Aristotle and Thomas Hobbes

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Aristotle and Thomas Hobbes are among two of the most famous philosophers to have ever lived.  It is clear from intense research on the two philosophers, that they had strikingly different views on their famous thinking’s. Both Aristotle and Hobbes had many thoughts on the role the state should have in our everyday lives. With vastly different views on state, Aristotle and Hobbes both have devoted great consideration on their thoughts on how much authority should be placed in the state.

Aristotle (b. 384 – d. 322 BC), was a Greek philosopher, logician, and scientist (A & E network, 2013).  Along with his teacher Plato, Aristotle is generally regarded as one of the most influential ancient thinkers in a number of philosophical fields, including political theory. Aristotle’s’ writing reflects his time, background and beliefs   (A & E network, 2013).              Aristotle was born at Stagira, in Macedonia. His father, Nichomacus, was the personal physician to the King of Macedonia, Amyntas (A & E network, 2013).  At the age of seventeen, Aristotle left for Athens to study at Plato’s Academy (A & E network, 2013).  He studied at the Academy for about twenty years, up until Plato’s death.  Plato’s death sent Aristotle to a city in Asia Minor, called Assos, where his friend, Hermias was ruler (Encarta). It was in Assos where Aristotle met, Pythias, who is described as either a niece or daughter of Hermias, who Aristotle married after the murder of Hermias, by the Persians. Aristotle then went to Pella, the capitol of Macedonia, where he became the tutor for the king’s son, Alexander, who later became Alexander the Great (A & E network, 2013).  

When Alexander became King, Aristotle went to Athens where he began to lecture at the Lyceum. Often while walking about he lectured while walking about in one of its covered walkways, earning him the nickname Peripatetic”, which means walking about (A & E network, 2013).  

Aristotle’s political ideal “It is not Fortune’s power to make a city good; that is a matter of scientific planning and deliberative policy” (Aristotle & Ellis, 2009, p. 349). Aristotle wrote on this discussion of the ideal state in books VII and VIII of The Politics. What Aristotle observed around him were the established city-states of ancient Greece. It is commonly believed that he did not have a vision of the large nation-state and especially not such great federations as the United States and Russia. What Aristotle referred to when he spoke about state, is a limited sized city-state that is formed by the grouping of several villages (Aristotle & Ellis, 2009). He also believed that a nation is too large for a state: his state was about the right size so that all members of the state could meet in a single congregation.

 Aristotle’s state was nearly self-sufficient so that the bare needs of life were met and continued “for the sake of a good life” for its people (Aristotle & Ellis, 2009, p. 11). This continuing wealth for the sake of a good life is what Aristotle believes the goal of the ideal state should be. Aristotle said “that life is best, both for the individuals and for the cities, which has virtue sufficiently supported by material wealth to enable it to perform the action that virtue calls for it” (Aristotle & Ellis, 2009, p. 321).

He feels that since man, as individuals, strives for happiness, then man, as a collective group, should strive for the happiness of the state. The ideal state should be a place man can live a life of a free man where he is adequately provided for, but not a life where he lives through a vice of extravagance. (Aristotle made a clear distinction as to who should and should not be a citizen of the state. His ideal state is certainly not a democratic one that enables all who live there to be a citizen).

 Aristotle believed that the best ruled state would be ruled by a wise and experienced group of elder citizens. In order for there to be a large enough populous of elder citizens to maintain the management of the city it is critical that they must maintain the proper health so that they will be enabled to do so (Aristotle & Ellis, 2009).Who should make up the state is a simple question—citizens should make up the state. But exactly whom did Aristotle consider a citizen?

Aristotle believes that a citizen is not an individual with common residence or blood relationship, but one who is in direct participation in the deliberative and judicial functions of the community. This excludes resident aliens, children, women, slaves, and members of the working class (Aristotle & Ellis, 2009).The citizens should be Greek, as Aristotle believed that Europeans have drive without intelligence, and the Asiatic’s have intelligence without drive. He believed that only those that are able to give time to the government should be able to participate in it. This is why he felt that only some could be members of the ruling government while others could not. He did not believe in a representative government, he believed in a direct government ruled by qualified and educated citizens whose goal was the wellness of the state and not their own political gain (Winthrop, 2009).

