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Aristotle Democracy and Oligarchy Essay

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Aristotle would agree that a polity ought to reduce the inequality amongst its members since it does the best at promoting the good life. A state’s end is the good life and the different constitutions promote their valued virtues; thus, a constitution plays a role in shaping an individual’s character.One’s virtues incline one to act a certain way, but our decisions are dependent on its ends. Thus, to fulfill the good life, one must be exposed to good virtues, which feed the soul and bring forth happiness to an individual’s life. As virtue influences our decisions and our character, an object’s ends influence our decisions and how we act in certain situations, however the soul has the same effect. The soul is crucial in deciding how we act between ourselves and others, within our own lives. Therefore, it is not enough to act virtuous because we are expected to, but we must act virtuous for the right reasons. The good life is exemplified through the soul which must work in accordance with virtue, these will be further examined. In addition to this, the good man carries the correct virtues and is in charge of his character for he chooses to act accordingly to his virtues, which will be the result of the constitution he is part of. Happiness and justice are both interconnected with virtue which simultaneously change the citizen and as a result influence the good or bad within a state. Thus, for these reasons, Aristotle would agree that a polity ought to reduce the inequality amongst its members since it does the best at promoting the good life.

According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, a ‘polity’ is a constitution by the rule of middle-class citizens, and ‘equality’ is defined as a commonly shared attribute between persons. Equality refers to similarity and not sameness, thus, inequality is the lack of commonly shared attributes between persons.

As further described in Politics, a polity is a median between two extreme forms of governments, which are democracy and oligarchy. In nature, democracy favours the rule of the poor and of the many, whereas oligarchy rules by the rich and the few. Unlike a democracy which values equality and majority rule, oligarchy values distributing wealth amongst the ruling class and assigns political office to the same group of people, this creates some sort of monopoly on the political power of this constitution, while favouring a certain class. Whereas, a polity is the median between these two forms of governments and shares both characteristics from a democracy and an oligarchy; for example, it values election into political office (from oligarchy) and ignores the qualification of candidates (from democracy).

In Politics, Aristotle holds opposite views with Plato regarding communism, in specific the distribution of private property. Subsequently, it is important to have harmony between the citizens of a state, but for Aristotle this should only be to a certain extent, because complete unity undermines the state leaving it vulnerable to complete destruction. Furthermore, Aristotle, is against communism for he believes that private property should stay divided among men to allow them to obtain virtues (like generosity) and further an individual’s happiness, rather than to end private property as a whole, as Plato believes.

In addition, one of the most important aspects of a polity is the rule of the middle class. A polity values the middle class since it does not favour neither the rich or poor, thus, this results in hindering a societies ability to acknowledge class division or extremes and encourages unity among the communities. But, we rarely see governments with the rule of the middle class because when there is a power struggle between the rich and the poor and the poor win, this results in the formation of a democratic government, rule by the poor; but, when the rich win, an oligarchy forms. It is not common for a power struggle to occur with the middle class since it does not completely ignore the interests of the other classes. In addition, the middle class tends to understand the dynamics of ruling and being ruled, and ultimately are morally and ethically inclined to abide by the law; this is in contrary to the types of citizens resulting from an oligarchy or a democracy, whose focus is primarily of their own interests. Furthermore, with the inability of classes to divide and recognize issues happening among them, there must be a balance of power between the rulers and citizens to eliminate the chance of oppression or an abundance of power by a particular class; this is why a polity would be the best fit to reduce inequality among its members because the constitution would benefit both sides to an extent. But, to sustain the good in a city there must be the presence of complete friendships, since these are the things that hold cities together.

States are built up of communities and to maintain these, complete friendships must be present. Following, Aristotle describes friendship as a reciprocated good will and to have a complete friendship is to want the best for each other without expecting anything in return. Friendships bond communities together because it serves a similar purpose as virtue for it is good without qualification; meaning we desire the best for our friends not for any means of our own, but for themselves. Whereas those who are not part of complete friendships use others for pleasure or utility instead. These friendships are only rooted in being convenient and to serve one’s self-interest. Moreover, a complete friendship occurs between people that hold similar virtues, since a virtuous person would never use someone for utility. Thus, a good polity would require complete friendships to strength the community and promote similar values, and this is more likely to happen in a polity because the rulers are from the middle class and tend to be the largest class in a state. Inevitably this will encourage the development of similar views, while also creating a virtuous state that does not undermine a particular class to one’s own benefit, rather it works towards promoting the good life.

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In an oligarchy, the rich and few are the rulers and they exercise power in accordance to their self-interest; to be in the favoured class which benefits from the decisions of the rulers is still absent from fulfilling the good life. For those in a democracy, the rule of the poor and equality between members still misses the objective of obtaining the correct virtues for the good life, since it adheres to the interests of the poor. Whereas a polity is a median between these two governments, as it does not adhere to the specific interests of the extremes classes, instead it works at the mean between them.

Additionally, the end of a polity must aim for the good life, ultimately this means working towards bettering the soul of citizens in a polity. In order to achieve this, happiness and virtue must be present because the soul requires it; this also works towards the human good. Thus, to work towards the human good means to listen to the reasonable part of our souls, and by doing this we aim at the median between two vices. An example of this would be intermediacy, which aims at working towards the median between excess and deficiency; this can be related to wealth where one should not take money from the wrong sources and should not give nor expect anything in return. In other words, it is better to do good, than receive it. Furthermore, to promote the good life, the citizens in a polity should be good citizens with good souls who work within reason. Having a virtuous soul allows citizens to be ethical and work in the interests of others, this will ultimately better the polity as a whole. Whereas in states governing as an oligarchy, there is a selfish desire for wealth, and in a democracy where people govern in the interest of their own.

