. 5
( 7)


an appropriate standard simply.
The Good Citizen and the Good Man 129

But if, by the very standard of freedom he lays down, rule is not
the best work of a human being, then this investigation of the good
citizen and man must be understood in terms of its limitations. As he
wraps up the investigation, Aristotle both con¬rms these limitations
and indicates the need to return to the dispute over justice. He begins
by noting a remaining puzzle: “Is a citizen in truth one for whom it is
possible to share in rule, or ought we to regard the vulgar as citizens?”
(Pol. 1277b33“5). Each of the possible answers to this question com-
plicates rather than resolves the problem of citizenship. If the vulgar
are not citizens, it is not clear how or whether they are a part of the city,
but if they are citizens, then not all share in citizen virtue. The reason
for the latter dif¬culty is that only some members of the community
will be able to undertake the work with which this virtue is associated,
and Aristotle expands upon his earlier claim that the virtue of a citi-
zen belongs only to those “who are free from the necessary things.” He
contrasts those who are free in this sense with slaves, who work for the
sake of one man, as well as with the vulgar and laborers, who work for
the community. By this measure, in fact, he notes that the virtue of a
citizen does not belong “even to every free person” (Pol. 1278a9“10).
In contrast to those who labor for the sake of another, then, the truly
free labor for themselves and for their own sake. But what is the nature
of such activity, and would ruling ¬t the criteria Aristotle lays down?
These are questions he does not address in this context.
Moreover, by establishing rule and the virtues associated with it as
the measure of citizenship, his de¬nition circumscribes the political
boundaries of the city, excluding in particular many who labor for the
city™s preservation and prosperity. By what right, however, does such
an exclusion occur? Is there not a just claim to citizenship by all who
work in the political community™s behalf?13 As Aristotle reiterates, the
regimes represent different claims in this regard. Consequently, some
who would be citizens in one regime would not be citizens in another:
In an aristocracy, citizens are those who, free from necessary work,
“pursue the things of virtue”; in an oligarchy, only those who meet the

13 This is the concern behind many scholarly efforts to broaden Aristotle™s de¬nition
of citizen. See Donald Morrison, “Aristotle™s De¬nition of Citizenship: A Problem
and Some Solutions,” History of Philosophy Quarterly 16 (April 1993): 143“65 for an
overview of such efforts.
Citizenship and the Limits of Law

established property assessment qualify; and in other cases, necessities
of the city may call for less exclusive criteria (Pol. 1278a15“29). Yet,
for all this variation, Aristotle nevertheless insists that “what is meant
most by a citizen is the one who shares in honors [or prerogatives,
timai],” and that whenever this fact is “concealed” “ presumably when
the ones who are called citizens do not share in rule “ a “fraud” (apat¯) e
is perpetrated upon the members of a community (Pol. 1278a34“40).
It is with a view to ruling as the essential and best work of citizenship
that Aristotle concludes his investigation, saying that “it is clear from
what has been said” that the virtue of the good man and morally serious
citizen is the same for “the political man and one who has authority
[kurios, or “control”] or who is able to have authority, either by himself
or with others, over the care of the common things” (Pol. 1278b3“5).
This emphasis on the care of the common things underlines the nature
of the work that such a virtuous human being would undertake (cf.
again Pol. 1278a9“14). Whereas in his introduction to the best regime,
Aristotle indicates that it is necessary ¬nally to evaluate the end of the
city on the basis of the most choiceworthy life simply, and likewise to
evaluate the virtue instilled by the city™s education, he here reverses
the equation. The virtue of a good human being “ of a good man in
the strong sense “ is de¬ned in terms of ruling. The limitations of this
view are now evident in the current discussion. For the work of a good
citizen must be subordinated to the requirements of the political com-
munity as a whole, and in the case of rule, this work must care for the
common things. Moreover, because distinctively political rule eschews
mastery among those who are equal in freedom, it must respect this
equality and so allow for “ruling and being ruled in turn.” Such equal-
ity with respect to rule, Aristotle will later say, is “already law,” and the
law, both in this regard and in general, aims at the common advan-
tage (Pol. 1287a14“16). Citizenship is accordingly distinguished by its
orientation toward the common advantage. Hence, by Aristotle™s own
de¬nition, its work is not simply “free,” even though it may rightly be
said to belong to those who do not use one another as slaves. Citizen-
ship™s natural link with law and the common advantage necessarily sets
the terms within which its virtues are understood.
One might say, of course, that in the best case, there is no opposi-
tion between the common advantage “ the advantage of the city as a
The Good Citizen and the Good Man 131

whole “ and the advantage of the good ruler: Good action in behalf of
the city is the best action of a human being.14 Yet here it is important
to return to the fact that the dispute regarding the principle of merit
in accord with which one is entitled to rule “ to be a citizen in the full
sense “ remains unresolved, and its resolution involves the question
Aristotle raised and abruptly dismissed: Whose advantage is served (see
again Pol. 1276a10“13)?15 As he will show, the problem is that every
claim to rule is just but partial, for each looks to the claimants™ advan-
tage but not to the common advantage of all who might be citizens;
especially with regard to the “ruling of¬ces,” that is, all claims are “oli-
garchic” (Pol. 1281a32“4). The seriousness of this kind of exclusion is
highlighted by the fact that the denial of the honors or prerogatives
of ruling to those who are called citizens is a form of fraud.
In seeking next to determine whether there is one regime or many,
Aristotle looks in particular to the end for the sake of which the city
is established and argues that this end is the common advantage,
understood as both life in the literal sense and living nobly. Insofar
as each “governing body” (politeuma) “ the one, the few, or the many “
seeks the advantage of both ruler and ruled, it constitutes a “correct
regime,” whereas deviant regimes seek only the advantage of the rulers.
Whether the common advantage in this full sense is possible, however,
proves to be the rock upon which the resolution of the dispute over
rule founders. Aristotle™s failure to resolve this dispute precedes and
informs his exploration of the rule of law “ an exploration that clari¬es
the political necessity of law and its inherent limits and that ultimately
recalls the central concern of the best regime: education.

14 A recent version of this argument is that of Smith, who emphasizes equity as “the
whole of virtue” (Revaluing Ethics, pp. 35, 50, 153, 257), but it is implicit in the
traditional view that the virtues of the good citizen and human being coincide in the
ruler in the best regime.
15 Keyt rightly observes, “In Book III at least there is a central idea threading its way
through his [Aristotle™s] labyrinthine discussion, an idea that he wishes to develop
and to which most of the topics in Book III are tied. This idea is distributive justice
(see III.9. 1280a9“25, 12. 1282b14“23). Aristotle explains it in a brief chapter of his
essay on justice in one of the common books of the Nicomachean and Eudemian Ethics
(EN V = EE IV), and then uses it as the foundation of an argument in Politics III”
(David Keyt, “Supplementary Essay” in Aristotle: “Politics” Books III and IV, trans. with
Introduction and comments by Richard Robinson [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995],
p. 127).
Citizenship and the Limits of Law

citizenship and the rule of law
Before he turns to the exploration of law, then, Aristotle investigates
several questions associated with the dispute over rule. In brief, after
clarifying the grounds upon which we may identify the various regimes
and their correctness, he sorts through the principles of merit that
each governing body espouses in establishing its just claim to rule.
Out of the resulting dispute emerges a discussion of kingship in which
the question of “whether it is more advantageous to be ruled by the
best man or by the best laws” is “the beginning point of the inquiry”
(Pol. 1286a7“9).
Aristotle introduces the dispute over rule by ¬rst raising a question
that seemed settled: whether there is one regime or many. At the very
least, the discussion of the citizen proceeded on the assumption that
there are many regimes, and Aristotle now returns to this assumption
by pointing to the “governing body” (politeuma) as the difference in
accord with which regimes vary “ in a democracy, the many or the
demos governs, and in an oligarchy, the few. Hence, as he will later say,
“regime and governing body signify the same thing” (Pol. 1279a25“6).
But he now emphasizes in addition that regimes differ regarding the
end toward which they are directed and, in clarifying this difference,
reiterates his claim in Book I that “a human being is by nature a political
animal” (Pol. 1278b17“19). Regimes differ, that is, also in the extent
to which they achieve the end for which the city comes into being
or is established (Pol. 1278b15“17). The natural striving that brings
human beings together in a political community involves more than
the need for mere assistance. Rather, “the common advantage” also
brings us together “insofar as it confers upon each a share in living
nobly”: “especially this” “ living nobly “ “is the end, both for all in com-
mon and separately.” Indeed, barring great hardships, life itself has
“a certain joy and natural sweetness” and a “portion of the noble”
(Pol. 1278b23“4). The political community achieves the common
advantage, it seems, both in preserving mere life and in making possi-
ble noble action.
Using the common advantage as a standard, Aristotle returns to
the division of regimes in order to distinguish the correct from the
deviant ones. As in Book I, he begins by describing the form of rule
that constitutes the master“slave relation as well as relations within
Citizenship and the Rule of Law 133

