Reading/Discussion Questions
Aristotle's Politics

Book I. cc. 1-2; Book II. cc. 1

1. After distinguishing the city from other communities, Aristotle claims that there are clear differences between the character of the politician, the king, the household manager, and the slave-master (1252a9-10). Aristotle does not immediately explain what this difference is, though he implies that the difference follows from the difference between the city and other communities (the household, the village, etc.).

Do you think Aristotle explains the difference between the politician and the other rulers he mentions in this passage? If so, what is this difference, and why, in your view, is it important that Aristotle makes this distinction clear?

2. One of Aristotle’s chief concerns in our selection of readings is to show that the city exists by nature (1253a3). What argument does Aristotle offer in defense of this claim? Why do you think he wants to show that the city exists by nature? What other options might there be for explaining the coming-to-be of the city?

3. Aristotle also claims that human beings are by nature political animals (1253a3). What does this mean (in your view), and what argument or evidence does Aristotle offer in defense of this claim? Why is it important for him to defend this view of human beings? Is there another way of looking at human beings and their relation to political community?

Book IV, cc. 3,11

1. In chapter 3, Aristotle claims that despite differences between the various forms of constitution, there are really on two constitutions. What are they, and how does Aristotle support this argument?

2. In chapter 11, Aristotle argues that the constitution of the middle is preferable to other forms. What does Aristotle mean by the middle 9i.e., whom is he describing--who fits into this group)?

3. At 1295a35-1295b5), he argues that this claim about the constitution of the middle follows from conclusions he reached in the Nicomachean Ethics. What are these conclusions from the Nicomachean Ethics, and how do they support Aristotle's contention about the constitution of the middle?

4. What other reasons does Aristotle offer for preferring the rule of the middle group (1295b5-1295b25)?

Book VII, cc. 1-3

1. Aristotle claims that although his view from Nicomachean Ethics that there are three types of goods (external goods, goods of the soul, goods of the body) is widely accepted, there is disagreement about (a) how much of each good is needed and (b) which of the goods is superior (1323a25-30).

            -what is Aristotle’s view on (a) and (b)?

-why is this discussion relevant to the stated topic of the chapter (the most choice-worthy constitution)?

2. What is Aristotle’s view on the best life for individuals separately and city-states collectively (1323b40)? Does this view follow from what the arguments of this chapter?

3. In chapter 2, Aristotle focuses on the choice between two types of choice-worthy life (1324a10-15). What are these two types of life?

4. Later in the chapter, Aristotle claims that the task of political theory is to investigate (and, presumably, determine) which is the best constitution. Aristotle offers a general description of the best constitution, but then concedes that the discussion cannot end there, since there are two types of life that fulfill this description. What is the description, and what are the two types of life (1324a25-30)?

5. What reasons does Aristotle offer in defense of two types of life described above (1323a5-1325a5)?

6. In chapter 3, Aristotle addresses the question of how we best pursue the virtuous life—through politics or contemplation. How does Aristotle answer this question in this chapter? What’s the most important aspect of the virtuous life? Does Aristotle’s answer to this question follow from earlier arguments in the Nicomachean Ethics and Politics?

 

Book VII. c. 8

1. In this chapter, Aristotle revisits his discussion of the role of property (and its acquisition) in the city state. His aim is to show that property should not even be considered a part of the city. Carefully review the argument Aristotle offers to show that property is not a part of the polis (1328a35-1328b35)

2. What are some of the necessary tasks of the city state (1328b1-20)? Why are these particular tasks required?

Book VII. c. 9

1. Why should citizens not work as farmers or (vulgar) craftsmen (1328b37-40)? Do you find Aristotle’s argument persuasive?

2. What are the most important parts of the city (i.e., the most important tasks to be performed) (1329a1-5)? Who should be responsible for these tasks (1329a15)?

3. At the end of chapter 9, Aristotle offers an argument in support of the claim that vulgar craftsmen should not (or do not) participate in the city (1329a20-25). Since vulgar craftsmen work and live in the city, what could Aristotle mean when he claims that they do not participate in the city? Try to identify the premises and conclusion in this argument. Do you find the argument persuasive?

Book VII. c. 13

1. Aristotle’s focus here is on the political system. In particular, he is concerned with the question of the character of the people that constitute the city. According to Aristotle, what do we need to know to address this issue (1331b24-30)?

2. According to Aristotle, what is the goal of all of our actions (do you remember from Nicomachean Ethics)? How is this goal made relevant to politics (1332a10-19)?

3. According to Aristotle, is there a connection between the excellence of the city and the excellence of its citizens? Explain (1332a34-40). How do people come to be good and excellent (1332b10-11)?

Book VII. c. 14

1. Ostensibly, this chapter focuses on the education needed to prepare people to be good citizens. In the ideal city this means (a) the education must be sufficient to prepare people to be excellent (i.e., virtuous) persons and (b) education must prepare people rule and be ruled well (since citizens the best city—which is Aristotle’s focus in this chapter—must rule and be ruled well). How do rulers differ from those who rule (i.e., what’s the chief difference between rulers and those who are ruled) (1332b30-1333a1)?

2. Why, according to Aristotle, must legislators (those who are ruling) be concerned about both the “…practices through which men become good, and what the end of the best life is”? (1333a5-15)?

3. Aristotle claims that the legislator must rule in a way that best fits the parts of the soul and the actions that correspond to the parts of the soul (1333a38-40). How might a ruler accomplish this? To answer this, you’ll need to look carefully at Aristotle’s discussion of the parts of the soul, the types of actions that correspond to each part of the soul, and the division of life into different types of actions (i.e., war and peace, work and leisure, necessary and noble).

4. At 1334a1, Aristotle claims that the legislator should organize his legislation for the sake of peace and leisure. Why, according to Aristotle, should this be the aim at which legislation in the ideal city should aim?

Book VII. c. 15

1. Aristotle’s concern in this chapter is leisure (which, for Aristotle, is a general term for ordinary life). Now that he has shown that the goal of the political community is the same as it is for an individual, Aristotle thinks he can show that the best political systems (constitutions) must promote the virtues applying to leisure. Does Aristotle offer an argument for this claim (1334a11-16)?

2. Why must a city have a share in virtue in order to be “excellent and happy” (1334a30-38)?

3. According to Aristotle, how must people be educated if they are to live successfully in political community (1334b10-25).