Aristotle Politics: the Relationship between Personal Ethics and Public Politics

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Within every state, the typical goal of every citizen is to have an efficient system of government that gives priority to its citizens regardless of their position or class within the community. Individuals who owe allegiance to a given state may show diversity, but the core of their focus is working towards having a better life and improving the state of their community.

In Politics by Aristotle, one of the most prominant themes is the relationship between personal ethics and public politics.

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He successfully establishes the link between individual ethics, particularly for those in power, and how it relates to public politics; the manner in which they exercise authority over citizens in their states. Aristotle extensively argues on the connection between these two realms, from the household to the state level. He critically analyzes what makes for a good citizen, how good citizenship relates to the form and role of government, and in the same logic, points out what a bad government is like.

A state is made up of citizens and what makes a good citizen entails a wide range of factors. The term ‘citizen’ may be used broadly because a person is not considered a citizen simply because they reside in a particular region as aliens can similarly share the same residence. Hence, a citizen is a person whose parents are both citizens and has the authority to participate in the judicial running of a state and citizens differ under varied types of government. Although citizens within a state are different from one another in many ways, their universal concern is the wellbeing of their community hence the qualities that make one a good citizen apply to every individual. A good citizen is therefore considered as one who has mastered the skill of ruling and obeying commands at the same time.

Although in a state there have to be various ranks of people such as masters, middle-class people, and slaves, so the master must know how to execute some tasks effectively even though they may employ other people to execute them on their behalf. Additionally, the good citizen should know to what extent they should learn specific crafts to create a barrier between various classes. “Certainly, the good man and the statesman and the good citizen ought not to learn the crafts of inferiors except for their occasional use; if they habitually practice them, there will cease to be a distinction between master and slave (Aristotle 108).

On that account, Aristotle wraps up what makes for good citizenship as being capable of governing like a freeman and obeying laws and regulations like a free man. Good citizenship is related to the form and role of government by the actuality that there are many forms of government and simultaneously, varieties of citizens with different criteria for analyzing good citizenship. In some forms of government such as aristocracy whereby honors are granted on the grounds of merit and virtue, both a mechanic and a laborer are not labeled as citizens because such states do not perceive good citizenship in them as it is presumed that they are incapable of practicing virtue due to their lifestyle.

Good citizenship can only be manifested if the government conducts its role efficiently and that is only possible in the form of governance that is in place. As Aristotle illustrates, some kinds of leadership regard in high esteem the interests of either the monarchy or the wealthy at the expense of the citizens. In such a system, the government fails to meet up its objective of working towards the good of everyone. The citizens are therefore incapable of showing good citizenship as required by the law. “Hence predominance will be given to the better sort of people, who have the larger incomes, because many of the lower classes, not being compelled will not vote (Aristotle 33).

Aristotle vividly sheds light on the impact of partiality in government, which is the loss of good citizenship due to injustice within the government. There are distinct forms of government with unique differences, which Aristotle uses in categorizing the bad kind of governments and the proper forms of government. True forms of government have consideration for the communal interest of citizens and the whole state while the untrue or wrong kinds of government disregard the interests of citizens.

In establishing the forms of government, Aristotle first analyzes each type starting from tyranny, which implies to a monarchy executing a master’s rule over the specific political society. “A tyrant, as has often been repeated, has no regard to any public interest, but only to his private ends; his aim is pleasure (Aristotle 218).

Oligarchy refers to governance whereby the power to rule is in the hands of people with property while in a democracy the power to govern is in the hands of the destitute and not the wealthy. Examples of poor government according to Aristotle are tyranny, oligarchy, and democracy to a lesser extent. The first form of government has the interests of the monarchy as a priority; the second prioritizes the interests of the wealthy while democracy has no priority given to the interests of a particular group but looks into the universal good of the state as a whole. Bad government is any form of government that the people who have the authority to govern do so with a limited view of private interests. Besides, a bad government does not look into justice for people, and things since the people in power are bad judges in their own affairs. “Plurality of numbers is natural in a state; and the farther it moves away from plurality towards unity, the less of a state it becomes and the more a household, and the household in turn an individual (Aristotle 55).

Aristotle further gives an illustration of a weak government as one that does not consider virtue and vice within a particular state and instead, portrays the political society as a system that only exists for the sole purpose of companionship among citizens and not for the sake of noble conduct. A weak form of government is also one that acts as per the written laws although the ruler cannot differ with the overall principle that is stipulated by the law. “Whereas the law is passionless, passion must ever sway the heart of a man (Aristotle 75). He implies that an individual can deliberate in certain situations as the best ruler must take the leading role in legislation to pass laws that have no power if wrong is done or there is behavior contrary to the law.

By pointing out that bad governance involves strict adherence to the legislation, Aristotle expounds that a state is composed of very many people hence when a decision is made communally, it is much better as a multitude is definitely a better judge of multifaceted issues as compared to one person. Similarly, when many people are involved in the ruling process, they form a team, which is quite tedious to corrupt, or simply stated, incorruptible because an individual can make perverted judgments and conclusions as an aftermath of being overwhelmed by a passion or a feeling.

It is practically impossible for a big group of people who have a common interest in exercising authority over a state to make similar perverted judgment pertaining to a matter of common interest. Hence, as Aristotle puts it, a bad government is one which not only overlooks justice for its people but also works strictly under the stipulated law and comprises of a single person who is at a comparatively higher risk of making faulty decisions due to feelings or certain passions overcoming them when indulging in the decision making process.

In conclusion, Aristotle exemplifies what classifies citizenship to be good citizenship as the ability to rule and be ruled in a similar pattern. He further establishes the relationship between good citizenship and the form and role of government to be based on the type of ruling exercised by people in authority since good citizenship is a consequence of proper government with the interests of people at the first position due to personal ethics and its relevance in public politics. Additionally, Aristotle stipulates his views on government by classifying the actual forms of government and the bad governments, which function on perverted grounds.

The larger percentage of his views have played a primary role in politics today since most of his ideologies on the relationship between personal ethics and public politics still go handy and are applicable in contemporary government. It is, therefore, safe to infer that personal ethical values are vital influencers in public politics of government.

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Aristotle politics: the Relationship Between Personal Ethics and Public Politics. (2019, Feb 28). Retrieved from