Listers, the following is an original SPL composition by HH Ambrose summarizing the first chapter of Aristotle’s Politics and briefly tying it into Plato’s Philosopher King. Aristotelian political thought is the cornerstone of Western Civilization, especially in its articulation of natural law and man’s political nature.
In the development of political philosophy, few works have played “such an important role in the social and political life of the Christian West” as Aristotle’s Politics.
1. Natural Relations
Aristotle begins with humanity’s natural political development: the two partnerships of the household. The first being the natural partnership of reproduction between male and female and the second being the relationship between the “naturally ruling and ruled.” St. Thomas Aquinas observes in his commentary on the Politics, both associations are for preservation: the former “nature aims” at “generation” and in the latter nature has aimed “at the preservation of things generated.” While Aristotle uses slavery to exemplify the latter association, the principle at work is a reciprocal relationship of survival. Aquinas comments that the master (the ruler) “by reason of his wisdom can foresee mentally” what must be done to survive, and the slave or subject (the ruled) “who abounds in bodily strength” would not be able “to survive if he were not ruled by the prudence of another.” Thus the twofold natural association of the household exists for the “needs of daily life.”
2. An Extension of the Household
Aristotle then posits the “village” as “the first partnership arising from [the union of] several households and for the sake of nondaily needs.” In this definition is must be noted that the composition of the village is not one of simple proximity, but one of commerce. Hence, the village is “above all an extension of the household.”
3. The Polis as a Natural Institution
The original question can now be answered. What is the polis? The polis or city is the composition of “several villages” that attains a “level of full self-sufficiency.” The polis “exists by nature” and as “nature has an end,” the polis has its end in “self-sufficiency” or rather “for the sake of living well.”
4. Temporal and Ontological Primacy
Knowing the relationship between a part and its whole is advantageous to the study of politics. A part can be prior to the whole temporally, but the whole is prior to the part ontologically. In clarification, a wall is a part of a house. The wall exists temporally before the whole house, as it is a needed part in creating the whole. However, it is the whole, the house, that gives purpose to its part, the wall; hence, the wall is temporally prior, while the house is ontologically prior.
5. Relation of the Part to the Whole
Returning to Aristotle, while the household can be said to be temporally prior to the polis, the polis is the whole that ontologically precedes all its parts. As Aristotle states, “the city is thus prior by nature to the household.” Further clarifying, he adds, “the whole must of necessity be prior to the part,” for “everything is defined by its task and its power.” In Aristotle’s example, regardless of which parts develop temporally prior, if the “whole of the body is destroyed,” then there “will not be a foot or hand.” The parts find their task – their teleology – and power in the whole, and so it is with the polis and its parts.
6. A Political Animal
It is here that a seminal Aristotelian principle and watershed political philosophy issue may be ascertained: “man is by nature a political animal.” As the household is a sub-political part of the polis, so then is the political whole, the polis, prior to each individual man, the political animal. Since the individual man is not self-sufficient, he finds perfection of the part to the whole in the full self-sufficiency of the polis. Aristotle reasons that anyone who could exist outside the self-sufficiency of the polis would be “either a beast or a god.” It is the polis then, where man finds a completion, which is in practicality the “greatest of goods.”
7. The Virtue of Justice
In the relationship of the whole to its parts, an ordering of those parts is presupposed in the whole. As stated above, a proximate collection of households does not constitute a village, nor does a proximate collection of villages constitute a city. It is the proper ordering between households that constitutes a village and it is the same with proper movement of villages to polis. It is raised then, what is the proper ordering between the polis and the political animal? The proper order between the city and man is the virtue of justice. As Aristotle says, “just as man is the best of animals when completed, when separated from law and adjudication he is the worst of all.” It is then the “virtue of justice” that belongs to the city.
Points #8 and #9 strive to bring Aristotle’s thought alongside his predecessor, Plato. They are not explicitly in Book One of the Politics. Moreover, they set the stage for understanding the political contributions of both St. Augustine and St. Aquinas.
8. Plato: The Philosopher King
Turning to Aristotle’s tutor, Plato records in The Republic Socrates stating, “the question of who should rule is to some extent identical to the question of the best regime.” As the aforementioned partnership between the ruled and the ruler in Aristotle, Plato agrees that men differ in their ability and capacity to reason. Ergo, it stands that the philosopher, who “knows best what is needed for the perfection of each human being and therefore can best judge what is due to each human being,” should rule. Here Plato’s Socrates advocates the Philosopher-King. It is only the philosopher who has the wisdom and time to discover and reflect upon nature in order to correctly order the polis by the natural virtue of justice.
9. Plato: The Noble Lie
However, there develops a certain antagonism between the philosopher and the polis, or more particular the citizens, insofar as the philosopher is isolated in his understanding of justice. Nature is not intelligible to everyone in the same capacity. In an attempt to have everyone participate in a polis whose foundations they could not fully understand, Plato’s Socrates posits the Noble Lie. He says, “Could we somehow contrive one of those lies that come into being in case of need… one noble lie to persuade, in the best case, even the rulers, but if not them, the rest of the city?” He goes on to explain an elaborate myth that could encourage people to live by certain standards. However, it stands that the “quest for the best political order” or rather the “establishment of the best regime depends necessarily on uncontrollable, elusive fortuna or chance.” According to Platonic thought, the antagonism between the philosopher and the polis revealed the “unlikely coming together, of philosophy and political power.”
Man as a natural political animal, the natural polis as ordered by justice, and fortune’s role in the best regime lays the foundation for political thought in the West.
More on Classical Philosophy
The Best Regime: 5 Thoughts from Classical Philosophy
Aquinas’ Introduction to Politics
Terms and Definitions from Aristotle
 Guerra, Marc. Christians as Political Animals: Taking the Measure of Modernity and Modern Democracy (Wilmington: ISI Publishing, 2010), 124.
 Ibid., 35. – Hierarchy is Nature to Man: Aristotle is not advocating an egalitarian view of reason, as will be shown below.
 St. Thomas Aquinas. Eds. Lerner, Ralph & Mushsin Mahdi. Trans. Fortin, Ernest & Peter O’Neill. Medieval Political Philosophy: A Source Book, Commentary on the Politics (New York: Cornell U. Publishing, 1972), 304.
 Aristotle, 36.
 Ibid., 37. n.b. – For Aristotle, the polis and the forest both exist by nature.
 Ibid., 38.