Sunday, October 24, 2010

Aristotle and Rousseau on the Natural Political Association of Men

Aristotle (384-322 BC) and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778)

While Rousseau and Aristotle both understand that labor creates a need for self-sufficiency, the two authors’ views on what is natural, what relationships are natural, how to view natural skills, and the division of labor differ greatly. Rousseau’s arguments are supported better than Aristotle’s.

Aristotle claims that “man is by nature a political animal” “in a higher degree than… other… animals,” and that the political association “completes and fulfills the nature of man… and he is himself ‘naturally a polis-animal.”

Aristotle sees language as a method of signifying perceptions of pleasure and pain, good and evil, and the just and the unjust to one another, and to declare what is advantageous. He believes that associations between people communicating what things they think are advantageous is what “makes a family and a city.” He says that a “final and perfect association, formed from a number of villages” “may be said to have reached the height of full self-sufficiency,” coming into existence for the sake of life and “for the sake of a good life.”

Aristotle’s asserts that “master and slave have accordingly a common interest,” which he supports by saying that an intelligent person whom can exercise forethought “is naturally a ruling and master element” while a person whom can use his bodily power to do physical work “is a ruled element.”

Aristotle agrees with Rousseau that the master / slave relationship is, or at least should be, one that exists for the mutual benefit of both, although Rousseau would not consider such a relationship “natural.” Rousseau believes that our reciprocal dependence on each other is what makes it necessary for each of us to do some work for the benefit of all of society, and that to enslave someone is to create in him dependence on others.

Rousseau thinks that political inequality is established or authorized by the consent of men, whom afford each other different privileges. He believes that slavery did not exist in the state of nature. He says, “since the bonds of servitude are formed only from the mutual dependence of men and the reciprocal needs that unite them, it is impossible to enslave a man without first putting him in the position of being unable to do without another; a situation which, as it did not exist in the state of nature, leaves each man there free of the yoke, and renders vain the law of the stronger.”

We must take into consideration the way our authors think of nature. Aristotle says, “Nature… makes nothing in vain,” and “Nature… makes each separate thing for a separate end; and she does so because the instrument is most perfectly made when it serves a single purpose and not a variety of purposes.” He believes that "every city exists by nature; the ‘nature’ of things consists in their end or consummation.”

Rousseau believes that in the state of nature, “all things move in… a uniform manner… the face of the earth is not subject to those brusque and continual changes caused by the passions and inconstancy of united peoples.” He considers the moment  at which  humans  left the state of nature “the moment when, right taking the place of violence, nature was subjected to law; to explain by what sequence of marvels the strong could resolve to serve the weak, and the people to buy imaginary repose at the price of real felicity.”

People attempt to get out of the state of nature by seeing nature and subjecting it to law, according to Rousseau. He claims that the “first source of inequality among men” is the perfection and deterioration of some individuals whom acquire diverse qualities “which were not inherent in their nature.”

When Aristotle writes that an intelligent master whom can exercise forethought in order to enslave a person suited to physical work, he calls the master a “naturally… ruling… element.” Aristotle thinks the master/slave relationship is a natural one, while Rousseau disagrees. Since, according to Rousseau, we leave nature by subjecting it to law, he would be likely to say that we could end what Aristotle considers “natural” slavery (although Rousseau himself would not share in that designation) by incorporating a system of justice, law, and equality into slavery, and ensuring that neither slave nor master takes advantage of the other without willingly giving something of himself.

If Aristotle thinks that “the ‘nature of things consists in their end or consummation”, then it would be reasonable to expect him to think that the nature of human political society is one that is complete; a polis which is all the villages of the world united. On the contrary, Aristotle thinks that some people are naturally suited to rule, and some are naturally suited to work and be subject to rule. His view that “Nature…  makes each separate thing for… a single purpose and not a variety of purposes” seems problematic because this is to suggest that a person who is born a slave shall never become free or even a master. Aristotle’s view that a master will always be a master and a slave will always be a slave will certainly not bring about a polis of all united villages because there will always be those who claim they have authority over other people, and the master / slave relationship will often be subject to abuses.

Rousseau’s view that men leave the state of nature by observing it and imposing upon it a system of law is better supported than Aristotle’s argument. Rousseau believes that reciprocal dependence makes work necessary, but he does not use this to justify the taking of slaves. He understands that mutual dependence causes people to work together, performing different tasks at different times, so that all tasks may be accomplished simultaneously and the benefits accorded equally to all members of society.

Aristotle’s view of nature suggests that he would not want people to have diverse job training, as “Nature… makes each separate thing for… a single purpose and not a variety of purposes.” Believing in such a statement would seem likely to contribute to disorder and undermine the cause of societal self-sufficiency, because it would make a farmer idle in the winter, as he would have no crops to tend to.

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