the household. Recalling that mastery seeks the advantage both of the
“slave by nature” and the “master by nature,” he now acknowledges
that such rule seeks primarily the advantage of the master and only
incidentally that of the slave (Pol. 1278b32“5). By contrast, “house-
hold management” “ rule over one™s children and wife “ is “in itself ”
for the sake of the ruled, but incidentally it may bene¬t the ruler.
Household management is like the arts, such as medicine, gymnastic,
and piloting, which aim at the advantage of the ruled but bene¬t also
practitioners who are ruled by their own art (Pol. 1278b37“1279a4).
Aristotle uses the arts as an analogy for a political regime of those
who, being equal and similar, merit ruling in turn. Yet he indicates
the source of corruption in the case of the regime. In the “natural”
arrangement of equals, “the one worthy of serving in public of¬ces
in turn, also then [when not ruling] looks to his own good, just as
before, when ruling, he looked to the advantage of another” (Pol.
1279a10“13). But this natural order contrasts with the more typical
case “ the case “now” “ in which those who rule seek the bene¬ts of
of¬ce for their own pro¬t and wish to rule continuously. By this stan-
dard, correct regimes are those in which the art of rule, pursuing its
natural end, aims at the common advantage and thus accords with
“the just simply,” whereas deviant regimes seek the advantage of the
rulers and accord with “mastery” (Pol. 1279a13“21).
Having insisted on the common advantage as a standard, however,
Aristotle maintains also that “the city is a community of the free” (Pol.
1279a21), a claim he proceeds to underscore in arguing that the fun-
damental distinction between oligarchy and democracy does not rest
on the number of those who rule “ the few or the many “ but on poverty
and wealth. Consequently, the “cause of the dispute” between the few
wealthy and many poor is that “the few are well off, but all share in
freedom” (Pol. 1280a4“5). Every claim to rule is grounded in a spe-
ci¬c principle of merit, and while the democratic claim in particular is
typically framed in terms of freedom, all who dispute also share in the
freedom the demos claims for itself. Moreover, as the effort to de¬ne
the citizen has shown, each of the various regimes de¬nes differently
the “freedom” “ achieved through birth, wealth, or virtue “ on which
it grounds its speci¬c right to rule. The city is a community that seeks
the common advantage, then, but also is a community of those who
identify themselves as free with respect to one another. Although the
Citizenship and the Limits of Law

democratic claim is the most extensive in this regard, it must compete
with other, more exclusive, claims.
Aristotle™s famous schema of correct and deviant regimes is deter-
mined ¬rst by regimes™ orientations toward the common advantage
and second by the number of those who rule in each case: the one,
the few, or the many. Hence, in answer to the question of how many
regimes there are, Aristotle concludes that there are six: kingship,
aristocracy, and polity as correct regimes, and tyranny, oligarchy, and
democracy as deviant (Pol. 1279a32“b10). As commentators have
noted, Aristotle™s schema is puzzling not least for the fact that, with
regard to the fundamental criterion “ the common advantage “ the
distinction between deviant and correct regimes would seem to col-
lapse: If a citizen is one who shares in rule, and the city a multitude
of citizens, then by de¬nition the common advantage is the advantage
of the rulers.16 This puzzle may seem to be resolved by the sugges-
tion that the common advantage refers to the advantage of both ruler
and ruled. Yet, this suggestion overlooks the fact that with regard to
the overarching question “ who rules? “ every regime is oligarchic.
Just as the essential difference between oligarchy and democracy con-
sists not in the number of those who rule, but in the speci¬c claim
the governing body makes regarding rule, so also each of the cor-
rect regimes, which are said to seek the common advantage, presents
an exclusive claim to the ruling of¬ces. Although Aristotle begins to
sort through these claims by focusing on the debate between the oli-
garchs and the democrats, his effort at a resolution eventually takes
account of all parties in the dispute. He indicates that the investiga-
tion now looks “not only to action,” but to “making clear the truth”
(Pol. 1279b13“15).
Aristotle turns to the dispute between oligarchs and democrats in
the recognition that the “de¬ning principles” (horos) and so the jus-
tice of oligarchy and democracy differ. For both groups agree that
justice is “the equal” but diverge in de¬ning equality. Recalling the
discussion of distributive justice in the Ethics, Aristotle observes that
“people agree on the equality of the object, but they disagree regarding

16 See, for example, Newman, The “Politics of Aristotle,” I.216, n. 2; Simpson, Philosophical
Commentary, p. 151; Morrison, “Aristotle™s De¬nition of Citizenship,” pp. 144“6.
Citizenship and the Rule of Law 135

for whom” (Pol. 1280a17“19).17 The source of this disagreement is
that they “judge badly about the things that concern themselves” and
assume that, in speaking of justice in a partial sense, they are speaking
of “the whole of justice in the authoritative sense” (Pol. 1280a19“22,
9“11). People assume, in other words, that because they are equal in
one respect “ for example, freedom “ they are equal in all respects.
To resolve the dispute among these partial claims, Aristotle insists,
we must be guided by the “most authoritative” consideration, which is
the end for the sake of which the city exists. In light of this consider-
ation, he proceeds to establish the insuf¬ciency of the oligarchic and
democratic principles of equality. For both wealth and freedom (or,
more simply, security from harm) are necessary but not suf¬cient con-
ditions of the city™s highest and ¬nal end, which is not living but living
well. Living well, he reiterates, involves “noble actions,” and therefore
those who “contribute most to this sort of community share more in
the city than those who are equal or greater with respect to freedom
and family but unequal in political virtue, or those who exceed in
wealth but are exceeded in virtue” (Pol. 1281a4“8).
In coming to this conclusion, Aristotle places great emphasis on the
necessity of virtue by underlining the inability of the law understood
merely as a compact (sunth¯k¯) for protection or exchange to ensure
the “good order” (eunomia) of the city. Rather, he insists, “whoever
takes thought for good order considers thoroughly political virtue and
vice” (Pol. 1280b5“6; see also 1280a36“40 and b7“11). Accordingly,
virtue is a concern of every city worthy of the name, and while the law
certainly must guarantee “the just things,” it must also make citizens
“good and just” (Pol. 1280b6“8, 10“12). By this account, virtue con-
stitutes the superior claim to rule both because it contributes to the
good order of the political community and because, as the essential

17 As Bartlett notes, “Aristotle makes something of a new beginning at chapter 12 (cf.
the beginnings of Politics 1 and 4 and the beginning of the Nicomachean Ethics). The
political partisans are now said to agree not merely with one another but with ˜the
arguments in accord with philosophy™ that justice is certain equality (cf. 1282b18“20
and 1280a9“22). Justice will now be considered from the highest point of view, that of
˜political philosophy™ (1282b23)” (“Aristotle™s Science of the Best Regime,” American
Political Science Review 88 [March 1994], p. 147; see pp. 147“8 for a discussion of
Aristotle™s treatment of the good life that is the end of the regime).
Citizenship and the Limits of Law

ingredient of the complete and self-suf¬cient life, it constitutes the
highest end for the sake of which the city exists. Since the best life
is the most authoritative consideration in resolving the dispute over
rule, and the contribution of any particular claimant to the city™s high-
est end is the most authoritative ground of merit, virtue emerges as
the correct principle of distribution for ruling of¬ces (Pol. 1280a25,
Yet, even as he recognizes virtue™s superior claim, Aristotle proceeds
to deny it the full ground in the dispute: Virtue is the most authori-
tative claim, which is also to say that it is not the only one. The ¬rst
reason Aristotle circumscribes virtue™s claim, or refuses to identify it
as the sole criterion of rule, is that all who dispute over rule “ the free,
wealthy, well-born, and virtuous “ have a just claim, if a partial one.
The partial justice of each claim is connected with the fact that the city
is a composite whole in more than one way. For it is a compound not
only of associations, but also of the elements that contribute to its very
existence, including free persons, the wealthy, and the military. Insofar
as each contributes to the existence of the city, each has a reasonable
claim to honor, including the honors associated with ruling of¬ces. As
the “common advantage” in the full sense, therefore, justice must take
account of the composite nature of the city and of the just claims that
arise as a result (Pol. 1282b14“24, 1283a14“22). It is true, Aristotle
observes, that each regime settles the question of rule in accord with
its own authoritative principle, yet in considering the question from
the point of view of justice, one has to acknowledge that when it comes

18 Aristotle emphasizes how essential such a contribution is to citizenship. The effort by
many modern students to make Aristotle™s notion of citizenship more “democratic”
would dilute the requirement of virtue or rede¬ne virtue in democratic terms. See
again Morrison, “Aristotle™s De¬nition of Citizenship,” pp. 145“55; Miller, Nature,
Justice, and Rights in Aristotle™s “Politics” (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995); Nichols,
Citizens and Statesmen, chs. 2, 3; Frank, A Democracy of Distinction: Aristotle and the Work
of Politics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005); as well as scholars such as
Macedo, Galston, Gutmann, Nussbaum, and Berkowitz, discussed in Chapter 1, who
de¬ne the virtues essential to liberal or democratic citizenship. Compare Simpson,
who insists that the end of the city, “noble living,” is the crucial criterion in assessing
correct and deviant regimes (Philosophical Commentary, pp. 151“3). For highly quali-
¬ed defenses of Aristotle in this regard, see Julia Annas, “Aristotle on Human Nature
and Political Virtue,” Review of Metaphysics 49 (June 1996): 731“53; Thomas Lindsay,
“Aristotle™s Quali¬ed Defense of Democracy through ˜Political Mixing,™” The Journal
of Politics 54 (February 1992): 101“19; and Richard Mulgan, “Aristotle and the Value
of Political Participation,” Political Theory 18 (May 1990): 195“215.
Citizenship and the Rule of Law 137

to ruling of¬ces, each regime, including the one grounded in virtue,
is inherently oligarchic and so not wholly just (Pol. 1281a31“4).
The insistence by any one party that it is the “authoritative element”
that “has resolved in a just manner” to distribute among its own mem-
bers the goods common to all, in fact, would have the paradoxical
effect that justice would be “destructive of the city” (Pol. 1281a14“21).
In connection with this dif¬culty, Aristotle observes, one might point
to the rule of law as the solution to the kind of tyrannical distribution of
of¬ces that each party undertakes in accordance with its partial claim.
The inadequacy of this solution, however, is evident in the fact that the
law itself is derivative of the regime “ it is “oligarchic or democratic”
(Pol. 1281a37).19
Aristotle™s arbitration of the dispute over rule thus points to a second
reason that he does not cede the full ground to virtue in this dispute.
For he shows that even if we were to accept the authority of any one
claim, this claim would be limited by its own principle of equality. Each
criterion of merit, that is, establishes a ground upon which the preem-
inent with regard to that criterion may launch an exclusive claim to
rule. Yet the law seeks equality, and citizenship in any particular regime
involves the sharing of of¬ces or “ruling and being ruled in turn”
among those who share in this equality (Pol. 1283b42“1284a3). It is
for this reason that Aristotle recommends ostracism as involving a “cer-
tain political justice” (Pol. 1284b15“16).20 Ostracism is advantageous

