The Politics of Philosophy: A Commentary on Aristotle’s Politics

Davis, Michael. The Politics of Philosophy: A commentary on Aristotle’s Politics. Rowman and Littlefield, 1996.


“One cannot help bringing expectations to Aristotle’s Politics, many of which are unfavorable, not to say hostile. How can someone immersed in the problems of Athens of the 4th century BC and of the polis, a form of government that can scarcely be said any longer even to exist, have much to say to us? Furthermore, Aristotle insists on making judgments about which form of political order is best. Even though we inevitably make such judgments in practice (as well as the judgments about the best ways to live on which they are based), we are theoretically ill at ease with them. And even if in principle at ease with them, we would almost certainly disagree violently with particular features of Aristotle’s account.  There is no place in contemporary political discourse for speculation about natural slavery or the natural inferiority of women to men.

Even if we are positively predisposed toward the Politics, our expectations are somehow negatively determined. We know that for Aristotle human beings are by nature political, but we tend to understand this claim as a denial of various modern theories of the primacy of the individual. Aristotle is taken before the fact to stand in opposition to the state of nature theories of Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau, according to which political life is not natural but a product of human art. Now, if political life is a human artifact, the individual must  be in some sense complete prior to society. Our need for political life is than a sign of our permanent alienation from nature. Aristotle’s alternative seems to suggest that we who are by nature political can for that reason happily live naturally, and so, within a political order.  Drawn to the Politics with some hope, we approve of Aristotle’s attempt to show how political life grows naturally, rather like a flower, out of other natural human associations. According to the first book of the Politics, political life ultimately originates in sex; nothing seems more natural.”