Literature Study GuidesPoliticsBook 3 Chapters 1 10 Summary

Politics | Study Guide


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Politics | Book 3, Chapters 1–10 | Summary



Book 3, Chapter 1

A city is made up of many parts, but all cities must have citizens. In this section, Aristotle elaborates on what makes someone a citizen and what the role entails. Different forms of government—say, an oligarchy versus a democracy—have different criteria for citizenship. In all cases, citizens are those allowed to take full part in the judicial system. Noncitizens do not participate completely and must have a citizen serve as their patron. The noncitizen often has the status of a child. Across regimes, citizens share many characteristics. However, a democracy gives citizens the most power to make decisions about how they are governed. In most forms of government, a citizen is someone who is allowed to share in decisions and deliberations as well as live a complete life in the city.

Book 3, Chapter 2

For the sake of Aristotle's argument, citizens are people whose parents are both citizens; often previous generations of the family were citizens too. Someone who participates in making the regime or forming the city is a citizen. After a revolution, those who helped bring it about are also citizens. This route to citizenship has often been questioned, Aristotle notes, but it remains intact in many governments.

Book 3, Chapter 3

Some dispute whether citizenship is determined justly. When a democracy replaces a tyranny or an oligarchy, who should become a citizen? To answer this question, Aristotle says, it is important to know the space the city occupies and where people live within the city. A city remains the same even if regimes change.

Book 3, Chapter 4

Citizens seek to preserve the community in different ways. No city can consist entirely of good people, but the desire to be an excellent citizen must prevail. Part of what makes a good citizen is the capacity to be ruled. A ruler doesn't need to know how to do what citizens do, but a good citizen should have the capacity to be both the ruled and the ruler.

Book 3, Chapter 5

Aristotle reiterates that virtue makes an excellent citizen, but not every citizen is guaranteed to be virtuous. He has one final question about citizens: should they include only those capable of holding a political office? Children, he says, are citizens but incomplete ones. Different types of regimes have different types of citizens. Some cities with smaller populations need more citizens and give citizenship to people who usually do not receive it.

Book 3, Chapter 6

Aristotle spends this chapter discussing the role of the regime. A regime consists of city offices with power; this is the governing body. People join together with the goal of creating a more satisfying life. In a household, rules are intended to benefit all inhabitants; so it should be in the regime as well. Those who serve in the regime often benefit from a system of giving and receiving favors. This mutual benefit can entice those who will wish to maintain power. A strong city government does not consist of people who are entirely just or entirely selfish. For society to function, there must be a balance.

Book 3, Chapter 7

For the sake of Aristotle's argument, regime and governing body mean the same thing. If people receive citizenship, they must also receive the government's benefits. In an aristocracy, a few people have an advantage; in contrast, a polity seeks to benefit the common interest. In any type of regime, the military often has authority over virtue. Different forms of government can easily morph into others over time: "tyranny from kingship, oligarchy from aristocracy, democracy from polity."

Book 3, Chapter 8

In this chapter Aristotle begins to explore characteristics of the different regimes. Tyranny is a type of monarchy. It is not an open form of rule like a democracy; it seeks to control the community. In an oligarchy the people with the most property—generally a small number of citizens—have the most power. A true democracy is the opposite of an oligarchy; in a democracy the poor have the most power. In many places, most people are poor and few are wealthy. In a democracy there can be many disputes over the regime because so many people have power. In a democracy it can be difficult to find a unifying voice.

Book 3, Chapter 9

Aristotle has set up the principles of oligarchy and democracy; now he seeks to analyze what constitutes justice under these constraints. "So we must lay it down that the association which is a state exists not for the purpose of living together but for the sake of noble actions." Justice depends on an individual's position; some—such as citizens (non-slave men) or the wealthy—are much more likely to receive justice than others. But Aristotle says justice seeks equality only for like people. For instance, women being equal to other women is justice. Not everyone agrees with Aristotle's stance. For example, people with little property may feel unequal to those who have more, even if they have other rights and resources. In some instances, people are so dissimilar they cannot join together in a city. Aristotle believes cities should promote the pursuit of a positive, self-sufficient life. Intermarriage among different communities in a city can help create a unified culture. Those who contribute most to the city should have more rights than others.

Book 3, Chapter 10

Aristotle discusses how many should rule a city. Each type of arrangement—multitude rule, tyrant rule, rule by the most virtuous—brings difficulty. Justice and virtue cannot destroy a city. If a law works against the city, it is unjust. If the just continually rule over others, others do not get a chance to rule; this becomes a sort of injustice. Some may also believe that no man should rule over others. This begins to complicate the oligarchy and other forms of rule.


Aristotle begins the section by saying, "Thus who ought to be called a citizen and what the citizen is must be investigated." He believes it's important for cities to carefully consider who can be a citizen; not everyone should be granted the right. Women, children, and slaves are not citizens and thus cannot serve in the government. Aristotle says only the child of a citizen should be considered a citizen. Aliens—those from anywhere outside Greece—cannot be considered citizens, and there is no way for them to become citizens. This places a limit on how many people the government represents. If only the head of a household—who always must be a man—can be a citizen, he is responsible for ensuring the government respects the entire household. Through limiting who is a citizen, those who govern remain a small number of elites and the government runs properly. This does not align with government ideals of every person having a voice, but instead ensures that the government will smoothly function.

The issues Aristotle raises remain important in modern times. Many countries did not grant women the full rights of citizenship until recently. As in Aristotle's time, men had control over women and represented them in government. When slavery was legal in the U.S., slaves' rights as citizens were also sharply limited. As Aristotle points out, limiting who can be a citizen determines how a political system functions. Aristotle says women and slaves should not be citizens because they shouldn't participate in government. The society needs women, slaves, foreigners, and other noncitizens to perform labors; this allows citizens the resources to participate in government.

Citizens are the only people who receive direct government representation. Different regimes also outline varying roles for the citizen. Citizens in a democracy have more power than those in an oligarchy. People should intermarry across groups to ensure peace in a city. Aristotle outlines the importance of the idea of the citizen. Citizens are those granted special privileges by the government and thus remain an exclusive group. A city requires both citizens and noncitizens. Citizenship is still widely debated today. In the United States, for example, some people believe immigrants should not be granted citizenship. Debate over whether the children of illegal immigrants should be granted citizenship also resonates with Aristotle's thinking. By embracing citizenship as a status conferred to some but not all, Aristotle instituted a belief some governments embrace to this day.

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