In Nicomachean Ethics V.6 Aristotle contrasts political justice (which exists between citizens) with household justice (between husband and wife), paternal justice (between father and son), and despotic justice (between master and slave) (1134b8–18). My paper expands upon Aristotle’s sometimes enigmatic remarks about political justice through an examination of his account of justice within the oikia or ‘household’. Understanding political justice requires explicating the concepts of freedom and equality, but for Aristotle, the children and wife within the household are free people even if not citizens, and there exists proportionate equality between a husband and wife. Additionally, Aristotle’s articulation and defence of political justice arises out of his examination of despotic justice in the first book of the Politics. Not only are the polis and the oikia similar insofar as they are associations, but Nicomachean Ethics VIII.9–11 suggests they are even isomorphic with respect to justice and friendship. Thus, in this paper I explore the relationships between father and son, husband and wife, master and slave, and between siblings in order to see what they tell us about Aristotle’s understanding of freedom, equality, and justice.
Polis (AGPT) was founded in 1977 to provide a forum for publication to scholars specializing in what was then a neglected sub-field – ancient Greek political thought. In the years since,
Polis has expanded its coverage to include Hellenistic and Roman political thought. Over the years
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Aristotle’s claim that poetry is “a more philosophic and better thing” than history (Poet. 9.1451b5–6) and his description of the “poetic universal” have been the source of much scholarly discussion. Although many scholars have mined Poetics 9 as a source of Aristotle’s views toward history, in my contribution I caution against doing so. Critics of Aristotle’s remarks have often failed to appreciate the expository principle that governs Poetics 6–12, which begins with a definition of tragedy and then elucidates the terms of that definition by means of a series of juxtapositions. The juxtaposition between poetry and history is one such instance that seeks to elucidate what sort of plot exemplifies a causal unity such that the events of a play unfold with likelihood or necessity. Within that context, Aristotle compares history and poetry in order to elucidate the object of poetic mimesis rather than to criticize history as a discipline. Viewing Aristotle as antagonistic toward history fails to appreciate the expository structure of the Poetics and obscures the resource that history provides to the poet, a point that I explore by considering what Aristotle would have thought of an “historical” tragedy like Aeschylus’s Persians.
PoliticsVII.1-3 enacts a contest that concludes that ‘whether for a whole city-state in common or for an individual, the best way of life would be a practical one’ (ἄριστος βίος ὁ πρακτικός [VII.3 1325b15-16]). Scholarship on VII.1-3 has focused on the best way of life for an individual to the neglect and even misunderstanding of the best way of life for a polis. The best way of life for a polis is, I argue, a specification of the foreign policy or ‘inter-polis’ relations for the best constitution. Such a foreign policy appears to include the possibilities of both isolationism and regional hegemony, although PoliticsVII-VIII more broadly suggests that such latitude is constrained by the teleology of life, which shows that war should be pursued only for the sake of peace.