The soul is deeply tied with virtues and happiness, for human good requires this. Virtue is what allows us to act in the interests of our friends and not primarily ourselves, also it allows us to gain moderately and act in a finely. Also, virtue, like the soul, has two divisions: virtue of thought and virtue of character. The virtue of thought is characterized as being developed overtime through studies and personal experience, whereas virtue of character results only by habit. Aristotle even goes to state that “legislators should make a goal of habituating his citizens”, this emphasizes the duties of the ruler to instill certain important virtues onto his citizens. Also, virtue concerns itself with pleasure and pain. Pleasure is what motivates us to take more than we should, and pain is what restrains us from doing good, and virtue is what limits us from excess and deficiency. For example, Aristotle discusses generosity as a virtue and how being generous is not to be done just for the sake of it, but more so an individual to express generosity to others with the genuine intent of bettering their lives. Additionally, to allow virtue into our souls, we must act in a way that is selfless and in relation to another. For if we don’t act within virtue, we decide to act in vice. This makes one an incontinent person, prioritizing pleasure even if it is not virtuous, or a bestial person, who has diseased vices due to a distorted state of habit. Similarly, friendship is between people who share the same virtues, this is the best type of virtue since it is in relation to another; the same can be said about justice. Based on our nature, our virtue differs for those being ruled and the rulers, but in a polity where majority people are from the middle class and these citizens may run for office, virtues among these two groups can be very similar. Furthermore, if we act justly, we act as a result of the constitution we live in, thus living in a polity by the rule of the middle class promotes the right virtues to better our souls, as the middle class are more likely to follow reason than the rich and poor.

To lead towards the good life, the constitution an individual lives by has to promote these means. The highest goal is happiness, and this can be achieved in three ways through life of gratification, political activity, and study. In a polity, there is election which does not discriminate based on class and would work towards achieving happiness through political involvement. Since happiness is a complete good, it is also self-sufficient. Thus, it is complete without qualification for we aim towards happiness in all the actions we do. A perfect exercise of virtue is in our everyday lives, and it seems more plausible for a polity to exercise these virtues since the rule by the middle class does not serve an extreme political interest for the gain of one specific group over another. Whereas, in other forms of constitutions such as an oligarchy serves the interests of the rich, resulting in the middle and lower classes to experience oppression rather than happiness. Unlike in a polity where the middle class is in power, it will work to serve the interests of both the rich and the poor classes, only to a less extreme, since the desires of the rich and poor classes have ruined their virtue. Thus, a polity would reduce the inequality of its members by working for the interests of all classes, and not favouring one over another.

Another virtue vital for a good polity is justice; this is a highest virtue in relation to another and acts as a mean between two extremes. It seems to be in the best interest of the polity to be just towards one another as this bond’s men to their states. Similar to how families make up the state, justice is what keeps the state together. Being just allows us to exercise our virtues and better our souls, eventually leading to the good life; this is possible to do in a polity. Moreover, if we work in accordance to the common interest, we work in accordance with justice. In comparison to an oligarchy which works in favour of the rich, rulers of this kind do not believe in the equal distribution of political rights and prioritize wealth over virtue. Thus, this does not work in correspondence with the values of justice and cannot promote the good life effectively; the same can be said for democracy and the rule by the poor. There is also an important tie between justice and the middle class because when unjust acts are being imposed and oppression of certain groups occurs, revolution will arise. Revolution is the result of noticeable class divisions and inequality. So if revolution occurs within a state, it is Aristotle’s belief that it would inevitably lead to the destruction of the state. Thus, the less likely chance for a revolution to happen in a polity describes the current existing equality in this constitution, since there is no desire to overthrow the present government. The larger the middle class is the less likely the chances are for a revolution to occur. The main reason being that when the middle class is large in number, there is a smaller chance for opposing extremes such as the rich and the poor to notice problems arising between them since the rule by the middle class shares similar interests with both classes. Thus, a polity would be reducing inequality amongst its members as it considers the interests of all classes, this is shown through the lack of likelihood for a revolution to occur within a polity.

To conclude, Aristotle would agree that a polity ought to reduce the inequality amongst its members since it does the best at promoting the good life. A polity does this through complete friendships binding the state together, the similarity in soul and virtue of the middle class, and happiness leading to the good life. To lead a good life an individual needs to have the correct habits established, thus, the states should aid in initiating these habits to ultimately better the lives of their citizens. An oligarchy is the rule by the wealthy few in society, a democracy is the complete opposite, the rule of the poor by majority rule. Both these governments set the interests of a certain group above the rest and do so in extreme ways. By serving at the interest of oneself, rather than of another, we do not practice virtuous acts for the soul; this is where the polity differs from an oligarchy or democracy. The state is dependent on families as this is the foundation of the state but needs complete friendship to keep the state self-sufficient; this is why the state must put emphasis on the type of virtues they want friendships to be based of off. Virtue is necessary for the soul because it promotes the good life, and thus brings happiness to all those who achieve this. These crucial aspects are easier maintained in a polity, as the middle class already share similar values to one another, allowing the community to pursue the good life. Thus, Aristotle would agree that a polity ought to reduce the inequality amongst its members since it does the best at promoting the good life.

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