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The Impact of Aristotle's Political Philosophy

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  • 0:01 The Philosopher
  • 0:56 Biography
  • 2:22 Political Philosophy
  • 4:47 Impact
  • 6:07 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Aristotle was one of the most influential scholars in human history, and he contributed to dozens of academic disciplines. Explore his impact on political philosophy, and test your understanding with a brief quiz.

The Philosopher

History is full of great philosophers. We've got Confucius in ancient China, Thomas Aquinas in Medieval Europe, and nowadays whoever it is that writes the advice in fortune cookies. Yes, many people are remembered for being a philosopher. But only one person is remembered for being 'The Philosopher.' That's the term Thomas Aquinas used to describe Aristotle, the ancient Greek scholar whose works set major precedents in the fields of mathematics, metaphysics, biology, medicine, theater, logic, ethics, and politics. With influences that are still felt this day, Aristotle tops almost any list of the most impactful philosophers in human history. He really was 'The Philosopher.'

Biography

So who was 'The Philosopher?' Born in 384 BCE in the now-lost city of Stagirus, Aristotle lived during the rise of the Macedonian Empire. That's the era of Alexander the Great. Aristotle was educated in Athens, the undisputed center of learning in the Western world, and studied under the philosopher Plato, who was himself a former student of Socrates. After Plato died, Aristotle worked for the royal court in Mysia, and then Macedonia, where he actually became the tutor for the young Alexander the Great.

Once Alexander took the throne and started his empire, Aristotle moved back to Athens and set up his own school, where he taught for the next 13 years. He lectured and wrote and was recognized as one of the most distinguished scholars of the era. Aristotle studied not only philosophy but also math, biology, physics, medicine, dance, and theater and gave general lectures on all of these subjects in open forums for the general public of Athens. However, when Alexander the Great died in 323 BCE, Athens became very anti-anything Macedonian, which included Aristotle. So, Aristotle fled to Chalcis, where he died in 322 BCE.

Political Philosophy

Aristotle was simply too versatile of a scholar for us to go into all of his theories right now, so we're just going to focus on one main area: politics. Aristotle wrote a lot about politics and ethics because to him, politics and ethics were inseparable. So, before we can talk about politics, we need to discuss Aristotle's views on ethics.

According to Aristotle, ethics should be defined by discovering your primary purpose. The basic idea is that all things have a purpose, or a reason for existence. For example, a knife is made to cut things. Aristotle called this primary purpose, or reason for existence, the telos.

So, if a knife is made to cut things, what are humans made for? According to Aristotle, the human telos is ration. Being rational, insightful, and logical is something unique to humans, and therefore is our primary purpose. So, actions that embrace your rational self are virtuous and decisions based on ration are moral.

That's the basic idea behind Aristotle's philosophy on ethics. Now, remember how I said that to Aristotle, politics and ethics were inseparable? Well, in order for humans to be able to strive towards perfection, we need to have an environment that nurtures our rational self. That's where politics come in. The point of politics is to foster virtue in citizens and allow them to develop their rational selves.

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