Nature, Justice and Rights in Aristotle’s Politics

Miller, Fred D., Jr. Nature, Justice and Rights in Aristotle’s Politics. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995.


“Fred Miller’s Nature, Justice and Rights in Aristotle’s Politics  It is an important book. It covers a wide range of topics including what Aristotle means by saying that man is naturally a political animal, Aristotle’s taxonomy of constitutions, discussions of Locke, Hobbes, Nozick and Communitarianism,  and Aristotle’s philosophy of biology. The book contains original but careful exegesis of Aristotle’s texts as well as speculation about how a neo-Aristotelian theory might be developed. Miller’s most controversial claim is that Aristotle has a theory of rights, and one worthy of modern attention.

Miller argues that although Aristotle has no single word the link to “rights”, he nevertheless has all the vocabulary necessary to express Hohfeldian  rights (those rights categorized by Hohfeld  in his Fundamental Legal Conceptions as Applied in Judicial Reasoning, 1923). In Miller’s  view,  Aristotle does not believe in natural rights insofar as these are thought of as belonging to humans in a state of nature before they join any community, but he does believe in natural rights where these are thought of as part of political justice in a polis. According to Miller,  Aristotle countenances private property rights and live: rights—the rights of certain people (the virtuous)  to rule over others. At one point Miller  also reinterprets passages where Aristotle seems to have an organic conception of the polis and argues that Aristotle is committed to a “moderate individualism” so that, even though justice constitutes mutual advantage and aims at the good of the community, the sacrifice of one person’s advantage cannot be justified on the grounds that it benefits the rest. However, Miller  admits that some of Aristotle’s provisions for public education may be somewhat intrusive.”

– Review in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Vol 59, No. 1.