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

(ca. 335–323 BCE)

Explanation and Analysis of the Document

The beginning of Aristotle's Politics is one of the most difficult ancient texts for modern students. It immediately puts on display all the most disagreeable prejudices that existed in the Greek world: the ideas that women are inferior to and subject to men, that non-Greeks are barbarians who are inherently inferior to Greeks, and that masters and slaves take on their roles with respect to each other because of their natures (their fitness to rule or only to be ruled). For the Greeks, these relationships of power and control were what maintained order in society, and while they are not identical, they are analogous to the relationship between parents and children. Some explanation for this attitude is found in the relative poverty of Greece as a pre-industrial culture. However distasteful this aspect of Greek life, it is also true that the legacy of Greek political history and of Greek philosophy began the movement toward greater...