Aristotle, Political Beings by Nature

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Paper 1: Aristotle, Political Beings by Nature

2. Aristotle says that we are political beings by nature. What does he mean by this? Do you agree
or disagree?
In his demonstration of political theory in Politics book 1, Aristotle claimed that human beings
are political animals by nature and so it the city-state. The latter thus being described as a natural
phenomenon, something that exits by nature. While explaining that city-states had a canonical
nature, Aristotle stated that ‘’as in other cases, the best way to study these things is to observe
their natural development from the beginning’’ (Reeve, xlix). As the argument of nature
develops throughout the book, a vivid description of this said city-state is evaluated through
time: it starts out with human beings placed in pairs for we cannot live on our own completely
and this way separated into different categories. As male and female are bound to reproduce and
feel this desire in response to sexual dimorphism (Reeve, xlix), a slave and a master will
complete each other at differing levels in order to maintain life. We later study that some people
are naturally fit to become labour to those known as natural masters who rule with their inborn
intellect. For example, it is natural for a father to be the leader of a household. As these
relationships develop, Aristotle also demonstrated that from households stem neighbourhoods
and eventually communities in a natural manner for human beings need support beyond family
members and branch out.

As a female member of society, I do believe in the nature of communal formations and
the need to create relationships with people surrounding me. As society demonstrates today that
gender roles and sexual orientations can vary in different households, I still believe that it is
natural to consider the stages presented in Aristotle’s argument. I believe that, even if we were
born separated from each other, secluded and not aware of other people’s presence, we would
constantly search for a significant other, or an emotional, spiritual or moral leader, for it is part of
the human being’s natural instincts. As we are born within the immediate presence of other
human beings, this sense of community and eventually political knowledge can only develop and
blossom with time. Yet I still believe that teleological philosophy can explain the purpose of our
existence and the nature of it, to which Aristotle adds that community life becomes the sake of
life, the purpose of a good life. As seen in class, the theory, once viewed in an Aristotelian angle,
holds that final causes exist in nature for the sake of what is best in each case.
Although counterarguments are demonstrated to Aristotle’s view of the household slaves,
pointing out that people can survive without that addition to the family, I still believe there is a
natural hierarchy that forms in a society. Not to undermine and breech anyone’s rights in any
way, it can be discussed that, by stating that certain individuals belonged to the slave class and
needed to abide to a master because ‘’their souls altogether lack a deliberative element’’ (Reeve,
l), Aristotle was not so far from the truth when compared to today’s society. We still live in a
world where, even if most first world countries follow strict and fair constitutions, allow
minimum wage salaries to all working age citizens and provide healthcare along with other
benefits, many poorer communities still function in a very medieval way. For example, the cast
system is still applicable in India through Hinduism in which, when born in a cast, there is no
way to ever change from it throughout your lifetime (Sharma, 2012). This brings us back to the
citizens and non-citizens of Athens concerning political participation and everyday citizenship
rights. So, as many historians and philosophers can disagree on this point, I believe Aristotle’s
argument can still be reflected in certain parts of the world today, proving that human beings are
political by nature. This kind of selective dividing of a society goes past tradition and laws, it
stems from natural behaviour to consider certain human beings are inferior, untouchable, and
meant for labour. In class, we also viewed that in the worse cases, society would naturally grant
people with mental disorders the immediate title of labourer, for there was no chance of change
or enhancement either in their case.
According to the book, as the city-state alone attains self-sufficiency, it is designated to
exist by nature. Following the same thought that nothing is created without a specific purpose of
existence, the human beings are therefore political animals, because nature has equipped them
with speech, so they could communicate and share ethical and moral responsibilities. Therefore,
concepts such as justice and education are transmitted through individuals to form what is the
city-state, without which human beings would not be self-sufficient. In my opinion, it does make
sense to view the creation of things this way, for the ability to interact with others is what creates
political debates and social change. But as the book reminds us as well, all these characteristics
are also joined by another Aristotelian belief: the city-state is also the creator of knowledge. If
we were to refer this thought to this day and age, I could agree that our Prime Minister and
government act together as the original lawgiver, elevating us to a level of democratic, civilized
interaction, also by shaping the education system and the way subjects are taught in school. In
this way, the city-state does provide knowledge for its inhabitants, thus proving that they are not
self-sufficient without the existence of the city-state. Without any lawgiver, the state would be at
a savage level of interaction, with no rules and boundaries. Aristotle thus described how, as
every human being does have an impulse and desire for a political and communal upbringing, the
person who first establishes the city-state is thus the cause of such welfare and benefits.
This brings us to defining the type of nature that delineates what the characteristics of a
household or a community are. As they would be thought to be the same, they are altered
according to the leaders themselves. ‘’This justifies us in speaking of a nature that is not simply
constituted by the collective natures that individuals living anywhere would have, but of one that
is the nature of household dwellers as such’’ (Reeve, liii). Therefore as city-states vary on their
constitutional amendments, some human beings may act in a more democratic way than others.
As each community educates its members into a type of virtue that is suitable to be a
participating citizen, ‘’each indexes their natures to itself’’ (Reeve, liii). So as our constitution in
each society should teach us to be democratic political individuals, certain communities are lead
by oligarchies and do not experience the same type of ruling and fairness. We thus act in our day
to day lives and perform functions with a democratic nature, because our community has
stamped us with democratic virtues through education. We are therefore political by nature, but
our community, our city-state, guides us and shapes the way we will act towards each other.
Reeve, C. D. C. Politics. Indianapolis, Ind.: Hackett Pub., 1998.
Sharma, Shital. (Fall 2012) RELI 225: Introduction to Hinduism, class notes.


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