19 This dif¬culty will return in the discussion of kingship; as Mans¬eld observes, “It
might seem that law is a refuge from relativism and a guarantor of impartiality, but
law, as we shall see, is relative to the regime and thus re¬‚ects the relativism of regimes”
(Taming the Prince: The Ambivalence of Modern Executive Power [New York: Free Press,
1989], p. 33).
20 Miller acknowledges that Aristotle™s approval of ostracism “presents a fundamental
challenge to my interpretation, because it implies that justice is the overall advantage,
rather than mutual advantage. This is especially the case if Aristotle means that it
is unquali¬edly just to ostracize fully virtuous citizens in case they possess so much
wealth or so many friends that the opportunity of others to exercise their virtue is
thereby diminished” (Nature, Justice, and Rights, p. 247). He argues, however, that
Aristotle™s approval is quali¬ed “ ostracism is “a certain” or “sort of” political justice “
and that ostracism is not required in the best regime: “The best constitution is best
because it avoids genuine con¬‚icts of interest among the citizens” (p. 247; emphasis
in text). But this argument is unsupported by the text: In the case of kingship, in
Book III, the principle of merit requires a revolution from aristocracy to a permanent
kingship if there is one so preeminent as to outstrip the others in virtue, and in the
best regime of Books VII and VIII, there is conventional slavery “ in both cases, that
is, there are genuine “con¬‚icts of interest.”
Citizenship and the Limits of Law

not only to tyrants and deviant regimes, but to “all regimes generally,
including the correct ones” (Pol. 1284b3“4). In the absence of such a
device, the preeminent are done an injustice by the city if they are con-
sidered worthy of equal things despite their being so unequal in virtue
and political capacity. Aristotle reiterates that legislation necessarily
applies to those who are equal; the preeminent are “like gods among
human beings,” and “they themselves are law” (Pol. 1284a3“15).
The dispute concerning distributive justice and rule thus leads Aris-
totle to consider the limits of every regime or of the regime as such.
Citizenship, de¬ned in terms of participation in political of¬ce, neces-
sarily involves “ruling and being ruled in turn,” and this arrangement
“is already law” (Pol. 1283b42“1284a1, 1287a16“18). Given its inher-
ent equality, the law is always vulnerable to an attack or argument on
the part of those who are superior with respect to the principle of merit
that underlies the law. In accord with a “certain political justice” “ the
common advantage de¬ned by this principle of merit “ the regime may
rightly seek to preserve its inherent equality and so ostracize those who
would threaten this equality.
Yet, in considering this solution, Aristotle raises the case of the best
regime, concerning which “there is much perplexity as to what ought
to be done if there happens to be someone who is superior not with
respect to a preeminence in the other goods, such as strength, wealth,
or many friends, but in point of virtue” (Pol. 1284b25“9). The prob-
lem is that the best regime, in aiming at the true good, should surely
welcome as a kind of divine gift to the city the one who is preeminent in
virtue, and to claim the right to rule over such a person would almost
be like sharing political of¬ces with Zeus. Accordingly, it would seem
that the “natural” course is “for all to obey such a person gladly, so that
these sorts will be perpetual kings in their cities” (Pol. 1284b32“4).21
In such a circumstance, Aristotle rejects ostracism in favor of perpetual
(aidios) kingship; he is therefore willing to allow a revolution from a
regime in which those equal in virtue rule and are ruled in turn to a
“kind of regime” in which one person “has authority over all matters”

21 As Vander Waerdt argues, “To ostracize a man for his incomparable virtue there-
fore is incompatible with the best regime™s end, the education of its citizens in
accordance with the natural hierarchy of human goods” (“Kingship and Philosophy
in Aristotle™s Best Regime,” Phronesis: A Journal for Ancient Philosophy 30[3] [1985],
p. 255).
Citizenship and the Rule of Law 139

(Pol. 1286a1“6) and “acts in all things according to his own wish” (Pol.
But in making a concession he never retracts, and allowing for a
revolution to absolute kingship (pambasileia) on the basis of virtue,
Aristotle introduces another dif¬culty. For the investigation of absolute
kingship ultimately raises a most fundamental question: “whether it is
more advantageous to be ruled by the best man or by the best laws”
(Pol. 1286a7“9). One of the deep problems raised by this question is
that, regardless of the goodness of either the best laws or the best man,
there exists an inherent tension between the two: If the one rules, the
other does not. If the law does not rule, moreover, then it ceases to be
the authoritative voice and highest object of reverence in the political
community. Especially within the context of the regime that cares for
virtue, then, it would seem that the law, and the arrangement of ruling
of¬ces that the law re¬‚ects and protects, could never securely possess
the preeminence it claims for itself.22
Now, as he indicates more than once, Aristotle™s probing investi-
gation of the regime seeks to make clear the truth (see again Pol.
1279b13“15), yet in such a delicate matter as the authority of law,
he also provides several practical reasons for respecting the rule of
law. Immediately after he has drawn attention to the partial justice of
democratic law, for example, he undertakes a lengthy examination of
the claim that “the multitude ought to be authoritative, rather than
those who are virtuous but few” “ a claim that “involves some perplex-
ity but perhaps also some truth” (Pol. 1281a40“1). Its major premise
is that collectively the multitude is superior to the one or the few with
regard to the most authoritative consideration, virtue. While Aristotle
allows that this premise may be true in the case of “a certain kind of
multitude,” he gives voice to the objection of an unnamed oligarch or

22 We can look to a modern thinker, Locke, for a similar articulation of the dif¬culty.
In his chapter on Prerogative, after noting the natural tendency toward expansion
of prerogative in the rule of the “wisest and best Princes,” who rule with a view to
the common good, Locke observes: “Such God-like Princes indeed had some Title
to Arbitrary Power, by that Argument, that would prove Absolute Monarchy the
best Government, as that which God himself governs the Universe by: because such
Kings partake of his Wisdom and Goodness. Upon this is founded that saying, That
the Reigns of good Princes have been always most dangerous to the Liberties of
their People” (John Locke, Two Treatises of Government, ed. Peter Laslett [Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 2003], pp. 377“8).
Citizenship and the Limits of Law

aristocrat that in some cases, there is no difference between a multi-
tude and beasts (Pol. 1281b15“20). Moreover, insofar as a demos stakes
its claim on the argument that it collectively exceeds others in virtue,
it concedes the authoritative status of virtue and therefore the supe-
rior right to rule of any few or one who might exceed it in virtue. This
defense of the multitude™s authority, then, would not seem to establish
its right to rule as any more authoritative than that of others.
Nevertheless, this defense does shed light on why, in practice, we
might well cede authority over certain matters to the multitude and,
more importantly, to the law: While it is not “safe” to allow those who
are not just and prudent to share in “the greatest of¬ces,” neither is
it safe simply to bar them from participation in rule, for then the city
is “¬lled with enemies” (Pol. 1281b25“30). But over which of¬ces or
matters ought the multitude to have authority? Ought we to follow the
example of Solon and others who allow them both to choose and audit
of¬cials even though this prerogative would seem to confer upon them
the greatest authority (Pol. 1281b32“4)? Regarding this question, Aris-
totle proposes an avenue of compromise. It would seem that just as in
the arts, the expert “ the one with knowledge of the art “ can best judge
whether another has produced a good work or performed his art well,
so also in the case of ruling. Nevertheless, perhaps those who use,
rather than produce, the works of art may judge them better. Insofar
as this metaphor and latter suggestion are true, the multitude ought
to have authority over the choice and auditing of of¬cials who occupy
the greatest of¬ces. As a collective body, at least, the multitude per-
haps “justly has authority over greater things” (Pol. 1282a1“23). This
argument proves also to underscore the importance of respecting law
in practice, for it “makes nothing more evident than that it is laws,
correctly enacted, that should be authoritative” (1282b1“3). Regard-
ing the matters about which the law is able to speak, one ought not
to rely on the judgment of any individual assembly member or even
any particular assembly, but on the law itself. Aristotle makes this claim
while also recalling that “it is necessary that the laws are poor or good
[spoudaios], as well as just and unjust, in like manner with the regimes”
(Pol. 1282b8“10). Even as he illuminates the limits of each regime™s
distributive principle, and of the laws that derive from that principle,
then, Aristotle underlines the practical importance of the rule of law.
Furthermore, just as “˜regime™ and ˜governing body™ signify the
same thing” (Pol. 1279a25“6), so also it is clear that “legislation
Citizenship and the Rule of Law 141

