The “Regime” of the Global Callipolis and its relation to Justice(Commentary and Critique of Prof Smith’s Yale lecture series on”Political Science”): Lecture 7:Aristotle

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Wittgenstein is not mentioned in this lecture but for someone trained in the school of Wittgenstein the school of the Lyceum is a necessary education if one is to avoid using Wittgenstein’s earlier and later Philosophy dogmatically and skeptically. Wittgenstein’s Tractatus is indeed a dogmatic document carrying with it the logician’s conviction that the solutions to Philosophy have all been provided in this 10,000-word work. Wittgenstein’s later work cannot, against this background seem to commentators to be anything but a skeptical reaction to his earlier commitment to a scientific brand of logical atomism. Wittgenstein, however, acknowledged the faults of his earlier work without violating the Aristotelian norm of the golden mean and flying off to another extreme, that of skepticism. Wittgenstein’s later work I am maintaining had a distinctly Aristotelian quality about it. Here I am thinking in particular about his remarks on language-games and forms of life as well his remarks concerning the final court of appeal or justification for a concept or a practice. “This is what we do” he claims is the termination of all justification. Our justifications come to an end in what we do. He also suggests in his examination of language games that some kind of termination point is reached in “This is what we say”:–This is how language is used.
Wittgenstein was part of the movement to establish a central concern for language in Analytical Philosophy which largely inherited its assumptions from previous empirical philosophers whose task was to overturn Aristotle and make a fresh start. This “new beginning” very quickly condensed the cloud of empirical Philosophy into a drop of truth conditions. The meaning of language being logically connected to truth conditions, of course, dismantled broader concerns for the diverse uses of language which would have included the way in which the word “good” is used in both ethical and political science contexts to praise whatever is being referred to in connection with the term. Wittgenstein’s language-games and the concept of forms of life retreated from this position back to something very similar to an Aristotelian position in which language comes to be examined by practical rather than theoretical reasoning.

Professor Smith in this lecture is engaging with the question of our political regimes and whether they are artificial or natural constructions. Aristotle sees a city as naturally constituted through a series of developmental stages of human association: the family, the tribe, the village, up to the telos of the city-state. What is driving this evolution to a higher and more complex form of life is a striving toward independence, a striving toward what Aristotle calls self-sufficiency.Basically what we are seeing here is an argument for the Socratic position in the Republic that there is a fundamental isomorphism between the soul and the city. The soul in its evolution toward its telos learns what it needs to know in previous lives and moves through a number of stages in its actualization process. Aristotle does claim that knowledge of the soul is the most important knowledge we can acquire but he also claims more broadly that the natural essence of the regime is the more holistic concept of human nature. Smith has this to say on the issue:

“In the Politics Aristotle talks about the naturalness of the city and man being a political animal. Every polis exists by nature. This is connected to the fact that man alone is driven by Logos–by speech and reason in contrast to animals who are merely endowed with sounds to indicate their pleasure and pains. Logos enables man to have a perception of the good and the bad, the just and the unjust. It is speech and reason that help to create the family and the city. He offers two accounts of the polis. Firstly, that in terms of the natural organic growth from families to tribes to villages to the city-polis which is in his eyes the most developed form of human association. Secondly, there is a teleological account in which the city provides the conditions necessary to achieve and perfect the telos of man. Participation in the life of the city is necessary for the achievement of our excellence (areté).”

We become what we become partly because we are what we are. Just as the animal organ system is determinative of the form of life the animal will lead so it is with us human beings. Our organ system results in speech and reason and a more complex form of life in which it is not sufficient, as it is in the case of animals, to preserve one’s life in accordance with survival mechanisms. The complexity of our capacities which build upon each other and are integrated with each other results in a form of life in which survival and preservation are important but only because they are necessary conditions of a natural striving which human beings possess to lead the good life, the flourishing life. In the course of the use of these capacities, truth becomes an important aspect of speech because truthfulness is important for the political animal leading his political life. Here the truth function of language will obviously be integrated with the communicative and expressive forms of language we encounter in political discussions. The life of a city-state, then, for Aristotle is not an arbitrary conventional construction brought about by the linear causal mechanisms of science but rather a matter of Logos, a matter of logic. There is a logical relation between Logos and the political form of life expressed thus by Smith:

“Man is a political animal because of Logos–his speech and reason. These capacities provide us with a freedom not possessed by animals. He is not making a causal claim to the effect that Logos causes the political life. Logos, for example also entails the power to know which includes the ability to recognize by sight the inhabitants of our polis. We share a common language of the just and the unjust. Logos also entails the power of love–we love those with whom we are intimately related. Love does not occur as the result of a calculation. Rather it is the case that affection sympathy and friendship are the grounds of our political life. It is these which make us fully human.”

There is no problem (as there may be for the traditional truth-conditions theorist position)for Aristotle insofar as the meaning of political discourse is concerned.Both hypothetical and categorical imperatives will have a prescriptive meaning which will be logically analyzable in the same way in which we can logically analyze descriptive statements. For Aristotle there will be no fundamental difference between the syllogisms “All men are mortal, Socrates is a man, therefore Socrates is mortal” and “Promises ought to be kept, Jack promised Jill he would pay the money he owed her as promised, therefore he ought to pay the money back.”

