The Aristotle’s Perspective on Freedom Citizenship and PolityImam Subkhan
From Ethics to Politics:The Aristotle’s Perspective on Freedom, Citizenship, and PolityImam SubkhanEveryone wants to be happy with their lives. Aristotle contended that the happiness is “something final and self-sufficient, and the end of action” (Ethica Nicomachea, 941) that transcend all the aims of action. The actions or anything we do are intended to something that we consider good. It means there are many goods in our lives, but there is the one good that becomes an umbrella for other goods, which is the chief good. In other words, the chief goods is the ultimate goal of life and the final goal of human beings is happiness (Eudaimonia). However, not all men can obtain the happiness because the happiness is a becoming process rather than a static condition. Everyone does not take it for granted, something that is available by default. Instead, they should do particular practices directed to active virtue to attain the happiness. Aristotle defines virtue as “a state of character concerned with choice, lying in a mean, i. e. the mean relative to us, this being determined by a rational principle, and by that principle by which the man of practical wisdom would determine it” (Ethica Nicomachea, 959).
From the passage, we can infer that the exercise of virtue that involves the practice of choice is about achieving a mean, the balanced point between extremes of deficiency and excess. In order to have active virtue, one should internalize virtuous activities through habituation that creates mental muscle memory. In short, habituation produces a character that is the practice of virtue, which can bring us to the peak of the happiness, the highest goal of life.The happiness not only includes the individual because the happiness is the chief good that everyone wants to achieve. Therefore, it also encompasses the community that consist of individuals. The communal happiness to some extent is the aggregate of individual happiness as Aristotle asserted, “it is impossible for the whole to be happy unless some, most, or all of its parts are happy” (Politics, 36). It also relates to the quality of the self-sufficiency of happiness. Aristotle argued that happiness is something self-sufficient, it does mean that “it is sufficient for a man by himself, for one who lives a solitary life, but also for parents, children, wife, and in general for his friends and fellow citizens, since man is born for citizenship” (Ethica Nicomachea, 942). Furthermore, the practices of virtue involve judgment and action. For Aristotle, judgment is the ability to recognize a particular situation in deciding certain actions in accordance with the reason. Recognizing situation in the judgment process is performed by taking other people and their perspectives into account in making decision and choosing action. Therefore, the virtuous action not only operates on the level of individual, but also works on the community level. In this way, the virtuous individual actions transform to be the virtuous collective actions.
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Acting virtuously together in order to achieve the collective happiness requires the active participation of citizen or what we call citizenship. Passivity always leads to the deterioration of virtue. It is citizenship that maintain virtue through which the happiness would be realized.While ethics is about deciding what is the chief good for individuals, politics is about determining what is the chief good for communities. Citizenship is a form of active participations in politics. To put it in other words, citizenship involves the cultivation of the practice of virtue. According to Aristotle, “the virtues are modes of choice or involve choice” (Ethica Nicomachea, 957). In this way, we can conclude that citizenship consists of the practice of choice. The practice of choice is substantially a form of freedom in which we elevate ourselves from animal passion and attend to the reason when we make judgment and do action. The animal desire does not control us in the practice of choice. It is the individual practice of choice. However, there are also the practices of choice in the collective sense. In the Greek Polis where Aristotle lived, the citizens did not have freedom that modern people enjoy individually such as freedom of religion, freedom of speech. Instead, they exercised freedom collectively in conversation with other fellow citizens in order to shape the direction of the polity, of the city state. Here freedom was realized through working together with others in shaping the life of polity as a form of collective self-determination.
Therefore, the collective self-determination entails citizenship or active political participation in the polity such as making the laws that bind us. When the laws in line with virtue, we dictate animal nature within community. The freedom through which citizenship is manifested within the polity opens the possibility for the reason, which is the fundamental trait of human beings, to subdue the animal desire.Aristotle argued that polity is the best regime of the city-state because it is “a mixture of oligarchy and democracy” (Politics, 115). Therefore, in order to achieve polity we should combine the quality of oligarchy and democracy. There are three different ways how we can mix both forms of government. First, we can establish polity by combining and overlapping procedures from democracy and oligarchy. Second, the way to make polity is to split the difference on political qualifications. For example, democracy has small property qualifications to participate in assembly, while oligarchy has large property qualifications to involve in assembly. We create polity by splitting the difference between them on property qualifications. Thus, we get a suitable property qualification for polity.
The third way to make polity is to mix modes of obtaining office. In democracy, officials are chosen by lottery, while in oligarchy people choose their leaders through election with high property qualifications for those who run for office. In democracy, officials are chosen by election without property qualifications as oligarchy has. These modes reflect a middle force in which people neither choose their leaders by lottery as they do in democracy nor elect them with high property qualifications as they do in oligarchy. Instead, people elect their leaders without any property qualification, so anyone can run for office. In all these different methods, we see that all aims are to achieve a mean, to temper the influence of both the very rich and the very poor because what actually makes polity the best regime, according to Aristotle, is a preponderance of the middle class. He said that “what is moderate and in a mean is best, it is evident that possessing a middle amount of the goods of luck is also best (Politics, 119).” Polity dominated by middle class is most likely to reflect virtue.
Aristotle. 1998. Politics. translated by C.D.C. Reeve. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc. Aristotle. 1941. “Ethica Nicomachea”. In The Basic Works of Aristotle edited by Richard McKeon. New York: Random House.