Lesson 2: The "Pre-political" and the Problem of Rule

2.1 Household - Three Types of Rule Relationships Focus on Slave; Woman; Child

Recall theme of Bk I stated at the outset - household rule is not the same as political rule, a polis is essentially different from a household, large or otherwise. This is basically because household ministers to life, its generation and preservation, whereas the polis is for the good life. It is a question of necessity and freedom, public and private. Now we can set up four relationships which are not fully, nor exactly political relationships: i. master/slave - despotic rule; ii. husband/wife -"political rule,"; iii. parent/child - kingly rule; iv. relation of property (life) to politics (good life)

All relationships of rule, all relationships, are irreducible one to another. The household is not the same as a polis, and vice versa. Political rule must emerge and differentiate itself from forms of household rule. The statesman is not a father, not a despot, not a husband. What then is he? Let's study each in detail. The following chart has put the key characteristics of each:

Chart 2.1 Pre-Political Forms of Rule
Master-Slave Rational Planning

No deliberation/

Bodily strength



No resistance

Common good in physical necessities, but serving as instrument for purposeful activity of master Despotic Rule
Male-Female Strong Deliberation;


Weak deliberation;

Tie to body, natural cycle

Equal; as one permanently in office


Common good Political Rule
Parent-Child Mature reason and resolve

Immature reason and resolve


Guiding, educative; also employing punishment;

natural affection

(Aims at its own disappearance)

Good of child Kingly or Royal Rule

Master/slave - (see texts of Aquinas and discussion by Simon in Phil of Dem Gov: p59 I.96.4 slavery in innocence; p72 st I.81.3ad2 despotic and political and p74 st I.96.4 mastership)

What is a slave? See Pol I.4

Chart 2.2 DEFINITION OF A SLAVE Politics I. 4



The slave does not work for his own good but for the good of another; hence we talk of exploitation and alienation. The slave does initiate action, but is passive, an instrument of the owner. There is a lack of autonomy or deliberation and choice. In some ways the slave is but property of the owner. Finally the slave has nothing of his own and hence cannot resist the absolute rule of the master. So the mode is absolute because it brooks no resistance, or must resort to violence if need be. This is how reason must rule the body. Although the rule is for the sake of the ruler - if there is a true natural slave - it would be for the good of both, although clearly the good of the owner predominates. Are there any such beings by nature? IS slavery natural or only conventional? Aristotle is difficult here; there are passages where he suggests that there is no such relationship by nature (see chap. 5). Only if two humans differ as much as soul and body; or if they differ as god and man (pointing to statues of gods). I read these conditional statements to imply, no there is no such differentiation by nature. As we read in the previous chapters, man is neither beast nor god. Hence slavery is not a natural relationship, but one based upon war, conventions and forged in the fire of necessity. Against slavery is also the proposed paradox that a slave must have virtue if he is to function well as a living instrument; but virtue implies thought and choice; hence the slave is not so by nature. Finally, Aristotle points out that children of slaves are thoughtful and excellent, and children of the ruling class are not always so. Again the implication here is that slavery is not by nature and certainly not based upon ethnic or natural differences. So what are the political issues behind Aristotle's analysis? First we learn that the body brings along with it many necessities and the need for labor to sustain it. Reason must rule the body despotically as in medicine or surgery. It is to the benefit of body and soul that nature has established rule of the better part. The good life requires some amount of freedom from labor and drudgery. In the ancient economy, slavery allowed a division of labor for some to claim freedom. It is not just by nature. But it is one of the goals of modern economy to overcome the crushing weight of physical necessity; and technology has extended the realm of freedom for many. Can we eliminate all necessity or all instrumentality from human affairs? Obviously not. But the doctrine of human rights and the ideal of social justice demand the abolition of slavery and the extension of opportunities for freedom to all. Freedom is one of the great "signs of the times," according to Vatican II. But we must discern authentic freedom from spurious claims and maintain an appreciation for the limits for human freedom. Indeed, John Paul II has warned us of a freedom which turns to slavery, new forms of slavery are made possible when a person degrades himself and becomes a slave to their body and their passion. So Aristotle himself warns that one may become slavish in a way of life whereby reason is abandoned.

Husband/wife - (see POL I.12 and Simon p60 ST I.92.1.ad2 man woman in innocence)

This relationship is constituted among free and members for a common good; the difference in rule stems from function and excellence. According to Aristotle the husband rules a one permanently in office, thus initiates common action, with the consent and possible resistance of the wife. He also demarks various spheres of influence, assigning the domestic to the woman. Obviously this is a most controversial part of Aristotle's teaching. But it must be observed that he does not equate women to slaves or children. He claims a natural basis for this rule on the function of reason; he claims that men have a more decisive reason and women a weaker rational power. Again whatever we are to make of this claim, Aristotle is honestly dealing with the question of the body and the limits of politics. The household is devoted to the generation and preservation of life. The biological necessities of the generation of life places greater burdens upon the mother; and by the same token, the preservation of life, the defense from physical harm up to and including war, places greater burdens upon the man. Again perhaps modern technology has equalized this factor. How much does a full equality as sameness for women demand release from childbearing responsibilities? That is do contraceptives and abortion condition such political claims? And also has technology equalized men and women in terms of service in the Armed Forces? Yves Simon points to the need for new forms of discipline and service as we become more liberated from nature (PDG 9-10, 18). In any case, it is important to note that Aristotle designates the relationship of husband and wife as political - i.e. it requires discussion and consent.

