Why Does HE Get to Rule? -Aristotle’s logical fallacies in the marital relation
Aristotle dedicates the first book of Politics to discuss households, and argues that to study the larger political community of a city-state, we need to first examine households as its building blocks (Politics, 5). The three major household relations Aristotle defines in Politics are master-slave, husband-wife and father-son, and they are all essentially ruler-ruled relations, as Aristotle lists that “free rules slaves, male rules female, and man rules child” (23). Aristotle believes that the natural inclination to rule or to be ruled is predetermined at birth, and there exists the natural inequality between the ruler and ruled (7). Moreover, Aristotle draws the analogy between domestic relationships and the larger political community because both households and city-states share similar ruler-ruled power dynamics. In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle maps different household relations to different constitutions: “the association of a father with his sons bears the form of monarchy, …., The association of man and wife seems to be aristocratic,…, The association of brothers is like timocracy” (The Nicomachean Ethics, 115). While Aristotle assumes that all three domestic relations share the ruler-ruled power dynamics, examining Aristotle’s logic gap in proving men’s inherent superiority, loopholes in his theory of structure of souls, and his use of metaphors and parables all reveals that Aristotle fails to justify men’s superiority as natural rulers over females. This logical inconsistency in Politics invalidates the analogies between the marital relation and aristocracy/oligarchy in Ethics, ultimately compromising Aristotle’s overall analogy between households and city-states in both works.
Aristotle leaves logical gap in his reasoning when trying to argue that men are naturally more suited to rule than women, as he fails to provide explicit explanations for what specific nature makes men superior. After justifying the slave-master relationship by arguing slaves are naturally better at physical labor while the masters are naturally better at deliberative reasoning, Aristotle continues to justify the husband-wife and father-child relations. By arguing that “For a male, unless he is somehow constituted contrary to nature, is naturally more fitted to lead than a female, and someone older and completely developed is naturally more fitted to lead than someone younger and incompletely developed” (Politics, 21). Here Aristotle arbitrarily asserts that “nature” makes males better rulers than females. Nevertheless, while the words “nature” and “naturally” occur twice in description of marital relation, Aristotle does not explain what specific natural characteristic of men makes them superior than women. Compared to the ambiguous assertion in the marital relation, Aristotle explicitly points out that the slaves are naturally ruled because their bodies are stronger, and fathers are natural ruler because they are older and more experienced. Hence Aristotle’s justification for men’s superior status over women is insufficient compared to other two relations. The fact that Aristotle skips the crucial step in reasoning suggests that he is not able to directly justify his assumption of natural inequality in marital relation.
Other than the logical gap in his reasoning, Aristotle’s choice of words in describing the structure of souls also reflects the existence of external forces in determining women’s and men’s unequal ability to rule, therefore contradicting the assumption of natural inequality. When discussing different structures of souls to further justify the inherent inequality between the ruler and the ruled, Aristotle claims that “the deliberative part of the soul is entirely missing from a slave; a woman has it but it lacks authority; a child has it but it is incompletely developed” (23). According to Aristotle’s previous arguments about nature, slaves lack the deliberative part of soul because their body is naturally more fitted to labor, and children’s deliberative part is naturally underdeveloped because of their age. However, why women have incomplete deliberative part of the soul remains ambiguous, because it is unclear what the “authority” refers to and why women lack this authority. “Authority” is different from “nature”, as the former is associated with rights or privileges given by the external environment such as social norms and conventions, while the latter is associated with internal characteristics that one is born with. If women need authority to exercise the deliberative part, then the incompleteness of deliberative part of their souls should not be due to nature, but is imposed by external forces. Therefore, Aristotle is unable to contribute the different deliberative powers of male and female solely to nature, as his choice of expression implies the existence of external influences in shaping the structure of souls.
Moreover, the metaphor of statesman’s ruling in Aristotle’s description of the marital relationship also conflicts with the overall assumption of natural inequality by implying equal political status between men and women. To distinguish the husband-wife relation and the father-child relation, Aristotle compares the husband-wife relation to the “rule of a statesman” and father-child relation to “the rule of a king” (21-22). Aristotle describes the statesman’s rule as the following: “people take turns at ruling and being ruled, because they tend by nature to be on an equal footing and to differ in nothing“ (21). Here Aristotle is referring to the Athenian democratic system where aristocratic, male citizens with similar political interests decide by random lots who rules and represents the common interests temporarily. This analogy between men’s ruling over their wives and statesman’s ruling over other citizens is problematic because the rule of the statesman assumes the equal social status between the ruler and rest of the citizens, while Aristotle is trying to prove the natural inequality between male and female. Comparing women to citizens also contradicts the existing social conventions in ancient Greek, where women were mostly not considered to be citizens. Moreover, Aristotle concludes that “male is permanently related to female in this way” (22), which suggests that men’s ruling status is eternally fixed. However, as just defined in the rule of the statesman, citizens take turns to rule and to be ruled. This contradiction between the arbitrary, fixed designation in the rule of male and the fluid, temporary assignment of leadership in the rule of the statesman makes it questionable whether it is truly legitimate to assign men as the permanent rulers. Having recognized this discrepancy in the statesman metaphor suggests that men and women are naturally equal like the statesmen and his citizens, and the superior political status of men over women should not be permanently fixed.
