Summary of "Aristotle's Politics: Book 3"

by Thomas Colbyry
Aristotle, one of the greatest philosophers and scientists in history, lived in fourth century Athens.

Aristotle, one of the greatest philosophers and scientists in history, lived in fourth century Athens. Images

Aristotle wrote his "Politics" while serving as private tutor to Alexander (later the "Great"), the son of Philip of Macedon. Because of his many political connections Aristotle conceived the "Politics," not as an abstract piece of philosophy, but as a practical handbook for rulers. The "Politics" comprises of eight books, and many scholars rate Book 3 as among the most important.


One of the major themes of Book 3 is citizenship. Aristotle spends a great deal of time trying to arrive at a precise definition of a citizen and concludes that a citizen is someone who participates in the government of a city. Since many people cannot or choose not to serve in government, the majority of a city's residents are not citizens. This stands in contrast to today's view of the citizen as a resident of a city or state who enjoys legal status.


For Aristotle two types of virtue exist: the virtue of the individual and the virtue of the citizen. The virtue of the individual is whatever brings about perfect happiness in his own life, while the virtue of the citizen refers to whatever serves the regime best and helps to maintain its power. This means that in an ideal regime, one that brings happiness to all those living under it, pursuing the virtue of the citizen will be the same as pursuing the virtue of the individual.


According to Aristotle, political rule is arbitrary unless it is the rule of equals; that is, of participating citizens. He concludes that monarchy, rule by a king, is really not a form of political rule, since, because monarchs possess no equals, there are no citizens in a monarchy. He does not write this in condemnation of monarchy itself -- indeed he praises monarchy elsewhere in the "Politics." He does suggest, however, that political rule rather than monarchical rule may be more likely to bring about the common good, as opposed to the individual whims of the monarch.

Types of Regimes

In Book 3 Aristotle discusses three types of regimes: aristocracies, oligarchies and democracies. He offers praise for only one of these regimes, the aristocracy, and attacks the other two, calling them "deviant" in their conceptions of justice. Aristotle attacks oligarchies for their crass characterization of the poor as inferior, and he denounces democracies for treating people as equally free. He concludes that because these regimes can never bring about justice and even superior forms of government, such as monarchy and aristocracy, each may degenerate into deviancy; the government of a state should reflect multiple types of regimes. This means that states should employ democratic principles in selecting judiciaries, while they should employ aristocratic principles when selecting leaders for high office.


About the Author

Thomas Colbyry is a writer living in Marquette, Mich. Currently pursuing a B.A. in English, he works as a writing tutor and contributes book reviews to several publications. Colbyry often covers topics related to literature, specializing in early modern, Restoration, 18th-century and Victorian British literature, as well as the literature of Japan.

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