Introduction and part one

Political Science B

Square One



As a former teacher of Humanities, there are a few things about Western Culture’s beginnings in Ancient Greece that I know, or that I think I know. I have taught the subject, but the “knowledge” I have garnered and attempted to pass on is not from primary sources, but from reliable secondary sources. I have never read Aristotle in the original Greek, nor have I read a direct, word-for-word, translation. I am, in short, not the kind of scholar you might like me to be, but hopefully you will find me to be the kind of “scholar” who makes the difficult less difficult and even easy.

The title of this treatise is Political Science B. There is no Political Science A. This treatise has no precursor. The “B” designation indicates that I am prepared to take a practical approach as opposed to an idealistic approach to my subject. What I have written here is meant to be taken as a step in the right direction, but not as the final word. One of the things I think I know about Aristotle is that he would approve a practical approach. Indeed, Aristotle’s practicality is the reason I start with him and not with his teacher, Plato.

My subtitle is Square One to indicate that Aristotle’s teachings on political science are fundamental and fundamentally correct, not only for his time, but for our own as well.

Plato, Aristotle’s teacher, was an idealist who believed that there exists a perfect political model, and that all earthly political models are imperfect shadows. Somewhat to the contrary, Aristotle and I believe that we have to wade persistently through the world picking up pieces of wisdom and using those building blocks to make a political realm that will work as best it possibly can for us. Keep in mind that any new plan we devise may not work as well for the citizens who come after us.

Brief history: Aristotle studied under Plato. He took much wisdom from Plato and from other of Plato’s students at the Academy. Later, he reworked Plato’s teachings into a coherent philosophy of his own. He was interested in the most important questions: Freedom, Equality, and Justice. Because Aristotle’s father was a leading court physician in the court of the Macedonian King Philip ll, Aristotle spent some years as tutor to Alexander the Great. He had access to the best libraries, scholars, and books of that time. His special area of interest was governance, and he had a collection of Constitutions from many of the city-states of the ancient world. He believed that the core of good governance should flow from the middle class in order to avoid the avarice of the wealthy and the envy of the poor.

What follows is summary of what he wrote on the subject accompanied by commentary of mine own. My source is the Stanford Encyclopedia of philosophy, Aristotle’s Political Theory, First published Wed Jul 1, 1998; substantive revision Tue Nov 7, 2017.

Note: The Stanford citations have been included. You will find an explanation of those citations by following the link provided at the end.

1. Political Science in General

In his Nicomachean Ethics Aristotle wrote that political science is the most authoritative of the sciences, as all others (military, domestic, etc.) serve as a means to its ends. He characterizes the ends of political science as ‘human good’. In other words, Aristotle believed that the goal of the chief of all sciences is the betterment of humanity. Aristotle did draw a very important distinction between political science as it applies to the individual and as it applies to the state. When he speaks of the “state,’ he is referring to the various city states of his time and his world. Here is what he said: “Even if the end is the same for an individual and for a city-state, that of the city-state seems at any rate greater and more complete to attain and preserve. For although it is worthy to attain it for only an individual, it is nobler and more divine to do so for a nation or city-state” (EN I.2.1094b7-10).  

Commentary: In our time, the nation has subsumed, for the time being, most city authority. Therefore, to place Aristotle’s wisdom in a modern context, we might very well say, “The pursuance of individual rights is a ‘worthy’ cause, but not paramount to the welfare of the nation.” We might also extrapolate only slightly by asserting that “The ideal of political science would be to perfectly align our national concerns with our concerns for the needs of the individuals within our nation.” I think Aristotle would agree. I can’t say how Aristotle would feel about Colin Kaepernick taking a knee during the national anthem, but I can speculate that Aristotle would say that every citizen should have a voice, and those voices should be heard.

Follow this link to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy pages on Aristotle: