Western Political Thought Classical Tradition for Competitive Exams (2022)

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Aristotle - Western Political Thought: Classical Tradition (Political Science)


  • Ancient Greek philosopher and disciple of Plato.
  • Regarded as father of science of politics.
  • Sought to build up his philosophy on scientific foundation.
  • Commended the science of politics as the ‘master science’ or ‘master arts’ .
  • Postulated hierarchy of ends i.e.. The end of all other branches of knowledge ultimately merge into politics.

Major points

Image Aristotle
Title Image: Aristotle


  • State is necessary as well as natural for human being.
  • Aristotle postulates: ′ State is prior to man ′
  • Historically state appears after appearance of man.
  • But from point of view of logic, the idea of state comes before the idea of man.
  • As the idea of full comes before its part.
  • You can not think of a hand or foot without body of which it is part of.
  • A hand without body is redundant.
  • So, man outside the state loses his identity.
  • Politics is an essential part of human character.
  • That is why he postulates: Man is by nature a political animal.
  • He who does not need state is either a beast or god.
  • State is a moral as well as natural institution.
  • He upheld organic theory of state.
  • The relation between man and state was similar to that between an ‘organ’ and ‘organism’ .
  • He postulated; state comes into existence for sake of life but continues for sake of good life.

Family, Private Property and Slavery

  • He concedes that family is the cradle of virtue.
  • Property an essential ingredient of household.
  • Defends private ownership of property but argues that its owner should make it available for common use ⚹ .
  • Says it gives sense of security and an urge to increase one՚s wealth.
  • Ridicules Plato՚s communism of property concept.
  • As few organs of body are superior to other similarly some individuals are superior to other.
  • He argued that men were superior to women, freemen were superior to slaves, and Greeks were superior to barbarians
  • Men were fit for command and women were fit for obedience.
  • Women՚s role to be confined to house only.
  • Again, he believed men differ in intellect.
  • Those who are proficient in mental work are by nature intended to be, masters or lords.
  • And those capable of physical work are by nature meant to be slave.
  • Ancient Greek philosopher considered physical labor always inferior to intellectual work.
  • He argues; “From the hour of their birth some are marked for subjection and others for rule”
  • He even refused to recognize slaves as full-fledged human being.
  • Compared him to be living tool which was property of his master.
  • Aristotle even declared the slave to be incapable of virtue or moral excellence.
  • He believed freemen needed leisure for exercise of virtue.
  • Which is created by assigning all physical labor to slave.
  • Aristotle՚s justification of slavery was to defend the interest of the Greeks who were freemen.
  • He believed that only Greeks had the ability to do intellectual work so they are fit to be freemen.
  • According to Aristotle all residents of a state are not citizens.
  • In ancient Greek city-states women, slaves and aliens were not regarded as citizens.
  • Recognized citizenship as privilege of ruling class only.
  • In his times right to participate in public decisions was confined to citizens only.
  • Equated citizenship with effective participation of power.
  • Citizenship not merely subjection to political rule but citizens themselves pay active role in shaping that rule.

Concept of Justice

  • Aristotle believed that ‘participation in a common understanding of justice makes a polis’ .
  • A common understanding of the principles of justice is the foundation of political community.
  • Aristotle՚s view of justice reflects his adherence to conservatism as he was in favor of keeping the order intact.
  • In his view justice is concerned with regulation of human relations.
  • He identified three types of justice.

3 Types of Justice

3 Types of Justice
  • Distributive justice; deals with allocations of honor and wealth. Its basic principle is treating equals equally and unequal՚s unequally.
  • Retributive justice; deals with imposition of punishments and payment of damages.
  • Commutative justice; seeks to determine the amount of one sort of goods or services to be rendered in return for another sort in voluntary transactions of buying and selling or letting and hiring.

Classifications of Constitutions

  • Aristotle sought to evolve empirical method of studying politics.
  • The prevailing instability of his times perturbed him.
  • So, he sought to develop a model constitution.
  • That would ensure political stability.

Aristotle՚s Classification of Constitution

Image Aristotle՚s Classification of Constitution

On Revolution

  • He realized the political instability of Greek city states is the outcome of frequent revolution in those states.
  • So, he proceeds to inquire into causes and its remedies.
  • Analyzing the causes of revolution Aristotle observed that dissatisfaction with the existing distribution of power and prestige give rise to rebellion.
  • Dissatisfaction may be widespread or limited to small group.
  • It erupts in violent form.
  • Hence sedition is the first step to revolution.
  • If revolt is suppressed, it fails; if it succeeds, it results in overthrow of existing regime.
  • In this process power passes from one party to another whether constitution is changed or not.
  • Seeds of revolution grows in minds of people.
  • The sense of injustice is the source of all dissatisfaction.
  • Dissatisfied people organize to fight for their right.
  • Thus, signs of conflict appear and unity disappears.
  • In his view dissatisfaction chiefly stems from the desire for power and honor rather than wealth.


  • First and foremost, remedy is to prevent dissatisfaction prevailing in people.
  • Constitution should be based on consent of all.
  • If not all but consent of larger majority while not cheating minority.
  • It would help in preventing sense of injustice.
  • No class or individual should be allowed to become too powerful.
  • Political office should not be allowed to become a source of personal gain.
  • Further, political stability can be assured by educating people in accordance with the spirit of constitution.
  • Finally, the statesman should be sensitive to the minor changes.
  • No constitution should be allowed to take extreme form.
  • Here he evokes his ethical principle of ‘golden mean’ .
Image Remedy