It is commonly asserted that the citizen is a common-sense beginning point for political analysis.(1) But is this true? At first glance, Politics 3.1 appears to suggest that Aristotle intends as the first order of business to be addressed is the concept of the citizen and who ought to be called a citizen (3.1.1274b41-75a1). It must be noted, the requirement to address the citizen first arises out of the assertion that "since the polis belongs among composite things, and like other composite wholes are made up of many parts, it is clear that the first thing that must be sought is the citizen; for the polis is a certain multitude of citizens" (3.1.1274b38-41).

Now it is true that a composite whole is made of parts, but Aristotle here "jumps the gun" and gives us the answer before we have examined the facts, that a polis or political community is a composite whole of citizen. The question here is whether this is a true start or is this another false start? The present section suggests that the inquiry into the polis by means of considering the concept of the citizen is indeed a false start, one that points to the concept that will be the central concern in order to be able to understand politics--i.e., the regime. But before we answer this question, let us examine more closely the discussion of the citizen that Aristotle presents at Politics 1.1-.5.

Aristotle's Use of The Citizen

Aristotle opens the investigation of the citizen with the claim that "There is often much dispute about the citizen, for not everyone agrees that the same person is a citizen" (3.1.1275a2-3). He goes on to say that who is a citizen of one regime may not also be a citizen of another (3.1.1275a3-4).

This poses an interesting problem. If the concept of the citizen defines political activity then the definition of a citizen should not be regime-dependent. Rather, the definition of the citizen should be an independent universal.(2) Since this is not the case [i.e., Aristotle holds the citizen to be relative to the regime and not wholly independant from it], one is forced to question, if not to reject, the view that the concept of the citizen is useful to understand political things. This is what I believe Aristotle ultimately intends in his discussion of the citizen in Politics 3. Thus, in showing the inadequacy of the concept of the citizen and its utter regime-dependency, he points to the centrality of the regime, or politeia, as the key concept to understand politics and human political systems. Yet, it is necessary to examine Aristotle's discussion of the citizen to further demonstrate this argument.

Let us return to the text of Politics 3.1. Aristotle goes on to narrow or to refine what we understand to be a citizen. First, he removes from consideration the honorary citizens (3.1.1275a4-6). He then denies that a citizen is one who inhabits a place. He says that "aliens and slaves are [also] partners in habitation" (3.1.1275a6-8). He then argues that being able to bring suit or to be subject to the laws also fails to define who is a citizen (3.1.1275a8-11). Aristotle claims that even in places where aliens are not able to bring suit directly, they are nevertheless able to do so through patrons or third parties. Thus they "share in this sort of association in an incomplete sense" (3.1.1275a11-14).

Aristotle continues to exclude those who are not citizens in the sense he intends to develop. The two examples of those who are not strictly citizens are children, "who are not yet enrolled because of age," and the elderly, "who have been relieved":

They must be admitted to be citizens in a sense, but not unqualifiedly, but rather with the addition of "incomplete" or "superannuated" or something else of this sort--it makes no difference, as what has been said is clear (3.1.1275a14-18).

The reason the above claim is so, Aristotle argues, is that "we are seeking the citizen in an unqualified sense, one who has no defect of this sort requiring correction, since questions may be raised and resolved concerning such things in the case of those who have been deprived of prerogatives or exiled as well" (3.1.1275a15-22). Aristotle defines a citizen in an unqualified sense as one who shares in decision making and in the public offices (3.1.1275a22-24). Thus, it could be said that the citizen is properly the one or the ones who rule the city.

On Offices

Next Aristotle digresses on the issue of political offices.(3) He says,

Some offices are divided on the basis of time, so that in some cases the same person is not permitted to hold them twice, or only after some definite period of time has passed; but other offices are indefinite, such as that of juror or assemblyman (3.1.1275a24-26).

He seems to be dividing political responsibility between specific offices, such as generalships or archonships and the more general responsibilities of citizenship, such as being a juror or attending the assembly. Aristotle then raises and answers a possible serious objection:

Perhaps someone might say that the latter are not rulers and do not share in office on account of these things; yet it would be ridiculous to deprive those with the greatest authority of office (3.1.1275a26-28).

