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Aristotle doctrine that “Man is by Nature a Zōon Politikon”

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1 Aristotle doctrine that “Man is by Nature a Zōon Politikon”

2 a) Richard Mulgan, Aristotle’s Political Theory chs. 1&2. b) Bernard Yack, ‘Community and Conflict...’ pp. 92-103. c) Wolfgang Kullman, ‘Man as a Political Animal’ in Keyt and Miller. d) Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition 7- 37. Aristotle - 1253a1-15.

3 1.Zōon  [transliterated as zōon] includes all living beings, men, animals and Gods. Some common mistakes even by famous philosophers: A. Giorgio Agamben in Homo Sacer argues that Aristotle conceives of human animal ‘life’ this sense (zoē), and distinguishes it from man’s political and ethical life (bios). Agamben interprets (zoē), as “simple natural life” [la semplice vita naturale] and explains that this kind of life “mere living was excluded from the polis and confined to the oikos or household, which was a sphere concerned exclusively with reproduction [riproduzione] and subsistence [sussistenza]. This is the meaning he subsequently assigns to “bare life” [la nuda vita].

4 Zōon = man’s natural existence, or the social existence of the polis existence “by nature” where this expression does not refer to (but specifically) excludes the teleological meaning of nature. The instinctual basis of the polis – desire for companionship. The metaphysical/reproductive basis of the polis. The drive for self-preservation. The economic and material basis of the polis.

5 B.Martin Heidegger interprets the phrase “politikon zōon” as a reference to man’s animal existence. Martin Heidegger, On Humanism, 1949, p13 “We must be clear that human beings in the final analysis are enclosed in the sphere of animal being (animalitas), even if he is not equated with beasts, but is given a specific difference. In principle one must always think of the homo animalis…this positioning is a kind of metaphysics.” So Heidegger thinks that man’s status as a zōon, marks him out as an animal.

6 However, zōon/zōē is not a pejorative designation. It means “ensouled being” or “living being” in a wide and non-pejorative sense, which excludes only plants, but includes animals and Gods. (Animal by contrast, in the Roman and Christian traditions is pejorative.) C.As Hans Jonas puts it  “does not mean animal ( = bestia), but every ensouled (= living) being, excluding plants but including demons, Gods, ensouled stars, indeed the ensouled universe as the greatest and most perfect living being itself.” (Hans Jonas, ‘Zwischen Nichts und Ewigkeit. Zur Lehre vom Menachen’ cited in Günther Bien, Die Grundlegung der Politischen Philosophie bei Aristoteles, Freiburg, Karl Alber, 1973, p. 123.)

7 Remember the sphere of human existence or properly human affairs – in which politics and ethics have their proper place, like human existence itself, is demarcated from above and from below, suspended between the divine (the life of the Gods and the heavenly bodies) and the animal. So Aristotle means it literally when he says that “he who is by nature and not by luck without a polis is either a bad man, or above all men.” 1252a3 Humans as living beings share some features of their existence with animals/beasts, and some with Gods.

8 2.Politikon It is commonly claimed that Aristotle define the human beings as a Zōon Politikon. Let’s take some famous examples. A.Michel Foucault, History of Sexuality vol. III, p. 188 “Ever since Aristotle defined man as a “political animal” … modern man is an animal whose politics calls his existence as a living being into question.”

9 B.Hannah Arendt “Aristotle’s definition of man as a zōon politikon was not only unrelated and even opposed to the natural association experienced in household life; it can be fully understood only if one adds his second famous definition of man as a zōon logon ekhon.” Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition, Chicago, 1954, p. 27 N.B. The only opposition here is that the life of citizens “sharing in the constitution” that is “ruling and being ruled in turn” and hence participating in a just political order, is opposed to the natural hierarchies of the household master/(natural) slave, and man woman, which are based on instinct, affection and exist for the purpose of survival and economic and material need.

10 Aristotle is not claiming that the social glue that cements the family plays not role in cementing the political community. He claims that it is necessary but not sufficient to do this, in addition to all this one needs a constitution, laws, a just political order. There is no opposition as such between the bases of natural association (that are sufficient for family ties) and the bases of political order.

11 Still Arendt implies that Aristotle has several definitions of man/human being/ and she is right about this. Aristotle offers lots of other much better candidate definitions of man. Man is the only animal who can speak. Man is the only animal who can deliberate and decide. Man is the only animal who can act. Man is the only animal who can count. Man is the only animal who can remember. Man is the only animal who can do science.

12 In his biological writings, Aristotle notes that there are several different kinds of ‘political animal’. In History of the Animals he distinguishes between gregarious animals [tōn angelaiōn] and solitary animals [tōn monadikōn]. Some gregarious animals, (not those that herd or flock together or swim together in shoals) are political animals “Animals that live politically are those that have any kind of activity in common, which is not true of all gregarious animals. Of this sort are: man, bee, wasp and crane.” Aristotle, (HA 1.1. 487 b33ff) ‘Political’ as a biological attribute and differentium of a small sub-class of gregarious animals, including human beings but not limited to them.

13 Look again at Aristotle’s supposed ‘definition’ of man in Book I of The Politics: It is clear that man is a political animal more than any bee or any gregarious animal. Aristotle, (Politics, 1253a7 my emphasis. The specific difference that determines the genus of political animals, insofar as Aristotle canvasses one, is that human beings have logos.[2] ‘Aristotle’s claims that[2] “man is the only animal who has speech/reason” [logon de monon anthrōpos ekhei tōn zōōn] (1253a9). Man is thE only animal with a sense of justice. (See also 1334b15 where Aristotle claims that both reason [logos] and intellection [nous] are the end toward which nature strives [ēmin…tes phuseōs telos], so that birth and education in customs should be ordered with a view to them.)

14 “[s]peech…serves to make clear what is beneficial and what is harmful, and so also what is just and unjust. For by contrast with the other animals [ta alla zōa] he alone can perceive what is good and bad, and just and unjust) Politics (1251a16-19) See also Politics 1332b5. Man and man alone has reason [monos gar echei logon]. “the virtue of justice [dikaiosunē] is what is political, and justice [dikē] is the basis on which the political association is ordered, and the virtue of justice is a judgement about what is just”. (1253a33-5)

15 Mulgan versus Kullmann Richard Mulgan. p. 24 1.The ‘political’ animal, in the narrow sense, means the polis-animal. Mulgan claims this is its “literal” meaning. 2.Aristotle uses the term in the wider sense of ‘social animal to denote “any species which co-operates in a common enterprise.” Calls this its metaphorical meaning. 3.Aristotle unsuccessfully tries to align both meanings at 1253 a1-15 with the claim that “man is more of a political animal than a bee or any other gregarious animal.” What he should have said is that other animals in a metaphorical sense only whereas man is political in a literal sense too.

16 4.Mulgan suggests that the proposition, “Man is a political animal is a premise, which “is to be used to prove that the polis is natural.” p.24. The mistake he diagnoses is that Aristotle only shows the biological basis of man’s social nature, not “that this society and state must be of the polis-type.” Mulgan, p.25. Look at the text. The proposition is presented not as the premise but as a conclusion of argument, which shows first, that the polis exists by nature, and that man is a political animal. “Hence it clearly follows that the state exists by nature, and that man is a political animal.” 1253a1 5.Mulgan: In order to do this Aristotle has to make ”unwarranted claims of biological universality for values which are, at least in part, peculiar to one social context.” p. 25


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