Victor Nuovo: Artistotle and the birth of Political Science

Posted on April 20, 2017 |
By Victor Nuovo

Now we come to Aristotle. Political science is only one of the sciences that he invented. He was the parent of many: logic, physics, biology, psychology, rhetoric, poetics, metaphysics and the theory of scientific method and explanation generally.

Aristotle was the first to codify concepts and distinctions that have become commonplace not only in theoretical discourse, but also in everyday conversation. He conceived distinctions between theory and practice, form and content, subject and predicate, cause and effect, essence and attribute, potentiality and actuality, necessary and contingent. He also distinguished basic concepts like method in science and various ideas of causality: material, efficient, formal, and final; as well as literary concepts such as mimesis (imitation), plot, character, catharsis and recognition.

Along with all this he perfected the practice of abstraction, of forming abstract ideas and the universal terms that denote them. It is in this last instance that he differs most from Plato.

The rediscovery of his writings during the late Middle Ages caused a renewal of learning predating the Renaissance and inspired the founding of universities in Europe, outfitting them with a ready made curriculum and a model for the university lecture that is still in use today. It is no wonder that he was reverently referred to as “the master of those who know.”

I remember as a student in my first graduate seminar (on Aristotle) being told that we are all Aristotelians without knowing it, because many of his concepts and terms and methods of enquiry have become common sense or at least common discourse. If this is true, and it is true enough, then we must not ignore Aristotle. At the very least, reading him will enable us to recover the meanings of words we use every day with only a passive understanding of what they mean.

With the passage of time, Aristotle’s stature in the pantheon of great thinkers has diminished. His ideas have become mere commonplaces. In some respects they suffer from rigor mortis, and there is an aspect of obsolescence about them, especially in logic and physics. There is a measure of this in his politics also, but only a small measure.

He was completely absorbed in his time and place. He was a proud Greek, an elitist, a male chauvinist, notwithstanding that he did not cut a very impressive masculine figure—he had spindly legs and beady eyes and was overall unhandsome; he was an apologist of slavery, a denier of women’s rights, and a sentimentalist with regard to the golden age of Greece when its cities were free and independent. There is poignancy in Aristotle’s pride, for he lived just at the moment of profound political upheaval, when Greek cities were fighting a losing battle to maintain a measure of independence. He was not only an eyewitness in these affairs, but a participant in them.

Aristotle’s theory of politics consists…

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