The above implies that what truly defines a citizen is that he is the one who rules. But the distinction being made here is between types of offices: 1) those of specific duration and responsibilities and 2) those of indefinite duration and general responsibilities. About the latter, Aristotle says that this has been an "argument over a term" (3.1.1275a28). He says that "for what is common to a juror and an assemblyman lacks a name that could apply to both" (3.1.1275a29-30). Yet after saying this, he then creates a name. He creates a name, he says, for the sake of definition. He calls it an "indefinite office" (3.1.1275a30-31). Yet this name is not that helpful and is obvious from the distinction he previously made. Here ends the digression concerning offices.

It appears that the digression about offices is meant to point out the variety of offices and thus to broaden the notion of citizen as ruler--since being a ruler is more than holding the highest offices. Thus, his digression aims at the narrow perception of what it means to be a ruler and makes the reader realize that there is more to it than holding the prestigious offices. Citizens are those who are able to hold public offices, high and low.

The Citizen Revisited

Let us return to why it is assumed that Aristotle makes the notion of citizenship central to his understanding of politics. To do so, we again need to return to the beginning of Politics 3 where he begins the discussion of the citizen. The citizen must be investigated because the citizen is said to be the most important matter (hyle) which makes up the polis. For Aristotle claims that the polis is a composite whole and, as such, must be made of certain parts.(4) Those parts, he claims, are citizens (3.1.1274b40).

So, if we are to understand the whole, we need to examine the parts. But does Aristotle not argue this in Politics 1? There, Aristotle embarks on the same project, studying the whole in terms of its parts. But there, the parts in question are not citizens but rather the household, or oikos. Thus, the method of analysis appears to represent the same approach--to understand the whole, one needs to examine the parts--but the parts in question differ.

This leads to an interesting question. Did not the approach of Politics 1 fail? Clearly, the examination of the household fails in that the character of the household varies from regime to regime.(5) If this approach fails in Politics 1, what does it bode for the discussion of the citizen? Perhaps the discussion of the citizen is susceptible to the same fate--to be dropped in favor of a more useful concept, the regime. Let us continue the examination of the citizen and see if this occurs.

Defining The Citizen

After the digression concerning the offices, Aristotle states that "the citizen that fits best with all those who are called citizens is, therefore, something of this sort [i.e., those who hold offices, both determinate and indeterminate, and rule in the polis]" (3.1.1275a32). He then argues that the nature of the citizen as office-holder and ruler has a number of constituent elements, which "differ in kind" (3.1.1275a33-34). He calls one primary, another secondary, and another derivative (3.1.1275a34).

Also, Aristotle says that which is common to all the elements of what is a citizen is either "not present at all" or "only slightly present" (3.1.1275a35). This suggests that what really makes a citizen can be understood neither in terms of its parts nor in terms of who is a citizen, but rather as something else. Yet that something else is not yet mentioned by Aristotle.

Next, Aristotle notes that regimes differ "from one another in kind" (3.1.1275a35). Notice that he brings into the issue the variety of regimes. How does this address the issue of who is a citizen? Could the changing nature of regimes point to how we are to understand not only who is a citizen but what is a citizen? The answer to this question is yes, it does. How it does, however, will be shown as we continue to follow Aristotle's argument.

On the variety of regimes, Aristotle says some regimes are prior and others posterior (3.1.1275a36). He then makes the assertion "for those that are errant and deviant must necessarily be posterior to those that are without error" (3.1.1275a36-b1). Although this brings up the issue of deviant and correct regimes, he immediately drops the issue. He says that it "will be made evident later" (3.1.1275b1-2).

Following this apparent digression concerning the variety of regimes, he then offers the key reason that the concept of the citizen is regime dependent. The reason that the regime is so central to the issue of citizenship is that "the citizen must necessarily differ in the case of each sort of regime" (3.1.1275b3). In other words, who is a citizen changes from one regime to another. Thus, the concept of citizenship presupposes the concept of the regime. Therefore, Aristotle arrives at the main point about the defectiveness of the concept of citizenship, it is regime-dependent. So, once one knows the regime type, one will most likely know to some extent who will be and who will not be a citizen.

