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On Aristotle’s “Politics”

Posted by Scott Holstad on September 30, 2020

PoliticsPolitics by Aristotle
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Doesn’t live up to his reputation. But then, some feel he himself didn’t live up to his reputation. Or more realistically, that there were others possibly more deserving of his reputation and legacy. I believe many scholars have determined Democritus (with his mentor Leucippus) were actually more influential, accurate, knowledgeable and diverse, among other things. Noted virtually universally as the “father of modern science,” through Leucippus’s influence, he is often thought to be the first physicist, as he is typically credited for his formulation of an (detailed) atomic theory for the universe. In fact, his atomic hypothesis was developed to such a degree, and unlike anything else at the time, bore a resemblance to modern science and one could essentially argue that what we know, or learned, about atomics in the twentieth century was directly influenced by Democritus’ atomic theory, which in many ways remains the basis for current atomic physics. Moreover, he dabbled and proved influential in a number of other areas, ranging from geometry specifically and math in general to geography and anthropology to the importance and essence of epistemology to scientific aesthetics to politics and natural philosophy (of course), where he seemed especially concerned with the subject of ethics, to military tactics as well as cosmology, poetry, biology and many, many more subjects — really the first true Renaissance man. Really kind of puts some better known philosophers to shame (not that some weren’t also geniuses — it’s just that many people can’t find many in history, and virtually none before Democritus to explore and master such a wide variety of subjects. Indeed, his “void” thesis lived on to influence Newton and continued to hold that influence basically until Einstein).

However, regarding this book by Aristotle, while this was a subject he was well versed in and despite this book being a bit dated, it was still fairly well done for the times, had some good ideas, thoughts, points, etc. Unfortunately, there’s always been some controversy surrounding it due to some textual irregularities and discrepancies in some of the eight “books” making up this book, or rather what remains of them. (Some of the major topics among these different books include ideas about community, citizenship, regimes, education, constitutions and political theory, among others.) However, this to the point that some have argued the book represents seemingly two different versions, or perhaps stages, in Aristotle’s thoughts, beliefs, positions, etc., and the two opposing sides seem so varied, almost oppositional, that IF Aristotle even wrote the entire thing himself, it’s likely he would have done so over a long period of time, so that a significant period of time elapsed between the first and later sections, thus explaining its inconsistencies and, one might say, possibly two different belief systems. Thus, I’m only giving it two stars because even though it might otherwise merit three at least, the problems noted make it difficult to have confidence regarding sufficient authenticity, consistency and more, and frankly results in a poor book in its known form and hence one of his lesser works. As a result, not recommended.

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2 Responses to “On Aristotle’s “Politics””

  1. Aristotle has continued to influence thinkers up to the present throughout the political spectrum, including conservatives (such as Hannah Arendt, Leo Strauss, and Eric Voegelin), communitarians (such as Alasdair MacIntyre and Michael Sandel), liberals (such as William Galston and Martha C. Nussbaum), libertarians (such as Tibor R. Machan, Douglas B. Rasmussen, and Douglas J. Den Uyl), and democratic theorists (such as Jill Frank and Gerald M. Mara).

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    • Hi. Thanks for your comment. I think you may have misunderstood the premise of my comment. I meant no insult to Aristotle and don’t deny or refute anything you say. I agree that his influence has been among the greatest in history and presumably like you, have read most everything by most of the people you mention as well as many others. (I’m in the middle of three Arendt books right now ever!) The point I wished to make was that there is a growing body of scholars and scientists who are asserting more frequently and ardently that Democritus has long been overlooked in favor of others, with the contention that his contributions to the world in nearly every way, but especially science, were much more important than have been noted to this point and possibly overshadow those of some better known legends. Please bear in mind how I wrote that in my original post. I said “I believe many scholars have determined Democritus (with his mentor Leucippus) were actually more influential, accurate, knowledgeable and diverse, among other things.” Please note that I did NOT say “I personally believe…” There’s a big difference, so please don’t take personal offense at me for simply relaying facts that are confirmable — namely that more and more people are asserting that Democritus has not be given his proper due, while others may actually not have contributed as much as he did. I’m literally reading two books right now that contain such assertions. I’m not just making this up, nor is it my opinion. It’s merely a statement of fact that more people are reviewing the hierarchy and giving Democritus a higher place up the list, higher than most others in the opinions of some. I myself did not say that. Do I think that? It’s certainly possible. It’s really hard to ignore all he did that still impacts us. At the same time, I’m not arrogant or naive enough to state Aristotle’s contributions weren’t immense. It’s not up to me to say who, if either, made more important contributions. That’s not my field, and not my fight. I leave that to others. I simply felt the need to mention that as I led into what my points were about the book in question and that is, again — not merely my opinion — many scholars have seen “problems” with this text for centuries and even if not an actual scholar in that field, one is still entitled to state as I did that I think it’s one of his weaker works, in large part because of some of the inconsistencies, discrepancies, questions that abound around the book. There are many others I think are much better. Feel free to argue that and that’s fine. I’m still entitled to my opinion, just as are you. But please don’t misunderstand and think that I am discounting him simply because I’ve acknowledged the growing influence of Democritus, because that doesn’t mean I don’t think Aristotle isn’t and remains legendary. I don’t know if I can say the same about some of the other historical masters though… Have a good day. — SH

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