“Politics Book I” by Aristotle (Notes)
1. The state is a sort community and is set up to achieve some sort of good. That’s the nature of mankind – to achieve what they think is good. Since a community is made of many men, their good must be higher than an individual’s since they are an accumulation of men. The only difference between a statesman, king and householder is the number of subjects. A ruler of a few is a master. Over more is the manager of a household and over even more is a statesman or king. A statesman is the leader of a society where the people are the rulers and the leader of a one-man led society is a king. The only difference among them is the number of people they rule over. If you want to learn more about what they do, you should start off looking at the smallest and simplest form and then expand out from there. So, let’s test and see if this is really what the state is for.
2. Humanity consists of two sorts of relationships: between man and woman and between master and slave. The relationship between man and woman is for the continuation of humanity as well as the raising of children. Woman has a high place in the raising of children and the running of a household but the man is the master. The relationship between master and slave/servant is based on one man commanding the running of the household as a business. The master’s command of the affairs of the house are dependent on his ability to command servants, understanding the ground in which the crops are planted, how the animals are to be cared for and how the food/products are to be shipped into market. Extrapolating from one household, a community is built in the same manner but of many households. At this point, society no longer consists of self-sufficient households but of many inter-dependent households who must deal with each other to survive.
The state is superior to that of the family because it is larger and needs to be conducted in an efficient manner. If one household were to be cut off from the body of the state, it would be the equivalent of losing a foot from the body – a painful damage but not necessarily a lethal excision. A healthy state is one within which the individuals are able to provide the most good for themselves and others. This is one with justice in it.
3. Since the state is made up of households, let’s talk about them for a bit. They consist of slaves and freemen. Boiled down to the essentials, that’s the master and the servant, and the man and wife, and the business aspect of the household. In the master-servant relationship, there is an art or science behind running a household. The master must choose the number of servants, the type of work they do, how they all work together and how the distribution of work and materials are decided and managed. Some say that relationship of the master and servant isn’t right and is unnatural. We’ll leave that for another debate.
4. Property is an important part of the household. You’ve got to have all the necessities to live well and to run a business well. Your workers must have the proper tools and instruments to do their jobs. A servant is in many ways an instrument important to the household – actually more important than other non-living tools because he commands the tools himself.
5. Is slavery a violation of nature? It seems necessary and natural that one thing be ruled and one to rule them. It makes sense that this distinction be drawn from the moment of one’s birth. And there are many different types of rulers and ruled. Ruling over men is more productive and higher than ruling over animals. In this case, the work is better, more efficient and more complex than with animals.
About ruling: there is always the threat of violence or physical force behind the enforcement of the ruler-ruled relationship. Within the individual, the soul rules over body. When the reverse happens, the results are really bad. Control is divided into two parts: despotic and constitutional. The soul’s control over the body is despotic in that the soul has exerted its superiority over the soul and rules it as a superior. The intellect rules over the appetites constitutionally because both need to be satisfied equally in order for both to flourish.
This superiority-inferiority extends to man’s relationship with animals and man’s relationship with women. The body is functionally the servant of the soul, just as the animal is the servant of the man. The man-servant relationship is higher with slaves because the slave understands his servitude, while an animal doesn’t. The way freemen and slaves differ from one another is not in body, but in soul.
6. “Slave” and “slavery” are used a lot – in law and in nature. In law, it is the loser of a battle who is taken by the victor. Many people disagree about whether or not this is a good or fair thing – to be master over another through strength and violence. Philosophers differ in that. The origin of the dispute might justify this battle and subsequent slavery. If the battle was a virtuous, the consequence of it must be virtuous as well – that is, if the battle was about justice, then the result is a just and virtuous one. According to some versions of justice, war can be in accordance to custom of war. But what about if the cause was unjust? Many people tend to claim slavery is unjustified when it’s one of their own people enslaved and don’t think so when other people are enslaved. Justice is not purely limited to one party being assigned the role of master or servant but is mostly on how one performs those roles. They do have a common interest and the natural role of the two depends on how they fulfil their roles.
7. The role of the master is not constitutional. The rule of a house hold is a monarchy with everybody under one person: the master. Constitutional rule is a government of freemen and equals. The role of the master is not based on his knowledge but his character as a master, just as a slave’s role is based on his character. There is still a science behind each one fulfilling his role. Just as you can improve knowledge of any other art, knowledge of the role of master or servant can always be improved and expanded. The master must know how to order the slave to execute his role. He must also tend to his needs and help improve his work too. The role of master is not confined to buying slaves but also managing them.
8. What is the role of making money in the management of the household? Is it the same thing? Is it just a part of it? If so, how big of a part of it? It’s clear that they aren’t exactly the same thing because you need other things besides money to run a household. You can make money through various means. Even in the same means there are different parts. For example, if you make your money by providing food, you can provide meat, wheat, etc. They are different in that they are plants and animals. If you talk about meat, then you have cows, sheep and pigs. Some eat meat, some don’t. Each animal has a different art of its care, which requires knowledge of each in order to manage the farm. You could also be a fisher, which requires you to live near the sea, know how to sail and understand the water. That knowledge isn’t transferrable to living on the land. Some people get by on both. On the land, you’ll find out some animals require a lot more care than others in many ways.
You will need wealth to make managing a household an easier task. Also, money is not in unlimited supply, so you will need to understand how to distribute the wealth within the household’s domains in order to run it properly. This is art is similar to what the ruler of a society must do – balance his abilities to take care of many things so that society on the whole can run properly.
9. Bartering is a grey area in this aspect. If you make shoes, you’re making them to be worn, not to be traded for something else. The shoe’s primary purpose is to be worn and a secondary purpose is to be traded for something else. You can say the same about all possessions – that they aren’t made to be traded, they are made for a purpose (wearing, eating, etc.) and the trade of them is secondary to the original function of the good. Retail trade isn’t the primary purpose of production. The surplus of production would not exist if it weren’t for exchange because the producer would have stopped when he had enough. Beyond the singular household is where surplus becomes important and where the benefit to society from the surprise starts. If the household still needs something it looks to other households to fulfill those needs.
The necessity of money came around when households didn’t have coinciding needs. It’s not really natural, but it helps households acquire things when they don’t have a bartering partner. From that point, exchange grew increasingly complex. They started applying the concept to money to various useful metals which were then coined into standard sizes to help with the transactions. The art of wealth-acquisition was born as a result of this.
There is a difference between the art of getting wealth and the art of acquiring coins. There is no limit to the pursuit of acquisition of coins. The art of wealth-getting has a limit – that is the limit of what it buys for the use of the household. Acquiring coins has no limit because your pile of money can always grow and grow. But you will eventually run out of things you can use in the production in your household. Desires can be unlimited because the desire will grow beyond the household surviving to living well (which has no limit) and that depends on wealth. If they aren’t able to fulfill their pleasures, they turn their attention to “unnatural things”. The art of running a household has a natural limit.
10. The art of wealth-getting is the business of a household manager and statesman because wealth is presupposed. Political science doesn’t make men but takes them from nature and uses them in the same way that nature provides the sea and the earth and man uses them for his purpose. In the same way he is like a weaver, who does not make wool but uses it. He has to know what kind of wool to use and how to use it. Wealth-getting is useful for other arts like medicine. Household management is a subordinate art because it requires the use of more general arts like wealth-getting.
The first part of wealth-getting is important and honorable – household management – because it is natural and exchange occurs justly. The second part – retail trade – is not honorable and is unnatural because it makes money out of money itself. It increases money based on interest and requires the attention of pure devotion to the accumulation of coins, rather than production.
11. The knowledge of wealth-getting starts with knowledge of livestock – how profitable they are, the different types, what they are used for and how to take care of them. Then is husbandry – how to till and plant, keep bees, fish and fowl and other animals. Then comes commerce in three forms: the provision of ship, conveyance of goods and exposure for sale. Then comes usury and then service for hire (in skilled mechanical labor and also unskilled labor). There is also the provision of resources in the cutting of timber and mining minerals. Each of these have many branches of their own.
These arts become more “illiberal” the more they require physical effort from men. The more these subjects become researched and their techniques perfected, the more useful they become to the art of wealth-getting. What is required is not only the ability to come up with such techniques but also the ambition to use them in order to accumulate more wealth. This skill must be applied to the management of the state’s household.
12. In the management of a household, there is also the relationship between father and children and husband and wife. The male is a fitter commander than the female in the same way that the elder is better than the younger. In constitutional states, the citizens are rulers and are ruled by the rules. In a family, the nature form is men ruling over the women. The rule of a father over his children is royal because he rules out of love and out of older age and experience.
13. It also seems more natural for a man to be the manager of acquisition of inanimate objects and to human management of freemen as well as management of slaves. There is an excellence within slaves because they are completely capable of virtues in his life: temperance, courage, justice, etc. The have a rational principle and it’s silly to think they are incapable of virtue. Women and children are also capable of virtue. We must think of virtue and whether or not it is being followed and achieved not in one’s ranking in society but in the fulfillment of one’s role within his place in society. Since we all occupy different places and different ranks in our society, our virtue depends on how justly, temperately and courageously we play our roles.
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