The Role of the Household in Aristotle’s Politics

June 3, 2019 by Essay Writer

Aristotle notes two political communities that are “lessâ€? than the polis: the household and the village. Of these two communities, the household receives far more discussion and is the foundation of much of Aristotle’s political theory. The origins of the household are found in the basic human partnership between a male and female for the sake of reproduction. The household arose from the male-female partnership and it is arranged to fill the basic needs of daily life. As well as supplying these basic needs, the most important task of the household is the education of women, children, and slaves in virtue that is conducive to living in the polis.In Book Two of the Politics, Aristotle rigorously defends the household and objects strongly to the communism of women and children found in Plato’s Republic. Plato believed that the household would create a conflict between the public and the private interests of the polis, and he responds to this problem by removing private interests such as wives, children, and private property entirely. Aristotle argues that these devices viewed by Plato as private interests are not the sources of dispute in the polis, but rather, that these disputes come about as a result of human wickedness (1263b20-7). Aristotle also feels that people will not extend to wives and children held in common the same care and affection that they would hold for members of their personal family (1261b32-1262a24).On the other hand, Aristotle does not totally reject Plato’s argument that the private interests of the household may clash with the interests of the polis as a whole. He writes that every household is a part of a polis and that the virtue of the part must be examined in relation to the virtue of the whole. Among the primary functions of the household is the education of the women and children with regard to their participation in the polis. Aristotle wisely notes, because women make up half of the adult population and children will grow up to participate in the constitution of the polis, that in order for the polis to be good as a whole, its women and children also must be good (1260b13-20).Within the household, there are three different types of relationship: husband/wife, father/child, and master/slave. The head of the household is the first figure in each of these relationships. In the relationship of a husband with his wife, Aristotle argues that the husband is to rule his wife in a political or statesmanlike manner. Elsewhere in the Politics, this kind of rule will be referred to as rule by and over free and equal persons (1255b18-20). Aristotle is critical of other societies that mismanage the role of women in the polis, and he is extremely critical of the Spartans in this regard. Aristotle argues that among the primary reasons for their downfall was their failure to educate their women (1269b12-1270a9).On the other hand, Aristotle would not argue that the education of women makes them the political equal of men. He would also reject arguments in favor of treating women as slaves. Aristotle contrasts the woman from the slave in claiming that while the woman has deliberative faculty, this faculty lacks authority in women (1260a13). Interestingly enough, Aristotle’s basis for rejecting the equality of men and women actually has to do with a particular role that Aristotle believes women have within the household. In rejecting an argument in favor of equality that compares man to beast, Aristotle notes that women (unlike beasts) have duties in the household (1264b4-6). Thus, his reasons for rejecting women as equal to men are twofold: the deliberative faculties of women lack authority and women have particulars duties in the household that preclude their participation in ruling.Women, however, are not to be treated in the same way as children. Rather than ruling his children politically (as the husband would rule his wife), the rule of the father over his children is monarchic (or kingly). The rule of a father over his children is similar to the rule of a king over his subjects because he is naturally superior to them. Like women, children are also distinguished from slaves because of their deliberative faculty. While slaves have no deliberative faculty and women lack authority, children possess a deliberative faculty that it immature or underdeveloped. Children are dependent upon their parents for their own well being (1260a14) and this well being would necessarily include an education about function and constitution of the polis.At this point, we have considered how the household functions as an educational body within the polis where the head-of-household teaches virtue to women and children who are similar to him insofar as they are capable of deliberation. The question of educating slaves leads us to consider Aristotle’s discussion of natural slavery. His definition of natural slavery brings us back to his discussion in the Nicomachean Ethics about the proper relationship between the body and the soul. In his short recapitulation of this discussion in the Politics, Aristotle reminds reads that the soul rules the body in the same way as a master rules a slave.A slave, for Aristotle, is “a possession of the animate sort,” meaning that he is an instrument of action and belongs completely to the master. A slave by nature is one who does not belong to himself by nature and who does not have the full use of his reason. Although the natural slave perceives reason, he does not possess it (1245b1). This person is as different from other men in the same way as the body is from the soul. For these reasons, the slave is ruled is a despotic fashion while women are ruled in a kingly fashion and women are ruled politically. The major difference between women, children, and slaves is that women and children either possess reason or are capable of possessing reason while slaves are not.Aristotle sharply criticizes the use of slaves as a means of production. Rather, he views slaves