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Aristotle: The Polis, from Politics


I am now in week 2 of Coursera’s, The Ancient Greeks Course, and one of our assignments is to read a section from Aristotle: The Polis, from Politics and put forward what the main elements in Aristotle’s definition of the polis are?

I will start with a definition of the polis

literally means city in Greek. It could also mean citizenship and body of citizens. In modern historiography “polis” is normally used to indicate the ancient Greek city-states, like Classical Athens and its contemporaries, so polis is often translated as “city-state”.

The main elements begins with the idea of the Polis being the ideal.

Every State is a community of some kind, and every community is established with a view to some good

Secondly, he talks about the groups that make up the Polis and he advocates an almost scientific approach to studying the different components. The first part is the union of marriage and the family. A group of families becomes a village and the state comes into being when there is a group of villages. The Polis is necessary as a whole because without it the other parts, families, villages etc, would not exist.


Also man is a better person under the Polis as he is subject to Justice

For man, when perfected, is the best of animals, but, when separated from law and justice, he is the worst of all………..

…………But justice is the bond of men in states, for the administration of justice, which is the determination of what is just, is the principle of order in political society. . . .

Reading the text it becomes apparent that he favours the middle classes and believes they make for the best citizens.

Again, the middle class is least likely to shrink from rule, or to be over-ambitious for it; both of which are injuries to the state

Aristotle feels that a city is most efficient when it is composed of equals, which can only be the middle classes

The evil begins at home; for when they are boys, by reason of the luxury in which they are brought up, they never learn, even at school, the habit of obedience. On the other hand, the very poor, who are in the opposite extreme, are too degraded. So that the one class cannot obey, and can only rule despotically; the other knows not how to command and must be ruled like slaves. Thus arises a city, not of freemen, but of masters and slaves, the one despising, the other envying

He believes that a dominate middle class prevent the other groups (very rich or very poor) from taking over. If one of these groups were to dominate

Great then is the good fortune of a state in which the citizens have a moderate and sufficient property; for where some possess much, and the others nothing, there may arise an extreme democracy, or a pure oligarchy

For this reason he also felt that bigger states were better as smaller states are more likely to create a rich/poor divide with no middle class.

He ends this piece by saying that the rich (oligarchy) or poor (democracy) fight to dominate. Whichever side wins believe that their political supremacy is the ultimate prize instead of the creation of a just state. No change there then.

Aristotle: The Polis, from Politics

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