The Political Animal
This dissertation investigates Aristotle’s famous claim that “the human being is by nature a political animal.” This claim seems to express a basic disagreement between Aristotelian political philosophy and the contractarian political philosophy that informs modern liberalism. Aristotle asserts, contrary to Hobbes, for instance, that the political community is not a convention between naturally individual human beings but a natural entity in its own right prior to and authoritative over the individual. Yet not only are Aristotle’s reasons for supposing that we are naturally political obscure and questionable, but the meaning of Aristotle’s claim that we are naturally political is not altogether clear. For not only does Aristotle suggest that we are naturally political because the city is naturally prior to and authoritative over us, but he suggests we are political animals above all due to our distinctive faculty of reason, or speech, which, because it is the medium of the perception of advantage and justice that informs our actions, is what constitutes the city. Speech, in other words, is what brings the city to sight as the natural whole Aristotle asserts it to be. This suggests, however, that the naturalness of politics must be evaluated on the basis of such speech, which admits of clarification, and not on the basis Aristotle originally offers, which is speculation about the origins of the city. We argue that Aristotle’s dialectical examinations of despotic, political, and kingly forms of rule provide an outline of this task of clarification, which alone can permit us to evaluate the naturalness of politics. A close reading of these examinations, however, indicates that Aristotle ultimately rejects the view that the city is the natural whole it presents itself as being.