life is either political life or the life of quest for wisdom, “philosophy” in Greek. An alternative to which we shall have to come back more than once.
Now the next great theme, also belonging to economics, is that part which has to do not with human beings, in particular slaves, but with other kinds of property. And here the greatest question is the relation of moneymaking to management of the household. Aristotle asserts that they are two entirely different things. The distinction between moneymaking and management of the household is based on a distinction between the natural forms of property, of acquisition or possession, and those which are not natural. The natural ones are essentially limited by what a man and his family can reasonably use. The art of acquiring money is essentially unlimited, and therefore there is something wrong with it, that a finite being should seek for infinite money. And among the natural forms of acquisition, the most important is agriculture. Agriculture has a much higher status, according to Aristotle and according to Plato, than commerce, industry, and especially, which is the lowest, the lending of interest, which from Aristotle’s point of view is altogether unjust or immoral.
Now we do not have to go into the details of Aristotle’s economic teaching, his teaching regarding the natural and the unnatural forms of acquisition. Some of which points have a direct importance, and I will mention only one. The distinction which Marx makes, with particular clarity, between use-value and exchange-value is literally taken from Aristotle. Marx makes of course a very different use for it, and naturally, because for Marx the fundamental phenomenon in the sphere of economics is production, whereas this is not so in Aristotle. For Aristotle, the fundamental thing is the purpose of use, or if you look at the other side, the gifts of nature rather than that which exists by means of human production. Into this I cannot go. The main point which is so striking here as elsewhere is the orientation by what is natural and not natural. Without it one cannot understand anything of Aristotle’s teachings at any point. There is a natural way of earning a livelihood, and an unnatural. And the criterion is, for example, whether it is determined, whether it has limits, or whether it is unlimited. What is natural is necessarily limited, has a specific character. Nature means primarily the nature of a particular kind of things, whether they are men or dogs or horses; i.e., things distinguished from others, separate from the others, having a limit with a view to others. The unlimited is, from this point of view, not natural. After having gone through the economic question, of which the issue of slavery is a primary and in a way the most important part, Aristotle turns in the second book to a new subject.
We have learned in our way that the polis is natural. Its parts are natural; there is a natural slavery; there is a natural way of acquiring property. And now we turn to the polis. But in which sense? Book 2 begins as follows.
Since we have the intention to contemplate regarding the political association, which is the best of all, for those who can live to the highest degree as they would wish, we must consider also the other forms of government, which some of the cities use, those cities which are reputed to be well-administered, and if there should be any others, which have been said (pronounced) by some people, and which have the reputation of being good, so that we will see what is correct and useful in them and what is not.
And so on. Now Aristotle turns, then, here to the question of the best form of government (I will leave it at this provisional translation of the Greek word “politeia”). But before he turns to this question, he looks to what we can learn from what others present us: first, cities which are reputed to be admirable; second, blueprints which are reputed to be admirable. You see, Aristotle proceeds in a strictly commonsensical way. He finds his bearings by reputation, assuming that reputation is never entirely unfounded, surely not in reasonably free societies, and therefore it is of some help. But the strange thing–for us it is strange–is that he treats the commonwealth, or the political orders, which exist in fact, say, Sparta, in the same way in which he treats, say, Plato’s Republic. In other words, whether this is an actual or a blueprinted order, does not make any difference for Aristotle. This is quite remarkable. The procedure is, incidentally, not historical; he begins the discussion of these various regimes with Plato’s proposals in the Republic and the Laws, then takes up the proposals by some earlier thinkers, and only then he turns to the actual orders which have a good reputation, such as Sparta. Characteristically, not Athens. Athens is, among the people whom Aristotle addresses, not reputed to be a good polity. Therefore, it is treated with silence. We will discuss this next time.
Now among the discussion of the second book, the criticism of Plato is of course most important, because Aristotle does here something which he did not do in Book I, namely, show that the household, the family, as we can also say, is necessary. He only showed that the polis is superior to, is essentially different from, and broader and more comprehensive than, the family. But he did consider the possibility that there might be a familyless, a householdless polis, which theoretically is possible–that is exactly what Plato does in the Republic. So in the criticism of Plato’s Republic he shows why the household, private property, and private family are necessary. And this is one very important point which Aristotle makes in Book 2. And the other is his discussion of the earliest political philosopher, as we can call him, Hippodamus, which you will also find there, and I think it would be helpful if you could have read it next Wednesday. That will facilitate the discussion. Now we have a minute or so left. Is there any point–Yes?
Student: I’m not sure exactly why Aristotle thinks that moneymaking is unlimited ... [inaudible] ... energy and cleverness of a man, and conventionally, by the nature of the business, by laws–
LS: No, but a man has, say, acquired a hundred thousand dollars. There is nothing in the nature of the case, as far as the economic situation is concerned, that would speak against his making, if he can, a million dollars, a billion dollars, and so on and so on. But if you do not absolutize money, if you look at the whole context, and the whole context is human use, use of the property by the property owner, then you arrive at limits. Unless you can say, well, instead of accumulating money, he will go in for ever more luxury, he will have fifty yachts, and twenty country-houses, and whatever you do; but Aristotle would say, if you look at it again completely from the point of view of use, of good use, of virtuous use, which would exclude showing off, mere conspicuous consumption, as well as stinginess, of course–then you would see you cannot go beyond a certain point, that it is in itself limited. This is what he means. That you can accumulate as many houses, or pieces of land, or diamonds in the same way in which you can accumulate dollar bills, Aristotle knew (although he didn’t know of paper money). But he thinks simply that money is a very great convenience, but it has the temptation in it to make us forget what it is for, that it is only a convenience. And this is a good example of what the ancients meant by mere convention. A mere convention is a convenience, but a convenience which somehow pretends to be independent, and therefore as it were runs away from us. Is this not clear? Mr. Levy?
Mr. Levy: For Hobbes, the prepolitical state is one of war. What was the prepolitical state or way of life of men, as Aristotle saw it? And also, why was the prepolitical state insufficient [inaudible]?
LS: Well, have you ever lived in a village?
Mr. Levy: Yes.
LS: Not Greenwich Village. (Great laughter.) Well, then you see there are certain things which you cannot easily get there. The chances that you would meet there someone with whom you can talk about the things which interest you are smaller than in a larger <society>. Your natural needs, the needs of your mind, cannot be so easily fulfilled. And you must not forget, of course, that any village in this country, and for that matter in Europe, is a part of a larger whole and therefore not–. Disregarding that entirely. Yes?
Mr. Levy: On the second point [inaudible] once you say, in Aristotle’s own terms, forgetting about the present company, the many have [inaudible] because only force [inaudible]–
LS: Yes, well, as Aristotle says in the first book of the Politics, if we want to find out what is natural, we must look at the healthy, and in this sense normal, members of the species, and not at those who are in one way or another corrupt or deficient. That there are people who are perfectly happy without any cultivation of their mind is undeniable; but there is something wrong with them.
Mr. Levy: What you’re saying is–