While the statesman metaphor implies the potentially equal political status between male and female, the parable of Amasis and footbath suggests that women and men share the same inherent characters and are therefore inherently equal. When comparing the rule of husband over wife to the rule of the statesman, Aristotle states that while the ruler is equal with the other citizens, he needs to “distinguish himself in demeanor, title, or rank from the ruled”, just like Amasis and his footbath (22). The parable states that Amasis, who is from humble origin, becomes the king of Egypt. In order to earn respect from Egyptians, he makes his gold footbath into a statue of god to show that inferior status doesn’t mean inferior nature, because the same material could be arbitrarily made into objects with different utilities and receive different levels of respect. Similarly, while the ruler is superior in rank, demeanor and title, he is naturally equal with other citizens, just like the nobel statue and humble footbath are both made of gold. Applying this parable to the male-female relationship, though male rules over female, their natural characters are the same while they are shaped differently by social conventions and assigned to unequal social statuses. Moreover, the parable further illuminates why women lack the authority to exercise the deliberative part of the soul: women’s incomplete deliberative power is imposed by external authority, just as the gold is shaped into a lowly footbath by external forces. In both cases the appearances and results are independent of the inherent nature.
As a result, while Aristotle claims that natural inequality between the ruler and the ruled exists among all three household relationships, such inequality is untenable in the marital relationship. Aristotle’s difficulty in proving males’ superior nature implies that male and female should have equal political status and intellectual ability. Applying Aristotle’s logical fallacies in Politics to his analogy between households and city-states leads to further contradictions, mainly reflected in his problematic mappings from the rule of man to aristocracy and the rule of women to oligarchy in Ethics. Aristotle defines aristocracy to be the rule of the best, and aristocracy degenerates into oligarchy when the rulers disregard common good and rule by their power and wealth, no longer being the most virtuous. (The Nicomachean Ethics, 155) Therefore the major difference between aristocracy and oligarchy is the virtue and legitimacy of the rulers. Aristotle argues that the rule of men within households resembles aristocracy because“man rules in accordance with his worth” (155). The underlying assumption here is that men naturally have more virtue and deliberative power to be good rulers, and therefore have the “worth” to rule, just like the rule of the best in aristocracy. However, acording to previous analysis, Aristotle fails to prove this assumption in Politics, and without this assumption he is unable to conclude that the rule of men is the rule of the best, and therefore his analogy between rule of men and aristocracy is invalid.
Similarly, the mapping from the rule of women to oligarchy is also problematic given logical fallacies in marital relation. To illustrate aristocracy’s superiority over oligarchy, Aristotle introduces the situation when women rule in the household. Aristotle argues that “Sometimes, however, women rule, because they are heiresses; so their rule is not in virtue of excellence but due to wealth and power, as in oligarchies” (155). According to this analogy, when heiresses rule the household, the rule by virtue degenerates into the rule by wealth and power, just like aristocracy degenerates into oligarchy. However, according to previous analysis of the structure of soul, the metaphor of statesman’s rule and the parable of Amasis, women and men possess the same inherent quality and potential to be the ruler. Therefore, it is problematic to compare the rule of women in households to oligarchy and to argue that women rule by power and wealth but not by virtue. As a result, Aristotle’s logical fallacies in proving the natural inequality in the marital relation invalidates the analogies between household relations to aristocracy and oligarchy, which makes his overall comparison between households and city-states an oversimplified framework that overlooks the internal complexity in the elements that he is comparing.
In conclusion, understanding the logical inconsistency in the marital relationship in Politics illuminates the gap in Aristotle’s mapping from households to constitutions in Ethics. In his logical reasoning Aristotle arbitrarily asserts the husband’s natural ruling authority in the household, while his choices of words, use of metaphors and parables all imply that the inequality between male and female is not inherent but imposed by external forces. The difficulty to justify the natural inequality between male and female suggests that husband-wife relationship has more complexity than the slave-master and father-child relationships, and it’s problematic for Aristotle to oversimplify their commonalities. However, limited by his times and society, it would also be unlikely for Aristotle to acknowledge the idea of gender equality. While his logical reasoning is taking him away from proving the natural inequality, Aristotle still such inequality and maintains the analogy between households and city-states. Indeed, using the more familiar and concrete notion of households helps to reveal the internal power dynamics within the relatively abstract city-states, and as Aristotle’s justification of the slave-master and the father-children relation is rigorous and intuitive, readers tend to believe the same rule also applies in the marital relation. However, the danger of using extended analogies and parallels in philosophical reasoning is that the logical fallacy of one element would undermine the overarching argument and whole framework. Therefore, as readers we should be very cautious about the oversimplification of frameworks and analogies in philosophical texts, and always bear in mind to examine the logical consistencies across the author’s arguments.
Aristotle. Politics. Translated by C D. C. Reeve, Indianapolis, Ind: Hackett Pub, 1998. Print.
Aristotle. The Nicomachean Ethics. Translated by W D. Ross, and Lesley Brown, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009. Print.
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