However, the following sentence is troubling and thus reinforces the case that the argument about the citizen necessarily presupposed the regime: "Accordingly, the citizen that was spoken of [earlier] is a citizen above all in a democracy; he may, but will not necessarily, be a citizen in the other [regimes]" (3.1.1275b4-6). The above statement is troubling in that the earlier definition of a citizen, as one who not only holds the highest offices but also sits on juries and the assemblies (cf. 3.1.1275a22-31), was most like the citizen of a democratic regime.

Thus, could it be that the whole discussion of the citizen is now made questionable, in that it appears that the discussion of the citizen and his status within the polis was unknowingly contaminated or derived from a democratic perspective? Since citizenship and its authority will vary from regime to regime, the prior account of the citizen must now be doubted.

Aristotle, following this point, goes on to show how regimes differ concerning the scope of responsibilities of their citizens. He says,

In some [regimes] there is no people [multitude], nor is an assembly recognized in law, but [only a consultative meeting of specially] summoned persons, and cases are adjudicated by groups. In Lacedaemon, for example, different overseers try different cases involving agreements, the senators those involving murder, and another office perhaps others; and it is the same in the case of Carthage, where certain offices try all cases. But the definition of the citizen admits of correction (3.1.1275b6-13).

It is the last sentence that again hits the point of the regime dependency of who and what is a citizen: "But the definition ... admits of correction." Concerning how citizenship differs in various regime, Aristotle continues.

In the other regimes, it is not the indefinite ruler who is assemblyman or juror, but one whose office is definite. For of these either all or some are assigned to deliberate and to adjudicate, either concerning all matters or concerning some (3.1.1275b13-17).

Here he argues that in some regimes a citizen is narrowly construed as he who holds the authoritative offices. Thus, the earlier distinction between definite and indefinite offices is now shown to be wholly regime dependent.

Could that earlier discussion refer to democratic regimes? Surely that would agree with the claim that the earlier notion of the citizen was utmost a democratic citizen (3.1.1275b4-5).

Cleaning it Up

Aristotle ends Politics 3.1 with clearing up the above confusion and sets forth his definition of the citizen qua citizen--regardless of the regime.

Who is a citizen, then, is evident from these things. Whoever is entitled to participate in an office involving deliberation or decision is, we can now say, a citizen in this polis (3.1.1275b17-18).

This definition only addresses what is a citizen, it does not answer who is a citizen. Who is a citizen depends on the regime. Yet after giving the final definition of what is a citizen, Aristotle does not conclude the discussion, but also gives the definition of what was promised at the beginning of chapter 1: what is the polis? He says that "the polis is the multitude of such persons that is adequate with a view to a self-sufficient life, to speak simply" (3.1.1275b18-20).

Aristotle's giving the definition of the polis right after giving the final definition of "what is a citizen" appears only to be tying up loose ends. This is so because the definition of the polis is nowhere argued or discussed, but rather merely asserted as true. It also appears that this statement is to be merely believed and adhered to without inquiry. Could it be that the argument regarding the polis, although not developed in this chapter, echoes the argument regarding the citizen in this chapter, that it is also regime-dependent? The present contention is that this is the case, and I shall develop Aristotle's unspoken case for the polis.

The Citizen, Continued

Given what we saw in Politics 3.1, one would think that Aristotle has finished with the citizen and he would now turn to the regime, which defines not only the citizen but also the city. Yet chapter two of Politics 3.2 continues on the subject of the citizen. Why does Aristotle go on?

If the discussion of the citizen is a false start like the other false starts of Politics 1 and 2, why does he continue on this subject? The use of the citizen to open Book 3 is even more interesting given the fact that Aristotle has pointed to the central concept of his understanding of politics--the regime--in chapter one. So why continue one false start with another false start?

Yet, perhaps this continuation of one false start with another echoes the relation of Books 1 and 2, both false starts? I suggest that it does. But, if so, why does Aristotle begin Politics 3 with a false start? Could it be that he does this to force us not to come to any easy conclusions but instead to force us to think through the arguments made and to reason concerning their validity, as well as their usefulness?

