What were Aristotle's views on society?

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readerofbooks | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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This is a great question. Let me give you a brief summary and a quote (probably his most famous quote on society).

Aristotle, like most Greeks, believed that city life was essential for the well being of people. This is why by the time of Aristotle, there were 1,100 cities (poleis).

In short, Aristotle believed that there were six forms of government, three good and three bad: monarchy versus tyranny; aristocracy versus oligarchy; the rule of the masses versus democracy or mob rule. The former are good and the latter are bad. So, how does one determine whether something is good or bad?

  • Does the government in power serve the common good or it is selfish? 
  • Do the laws rest on the discretion of the ruler or ruling class, or does it rest on what has been agreed upon? 
  • If there is a constitution, is the constitution just? 

Aristotle argues that if the laws are just, then it will lead to the "good life." Here are some other bits of advice that Aristotle gives:

  • A city should be large enough to be self-sufficient, but not too large to exclude people. 
  • A city should be located near water to guarantee access to the sea. Remember the Greeks were a seafaring people. 
  • Young citizens should serve in the military, middle-aged citizens should govern, and older citizens should conduct religious affairs. 

Here is arguably the most famous quote from Aristotle:

"Man is by nature a social animal; an individual who is unsocial naturally and not accidentally is either beneath our notice or more than human. Society is something that precedes the individual. Anyone who either cannot lead the common life or is so self-sufficient as not to need to, and therefore does not partake of society, is either a beast or a god."

Sources:

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