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AN EXAMINATION OF THE CONCEPT OF MORALITY AND POLITICS IN ARISTOTLE’S PHILOSOPHY
1.1 BACKGROUND OF THE STUDY
The political situation in some societies today has grossly degenerated. The democracy which we practice in our country is not encouraging. We see democracy only in theory but in practice, we experience tyranny. In January, 2012, the government of Nigeria decided to impose fuel subsidy on its citizens. This they did, without considering the public opinion. The citizens of Nigeria did not think it will lead to a better life for them. Moreover, the people were not properly consulted. This stirred up a kind of rebellion among the people against the government. This act opposes the political and moral theory of Aristotle. Because for him, a state can only be good if its rulers seek the welfare of the people they govern, by striving to attain the good life for the individuals. In his moral philosophy, Aristotle posits that every action should have an ‘end’. And that end Aristotle calls “happiness”. When a ruler imposes laws which does not uphold equality and justice, and does not aim at the highest good of the citizens, that leader cannot be said to be a good leader.
A cursory look at the concept of morality and politics appears unambiguous. When, however, critically surveyed, it cannot but reveal its ambiguity. The equivocal nature of the concept has ardently led great thinkers in the course of centuries to develop different theories and views about it. Morality is primitively conceived as consisting in obedience to a tribal custom which is ultimately regarded as essential for the individual. The atomist such as Democritus maintains “morality is dominated by the idea of happiness which can only be achieved through the moderate cultivation of culture as the surest way of attaining the most desirable goal of life.”1 Socrates posits that no one is intentionally vicious. This means that whenever we do something wrong — including something morally wrong. It is out of ignorance rather than evil. In his ethical perspective, Aristotle holds a crucial idea known as eudemonism (happiness) according to which the good life is the happy life.
Aristotle in his ethical theories views morality as teleological. Under this teleological conception, morality is looked upon as a fundamental conception; morality is looked upon as a fundamental matter of self- expression or self realization.
Thus, he primarily asserts in his Nichomachean Ethics that “every art and every inquiry and similarly every action and pursuit is thought to aim at some good; and for this reason the good is rightly been declared to be that at which all things aim.”2
More so, having stated that all actions aim at an “end”, Aristotle delves into distinguishing the two main kinds of ends. These two ends are instrumental end and intrinsic end. The former implies actions which are carried out as means for other ends while the latter indicates actions which are done for their own sake. The goal is action for its own sake for which any other activity is only a means. For Aristotle, this invariably must be the “good” of man, the supreme good which is eudemonia (happiness).
On the other hand, Aristotle in his politics as in ethics stresses the element of purpose. The state, like man, is endowed by nature with a distinctive function. Combining these two ideas, Aristotle says that “it is evident that the state is a creature of nature and that man is by nature a political animal”3. So closely does he relate man and the state as to conclude that “he who is unable to live in society, or who has no need because he is sufficient for himself, must be either a beast or a god”4. Not only is man by nature destined to live in a state, but the state, as every other community, is established with the view to some good exists for some end. But unlike Plato, Aristotle did not create a blueprint for an ideal state.
The nature of the ultimate “good” for man in the community or state are also exposed in this study. Three things which make men good and excellent in the state include nature, habit, reasons and they must be in harmony. Just as in a state, the rulers should have no marked superiority over the ruled, equality should ensure that all citizens alike should take their turn of governing and being governed. So there should be the same treatment of similar persons as no government can stand which is not founded upon justice. And when a government is unjust, everyone in the country unites with the governed in the desire to have a revolution. And it not possible for the members of the government to out power all their enemies put together.
1.2 STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM.
In Aristotle’s political theory, he posits that every state is a community established with a view to some good, for everyone always acts in order to obtain that which they think good. But, if all communities aim at some good, the state or political community which is the highest of all, and which embraces all the rest, aims at good in a greater degree than any other, and the highest good.
Pertinent questions now arises: In his politics, Aristotle Posits that Aristocracy is a good form of government, but on the other hand, can’t Aristocracy degenerate to oligarchy which is a perverted form of government? What is the relationship between politics and morality in Aristotle? And what is the relevance of morality to politics? For in his morality, Aristotle sees happiness as the highest good. But what brings this happiness since it varies from individual to individual? Is the happiness of the individual synonymous with that of the state, and that of the state synonymous with that of the individual? Also Aristotle postulates that virtue is achieved by striving to arrive at the mean between two extremes. How do we arrive at this mean? And who determines the meaness of this mean? There are some vices which arriving at their mean will be difficult and impossible. How do we now determine the morality or otherwise of this vices. Finally, is it possible to have a sound moral value with an immoral political system?
Therefore, this work has set out to see the extent to which Aristotle defended his claim. This work explores the moral and political theories of Aristotle in order to see the relationship between them and to show the relevance of morality in achieving a sound political system in our society and in our democracy. This work also tends to show how the political and moral theory of Aristotle can influence or help us attain peaceful and harmonious co- existence in our society.
1.3 OBJECTIVE/PURPOSE OF THE STUDY
This work sets out to explore and examine Aristotle’s notion of politics and morality. It aims at discovering the best quality of a political system to be adopted, as man is by nature a political animal. And the quality of morality which the human person should adopt for the good of society and especially for his personal satisfaction and self- fulfillment for a good life and a happy living.
1.4 SCOPE OF THE STUDY
The scope of this work is the notion of morality as discussed in Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics, and his notion of politics as discussed in Aristotle’s politics. Though references will be made to other works of Aristotle and other philosophers that relate to morality and politics.
1.5 SIGNIFICANCE OF THE STUDY
This work will serve as material for prospective researchers and students on Aristotle’s idea of morality and politics. It enhances the individual’s desire in the quest for a good moral and political life and avails him the opportunity to adopt the quality of morality and which leads to an acceptable and a happy end. The ruler in a state should avoid tyrannical and despotic acts to achieve a happy end. It is also of great importance to the society.
The method adapted for this research are historical, analytical, expository and critical. It is historical in the sense that, the views of past philosophers on morality and politics before Aristotle will be discussed. It is analytical because this work shall analyse in details, the relationship between politics and morality. The relevance of morality to politics will be exposed in order to achieve a sound moral value in the society. In its expository nature, this work exposes all the tenets of morality and politics as applied by Aristotle, and it will tend to answer some of the numerous questions concerned with it. A critique of Aristotle’s view will also be done. Those critiques pointed out by other philosophers will also be studied in order to proffer some solutions to them.