The goal of Aristotle’s ideal Constitution is for a well-executed and suitably maintained system, in order that desired happiness shall be attained. This constitution is not the same for all since different sets of people seek happiness in different ways and by different means (Aristotle & Ellis, 2009). If this is true, then how can you have one ideal constitution? The answer is you cannot have one ideal constitution, but you can have the basic elements of the ideal constitution in order to have a functioning city.

These basic elements are food, handicrafts and their tools, arms, wealth, religion, and justice. Arms must be carried at all times by members of the ruling class for internal government in the event of civil disobedience, and to halt outside aggression. Wealth is required for both war and internal needs, and the method of justice needs to be developed so that there is a clear method of arriving at decisions, both about policy and about matters of wrong and right (Aristotle & Ellis, 2009).

The Aristotelian Political State is one built upon a classist theory that we, as modern Americans, have been raised to find deplorable and harsh. Yet we live in a society that is greatly based, not just recognized in our constitution the way it would have been in Aristotle’s ideal. Aristotle would have found our modern capitalist society, which is based on profit, deeply disturbing.

The Aristotelian state is one that has a community aspect to it; Aristotle was in favor of such things, such as communal meals, and meeting centers so that citizens could develop productive and happy relationships with fellow citizens (Winthrop, 2009). The ruling of the state is one that would share the duty among the citizens. This policy is one that would enable peace to be kept among all, and would prevent bureaucracy, the downfall of democracy mixed with capitalism.

Thomas Hobbes was born on April 5, 1588 in Wiltshire (A & E network, 2013). Leading a sheltered and leisured life, his education was provided his uncle, a tradesman and alderman of Malmesbury (A & E network, 2013). Before the age of fifteen, he attended school in Magdalen Hall, Oxford. He left in 1608 and became companion to the eldest son of Lord Cavendish of Hardwicke. In 1610, he visited France, Germany, and Italy and learned the French and Italian languages (A & E network, 2013).

He returned and settled down at Hardwicke and London where he set himself to be a scholar. In Florence he held discourse with Galileo. In 1640, after signs of activity threatening civil war, Hobbes fled to France and stayed there for 11 years (A & E network, 2013). There, he had matured the plan for his own philosophical works. In 1651, his greatest work, Leviathan, was published and he also returned to England. In 1675, he completed both Iliad and Odyssey when he left London for the last time (A & E network, 2013).He lived with the Cavendish and died at Hardwicke on December 4, 1679 (A & E network, 2013).

At the beginning of Hobbes Leviathan in Book 1 he begins to explain that of man, in which he builds, layer by layer, a foundation for his eventual argument that the “natural condition” of man, or one without sovereign control, is one of continuous war, violence, death, and fear (Hobbes, 1651). Hobbes states that “During the time men live without a common Power to keep them all in awe, they are in a condition which is called Warre; and such a warre, as is of every man, against every man. . . . In such condition, there is no place for industry . . . no Culture of the Earth; no Navigation . . . no commodious Building; no instruments of moving . . . no Knowledge of the face of the Earth; no account of Time; no Arts; no Letters; no Society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; And the life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short” (Hobbes, 1651, p. 186). With the last few words of this passage “And the life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short,” Hobbes seems to sum up what he has been building up to; that without a sovereign power, without Leviathan, the natural life of man is simply horrible. It is a life in which people naturally and constantly seek to destroy one another (Hobbes, 1651).

Hobbes had a negative view of people; he believed humans were selfish creatures who would do anything to better their positions. He also thought that people could not be trusted to make decisions on their own, and a country needed an authority figure to provide direction and leadership. Therefore, Hobbes believed in an absolute monarchy – a government that gave all power to a king or queen (Duetsch, & Fornieri, 2009).