necessarily concerns the equal both in kin [genos] and power, and that
for other sorts, there is no law” (Pol. 1284a11“13). From this point of
view, ostracism is both advantageous and just in preserving the com-
mon advantage of those among whom there is law. But in elucidating
the partial justice of each governing body™s claim to rule, including
the most authoritative claim of virtue, Aristotle reveals also that no
regime can accommodate the common advantage in the full sense: the
advantage of the whole city “ of every member who contributes to its
existence and end “ and the advantage of those who, as citizens, merit
ruling and being ruled in turn (Pol. 1283b40“1284a1). The failure of
any one regime to achieve the common advantage in this full sense
may affect the many or the few, but every regime, limited as it is by its
own distributive equality, will necessarily exclude “the one preeminent
in virtue”: the one who “acts in all things according to his own wish”
and is thereby a law unto himself (Pol. 1284a13“14, 1287a1“2, 8“10).
On this note, Aristotle turns to the examination of kingship and, in
particular, the kind of kingship in which a single ruler possesses abso-
lute authority.
In taking up absolute kingship, Aristotle distinguishes it from king-
ship “under law,” indicating the existence of some disagreement as to
which form deserves the name of kingship and of regime, properly
speaking (Pol. 1287a1“12, 1286a2“5). Whereas kingship under law,
exempli¬ed by Sparta, grants “kingly” power in speci¬ed areas, such
as war, foreign affairs, and some sacri¬ces, it by no means cedes all
powers to a single ruler or king. As some argue, however, absolute
kingship, in which one person has complete authority to act in accord
with his own wish, is against nature among those who are equal and
similar (Pol. 1287a10“12). The problem is that the regime and law
re¬‚ect the equality that constitutes the governing body of a political
community, whereas absolute rule arises from the inequality of a single
one. For this reason also, the discussion of kingship necessarily begins
from the question of “whether it is more advantageous to be ruled by
the best man or by the best laws” (Pol. 1286a7“9; see also 1287b19“22).
The practical reasons for respecting the rule of law do not address this
deeper issue.23

23 Several authors have revisited Aristotle™s treatment of absolute kingship and the
“kingly” man. See W. R. Newell, “Superlative Virtue: The Problem of Monarchy in Aris-
totle™s Politics,” Western Political Quarterly 40 (March 1987): 159“78; Thomas Lindsay,
Citizenship and the Limits of Law

Aristotle precedes the exploration of the arguments for and against
absolute kingship with a summary of key points, focusing on the dif-
¬culty he addresses also in his discussion of equity in the Ethics: Law
speaks “in general” (kathalou) and does not command with a view to
particular circumstances. On these grounds, some suggest that it is
foolish to rule in any art in accord with “writings” (grammata) and that
the best regime itself is not based on written rules or laws. The poten-
tial inadequacy of law in particular cases is the reason that Egyptian
doctors, for example, are permitted at some point to depart from the
written rules. On the other hand, the “general reason” that is embod-
ied in law and free of the “passionate element” in human beings ought
to be available to a ruler (Pol. 1286a9“20). The arguments on each
side of the issue point to a certain conclusion: It is necessary for a ruler
to be a legislator and for laws to be laid down, but the law is not to
be authoritative when it deviates in particular cases. The question that
would seem to remain is whether, in these particular cases, a single
human being or many ought to be the judge (Pol. 1286a21“8).
Aristotle offers a series of considerations that bear on this question
without de¬nitively resolving it. Central to these considerations are two
claims: First, a multitude is superior as a collective to judge particular
matters and less corruptible than a single human being, and second,
the equality that constitutes the regime as such naturally opposes the
rule of the one (Pol. 1286a28“35, 1286b8“22). With regard to the ques-
tion of the best form of rule, the pivotal consideration is the ¬rst, the
capacity for deliberation and judgment and, in general, superiority in
virtue. Hence, for all the obstacles against absolute rule “ not least, the
natural resistance against it by others who wish to rule (Pol. 1286b27“
33) “ virtue remains the most fundamental standard in deciding who
ought to rule.
Having thus indicated the tension between the equality inherent
in the regime and this standard, Aristotle examines more closely the
arguments in favor of the rule of law. For even as those who insist on
the priority of law recognize the problem presented by its generality,

“The ˜God-Like Man™ versus the ˜Best Laws™: Politics and Religion in Aristotle™s Poli-
tics,” Review of Politics 53 (Summer 1991): 488“509; Barlett “Aristotle™s Science of the
Best Regime”; Vander Waerdt, “Kingship and Philosophy in Aristotle™s Best Regime,”
pp. 249“73. Compare Newman, The “Politics” of Aristotle, I.268“83 and Ross, Aristotle,
6th ed. (London: Routledge Press, 1995), pp. 263“5.
Citizenship and the Rule of Law 143

they point to the importance of preserving the regime by respecting
its inherent equality. Hence, they suggest, “whatever, on the basis of
experience, is held to be better than the established law” ought to
be handed over precisely to those whom the law has educated and
who “by the most just decision” pronounce judgment in a particular
case. These rulers act, accordingly, not as superior to the law but as its
“guardians” and “servants” (Pol. 1287a25“8, 18“22).
The case for the priority of the law is supported also by the claim
that “the one who bids that the law rule is held to be bidding the god
and mind [nous] alone to rule, whereas the one who bids a man to
rule adds the beast” (Pol. 1287a28“30).24 Those who argue against
kingship point to both desire and spirit (thumos) as inevitable sources
by which rulers and the best men are corrupted and claim that the
law, by contrast, is “mind without longing” (Pol. 1287a32). Contrary to
the earlier argument from the arts “ the good doctors of Egypt “ those
in political of¬ces frequently act out of spite or to curry favor, and no
one, not even the best doctor, tends to judge particularly well in his
own case. For this reason, “it is clear that those who seek the just are
seeking the mean [meson, or “the middle way,” “impartiality”], and the
law is a mean” (Pol 1287a32“b5).25
In addition, Aristotle mentions several other considerations, includ-
ing the greater “steadiness” and authority of the “laws in accord with
customs [eth¯],” as well as the inability of one person to survey all and
therefore the need for subordinate rulers, and he returns to an earlier
suggestion, which he now buttresses with the authority of Homer, that
two good men are better than one (Pol. 1287b5“15). But these consid-
erations represent a fallback position on the part of those who reject
absolute kingship, and the problem remains that the law itself must be

24 On the “dei¬cation” of law entailed by this view, see Lindsay, “The ˜God-Like Man™
versus the ˜Best Laws™,” pp. 490“1. Also see Bartlett, “Aristotle™s Science of the
Best Regime,” pp. 149“50, for a discussion of law and the “necessary recourse to
providence.” Moreover, as Bartlett observes, “a consideration of the context of the
remarks . . . makes it clear that this is the view [of law] advanced by a republican
partisan” (p. 145).
25 See Mans¬eld™s observation: “Thus, despite being intelligence without desire, law is
not the best but the middle. Law abstracts from the desire of the best man in order
to protect men from the distortion caused by his thumos, let alone that of others. But
in this very abstraction it re¬‚ects the distortion it combats: to prevent the partiality of
one, the law adopts the general, ostracizing envy of the many, and creates impartiality
out of inferior vanities” (Taming the Prince, p. 42).
Citizenship and the Limits of Law

formulated and interpreted and that it is necessarily general.26 For all
the dif¬culties with and obstacles to the absolute rule of the best one,
the dispute over the rule of law is thrown back on the fact that some
matters cannot be encompassed by law, and the law requires human
deliberation, and this fact is what “causes” the question to be raised
and investigated whether it is more choiceworthy for the best laws or
the best man to rule (Pol. 1287b19“22).
By insisting that “every ruler who has been educated by the law
judges nobly” (Pol. 1287b25“6), the defenders of law simply under-
line the problem at hand. In certain cases, Aristotle concludes, we
must allow that there is “a whole family or even one of the rest [who]
happens to arise who is distinguished in virtue so much as to exceed
that of all the rest” (Pol. 1288a15“17). When this occurs, then it is
just for either this family or single human being to be king and to
have authority over all (Pol. 1288a17“19). This argument is consistent
with the standard of justice asserted by those who are parties to the
dispute over rule “ equal things for equal people “ and with the view
that the one who contributes to the highest end of the city has the
most authoritative claim to rule. As Aristotle suggests, this “one” is
the city in this respect (Pol. 1288a19“28). Accordingly, as thorough
as the defense of law is, it does not resolve the dif¬culty presented by
the fact that ruling requires virtue, yet every regime is grounded in an
equality that must be preserved.27
Indeed, the laws that derive from the regime set out the education
of a citizen, and Aristotle™s investigation points to the insuf¬ciency of
this education in relation to the best simply, a subject to which he
returns at the end of Book III. From the point of view of the city,

26 “The moral,” Newman observes, “is that law is only a make-shift, that the best thing
is the unceasing guidance and supervision of a true King, and that if law exists, it is
essential that the King should be free to depart from it, wherever he can do so with
advantage” (The “Politics” of Aristotle, I.217).
27 Moreover, as Lindsay notes, “the theoretically best political arrangement, bereft of
law and equality, is in truth not political: The distance between the human city and
the ˜natural course™ [see Pol. 1284b32“4] appears such as to deprive the natural city
of its political identity and, correlatively, to deprive existing cities of simply natural
foundations” (“The ˜God-Like Man™ versus the ˜Best Laws™,” p. 494). Or see Newell,
“Superlative Virtue,” p. 162: “The claim of superlative virtue to exercise this kind of
authority [the kind that a master exercises over a household] leads to the destruction
of the city understood as a community of diverse contributions and interests.”
Citizenship and the Rule of Law 145

the education supplied by the law constitutes the virtue of both man
and citizen, and “the education and habits that make a man morally
serious are nearly the same as those that make him a political or kingly
ruler” (Pol. 1288a41“b2).28 In light of the limits of the regime and
of law, however, the question of the good human being and the best
education remains. Aristotle™s “kingly” man, who is a law unto himself,
is something of a mystery, but about him we can say at least this much:
He is not captured or captured fully within the framework of citizen
Aristotle™s exploration of law and the regime in Book III of the
Politics sheds light on the treatment of the choiceworthy life and edu-
cation in Books VII and VIII. For in negotiating the debate between
those who prefer the active political life and those who argue that a
certain theoretical life is best, Aristotle presents the life of leisure “
an “active” life of thought “ as the aim of the education of the best
regime. He characterizes this life and its goodness by reinterpreting
action and the active way of life as study and thinking that are “com-
plete in themselves” and “for their own sake” (Pol. 1325b16“23). As he
has emphasized in Book III, the best work or activity is free in being for