as the means by which the master secures his livelihood. In his Commentary on Book One Of Aristotle’s Politics, Trevor J. Saunders believes that this is the point of confining a slave to action rather than production. The aim of the master is to live well and the slave shares in the master’s life (1260a39-40). Because Aristotle believes that the master ought to be concerned with action, rather than production, it would be a misuse of slaves to employ them for production. Saunders also believes that the argument of Aristotle against the use of slaves for production has to do with his more general criticism of unnatural acquisition. All too often, production becomes over-production and leads to the kind of excessive wealth that Aristotle condemns .We can see that there is also an element of education when it comes to the management of natural slaves in the household. It is the role of the master to give orders to the slave and it is the job of the slave to obey those orders. The will of the master and the slave are one because the slave has no reasoning of his own to exercise (1254b20-3). The virtue of the master in the master-slave relationship lies in knowing how to command the slave (in a way consistent with Saunder’s assessment above). The virtue of the slave is obedience to the orders of the master and the master educates him this virtue (1260b2-4). Thus, the household could also be said to exist for the education of the natural slave, who is a part of the household, by the master so that he (like the women and children) can achieve his proper end.Although there is much debate about whether or not there is such a thing as natural slavery, the focus of our discussion is the importance and the functions of the household in the polis. Returning to our thesis, we have now shown that not only is the function of the household in the polis for the education of women and children, but also for the education of natural slaves. Aristotle insists that virtue in the household is necessary if there is to be virtue in the polis, which is why the head-of-household has the task of educating those whom he rules. However, there is another element of the household that differs from education: the art of acquisition.The final essential function of the household in the polis is the acquisition of wealth in the form of private property. Although property is left in private hands, Aristotle still believes that the accumulation of property is of concern to the polis (1263a21-38). Aristotle seems to believe that the accumulation of wealth and means of acquisition affect the values of the polis as a whole, and thus, he devotes a good amount of Book One and Book Two to discussion how the head of household is to provide for his family. It comes as no surprise that Aristotle rejects the notion that the art of acquisition is identical to the art of household management, because as we have shown above, household management deals with significantly more than acquisition of wealth (1256b24-39).For Aristotle, the acquisition that is proper to the household is that which focuses on the accumulation of basic needs. . Aristotle examines acquisition by the head-of-household by distinguishing between natural and unnatural acquisition. Aristotle discusses four different ways of life that he finds synonymous with natural acquisition: the farmer, the hunter, the gatherer, and the pirate. This securing of food, shelter, and other necessities is called natural acquisition because it is an indispensable part of the management of a household. All of these things are necessary for the proper functioning of the household, and Aristotle certainly does not object to them being obtained.On the other hand, unnatural acquisition consists of accumulating wealth for its own sake. Aristotle observes that the types of goods that one would obtain through natural acquisition have both a “use-valueâ€? and an “exchange-valueâ€?. Money does not have such value because it is useless except as a means of exchange (this is the same as saying that it has an “exchange valueâ€? but no “use value). Money is not intrinsically or naturally valuable, but derives its worth from convention. The aim of business acquisition is the accumulation of money and wealth rather than the natural acquisition of goods. He also disfavors unnatural acquisition (especially usury) because there is no limit to the amount of currency one can accumulate, leading people to indulge in an excess of enjoyment.With regard to the question as to why the household is not fully discussed in Book One, this likely has to do with the connection of the household to the polis. The household is dependent on the way of life of an established regime that ought to be based on proper household relationships such as those described earlier (husband-wife, father-child, master-slave). Therefore, before Aristotle can more fully discuss the household, he must consider the question of the best constitution. Once this question has undergone careful consideration, Aristotle will be able to more adequately describe the relationship between the household and the polis .In conclusion, we have shown through an examination of Book One and Book Two of Aristotle’s Politics what was stated earlier in our thesis. The household is important to the polis as a body where the head-of-household provides basic necessities to women, children, and slaves, and teaches them virtue conducive to life in the polis. However, although Aristotle has described the primary functions of the household, he has not described the primary functions of the polis. The question of the importance and the task of the household cannot be fully considered until the relationship between it and the polis is more adequately described.Works CitedDe Alvarez, Leo Paul. Aristotle’s Politics Lecture of 02-06-2003. The University of Dallas. Spring Semester of 2003, POL 3332-01.Saunders, Trevor J. Aristotle’s Politics Books I and II. (with commentary). Clarendon Press. Oxford. 1995

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