Aristotle: “The Nature, End, and Origin of the States”

(ca. 335–323 BCE)

Aristotle was a leading philosopher in classical antiquity, student of Plato and tutor to Alexander the Great. He developed the scholastic, or encyclopedic, approach to philosophy, giving a detailed study to each possible branch of human knowledge. His treatise on Politics grew directly out of his Nicomachean Ethics, developing his idea of how cities should function from his discussion of how people ought to live. Aristotle begins the Politics with “The Nature, End, and Origin of the States,” a discussion of aristocratic households, taken as a comparison for the state and establishing the principle that the purpose of rule is to benefit the ruled, not the rulers. In the remainder of the Politics, Aristotle criticizes the political philology of Plato as presented in the Republic and the Laws. He then examines the political thought of other philosophers and gives real-world examples of well-governed cities (Sparta, Crete, and Carthage), whose constitutions are balanced...