Political Animal

Recently I’ve been listening to lots of lectures from the ITunes University – what a gem! I am generally not very engaged at work and the tasks I have to do are quite monotone. Though I’ve learned that throughout my workday, I can learn a lot more by just listening.

The current course I am sort of auditing is call Introduction to Political Philosophy from Yale University. Isn’t this neat? A course that likely costs two to three thousand dollars to attend, available for free on the internet? Yay! Usually not one for the social sciences, listening to these open courses I have auspiciously convinced myself that they are actually great. If I had the money for a second bachelor’s degree (that will probably never happen) I would love to study these. Anyway, obviously Yale has some of the best instructors in the world and the lectures are really easy to follow, which is probably not the case at most universities.


I really wanted to write about my perception of Aristotle’s political theory as described by the instructor. He begins by saying that in Artistotle’s view, humans are political by nature hence “political animal.” It is important for all to be part of politics because it is the way of virtuous life, one lived in the city (polis) and to contribute to that city.

Aristotle's bust.


Next, Aristotle discusses regimes. And by regimes he doesn’t mean in the current sense of the word, which represents totalitarian/communist/fascist regimes but rather just ways in which the governance of a city is organized. Those organizations may be democratic, oligarchic or “philosopher kings” such as the one’s Plato believes is the best type of regime. This discussion is rather confusing because Aristotle doesn’t outright state a “best regime.” He goes through the pros and cons of each, sometimes defending democracy and sometimes defending oligarchy. The answer is complicated but probably contextual, depending on the type people being ruled.

The Good Leader

The next books become increasingly confusing, I have to admit! But in short, Aristotle talks about who the ideal citizen is and how should he be educated. This ideal citizen should be of a sort of political ruling class where the individual is lofty in nature. He should have lots of practical, general knowledge – a type of common sense in what to do in situations. He should not act quickly unless there is distress and his only purpose is to guide the city from a time of turmoil to a time of peace. What should citizens do in times of peace? They should take leisure and participate in activities of learning to that they can become more wise. They would be learning the craft of statesmanship, and that will be their only purpose in the true city.

This is what I can recount from my course so far. How fascinating to think that works of people who lived over one thousand five hundred years ago are still available for us to read today and apply to our problems?