28 Aristotle™s quali¬cation of this equation “ “the education and habits that make a man
morally serious are nearly the same as those that make him a political or kingly ruler” “
is another indication that the virtues of a good citizen are not exactly the same (as
Yack and others suggest) as those of a good human being (cf. Yack, The Problems of a
Political Animal, p. 262).
29 The mysteriousness of this extreme in Aristotle™s account of the regimes is brought
out by the different accounts offered by Mans¬eld and Vander Waerdt. Mans¬eld
observes, “Aristotle is led to say, that if one or more so exceed the rest in virtue,
he or they cannot be counted a part of the city. Such a one would be like a god
among human beings; and a law could not apply to such, for they themselves are
a law (1284a3“14; cf. 1253a25“30). This virtuous ˜one™ is usually not speci¬ed as a
man or a human being. He or it would be literally ˜monarchy,™ a single ruler or ruling
principle which so exceeds the rest that it becomes a law. Such a monarchy is above
the other regimes, or in a way above all regimes, because it carries the human claims
to rule to non-human extremes” (Taming the Prince, p. 39) Compare Vander Waerdt:
The king™s “natural title to rule consists not in philosophia, like Plato™s philosopher-
kings, but in a kind of heroic or even divine virtue which differs in eidos from both
moral and philosophical virtue. The king™s heroic virtue, being incomparable to that
of his subjects, thus undermines the basis for politik¯ arch¯: their virtue, even if taken
e e
altogether, cannot exceed his, because it differs in eidos; consequently, since they
cannot justly ostracize a man of outstanding virtue, the only course open to them is
to accept his permanent rule” (“Philosophy and Kingship in Aristotle™s Best Regime,”
p. 264).
Citizenship and the Limits of Law

one™s own sake and use, and those who undertake such work also must
be free from the “necessary things.” In this regard, Aristotle ¬nally sides
in Book VII with those who reject the political life not only because
it may involve injustice but also because it is an “impediment to one™s
own well-being” (Pol. 1324a35“7). According to a suggestion earlier
in the Politics, the “action” of the theoretical life also involves a plea-
sure unaccompanied by pain and enjoyment through oneself alone
(Pol. 1267a2“15), and, in this way, philosophy can supply a remedy for
the greatest injustices, which arise from the desire for more than the
necessary things and for a pleasure without pain. As Aristotle will say
later in Book VII, in addition to moderation and justice, philosophy is
needed in particular by those who are at leisure amid an abundance
of good things (Pol. 1334a31“4).
But while Aristotle™s characterization of theoretical activity is thus
connected with considerations of the human good simply, the educa-
tion that he presents in Books VII and VIII of the Politics is informed
by the demands of citizenship, the claims involved in the dispute
over rule, and the singular importance of law in human affairs. He
shows that the political community naturally involves constraints that
every citizen, even the one of preeminent virtue, must acknowledge:
In this regard, the just things are “necessary,” if not noble (see
Pol. 1332a10“15). As a middle ground between the political and
theoretical lives, the life of leisure in Books VII and VIII re¬‚ects the
necessity of law and the law™s limits with respect to education and the
good. As I seek to show in the following chapter, Aristotle™s presenta-
tion of an apparently minor virtue in the Ethics, wittiness, elucidates the
perspective of the human being who occupies this middle ground “ the
human being who respects and obeys law yet is not simply in awe of it.

Political Wit and Enlightenment

Leading up to his account of justice in the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle
discusses three virtues that pertain to “our associations” and “the
speeches and deeds of our common relations”: friendliness (philia,
lit. “friendship”), truthfulness, and wittiness (NE 1126b11“12). His
account of these virtues is prepared by his treatment of the name-
less characteristic pertaining to anger, which he chooses to call “gen-
tleness” (praot¯s).1 Generally speaking, the person who possesses this
virtue becomes angry “in the circumstances and at whom he ought, and
further in the manner, when, and for as much time as he ought” (NE
1125b31“2).2 In choosing to name the virtue “gentleness,” Aristotle

1 Given that the object of gentleness is anger, a passion, it is at ¬rst puzzling that Aristotle
does not discuss it along with courage and moderation, the two virtues that pertain to
the “irrational parts” strictly speaking (NE 1117b23“34) “ in fact, gentleness does take
the third place in Aristotle™s Eudemian Ethics (See Stewart, Notes on the “Nicomachean
Ethics,” of Aristotle, 2 vols. [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1892], I:321“2). Grant observes,
“Had the Ethics been composed on a psychological plan, what is said here might have
been arranged under the head of thumos, and would have been connected with the
relation of thumos to courage which is discussed above” (Grant, The “Ethics” of Aristotle,
2 vols. [New York: Arno Press, 1973], II.81).
2 In an effort to capture this sense of praot¯s, some translators and commentators sug-
gest alternatives to “gentleness” in the English. Burnet suggests “patience” and “good
temper” (The “Ethics” of Aristotle [London: Methuen & Co., 1900], p. 188); Thomson,
“patience” (The “Ethics” of Aristotle, trans. J. A. K. Thomson [New York: Viking Pen-
guin, 1976], p. 160); Welldon (Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, trans J. E. C. Welldon
[Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1987], p. 129); Apostle (Aristotle™s “Nicomachean
Ethics” [Grinnell, IA: The Peripatetic Press, 1984], p. 70); and Ross (Aristotle, 6th ed.
[London: Routledge Press, 1995], p. 96), “good temper”; but Ostwald (Nicomachean
Ethics, p. 100) and Rackham (Nicomachean Ethics, p. 231) prefer “gentleness.”

Political Wit and Enlightenment

associates it with its also nameless de¬ciency, and the gentle person in
fact tends toward a de¬ciency of anger. The gentle person, who “wishes
to be calm and led not by passion but as reason would command,” is
more disposed to forgive than, as is more common, to seek revenge
and punishment (NE 1125b33“1126a4, 1126a30). Indeed, this dispo-
sition toward forgiveness sometimes makes the gentle human being
an object of blame rather than praise: He is thought to be a fool and
slavish, for he appears to endure foul abuse and to overlook his own
affairs (NE 1126a4“8). Moreover, in certain circumstances, not gen-
tleness but harshness, the excess of anger identi¬ed as most opposed
to the mean, is praised: Harsh human beings “are sometimes praised
as manly on the grounds that they are able to rule” (NE 1126a36“b2).
This contrast between harshness and gentleness manifests the tension
between the necessities of ruling, especially punishment or punitive
justice, and the forgiveness toward which reason by itself tends. The
account of gentleness thus suggests that moral virtue points to diver-
gent ends: on the one hand, toward rule, and on the other hand, away
from rule toward something other than political activity. This latter
possibility is indicated by Aristotle™s observation that gentleness con-
tributes to good relations among friends and associates (NE 1126a25“
6, 1126a31), and it is explored in the subsequent account of the three
virtues that pertain to our associations and the speeches and deeds
of our common relations. In contrast to justice and the activity of
ruling, these virtues are merely ancillary to the serious occupation
of life, political action; yet in pointing away from political life, they
help to illuminate both the grounds and the limits of our freedom
from it.

nobility and irony
In his original list of the virtues in Book II, Aristotle had unquali¬edly
identi¬ed the ¬rst virtue he discusses as friendship, implying that he
meant nothing less than the full scope of associations treated in Books
VIII and IX (NE 1108a26“30). But he now observes that the virtue he
is describing is nameless and that although it resembles friendship,
the person who is friendly without being a friend does not act out of
passion or love for those with whom he is associating (NE 1126b22“5).
Rather, “friendliness” as a virtue constitutes the proper disposition
Nobility and Irony 149

toward pleasures and pains in our associations. The friendly person is
pleasant and approving of others insofar as he does not bring discredit
or harm upon himself or his associates; when necessary, he will express
his disapproval, even though to do so may cause pain (NE 1126b27“
33). His company is clearly preferable to that of his fellows at the
extremes: the obsequious man, who praises everything in order to
please and opposes nothing, wishing never to pain anyone, and the
quarrelsome one, who peevishly opposes everything, caring not about
the pain he may cause (NE 1126b11“17). As a virtue, then, friendliness
makes our “living together” pleasant.
In the course of his discussion of this virtue and its associated vices,
however, Aristotle explicitly distinguishes among the ends of actions
that would otherwise appear the same. Although both seek to please
others, the obsequious person differs from the ¬‚atterer because the
former seeks to please for no particular reason “ as a matter of charac-
ter “ whereas the latter does so with a view to monetary gain. That vir-
tuous or vicious actions can be judged also in relation to speci¬c ends,
rather than in relation to a mean, proves to be particularly signi¬cant
in the account of the next virtue, truthfulness, in which Aristotle raises
the question of whether the virtues are means.
Aristotle begins the discussion of the next virtue, which he calls
“truthfulness,” by acknowledging that it too is nameless (NE 1127a14“
15). Both in this discussion and in his list of the virtues in Book II, he
offers an apology for taking up nameless characteristics, arguing that
we must discuss them not only to understand character better but to
con¬rm that the virtues are means by seeing that in each case the mean
is praiseworthy and the extremes are blameworthy (NE 1108a14“16,
1127a14“17). Given Aristotle™s general de¬nition of virtue as a mean,
it is surprising that this principle suddenly requires con¬rmation (NE
1106b14“1107a7, 1109a20“6). Nonetheless, truthfulness proves to be
complicated in this respect.3
Aristotle suggests that friendliness and truthfulness concern nearly
the same thing, living together, but the former pertains to pleasure and