Curtis Johnson argues that the following four chapters--Politics 3.2-5 will address "difficulties" with the concept of citizen. The first difficultly concerns how citizenship is usually transmitted, in practice, through citizens' parents and how this practice leads to a question about whether the earliest ancestors--the creators of cities--can be said to have been citizens. The second difficulty deals with the status of citizenship that was gained through a revolution. The third difficulty is the relationship between the good man and the good citizen. Finally, the fourth difficulty addresses the issue of whether the vulgar, or laboring, classes (banausoi) are to be considered citizens.(6) Johnson's outline of what will be done in the next four chapters of Politics 3 is generally correct. He is also correct in noting that these chapters "raise serious difficulties." However, he errs in assuming that these difficulties would cause even more serious problems "both for the student of politics, since fundamental principles of theory are at stake, and for the statesman, since correct answers to them could have a great impact upon policy."(7) The reason that there is such a difficulty with any universal or complete definition of a citizen is that both who a citizen is and what his powers are within the given political community will vary from regime to regime. In other words, the reason that the citizen is not the real starting point of a universal examination of politics is that citizenship is radically relative to the regime. To be able to discuss citizenship one needs first to know the regime. Yet Aristotle does not approach it this way. Rather, he begins Politics 3 with a discussion of the citizen and then of the regime. To comprehend why he does this we will have to examine the next four chapters which continue his discussion of the citizen even after one comes to understand that it is defective without first discussing the regime.(8)

Beginning with Opinion: Redefining The Citizen

In turning to chapter two, one sees that the continued discussion of the citizen starts with common opinion. Common, or so-called informed, opinion provides a certain view as to whom will be understood to be a citizen. It holds that one whose "parents are both citizens, and not just one, whether the father or the mother; and some go even further back, seeking two or three or more [generations of citizen] forbears" (3.2.1275b21-23). Notice that although the requirement of citizenship may vary greatly, the granting of citizen status is for the most part transferred to one via birthright.

This quotation explicitly addresses the issue of citizenship by birthright. Yet, this also varies greatly by regime. In some regimes, one is only a citizen if one is born of two citizen- parents. Other regimes may only require one. And still others may require two or more generations of citizen parents. Concerning this possible variety, Aristotle argues that the variance of one understanding over another is a "political and offhand definition" (3.2.1275b24).

In stressing the political nature of how citizenship is transferred via birthright, Aristotle cites an objection: "Some raise the question of how that third or fourth [generation ancestor] will have been a citizen" (3.2.1275b24-26). This objection attempts to raise doubts about how far one can trace citizenship. The objection is not intended to raise doubts about particular claims of certain citizens. It is a sound objection in that it hints at how a definition could have been in place when the polis was first arranged.

Also, the objection is of a particular kind. It arises from a competing notion of what defines citizenship. Thus, the criticism appears to be an objection to the oligarchic character of the demand that one needs to trace one's parental lineage to several generations of citizens. So it is not clear that such a requirement does not favor one regime type over another, yet in some senses it might appear so.

Next, Aristotle mentions the comment of Gorgias of Leontini as an objection to what is being discussed. Gorgias had said, perhaps ironically, that "just as mortars are made by mortar makers, so Larisaeans are [also] made by craftsmen, since some of them are 'Larisa makers'" (3.2.1275b25-30). Gorgias' comment raises the issue of who makes or creates citizens by making the issue of the analogy to the arts.

As will be shown later, the crucial issue is whether the analogy of the arts is appropriate for understanding political things. Here, the analogy of the arts is raised by Aristotle in his discussion of Gorgias to show the absurdity of such an analogy between crafts and citizens. For the creation of citizens is not strictly speaking an art or a craft but rather an act of procreation or of an assembly granting citizen-status to some former non-citizen.

Aristotle's answer to the question, who creates citizens, he claims, is a simple one:

If they shared in the regime according to the definition that has been given, they are citizens; for, at any rate it is impossible that the definition from citizen-father and citizen-mother should fit in the case of the first inhabitants or of the founders (3.2.1275b31-33).