Hobbes thought that humans were basically selfish creatures who would do anything to better their position. Left to themselves; he argued that people would act on their evil impulses. According to Hobbes, people therefore should not be trusted to make decisions on their own (Duetsch, & Fornieri, 2009). In addition, Hobbes felt that nations, like people, were selfishly motivated. To Hobbes, each country was in a constant battle for power and wealth. To prove his point, Hobbes wrote, “If men are naturally in a state of war, why do they always carry arms and why do they have keys to lock their doors?” (Ludwig, 2009, p.558).

      Governments were created, according to Hobbes, to protect people from their own self-interest and evil. The best government was one that had the great power of a leviathan.  Hobbes believed in the rule of a king because he felt a country needed an authority figure to provide direction and leadership. He believed it was clear that people were only interested in promoting their own self-interests; Hobbes believed democracy – allowing citizens to vote for government leaders – would never work. Hobbes wrote, “All mankind [is in] a perpetual and restless desire for power… that [stops] only in death.” Consequently, giving power to the individual would create a dangerous situation that would start a “war of every man against every man” and make life “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” (thoughts worth thinking, n.d.). Hobbes believed that a diverse group of representatives presenting the problems of the common person would, hopefully, prevent a king from being cruel and unfair (thoughts worth thinking, n.d.).

            Hobbes’s discussion of the complex functions of the Leviathan’s body all boils down to his strident belief that a body with two or more heads cannot function peacefully. He lists many other advantages inherent to absolutist monarchies. A monarch’s interests are necessarily the same as the people because he shares both a physical and a political body (the Leviathan) with the people, whereas in sovereign powers composed of groups, the members of a governing council do not share a body with their subjects (thoughts worth thinking, n.d.) Conflicts over the succession of governmental power are impossible because the sovereign is solely empowered to determine his successor.

Crucially, no matter how the sovereign gains his sovereignty he holds the same rights and responsibilities. Whether by force or agreement, in both cases he gains his power through contract  (Ludwig, 2009). The precise nature of the contract and dominion is all that differs, as the contract by which the sovereign who gains his power through universal consent results from the people’s universal fear of one another, while the sovereign who gains his power through force is backed by a contract resulting from the people’s fear of the sovereign himself (Ludwig, 2009).  In the end, though the authority ascribed to different sovereigns may be termed paternal or despotically, the actual nature of their power is exactly the same. Above all, since both forms of sovereignty are consented to by a social contract grounded in fear, Hobbes considers them equally valid.

With vastly different views on state; it remains very interesting that both men understood that it there needs to be some form of government in the state for all. With vastly different views on state, Aristotle and Hobbes both have devoted great consideration on their thoughts on how much authority should be placed in the state. I find myself thinking that Aristotle’s view of state is most closely to one that I would want to live in.

References

A & E network. (2013). Aristotle. Retrieved from Biography website: http://www.biography.com/people/aristotle-9188415?page=4

A & E network. (2013). Thomas Hobbes. Retrieved from Biography website: http://www.biography.com/people/thomas-hobbes-9340461

Aristotle, & Ellis, W. (2009). The Politics of Aristotle : A Treatise on Government. Retrieved from eBook Collection (EBSCOhost). database. (Accession No. 313807)

Deutsch, K. L., & Fornieri, J. R. (2009). An Invitation to Political Thought. Belont, CA: Wadsworth.

Hobbes, T. (1651). Leviathan [e-book].

jamesd@echeque.com <jamesd@echeque.com. (n.d.). Locke versus Hobbes. Retrieved from http://jim.com/hobbes.htm

Ludwig, G. (2011). THOMAS HOBBES’S LEVIATHAN AND THE THEOLOGICAL ORIGINS OF SECULAR INTERNATIONAL POLITICS. Political Theology, 12(4), 553-576. http://dx.doi.org/10.1558/poth.v12i4.553

Winthrop, D. (2008). Aristotle’s Politics, Book I: A Reconsideration. Perspectives On Political Science, 37(4), 188-199. Retrieved from ebscohost database.

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