3 Both Stewart and Grant remark on Aristotle™s “inductive method,” but do not consider
the signi¬cance of his apology in light of the fact that truthfulness proves complicated
as a mean (cf. Stewart, Notes on the “Nicomachean Ethics” of Aristotle, I.213 and Grant,
The “Ethics” of Aristotle, I.507).
Political Wit and Enlightenment

pain in our speeches and deeds, and the latter to truth and falsehood
regarding what one is “ one™s attributes and abilities (NE 1127a17“20).
As a straightforward “plain dealer” (authekastos),4 the truthful person
claims to be nothing more or less than he is. He is ¬‚anked on the
one side by the boaster, who pretends to be greater than he is, and,
on the other, by the person who pretends to be less than he is, whom
Aristotle chooses to call “ironic” (eir¯nikos) (NE 1127a19“26). Both
extremes involve lying or dissembling and so appear blameworthy in
contrast to the dedication to the truth that is of a piece with the virtuous
person™s love of the noble: “In itself, falsehood is base [phaulon] and
blameworthy, but truth is noble and praiseworthy,” and “in this way,
furthermore, the truthful person, holding the mean, is praiseworthy,
and the deceivers both are blameworthy” (NE 1127a28“32).
The praiseworthiness of truthfulness and blameworthiness of dis-
sembling, however, become less obvious as Aristotle proceeds to ana-
lyze the virtue and its extremes, especially irony. The virtuous person
is truthful in speech and deed not for the sake of some particular end
but “because his characteristic is of this sort”; although “this kind of
person would seem to be equitable,” he can be distinguished from
the one “who is truthful in agreements or in whatever is relevant to
injustice and justice, for these things would belong to another virtue”
(NE 1127a 34“b2; cf. 1126b20“1). According to Aristotle, since the
one who is characteristically a lover of truth is truthful when it does
not matter, such a person is unlikely to act out of character when the
need for truthfulness is all the more pressing (NE 1127b2“5). Yet some-
times circumstances may warrant a departure from the truth: Justice
may generally demand but is not identical with truthfulness, and there
may be cases in which the truth, however noble, must bow to a greater
imperative.5 The mean represented by truthfulness in its own right,
accordingly, may not always constitute right action.
The question of whether truthfulness is always a virtue or, more
generally, whether the virtues are means is further complicated by the
occasional praiseworthiness of one of the extremes, irony. The ironic
person, who pretends to be less than he is, is most opposed to the

4 Welldon™s suggestion for authekastos ; see Welldon, The Nicomachean Ethics p. 135.
5 Compare Plato™s Republic 331c1“9; also Gauthier and Jolif, “L™Ethique a Nicomaque,”
2nd ed., 2 vols. (Louvain, FR: Publications Universitaires de Louvain, 1970), p. 310.
Nobility and Irony 151

boaster, who pretends to be greater than he is “for the sake of noth-
ing” and who even seems to “take joy in falsehood” (NE 1127b9“11).
Aristotle distinguishes this kind of boaster from the one who acts with
a view to reputation or honor, though he absolves both from serious
condemnation: The former appears silly rather than evil, and the latter
is “not extremely blameworthy” since honor is a laudable end (NE
1127b11“13, 1115a12“14, 1116a27“9, 1125b11“12). The worst kind of
boaster, rather, is one who dissembles with a view to gain or money “
who pretends, for example, to be a prophet, a wise man, or a doctor
for the sake of pro¬t (NE 1127b13). By contrast, the virtuous person
occasionally prefers irony as the more graceful manner of speech, for
“ironical people, by disparaging themselves, appear more re¬ned in
character, since they are thought to speak not for the sake of gain but
in order to avoid bombast” (NE 1127b6“9, 22“4, 29“31).
Indeed, those who are ironical deny possessing “especially the
things of high repute” (NE 1127b25). Those who disclaim the small
or obvious things “are called humbugs and are more despicable,” and
we see that we have come quite a distance from the virtue of courage
when Aristotle takes aim at the martial Lacedaemonians, whose dress,
as an exaggerated de¬ciency, is a form of boasting (NE 1127b27).6
The measure of this distance becomes clearer in considering the fact
that truthfulness and irony are ¬rst presented in Aristotle™s account of
the virtues as aspects of magnanimity or greatness of soul. The mag-
nanimous man is open in hate and love, since “to be evasive and to
care less for truth than for opinion is a sign of fearfulness,” and he
speaks and acts openly “on account of his disdain” (NE 1124b26“31).
He is thus disposed toward truthfulness, “except whenever he is ironi-
cal, and he is ironical toward the many”; although it is proper to vaunt
one™s greatness among the eminent, “to do so among the humble is
coarse, like exerting one™s strength against the feeble” (NE 1124b30“
1, 18“23). There is some connection, it appears, between the sense

6 Since the manuscripts vary, there is an argument regarding whether the word is “pre-
tend” (to the small or obvious things) or must be supplied as “disclaim.” Given the
context, the correct reading would seem to call for supplying the word “disclaim.” Cf.
Burnet, The “Ethics” of Aristotle, p. 196 and Stewart, Notes on the “Nicomachean Ethics” of
Aristotle, I.364. Aristotle ridicules Lacedaemonian dress, but such external things are
not conventionally considered unimportant, as evidenced by Aristotle™s own descrip-
tion in the Politics of the ridicule heaped upon Hippodamus (Pol. 1267b22“30).
Political Wit and Enlightenment

of greatness that distinguishes magnanimity and the nobility that the
truthful person attributes to truth. Nevertheless, it belongs to Aristo-
tle™s pedagogy to de¬ne truthfulness and irony as characteristics in
their own right rather than as extensions of magnanimity. He thus
highlights the nobility involved in speaking and acting truthfully as
an end in itself and suggests that this same dedication to the noble
guides those who ironically deny that they possess the things of high
repute. But when, regarding such ironical speech, Aristotle offers a
rare example of one who possesses a characteristic, he points not to the
magnanimous man, as his earlier discussion might lead us to expect,
but to Socrates (NE 1127b25“6).7
Socrates, of course, was famous “ or infamous “ for his irony, and
his notoriety in this department arose from what was seen to be his
ironical disclaimer that he possessed wisdom. In the defense of his
activity memorialized in Plato™s Apology of Socrates, he observes that in
contrast to those who claim to know things they do not know, he does
not suppose himself to know the things he does not know (Apology
21d). But far from lending him an air of noble re¬nement, Socrates™
disclaimer provoked great suspicion (cf. Republic 337a). This suspicion
grew in part out of the investigation he claimed to have undertaken
out of piety: his conversations with fellow Athenians “ his relentless
questioning of interlocutors who claimed to know something and were
inevitably shown to be boasters. As Socrates observes in his defense
speech, it was this activity in particular that caused hatred and slander
to arise against him (Apology 22e“23a).
In the face of this hatred and slander, Aristotle rescues Socratic
irony from the charge that it is mere dissembling by associating it
with the graceful irony of the “noble and good” human being (or
gentleman, kalokagathos).8 Yet the two differ in important ways. The

7 Stewart observes that “the notion of eir¯neia was . . . enobled by the character of
Socrates, and by the representation which Plato gave of him . . . Aristotle is the ¬rst to
make Socrates the type of true re¬ned Irony (Notes on the “Nicomachean Ethics” of Aris-
totle, I.359). But compare Aristotle™s Posterior Analytics 97b16“24, where Socrates is an
example, alongside Alcibiades, of megalopsychia (see also Tessitore, Reading Aristotle™s
“Ethics”: Virtue, Rhetoric, and Political Philosophy [Albany: State University of New York
Press, 1996], pp. 31“5).
8 As Gauthier and Jolif note (“L™Ethique a Nicomaque,” II.313), the ¬rst use of the term
irony occurs in Aristophanes™ Clouds (l. 449), whose author is identi¬ed by Socrates
as one of his “silent” accusers. In Plato, see Apology 37e“38a, Republic 337a, Sophist
268a“d, Symposium 216e, 218d.
Nobility and Irony 153

gentleman, who dissembles out of a sense of nobility, denies possessing
something he believes himself to possess, and he is praised. By contrast,
Socrates™ disclaimer, while not entirely true, is not entirely false, and he
is blamed. By his own account at least, the refuting activity for which
he received the reputation of being “wise” is based not on the wis-
dom people suspected him of possessing “ wisdom about the “greatest
things” or the noble and good things “ but on what he explicitly claims
to know. As he observes after recounting a discussion with a politician
reputed to be wise, “possibly neither of us knows anything noble and
good . . . but at least I am probably a little bit wiser than he in this very
thing: whatever I do not know, I do not even suppose I know” (Apology
21d).9 Whereas the truthfulness and irony of a virtuous human being
issue from a devotion to the noble, and so from correct opinion,
Socrates™ irony is bound up with his challenge to correct opinion and,
in this connection, with his professed ignorance about the noble and
good things.
In making his apology for discussing nameless virtues and vices,
Aristotle insists that by undertaking this task, we will know better the
things of character and will con¬rm that the virtues are means (NE
1127a15“17). That he chooses to reiterate his apology in the discus-
sion of truthfulness suggests that this virtue is especially revealing
of character and problematic as a mean (cf. again 1108a14“16 with
1127a14“15). Generally, the mean with respect to truth and false-
hood in our associations is de¬ned in relation to the extremes of