Aristotle's clarification points out that the definition of citizenship by certain claims of heredity cannot be absolute since it could hardly apply to the originators of a political community. Although it may not apply to the founders or to the original inhabitants, it is nevertheless a useful definition.

Its utility excludes certain peoples' claim to citizenship and thus has the effect of limiting the numbers of citizen in a given regime. Such a understanding of the hereditary rights of citizenship is more likely to arise in one type of regime, i.e., oligarchy per se, than in another, i.e., democracy.

Aristotle makes explicit the political nature of the earlier claim of citizenship. He says, "perhaps more of a question is involved in the case of those who came to share in the regime after a revolution" (3.2.1275b34-35). He has already shown that the requirement of citizen parents could not apply to either the founder or to the original inhabitants. At this point in the text, he claims that he is going to show how revolutions--i.e., a change in regimes--will fare in light of this particular definition.

Aristotle then gives an example of how revolutions affect notions of citizenship. He notes that the citizens were "created in Athens by Cleisthenes after the expulsion of the tyrants; for he enrolled in the tribes many foreigners and alien slaves" (3.2.1275b36-38). Now Aristotle points out that "the dispute about these is not over who is a citizen, but whether [they are so] justly or unjustly" (3.2.1275b38-39). Yet there is something problematic with Aristotle's discussion of revolution here. Revolution or change (metabole) is talked about and brought up here in the context of the citizen and how a citizen is to be defined, but it is not really discussed at any serious length or in any depth. In fact, revolution or change is not seriously discussed until Politics 5. I am suggesting that there exists a limitation to the concept of citizenship regarding its utility to understand political behavior. This is to say, there is something radically missing from the concept of citizenship which prevents any serious understanding of revolutions or political change. And what is missing is a understanding of something which defines even the citizen and that concept is the regime.

A Question of Justice

In returning to the prior issue of a change in citizenship status, Aristotle brings up the issue of justice. If they, who are made citizens through the change, are unjustly citizens, would that not mean if justice were done, they would not be citizens? If so, then the question is exactly about who is and is not justly a citizen. The issue raised in this question regarding who is justly or injustly a citizen is what the whole question of who is and who is not a citizen is all about. Aristotle's next sentence makes this point: "yet a further question might be raised as to whether one who is not justly a citizen is a citizen at all, the assumption being that 'unjust' and 'false' amounts to the same thing" (3.2.1275b39-76a2).

Aristotle answers the above objection in a certain way:

But since we also see certain unjust rulers, whom we assert do rule but unjustly, and since the citizen is defined by a kind of office (for someone who participates in that sort of office is a citizen, as we said), it is clear that these, too, must be admitted to be citizens (3.2.1276a2-5).

Yet is this the case? Clearly one type of regime would agree and another would not. In fact this view would say that once a change has occurred, that is the way it is. Leo Strauss once distinguished between the patriot and of the partisan.(9) The above view is clearly the view of the patriot and not the partisan in that it does not defend or attack the particular action; it merely affirms it as though it were always the way things were done. Yet Strauss argues that the viewpoint of the partisan is more true in that he realizes that there was in fact a change in policy and that change is either good or bad.(10) Thus, the partisan would object to the above explanation by saying that by the aforementioned act the definition of who is a citizen has changed and thereby the regime has also changed.(11)

The Citizen and Revolution

Whereas Politics 3.2 ends on the question of revolution, Politics 3.3 begins with that question. The concern was the way in which revolution affects one's understanding of who is a citizen. The concern about revolution seems to address whether one is a citizen justly or unjustly. Yet, it appears this question "touches on the dispute mentioned previously" (3.3.1276a6-7). The previous dispute is the dispute addressed at Politics 3.1.1274b34-35, concerning whether the polis or the rulers, i.e., the oligarchs or the tyrants, performed some action. This raises the question implicitly, of who is--or more correctly--who represents the polis, or the political community.

On one level, the question appears to have been resolved in Politics 3.1, since the polis is a composite whole made up of citizen parts and also since citizens are claimed to be those in authority and who rule in a given political community. Therefore, it is reasonable to hold the citizens responsible for the actions of the city. The issue of who is responsible is highly prespectival--in that it appears to vary with the different prespectives from which one examines the question.

