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The Politics | Main Ideas

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Nature

Aristotle repeatedly refers to the importance of nature in determining what makes the best regime. Aristotle believes people are born a certain way; this is their nature. Much of this thinking is based on common binaries: men versus women, God versus man, and a divided soul. For Aristotle, gender reveals a way of being. He declares women, children, and slaves are by nature unsuited to be citizens or participate in government. Nature also determines who should be a leader: "For by nature there is a certain people apt for mastery, another apt for kingship, and another that is political, and this is both just and advantageous." When people follow their nature—assuming that nature is virtuous—the result is a positive community and a well-functioning city.

Noble Causes

Cities are organized not only for sufficiency but also for the pursuit of noble causes. Noble causes are born of virtue and emphasize the soul. Without noble causes, a city has no purpose. Cities may promote noble causes in various ways. In an oligarchy, for example, leaders follow ethics and challenge the whole population to achieve a greater morality. Aristotle believes education should include seemingly nonessential but noble subjects such as music because this and other creative arts can create happiness and relaxation, thus contributing to a world citizens want to live in. Aristotle envisions a future focused on noble causes and believes this future will offer more fulfillment to all.

Community

Cities are communities, and communities work to support one another. The foundation of any community is family. Families unite in groups, often consisting of people with similar interests or experiences. Community is the basis of all governments. If a government tries to unite communities that are too different, it may fail. According to Aristotle, diversity is important because it can lead to new ideas, but it can also lead to discord. Communities allow people to enforce morality on a small level.

Those who belong to a community will likely feel motivated to support it. Those who feel they belong are more apt to embrace morality because they care about those around them; thus, community is essential to a government's success—that is, how long it lasts and how moral it is.

Virtue

Virtue is one of the defining factors of a vibrant, progressive community. Aristotle sees virtue in opposition to vulgarity. Vulgarity should be suppressed and not rewarded. Virtue should be commended and rewarded; those who possess it should be awarded leadership. Virtue is defined by different households in different ways. Virtue is a higher form of good. Education is vital because it helps instill virtue. Just as the soul is divided into the rational and irrational, there is also vulgarity and virtue in each human; that's why virtue must be rewarded.

Aristotle believes the purpose of politics is to further the ideals of virtue. Although not everyone is virtuous, governments still must strive toward increasing virtue. Aristotle says, "The happy life is one in accordance with virtue and unimpeded." Happiness comes from virtue, as well as many other positive characteristics. Aristotle believes those in power can remain virtuous and not let power cloud their choices. In his view, virtuous people remain virtuous, making them the best leaders. Virtue can be enforced through the justice system, in which citizens judge the actions of other citizens.

Freedom

Freedom is the ideal on which democracy is based. Freedom allows the virtuous to pursue their virtue and thus gain happiness. The freedom Aristotle describes is available only for non-slave males. This idea—aside from the part about pertaining only to non-slave males—remains foundational to modern democracies. Freedom means individuals have access to adequate resources to live a moderate life free from suffering. Freedom is not erratic but controlled; it is based on the principle of virtue.

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