9 The question of Socrates™ irony is made more complicated by the fact that Socrates™
one use of the term refers to his claim about the god. He represents his activity in
Athens as having been prompted by the pronouncement solicited by Chaerephon
from the oracle at Delphi that no one was wiser than Socrates (20e“21b) “ a pro-
nouncement about which Socrates claims to be perplexed since he did not believe
himself to be wise. He thus sought to investigate what he characterizes as the “riddle”
of the oracle, and it is this investigation that underlies his conversations with those
who are reputed to be wise. He represents these conversations as his way of “coming
to the aid of the god” (23b). After having been found guilty, and speaking to the
question of the penalty he ought to pay, Socrates rejects the possibility of keeping
silent or of exile, saying, “Of this, it is hardest of all to persuade some of you. For if I
say that this is to disobey the god and that on account of this it is impossible to keep
quiet, you will still not be persuaded by me on the grounds that I am being ironic”
(37e“38a). Those to whom he speaks will not be persuaded by Socrates™ claim because
the suspicion about his irony is closely linked with suspicion about his atheism (23d).
From this point of view, Socrates™ refuting activity clearly constitutes a challenge to
conventional wisdom and to the source of that wisdom.
Political Wit and Enlightenment

boasting and irony. But the mean changes when we see that the latter
form of dissembling is sometimes practiced even by the gentleman
and that the irony of Socrates was, for him, the best or necessary
course of action (cf. 1126b28“31). When Aristotle concludes with a
¬nal condemnation of boastfulness, he has managed to match this
particular extreme with the vice of supposing that one knows what
one does not. In doing so, and in linking gentlemanly and Socratic
irony, he prepares the way for his discussion of wittiness and the

politics and wit
As the last of the virtues connected with our associations, Aristotle
turns to wittiness, the virtue he originally classi¬es with friendliness
because both have to do with pleasure: wittiness with pleasure in play
(paidia) and friendliness with “the rest of pleasure, that in life” (NE
1108a26“7). He now recasts wittiness as pertaining to rest (anapausis),
one part of life, and speci¬cally to “passing the time [diagog¯ ] in play,”
a part of rest (NE 1127b33“1128a1). Rest and play are “necessary in
life” (NE 1128b3“4); as he will later observe, citing the authority of
Anacharsis, “we do not play for its own sake but in order to be serious.
For play is like rest, and, being unable to labor continuously, people
need rest” (NE 1176b33“1177a1). We play and rest, according to this
argument, for the sake of further activity, and, for the morally virtuous
human being, the serious activity of life to which play is ancillary is
political action: As a relief from the cares and exertions of political
life, the virtuous person turns to witty amusements.
This suggestion is echoed in the Politics: “Play is for the sake of rest,
and it is necessary that play be pleasant, since it is a certain healing
of the pain that comes from labors” (Pol. 1339b15“17). In the Politics,
however, Aristotle discusses “music” as the virtue or activity pertain-
ing to rest; sleep, drinking, and dancing are the only other activities
he associates with play in this context (Pol. 1339a14“24). He never

10 This is the ¬rst mention of diagog¯ in the Ethics. It is an important and dif¬cult-to-
translate term. “Passing the time” or “pastime” suits the context here, but diagog¯ also
has more weighty meanings: a way or course of life, a course of instruction. Where
appropriate, I will simply transliterate the Greek.
Politics and Wit 155

mentions wittiness and treats comedy only to comment on its delete-
rious effect upon the young: “The young should also be forbidden to
be spectators of lampoons and comedies until they reach the age at
which they are able to participate in reclining at table and drinking,
and education will make them entirely unaffected by the harm that
proceeds from such things” (Pol. 1336b20“3). Hence, we have war-
rant for asking why, in the Ethics, Aristotle singles out wittiness as the
virtue pertaining to play and rest.
As the virtue connected with play, wittiness is a mean between the
coarse jesting of buffoons, who always strive after a laugh and spare no
one, not even themselves, from pain or embarrassment, and the dour
humorlessness of boors, who will not abide any kind of fun, either
of their own or others™ making. Regarding those who play “grace-
fully” (“harmoniously,” emmel¯s), Aristotle offers ¬rst an etymologi-
cal observation: They are called witty (eutrapelos), “as in ˜versatile™
[eutropos] since these kinds of things are thought to be movements
of character, and just as bodies are judged from their movements, so
also are characters” (NE 1128a9“12). The graceful or re¬ned wit, by
this account, is the quick one.
But the mean and its extremes are properly understood also in the
context of two general considerations: First, “something laughable is
always within easy reach,” and second, “most people enjoy play and
joking more than they ought” (NE 1128a13“14). These considerations
give the edge to buffoons, who, in always seeking a laugh, seem to stop
at nothing to win it. Nevertheless, although buffoons have a quick wit
and can be confused with genuinely witty human beings, the two differ
and “not a little.” They differ in particular because the former lack what
Aristotle next identi¬es as “tact” (epideksiot¯s), another quality, in addi-
tion to quickness, that distinguishes a good wit (NE 1128a15“16).11 It is
not inappropriate for Aristotle to introduce a second quality or virtue
since he also identi¬es two other vices in relation to the extremes: Buf-
foons are called coarse and boors dour (cf. NE 1108a23“6 with 1128a4“
10). The person who possesses tact says and listens to the things
“appropriate to an equitable and liberal person” (NE 1128a16“19).

11 “Tact” is the usual translation, but the full ¬‚avor of the word is captured by noting
that it also means cleverness, and in adjectival form (epideksios), dexterous, capable,
able, or clever.
Political Wit and Enlightenment

Thus, it is the humor of a liberal and equitable human being that sets
the standard for good wit and play (NE 1128a19“20).
Such liberal re¬nement is the basis upon which Aristotle both
asserts the superiority of the amusements of free and educated human
beings over those of the slavish and uneducated, and insists upon the
superiority of the New Comedy to the Old. From the point of view of
virtue, at least, the latter is characterized by crude language and jokes,
whereas the former, in depending on graceful innuendo (huponoia, lit.
“understatement”), re¬‚ects the virtue of a free and educated human
being and makes “no small difference with a view to what is becoming”
(NE 1128a19“25).12 In this regard, New Comedy would appear to rep-
resent the “play” of a particular political class. As Aristotle maintains in
the Politics, “liberal education” “ the education to virtue “ requires that
a citizen not be subjected to the deforming effects of menial labor and
other occupations (Pol. 1337b4“11), and this prerequisite necessitates
a differentiation among the classes in the best regime. In the city that
is “most happy” “ “most nobly governed” and possessing just men “
the citizens cannot live a “vulgar” or “mercantile” life. Rather, “with a
view both to the growth of virtue and to political actions,” they require
leisure (Pol. 1328b23“1329a2). The citizens of the best regime are the
class whose education has virtue as its aim and whose virtue justi¬es
their leisure, political freedom, and rule.
Having established the quickness and tact of the liberal person as the
standard of graceful play, Aristotle poses a question that this standard
ought to settle: how to de¬ne the one with a good wit (NE 1128a25).

12 Aristotle offers no examples, though the comedy of Aristophanes is the obvious
representative of Old Comedy, and so his remark can rightly be taken as a criticism
of Aristophanean comedy. Since Aristotle also does not offer an example of New
Comedy, it is safe to suppose that he refers to the comedy of his time, the premier
examples of which are the plays of Menander (for a discussion of the in¬‚uence of
Aristotelian thought on Menander, see Carnes Lord, “Aristotle, Menander and the
Adelphoe of Terence,” Transactions of the American Philological Association 107 [1977]:
183“202). But it is also helpful to recall the discussion among Socrates, Agathon,
and Aristophanes at the end of Plato™s Symposium in which Socrates argues that a
poet must be able to write both comedy and tragedy. There is some evidence that the
Platonic dialogues are in part a response to the comic poet whom Plato™s Socrates
identi¬es in his defense speech as his most dangerous accuser: We might compare, for
example, the “female drama” of Book V of the Republic (451c1“3) to Aristophanes™
Ecclesiazusae or Plato™s Theages to the Clouds. In this regard, Plato™s own dialogues may
offer an illustration of the New Comedy to which Aristotle refers.
Politics and Wit 157

He considers three possibilities: one who speaks as be¬ts a liberal man,
one who does not pain his listener, or one who even delights his listener
(NE 1128a26“7). As the latter two possibilities indicate, the question
of humor also requires a consideration of the audience, for “different
things are hateful and pleasant to different people” (NE 1128a27“8). A
successful comic must take his bearings by the likes and dislikes of his
audience. Indeed, because rest is found in the pleasures of play and ev-
eryone requires rest, a certain provision regarding music in the Politics
is relevant also for comedy: The “twofold” nature of the audience “ the
one, liberal and educated, and the other, slavish and uneducated “
necessitates a different music for each. Accordingly, a good comic, who
provides pleasure in play for the sake of rest, conforms his wit to the
character of his audience, and on this point, Aristotle plays with sepa-
rate notions of “nature”: For those whose “souls have been perverted
from the characteristic that accords with nature,” there needs to be a
comedy that, by giving pleasure, suits each “by nature” (Pol. 1342a18“
28). Aristotle™s earlier observations that people tend to enjoy play and
joking more than they ought and that something humorous is never
far from the surface suggest that buffoonery, as opposed to graceful
wit, will usually hold court (cf. Pol. 1341b10“18).
That the audience is not just determinative of the quality of comedy
but also shaped by it, however, is the premise behind the prohibition
against the exposure of the young to lampoons and comedies before
education has made them immune to the harm that proceeds from
these. Aristotle notes that the jokes a person endures hearing he will
also be disposed to make (NE 1128a28“9). Nonetheless, the law estab-
lishes certain restrictions, “for a joke is a kind of slander, and lawgivers
forbid slandering some things” (NE 1128a29“31).13 Such is the ratio-
nale for the prohibition pertaining to comedy in the best regime, and
Aristotle further elucidates the problem with the young™s exposure to
comedy and other bad in¬‚uences by citing the remark of the tragic
actor Theodorus “that never did he allow anyone to go out before
he did, not even a poor actor, on the grounds that the spectators
make most their own the ¬rst things they hear” (Pol. 1336b27“31).
In general, human beings “always love more the ¬rst things,” and “on

