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Aristotle as the First Political Scientist Essay


Political science is a contemporary discipline that is related to social science. Today, political science as a branch of the social studies is worked out independently, and the main objects of the discipline are the political systems, state, and governments. Thus, political science is based on definite theories and measurements, facts supported with evidence, and empirical data as any other science. Aristotle is traditionally called the first political scientist. To analyze the relevance of this statement, it is necessary to concentrate on the similarities and differences of the approaches to discussing political science today and during the early periods when politics was examined in the context of philosophy. From this point, there are two approaches to explaining the role of Aristotle as the first political scientist because, on the one hand, Aristotle and his successors did not distinguish between science, knowledge, and philosophy strictly and, on the other hand, Aristotelian approaches to determining the principles of the political science are associated with the modern scientific methods to work with the political theory and practice.

Aristotle’s political science from the perspective of the philosophy of knowledge

In spite of the fact political science is the comparably new social discipline, it has certain historical roots in the philosophical discussion of the issue of politics. In his works, Aristotle paid much attention to the questions of human nature and morality. The problems of politics were also discussed with references to the mentioned notions. That is why many researchers are inclined to discuss Aristotle’s ideas on politics as the political philosophy or political theory (Kraut and Skultety 2005). However, it is important to note that the philosophy of knowledge in Greece, according to which Aristotle formulated his ideas, was not perceived and developed separately as philosophy and as the scientific knowledge. Thus, Aristotle and the other philosophers determined three types of science without dividing the concepts into philosophical or scientific ones but discussing them as theoretical, practical, and productive sciences. Theoretical sciences included physics and metaphysics, practical sciences included ethics and politics, and productive sciences were directly associated with the definite result, which can be proposed by such disciplines as art and architecture (Lenn and Talisse 2007). Politics belonged to practical science because people should act in their life according to the principles of this science. Moreover, Aristotle used the word ‘politike’ to discuss the ideas, and this word can be interpreted as the ‘political science’ or ‘political expertise’ (Lenn and Talisse 2007). The correlation between the philosophical and scientific notions can be observed with references to Aristotle’s vision of politics as the source for people to achieve happiness.

It is important to pay attention to the fact that contemporary political science discusses the connected issues in such fields as political philosophy, political ideology, and political theory. That is why the investigations in these spheres can be discussed as associated with the aspects of political science. Thus, following the first approach to discussing the problem of political science in relation to Aristotle, it is possible to state that Aristotle is the first political scientist who examined politics with references to the political philosophy and ethics because there were no strict boundaries between philosophy, knowledge, and science for the thinkers in Ancient Greece (Depew 2009). Furthermore, in his research, Mara focuses on the fact that is presenting the principles of politics, Aristotle separates between politics and philosophy, but these disciplines can be discussed as compatible because the notions used in these fields influence each other significantly (Mara 1987). From this point, political philosophy, political theory, and elements of ethics should be discussed complexly and in their connection with each other as the basic components for forming the principles of political science, according to Aristotle. Thus, analyzing the advantages of the definite governments and different constitutions that can be used in the polis, Aristotle pays attention to their benefits for people living in the community in relation to the ethical values, but the methods which are used by the philosopher are characterized by the scientific nature.

Aristotle’s vision of political science, its methods, and principles

Although it is possible to consider Aristotle as the first political scientist with references to the aspects of discussing political science in the context of the political philosophy, a lot of researchers also determine the elements of Aristotle’s approach to determining the principles of politics which are correlated with the modern vision of political science (Lenn and Talisse 2007). This method to discuss the role of Aristotle as the first political scientist can be discussed as more effective because the accents are made on political science as the independent discipline the contemporary norms of which were developed during the 19th-20th centuries. From this perspective, Aristotle can be considered as the political scientist who was the first thinker to discuss the politically associated issues with the help of the appropriate scientific methods. Thus, it is possible to determine two aspects which are significant to speak about Aristotle’s approach as the first variant of political science. These elements are the topics on politics and its peculiarities and methods associated with the field of political science (Kraut and Skultety 2005).

To understand the approach of Aristotle to discussing the political concepts, the researchers pay attention to the philosopher’s background (Kraut and Skultety 2005). Aristotle is often called the successor of Plato’s ideas about the principles of politics, which were provided in Plato’s works Republic and Laws, but it is important to note that Aristotle argued the main viewpoints presented by Plato. The impact of Plato on Aristotle’s vision of political issues can be assessed with references to the development of Aristotle’s independent approach to analyzing the problem. Furthermore, being the tutor of Alexander the Great, Aristotle thought much about the role of political systems and governments in the life of the public. The results of the philosopher’s considerations were presented in The Politics and Nicomachean Ethics (Lenn and Talisse 2007). Moreover, it is possible to discuss the Aristotelian approach to political science as the complex one because the philosopher also used the methods which are typical for the natural sciences to support his hypotheses about the nature of politics. Thus, Fowler and Schreiber pay attention to the fact that Aristotle not only developed the principles of the science of political institutions but also studied the particular features of the human political behavior (Fowler and Schreiber 2008, 912).

Aristotle was the first political thinker who started the discussion of the polis and its role for the people, determining all the details of the problem and referring to the developed typology of governments and political systems. The main topic of Aristotle’s investigation was to choose the political system, which can be discussed as the most appropriate and beneficial one for the public’s achieving happiness and stability (Lenn and Talisse 2007). The significance of the research is explained by the fact that the polis is the natural community developed in the political community, and its system is influential for the development of the community as a partnership. In his work, Aristotle accentuates the benefits of the political community for all the members that are why it is necessary to determine the variant of the political system, which is the most effective and stable for the community (Aristotle 2008). To complete the aim of the investigation, Aristotle provides definite scientific research, comparing the variants of political systems according to their characteristic features and presenting the typology of these systems.

