Saturday, July 5, 2014
The Origin of Political Association: Aristotle vs. Thomas Hobbes
Written in April 2008 for a course on political theory,
edited in July 2014
Both Aristotle and Hobbes believe that in order to understand the state, one must study its origins. Aristotle believes that the origin of the polis existed in relationships, whereas Hobbes sees the individual as the building block of political society.
Aristotle says that “all associations come into being for the sake of some good”, and that “the most sovereign and inclusive association is the political association [polis].” He says that “...there must necessarily be a pairing of those who cannot exist without one another... [and] a union of the naturally ruling element with the element which is naturally ruled, for the preservation of both.”
Aristotle says that “just as some are by nature free, so others are by nature slaves, and for these latter the condition of slavery is both beneficial and just.” He says that people whom have forethought by the virtue of intellect are naturally rulers, and that people whom have the bodily power to do physical work are naturally ruled.
Hobbes believes that a person's desire for self-preservation may become egoism, and this causes individuals to seek protection from other individuals by placing constraints upon their egoistic natures. He believes that unbridled egoism prevents people from socializing with each other because of their fear and lack of trust.
Although Aristotle explains man and woman's biological necessity to each other, he is not able to support the claim that a slave cannot exist without a master in the same way man and woman depend on one another. He assumes that slaves are unable to exercise forethought. Also, it would seem that all people have the power to do physical work, and Aristotle fails to explain whether a person whom has both power and intellect deserves to rule or be ruled.
Hobbes' argument is more plausible because he doesn't make birth-based generalizations about rulers and the ruled; instead, he imagines the moment the rule of law came into existence, and explains the necessity of the rule of law as protection of the safety of individuals, and not strictly to keep necessary relationships intact. The relationship of man and woman is a social relationship that does not need political associations to survive. After all, that relationship existed sustainably even before the advent of the rule of law.