The reference to the Heraclitean terms Logos and Love may signify that Aristotle regards Parmenides(Plato’s choice) as an extreme and Heraclitus as a position to use in order to navigate between two conflicting extremes. Another sign in support of this position is the fact that Aristotle’s Metaphysics sees as one of its major tasks to provide a theory of change which of course is also some kind of acknowledgment of the Parmenidean objection that there must be something which endures through change. In the political discourse that which we praise and that which we blame will give us the keys to what is just and what is unjust. Here we are clearly in the realm of not just what is true and false but also in the realm of what it is that we prescribe in our communications with each other as inhabitants of a naturally developed polis. We praise friendships of all kinds, but one kind more than others. There are friendships of pleasure which relate to a basic form of pleasure which is transitory, comes and goes in relation to change in one’s situation or changes in one’s momentary whims appetites and desires. There are also friendships of utility or convenience which probably last somewhat longer but only as long as the “friend” is useful to us. Both are subject to hypothetical imperatives and the rules for the use of the language we use in these situations. And then there is “true” friendship, categorical friendship, which appears to obey the rules of the Kantian categorical imperative(the second formulation relating to treating humanity as an end in itself).In this form we treat the person as an end in themselves.

Smith does go on to argue that Aristotle believes that only a small city-state can house the kind of trust involved in the political form of friendships required for the polis to fulfill its political functions. He asks specifically and rhetorically :

“Does this mean that the city can never be a universal cosmopolitan state?”

The implied answer is in the negative. He goes on to confirm this position:

“It appears that Aristotle’s polis must be small enough to be governed by a common language, common memories, and common customs. This may imply a criticism of our modern societies, this may be a suggestion that our cities and nations are not healthy.”

I am not sure that Aristotle would not believe that a form of rule in accordance with the principles of his Politics could not be universalized into a cosmopolitan form of life. A cosmopolitan state with a world government is something Kant certainly felt would inevitably be tyrannical. Much of what we read about the formal conditions of the regime lead us to sense a similarity between these two positions. We should also remember that both Aristotle and Kant used the concepts of matter and form and that Aristotle is referring above to the purely material conditions for the regime to exist as a regime. Amongst the formal conditions, we find reflections on the structure of institutions and classes of the regime. Amongst these reflections we find references to the size of the middle class. Aristotle sees the middle class as embodying the virtues or excellences required for the correct rule of the regime and as far as I know there is no reference to the maximum size of the regime or whether the requisite trust would be able to exist between the classes if they were too large. Modern political science has been tracking this particular claim by Aristotle and there is a sense that the aim of Politics should be Aristotelian, that is many commentators have observed that the political process aims at pulling the parties of the extreme right and left into the middle. That this is an observation of importance has clearly resulted in a strategy amongst a number of contemporary politicians to court what they call the middle-class vote. Perhaps if the material condition of trust between larger human associations cannot exist, this may be an underlying flaw in such strategies. Whichever of these alternatives is the case, it would seem as if an Aristotelian political analysis is still very relevant to the contemporary political scene. My view is that the categorical form of friendship demands a form of love which Kant calls respect and there is certainly no recognition by Kant that this is limited so small associations. Kant clearly thinks that respect for the moral law and each other could build a cosmopolitan world in approximately one hundred thousand years time.

There is a suggestion that Aristotle’s position is an elitist one in virtue of some of his remarks about slavery. My reading of Aristotle’s position is that the only legitimate form of slavery in conditions of peace is what he called “natural slavery”, a form of slavery in which the human is not sufficiently rational to take care of themselves. I do not believe that Aristotle is arguing that some people are more stupid than others but rather that some peoples rationality is so compromised(brain damage severe psychological trauma etc), that if they were left to themselves they would be unable to take care of themselves. They would wander around the countryside homeless until they died of exhaustion, the cold, disease etc. Taking care of these people in your home(as the Greeks did) would basically be an act of charity even if they were expected to contribute with their labour to the upkeep of the property and the family. There were no mental institutions during this time. The Greeks were just beginning to think that hearing voices was a sign that all was not well with those who reported such phenomena.There is another suggested form of legitimate slavery Aristotle refers to which would not have fallen into this category and that is the slaves that are taken in a just war. If another city attacks your city without any provocation and you defeat them in battle, the price that must be paid, it is argued, is that those soldiers who are captured alive should become slaves perhaps until some kind of debt has been discharged. In a state of war normal political and ethical rules are suspended(You may kill the enemy): that the slave is allowed to keep his life seems also in such circumstances to be a charitable act, a sign that hostilities are now over. I do not think any of the arguments presented against Aristotle fall into the category of elitism. Smith refers to Yale and its selection of a small percentage of the population for leadership positions as “Aristotelian” which I think is a mistake if the above reasoning is correct. Aristotle is a believer in excellence and it seems to me that Yale University would not obviously contradict his belief. In this context we ought to point out that he does not exclude the rule of the many from being excellent. Indeed he firmly believes that the multi-limbed, multi-voiced, multi senses of the many provide a surer ground that all aspects of the problem of ruling will be respected.