The correlation between Aristotle’s approach and the modern vision of the aspects of political science is the controversial question that is discussed by many researchers. Thus, Lenn and Talisse focus on the fact that Aristotle was not “the founder of political theory, but he was clearly the founder of political science. His survey of 158 constitutions and his book-length study of the Athenian constitution laid the empirical and historical basis for his general claims in The Politics” (Lenn and Talisse 2007, 131). The researchers pay attention to the notions which are characteristic of the scientific approach to discussing the problem. Aristotle used the empirical data with references to the survey provided in order to complete the definitive study. That is why it is possible to speak about the scientific methods used by the philosopher to support his theory.

Aristotle’s survey and conclusions

Before starting the survey, Aristotle analyzes the aspects of the political theory provided in the works of Plato, Phaleas of Chalcedon, and Hippodamus of Miletus (Aristotle 2008). The next stage is the survey on the constitutions which were used for realizing various regimes in different cities in Greece. The discussion of politics and its principles was based on the results of the survey completed by Aristotle. The philosopher examined the particular features of 150 political systems with references to the constitutions used for ruling this or that polis. Aristotle determined such criteria as the number of rulers and the effects for the public, which can be positive or negative. According to these criteria, political systems were divided into those ones which are ruled by one person, by few persons, and by many persons. Moreover, the results of the rule for the public were different; that is why the regimes were classified in relation to the positive or negative effects for the community (Aristotle 2008).

Kingship, aristocracy, and republic were discussed as the regimes which have rather positive effects for the development of the polis. Tyranny, oligarchy, and democracy were presented as the regimes in which rulers paid more attention to their own interests than to the interests of the public living in the polis (Eidelberg 2012). Thus, the regimes are mainly discussed with references to the moral notions provided in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. Eidelberg states that “for Aristotle and for classical political science in general, there is no such thing as a morally neutral political science” (Eidelberg 2012). That is why the most appropriate regimes or political systems are kingship, aristocracy, and republic, where the effective kingship is based on the theory of justice developed in Nicomachean Ethics, and a republic can be discussed as the most successful variant for the public. Furthermore, the positive effects of following the principles of a republic can be realized in practice. Aristotle’s conclusions depend on his observations of the position and state of the low population categories in cities with different regimes. Examining the attitudes of the rulers to the public, the philosopher accentuates the particular features of the republic with an effective constitutional government (Aristotle 2008; Eidelberg 2012).

Stating that Aristotle used for his investigation the techniques which can be correlated with the modern approaches used in the field of political science, many researchers emphasize Aristotle’s survey on the types of political systems the conclusions about which depend on the analysis of different constitutions. Aristotle not only presented the description of the constitutions but also classified them according to the associated advantages and disadvantages for the public living in the polis as the political community (Depew 2009). However, modern researchers accentuate that although the method used by Aristotle was rather revolutionary for the political thought of a certain period of time, the approach cannot be discussed as scientific in relation to the general characteristics (Lenn and Talisse 2007). Nevertheless, it is necessary to refer to Aristotle as the contributor to the development of political science and even as the founder of the discipline’s main principles.

To conclude, it is possible to note that modern researchers and scholars discuss Aristotle as the founder of political science because the philosopher was the first thinker who concentrated on the major topics which are associated with the field of politics, analyzed the main notions and concepts, and classified political systems with references to their characteristics as the basic elements of politics. In spite of the fact the main concepts and ideas proposed by Aristotle were argued by the further political theorists, the major principles provided by the philosopher were developed, and they made the frame for forming the aspects of political science as it is presented today. The natural philosophy on which Aristotle based his ideas about the development of the polis is also significant for determining the connection between the human nature, biology, and politics because politicians and the political authority rule the state according to those principles on which Aristotle concentrated in his works.

Aristotle’s contribution to the discussion of the distribution of power in the polis, to classifying the political systems and explaining the political theories with references to the notions of justice and stability is rather difficult to be overestimated. In spite of the fact a lot of Aristotle’s conclusions cannot be used today for discussing the contemporary regimes and political systems, the impact of the philosopher on the development of the basics of political science is significant. In his works, Aristotle concentrated on the connection and relationships between the individual and the state, which were discussed in detail by the philosopher’s successors. Aristotle’s findings are based on the deep investigation of the relationships between the ruler and individuals according to the moral principles. Moreover, Aristotle proposed the discussion of the examined political systems and regimes not only as theoretical concepts. The founder of political science presented the analysis of the constitutions in their relation to the practical value for the public living in the community.

Reference List

Aristotle. 2008. Politics. USA: Cosimo, Inc.

Depew, David. 2009. “The Ethics of Aristotle’s Politics”. In A Companion to Greek and Roman Political Thought, ed. Ryan K. Balot. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 399-418.

Eidelberg, Paul. 2012. . Web.

Fowler, James, and Darren Schreiber. 2008. “Biology, Politics, and the Emerging Science of Human Nature”. Science 322: 912-914.

Kraut, Richard, and Steven Skultety. 2005. Aristotle’s Politics: Critical Essays. USA: Rowman & Littlefield.

Lenn, Evan, and Robert Talisse. 2007. Aristotle’s Politics Today. USA: SUNY Press.

Mara, Gerald. 1987. “The Role of Philosophy in Aristotle’s Political Science”. Polity 19 (Spring): 375-401.

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