Parent/child - (See Simon's brilliant discussion of paternal authority in PDG: 7-18)

The rule of father (and mother) over the children is based upon natural excellence. The parent is superior to the child in reason and virtue; the parent must look out for the good of the child, preserve and develop the child, and substitute his or her good sense and strong resolve for that of the child. It is a benign rule for the good of child. It is based upon a natural affection and care. But such rule aims at its own disappearance. The child gains autonomy as he or she matures. Some remain defective; some adults never grow up. Hence the temptation of the government to rule paternalistically. The issue of paternalism in government remains on many levels. Colonialism is a form of paternal rule; so are some attempts at humanitarian intervention. To the degree that there is great deficiency among the people, then the question of paternal rule emerges as a possibility and as a duty. Unfortunately, as Simon points out, so much colonial rule involved exploitation, not rule for the good of the ruled; and it established no dynamic for its own disappearance. And the aristocratic claim for paternal rule over the many (see p. 14) is undermined by the aristocrat's own detachment from the suffering of the many and their own selfish pursuits; it is a romantic argument to think of a lofty pursuit of public good on the part of most aristocrats, historically considered.

2.2 Yves R Simon: Why Authority at All? The Argument from Plenitude -- UNITED ACTION (See PDG: 19-35 especially p35 ST I.103.3 on unity)

Simon argues that authority has an essential function and that it is not simply the result of deficiency or paternal substitution. United action he shows requires united judgment. But united judgment can come either from unanimity or from authority. But unanimity is very difficult to achieve in practical affairs because practice involves contingent matters, particular circumstances. Science is of the universal and it can command universal assent (although not always - see Simon on Practical Judgment). Ethics and politics demand prudence. But practical truth requires both true reasoning and right desire. So practical judgment is determined by "obscure forces of appetite" and not sheer rational communication. The point is that practical agreement is very hard to some by. And even on the hypothesis of men and women of good will and right desire, there is a still a problem for arriving at common judgment. And if there are many possible means to a given end, that is even with plenitude, authority is quite essential. Freedom requires authority because of the need for common action and determination of the means of action in the midst of greater possibility. The point here is that political authority will surge up beyond the deficiencies found in master/slave, and parent/child relationships. Rule is not reducible to household and necessities of life. It is also a function of the fullness of human achievement and mastery.

2.3 Money Making as a Problem

2.3.1 Look at Bk I, cc. 8-9. Now in Book I we are concerned with something pre-political, namely, the generation and preservation of life. After considering the variety of human relations which arise from nature and the purposes of life, we must turn to the material basis of the household, and hence the material basis of the political. This material basis may be generally termed "property." We refer to the materials and instruments that service to life. We talk about the necessities of life, and we have in mind especially food, shelter, and clothing. Humans must acquire these necessities and use them. So we turn to the acquisition of property.

2.3.2 Aristotle divides acquisition of property into two basic forms - the natural and the artificial; they correspond to chapters 8 and 9. Marx discovered nothing new when he saw a correlation between means of production and social-political forms. Aristotle saw it; who would deny it? "Different modes of subsistence give rise to different ways of life." It is apparent enough in all animal life - the solitary carnivore, the herding herbivores.

2.3.3 The natural modes of acquisition Aristotle divides into three; keeping in mind especially the need for food. The three types are: a. The Nomad - lives pasturing herds, indolent and mobile, the least political; b. The Hunter - live by pursuit and capture. Interesting point is the inclusion of the pirate or brigand as a hunter, indeed, he goes on to mention war as a natural mode of acquisition; c. The Farmer - mode of most people. Lives by plants in the land and has greater stability - Is farmer or hunter the most political?

2.3.4 Whatever, these modes are called natural because they yield "true wealth" i.e. that which satisfies basic necessities of food, shelter, clothing. The amount of such property is not unlimited. The fixed bound is what is sufficient for living and living well. Wealth is instrumental.

2.3.5 The artificial activity of money making may be termed commerce. In itself Aristotle does not consider it bad. Rather he warns of a weakness in the activity - namely it tends to the unlimited. The art becomes an end in itself and the instrumental nature of wealth is obscured. Exchange has a natural beginning. Genesis:

    A. distinction of use value and exchange value or primary and secondary

    B. a natural inequality - people have more or less than suffices for their need, thus they must barter, exchange with others. This is seen especially when there is differentiation of households. still limited by use and satisfaction of needs.

    C. currency arises out of further differentiation - foreign/ political distance and time of exchange necessitates a common measure - conventional in form

    D. currency opens up a new possibility - exchange for profit alone. this is the art of money making proper. the stock of money becomes an end in itself and thus unlimited by any other end or purpose. wealth is simply a fund of currency (quantity of coin) 1257b9

    The new possibility for money making is:

      1. unlimited because an end in itself;

      2. unnatural - Midas could not live on his gold;

      3. a bad way of life - acquire money without any limit or pause - that is it

        a. fails to see distinction between mere life and good life

        b. seeks excess in pleasure of body, i.e. lust, gluttony, which originate in generation and preservation

        c. turns to greed - all is subjected to one aim of acquisition

    E. final step is usury - money breeds money by interest charged.

2.3.6 Point - acquisition of property is a limited activity. It is limited first, by natural use and secondly by the good life. Economics arises out of needs of body and is open to political determination. Natural use - household management with political determination by way of judgment of what is justice and noble.

2.4 Conclusion: Household as Oriented toward Action; Freedom; Virtue

The political is based on the pre-political - there are natural processes which generate the polis and the polis must respect these things. Yet the pre-political shows an openness to being formed by the political. In fact, the natural does not sprout into a polis without reason and art. Men must found or institute the polis. The polis is a work of reason persuading necessity. Trade, war, piety, and education must be taken in hand and become a matter of legislation. Generation and preservation begin something which cannot be perfected in the household. We may sum up the contribution of the political with the term "the good life." Just what the good life may be we recall from the Ethics. Insofar as political convention approaches the good life, so the more is it a good regime. When we look at the political we are faced with many different conventions and different opinions about what is just.


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