Literature Study GuidesPoliticsBook 1 Chapters 1 13 Summary

Politics | Study Guide

Aristotle

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Politics | Book 1, Chapters 1–13 | Summary

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Summary

Book 1, Chapter 1

Aristotle outlines the relationship between rulers and ruled in the ancient world, noting, "Every state is a community of some kind." He defines a city as a community that seeks some sort of good. Rulers should aim to direct as many citizens as possible toward good, whether in the form of societal order, greater wisdom, or other positive goals. Every city consists of households. Those who rule over a household have different responsibilities from those who rule over a city, but it is important to study all relationships in a city to understand how power works. Aristotle will explore these main ideas throughout the book.

Book 1, Chapter 2

Aristotle says, "When several villages are united in a single complete community, large enough to be nearly or quite self-sufficing, the state comes into existence." A state necessitates the relationship of the ruling and the ruled. By the same token, Aristotle believes some should be slaves and others should be masters. This is why the Greeks should control aliens or barbarians—that is, non-Greek people. In the households that make up cities, power is distributed for the needs of daily life. In these early Greek households, the leader was always the eldest male. The first communities formed when several households joined together as a village. Several villages joined together to become a city. Cities help people live well; they offer increased efficiency and access to resources. Aristotle believes humans are political beings by nature because they need one another to survive and thrive: "For as man is the best of all animals when he has reached his full development, so he is worst of all when divorced from law and justice." For this reason, Aristotle says cities must focus on encouraging moral behavior.

Book 1, Chapter 3

Every city is composed of households. During Aristotle's time, a complete household includes slaves and free people. Aristotle says three elements are vital to successful households: mastery—the head of household dominates women, children, and slaves; the marriage relationship; and procreation. These elements work together, ideally in a harmonious manner. Everyone has a certain role and specialized knowledge of that role.

Book 1, Chapter 4

Property is an important part of household management, according to Aristotle. All subordinates are property; they can use tools to help the household profit and must be instructed to do so. Aristotle believes life is action and says slaves are subordinate because they do not control their own actions. By definition, those who have agency over their actions are not slaves.

Book 1, Chapter 5

From birth, individuals diverge into those who rule and those who do not rule. Aristotle says, "For that some should rule and others be ruled is a thing not only necessary, but expedient." Some beings, such as animals, are better when ruled. Ruler-and-ruled relationships create harmony in society. This ruler-and-ruled relationship applies to the human body as well. The soul rules the body, and passion is ruled by intellect. Aristotle says reversing the roles of ruler and ruled can lead to trouble, but he does not present the roles as a hierarchy because both are essential for humanity. Society, he says, requires both slaves and masters; one is not less than the other.

Book 1, Chapter 6

Some believe it is wrong for a victor to keep slaves awarded as a war prize. Aristotle disagrees; he says victors can use their power to promote virtue and justice, which may benefit the enslaved. Nor does Aristotle believe some people are slaves everywhere and others are slaves nowhere. He thinks most people who are enslaved were not born only for this purpose; he says the master and the slave must work together because bad rule is disadvantageous for both.

Book 1, Chapter 7

Mastery and political rule are not the same. Political rule guides those who are free; mastery is control over those who are not free. Maintaining a household is a form of mastery, and Aristotle refers to it as a monarchy. There is no scientific reason some are called to rule and some to be ruled over.

Book 1, Chapter 8

Household management is not the same as getting goods. Getting goods involves increased ownership over materials through production and trading. Aristotle relates this human concept to animal life: "If then nature makes nothing without some end in view, nothing to no purpose, it must be that nature has made all of them for the sake of man." In the animal kingdom, some live in herds and some live alone; some eat meat and others eat plants. Humans also get what they need in different ways. There are nomads, farmers, hunters, and those who work in brigades. Over time, people have developed new ways to live with and near each other. Plants exist for animals, and animals exist for human beings; nothing in nature is purposeless. Households need to accumulate specific quantities of useful goods. On the other hand, wealth—people getting goods beyond their needs—is limitless.

Book 1, Chapter 9

Possessions can be used in two ways: for their original purpose or for trade. In a household, exchange has no purpose because the item still remains in the household. Communities began to form because households needed to trade goods to attain sufficiency. Money came into use when trade grew across larger swathes of communities. Eventually, money became common currency, and coins marked with value made commerce easier. Standardized money allowed people to trade beyond their small community.

Book 1, Chapter 10

A household needs a certain amount of wealth to continue to exist. But excessive wealth is contrary to nature and should be discouraged.

Book 1, Chapter 11

Exchange is the art of trade, which itself has three parts: provisioning a ship, transporting, and marketing. Exchange also includes money lending and wage labor. Although some argue that philosophy is a profession without money, Aristotle says a philosopher can make a good living using the example of mathematician Thales (624–546 BCE). Thales used astronomy to predict the success of an olive crop; he then purchased olive presses, and when the bumper crop arrived, he rented them out and made a lot of money. Exchange reveals new possibilities for people to take advantage of others; political leaders need to be aware of moneymaking strategies such as monopolies. Aristotle believes it is the responsibility of political leaders to control money and moneymaking methods.

Book 1, Chapter 12

There are three parts of household management: master, paternal rule, and marital rule. Aristotle says men are naturally adept at ruling. Men rule politically with their female partner, as opposed to attaining mastery. The paternal figure of a household rules like a king over the children.

Book 1, Chapter 13

For household management, human beings are more important than inanimate property. The soul has both a ruling and a ruled element; each is valuable in different ways. The balance of mind and body is essential in society. The free person and the slave, the woman and the man, and the man and the child all relate to one another in a similar way. Much like the mind and body, these pairings are codependent, and both contribute different resources.

Analysis

Aristotle was a political scholar adept at forming arguments. Before writing Politics, Aristotle sent his students to 158 cities to study how they functioned and bring back positives and negatives. With this information Aristotle wrote one of the most expansive political texts of his time, one that continues to influence politics today. The argument Aristotle sets forth in Politics increases incrementally: he begins with a foundation and expands it throughout. He often cites specific cities as examples of governments that do and do not work.

He begins with the smallest power dynamic and the foundation of all cities—the household. From the household comes larger groupings. Each member of a household and a community plays a vital role. The master and slave relationship was central in Aristotle's time. He views it as a moral relationship: the master is responsible for a mastering virtue, and the slave must perform a serving virtue. In this sense the slave is not abject but has much of the same intellect as the master. In society, much of slave trade relied on the idea of slaves as less than human, but Aristotle clearly sees things differently; to his mind both master and slave have specialized knowledge society needs.

Women and children also have their own essential roles in making the household function. In Aristotle's world, women are unfit to rule or to serve as heads of households. Aristotle's ideal household requires relationships of control and domination, beginning with the head of the household, a man. Gender roles must be cemented to maintain the power structure.

Aristotle relies on the binary—two codependent sides—for much of his argument and begins to engage theoretically with those who have opposing arguments. He sees nature as a means toward sufficiency and having enough. He also considers money part of nature, or the natural order of things, but he says excess wealth—money from money—begins to separate from nature. Most of his argument relies on ideas about nature, which he feels is closely connected to spirituality. Nature is a fixed entity; humans are born with a particular nature they can shape to some extent, but generally their nature remains intact. Aristotle also sees gender as a given quality. The male is the leader, and the woman is subservient.

Aristotle considers the household the base of all relationships in a community, so he believes an orderly household will lead to an orderly society. A positive community enforces control at all levels, beginning with the household.

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