13 For the comprehensiveness of the law, see again NE 1129b14“15, 1138a5“7, and
especially 1145a10“11.
Political Wit and Enlightenment

account of this, one ought to make everything that is wretched foreign
to the young, especially those things that involve either wickedness or
enmity” (Pol. 1336b31“5). These ¬rst experiences are crucial for the
regime, since through them citizens come to embrace the conventions
and habits established by the lawgiver. Having noted the lawgiver™s
prohibition against slander in his discussion of wittiness, therefore,
Aristotle adds that “perhaps they needed also to forbid joking about
some things” (NE 1128a31). The law must protect its authority against
the power of comedy to mock it. The dif¬culty involved in such a task
is underscored by the fact that our love of play typically disposes us
to forgive the slander that lurks under the cover of humor and that
a particularly well-wrought joke may easily pass the lawgiver™s scrutiny
unnoticed “ a possibility especially true of New Comedy, since its under-
statedness, while graceful, is also more concealing.
In light of his call for the lawgiver to prohibit certain kinds of jokes
and in the context of this apparently minor virtue, it is both impressive
and curious that Aristotle should proceed to praise the witty human
being as like “a law unto himself ” (NE 1128a32), a characteristic that
in the Politics he attributes to those preeminent in virtue and political
capacity (Pol. 1284a3“15). The basis of his praise is illuminated by
recalling the power of comedy. For humor can liberate a person from
the conventions laid down by the lawgiver: To laugh at a convention
is to free oneself from it, and to make others laugh at it is to liberate
them. The one whose wit is moderated by the tact that buffoons and
the Old Comedy lack is like a law unto himself because he combines
law-abidingness with this liberation or potential for liberation from
the conventions of the regime.14 He acknowledges by his tactfulness
the prohibitions of the lawmaker even as he shows by his humor that
he is not simply in awe of them. As Aristotle observes in his Rhetoric,
wittiness is “hubris that has been educated.”15

14 See Carnes Lord, Education and Culture in the Political Thought of Aristotle: (Ithaca, NY:
Cornell University Press, 1983), pp. 165“77: “It is usually assumed without argument
that Aristotle regarded tragedy as the highest form of poetry. One is compelled to
wonder whether this assumption is really sound. . . . The obvious candidate as an
alternative to tragedy is comedy” (p. 174).
15 See Grant™s remark: “We perhaps ought hardly to quit the present subject without
alluding to the remarks which Aristotle has elsewhere thrown out on the nature of
wit and of the ludicrous. The most striking are Rhet. II. xii. 16, where he de¬nes wit as
˜chastened insolence,™ h¯ gar eutrapelia pepaideumen¯ hubris estin” (lit. “hubris that has
e e
Politics and Wit 159

In this connection, we might note the absence of piety from Aristo-
tle™s discussion of the virtues. One of the few explicit statements regard-
ing the morally virtuous person™s attitude toward the gods occurs in
the account of magni¬cence, the virtue pertaining to great wealth and
speci¬cally to ¬tting expenditures on a great scale (NE 1122a22“3).
The person who is magni¬cent seeks to undertake the “greatest and
most honored” expenditures, including foremost “those that have to
do with the gods (such as votive offerings, buildings, and sacri¬ces) and
that concern the entire divine realm” (NE 1122b19“23). In undertak-
ing a magni¬cent work of this kind, the virtuous person aims at what is
¬tting to the work, the circumstances, and himself. He seeks especially
to re¬‚ect his own noble and great virtue. Just as honor acts as a crown
(or “ornament,” kosmos) of the virtues in the case of magnanimity, so
too does a great work in the case of magni¬cence (cf. NE 1123a7 with
1124a1“2). Of course, as Aristotle also adds, “the same thing is not ¬t
for the gods and for human beings, nor for a shrine and a tomb” (NE
1123a9“10). Thus, a magni¬cent work that pertains to the divine must
take account of the distance between gods and men, and not least, of
the fact of human mortality. Yet the one who spends in a magni¬cent
way seeks to produce a work that will “endure” “ that not only re¬‚ects
his great virtue but also endows him with a kind of immortality (NE
1123a7“9). Likewise, in longing for honor, the magnanimous man
thinks himself worthy of the honor that is reserved in Book I for the
gods (NE 1101b10“1102a4). The longing for the noble that belongs to
virtue presents in this way a challenge to conventionally pious views, a
challenge that is shared but also potentially moderated by the virtues
of irony and wittiness.16

been educated”; see The “Ethics” of Aristotle, II.92). See also Leo Strauss™s observation
on Aristophanean comedy, “Both obscenities and blasphemies consist in publicly
saying things which cannot be said publicly with propriety. They are ridiculous and
hence pleasing to the extent to which propriety is sensed as a burden, as something
imposed, as something owing its dignity to imposition, to convention, to nomos. In
the background of the Aristophanean comedy we discern the distinction between
nomos and physis.” See Strauss, “The Problem of Socrates: First Lecture,” in The Rebirth
of Classical Political Rationalism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989), p. 115.
16 Compare Aquinas, Commentary on the “Nicomachean Ethics,” 2 vols., trans. C. I. Litzinger
(Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 1964), I:719: “The gentiles . . . worshipped not
only gods, i.e., certain separated substances, but also demons whom they held to be
intermediaries between gods and men. Therefore, he [Aristotle] adds that every-
thing expended on the worship of any demon whatsoever belongs to this same
Political Wit and Enlightenment

education, liberty, and leisure
That Aristotle should associate play and rest with wittiness and not
music in the Ethics is striking precisely because the former tends away
from the full devotion to moral virtue and political life that is the mark
of the serious human being. The playfulness and quickness of a witty
human being contrast with the seriousness and deliberateness of the
magnanimous man, who is dedicated to moral virtue as an end and
good in itself. Moreover, wittiness involves a liberation from law, albeit
of an understated kind, which is in tension with the devotion to law
characteristic of the just ruler (NE 1134b1“6). Thus, the virtue that
provides relief from the cares and exertions of political activity also
points beyond that activity.17
Where it points is further illuminated when Aristotle redraws the
distinctions between rest and activity in book X of the Ethics. He newly
divides life into leisure (schol¯ ) and occupation, observing that occu-
pation is for the sake of leisure since happiness depends on leisure
(NE 1177b4“6). He then argues as before that diagog¯ in play is for
the sake of further activity, namely, political action, yet he now adds
that because political action is unleisurely, it must be for the sake of
something beyond itself, namely, the activity appropriate to leisure (NE
1177b6“15). This transformation of the end is echoed in the Politics.18
Whereas early in his discussion Aristotle largely posits political virtue
as the aim of the best regime, he later establishes diagog¯ in leisure
as its proper end (Pol. 1333a30“b5). Both the Ethics and the Politics
make clear that play is for the sake of rest; the two works diverge,
however, regarding the activity that constitutes our leisure and highest

classi¬cation. The Philosopher speaks here of a heathen custom that has been abro-
gated by the plain truth. Hence if someone now spent any money on the worship of
a demon he would not be muni¬cent but sacrilegious.”
17 Compare Stewart: “We must not overlook the way in which all ˜the qualities of the
Gentleman™ (even the most super¬cial of them) are made to subserve earnest
aims . . . the eutrapelos performs an important function, by lightening the incubus
of ennui which tends to oppress life. He contributes to that anapausis which is sought
not for its own sake, but because it makes us more capable of the performance of the
earnest duties of life” (Notes on the “Nicomachean Ethics” of Aristotle, I.366).
18 For a full discussion of this transformation, see Robert C. Bartlett, “The ˜Realism™ of
Classical Political Science,” American Journal of Political Science 38 (May 1994): 382“95.
See also Lord, Education and Culture, pp. 36“41, 54“7.
Education, Liberty, and Leisure 161

In his account of the education of the young in the Politics, Aristotle
insists that “there must be education with a view to the leisure that
is in diagog¯, and these objects of education and these studies must
be treated as for their own sake whereas those which are unleisurely
must be treated as necessary and for the sake of other things” (Pol.
1338a9“13). He establishes the content of this education by invoking
the practice of the ancients, who instituted music as a part of education,
“not as a necessary thing (since it possesses nothing of this kind), nor
as a useful thing” but “with a view to the diagog¯ that is in leisure”
(Pol. 1338a13“15, 21“2).
In focusing on music as “the diagog¯ of liberal human beings,” how-
ever, Aristotle is silent about philosophy, which he had mentioned once
in passing as “needed with a view to diagog¯ and leisure” (Pol. 1338a22“
4, 1334a22“3). His silence in this regard may be connected to the
fact that the eighth book of the Politics has come down to us apparently
incomplete, but it may also be the result of the limitation that Aristotle
places on his account of the education of the young:

Since there is one end for the entire city, it is evident that there is also one
education and that it is necessary that this one be the same for everyone and
that the care of it be a common matter and not private, which is how each
person now cares for his own children, in private and teaching whatever private
studies he thinks best. But the training for things that are common ought to be
made a common matter. At the same time, one ought not think that a certain
individual citizen belongs to himself, but rather that all belong to the city, for
each is a part of the city, and the care of each part naturally looks to the care
of the whole. (Pol. 1337a21“30)

In his account of the music that constitutes the common education of
the citizens, Aristotle raises three questions: whether music is for the


. 5
( 7)