From outside, in the so-called international arena and in the given political community, there is a tendency to anthropomorphize political entities and to speak as if they are capable of self-action and are thus responsible. This problem arises from seeing the political community act as though it were not a composite whole but rather an organic whole, capable of self-motion. Although this view is inaccurate, it is not unreasonable in that, if political entities were not held accountable, then assessing responsibility could become an endless game of "passing the buck."

But the tendency to anthropomorphize political communities in the realm of actions among differing political communities is common-sensical. Also, it may be useful in examining political communities per se. But political communities are not self-actualizing agents. They are tools of those who rule. Because political communities are not autonomous agents, the question again must be raised--who is responsible for the action of the political community? The opening of Politics 3.3 reopens this question.

Who is Responsible?

Concerning this question, Aristotle argues:

For some raise the question of when the polis performed an action and when it did not--for example, at the time when a democracy replaces an oligarchy or tyranny. At these times, some do not want to fulfill agreements [previously made by those rulers] on the grounds that it was not the polis but the tyrant who entered into them, or many other things of this sort (3.3.1276a7-12).

Aristotle then says that "the assumption" underlying this argument is that "some regimes exist through domination and not because they are to the common advantage" (3.3.1276a12-13). Actions are attributed to the particular rulers and not to the polis because it is assumed that only actions taken for the common advantage are true actions performed by the polis, whereas actions not taken for the common advantage are actions performed by various rulers through domination. Yet Aristotle says this view of the relationship of the actions of rulers and the action of the political community is a democratically biased one.

Aristotle then suggests that democratic regimes may also rule not for the common advantage (3.3.1276a14). Given this, Aristotle argues that the action of the democracy "must be admitted to belong to the polis in just the same way as the actions of the oligarchy or the tyranny" (3.3.1276a14-16). What is odd about this statement is that it appears to ignore the fact that the earlier position seemed to be claiming that if the actions performed were not intended for the common advantage then those actions were not performed by the polis (or political community) but rather by the rulers. Given this understanding, the rulers and not the city should be held accountable for those unjust actions. Yet the position now seems to be that because democratic regimes also rule not to the common advantage all acts not for the common advantage, regardless of the type of regime are to be held as actions performed by the polis. Again this view is odd.

Because democratic regimes can act contrary to the common advantage does not demand that the earlier claim--that only acts for the common advantage are acts of the polis--be disregarded. This claim only required one to accept the many or the poor as equally capable of misrule as the tyrant and the oligarchs. Instead, Aristotle seems to disregard this distinction in favor of the view that the action of the rulers is also the action of the political community, and that there can be no real distinction.

What Justifies?

The qualification or distinction between actions for the common advantage and those that are not appears to be dropped and not addressed. Instead, the view turns out to be that all actions of the rulers of a political community are to be understood to be actions of the political community itself. On one level this answer seems again to raise, as well as to answer, an important question, what is the polis. Indeed, the rest of Politics 3.3 addresses the specific question, what is the polis?

Since the above question was addressed earlier, any further examination of this chapter would be redundant. But before we turn to the next chapter, in which Aristotle once again raises the issue of the citizen, the end of this chapter resolves the reason for the discussion about the distinction between acts for the common advantage and acts not for the common advantage. They appear to justify non-compliance or at least give a reason one many rightly disobey political authority. The justification for non-compliance or disobedience is pointed to at Aristotle's statement at the end of the chapter, when he observes that "whether it is just to fulfill or not to fulfill [agreements] when the polis undergoes revolution into another regime that is another argument" (3.3.1276b13-15). In doing this, Aristotle links political legitimacy and justice and in doing so he also links the specifics of political obilgation to the type of regime one is dealing with. Thus it is reasonable not to obey oligarchic political obligations when after a revolution has made the regime democratic. The opposite is also true.

So the distinction between legitimate and illegitimate actions deals more with the issue of regime type rather than the relative justice of given actions. Therefore the real issue being addressed is "who is responsible or accountable for the acts of the ruler?" It is the ruler? Or is it the polis? The answer given seems to be that the whole political community is responsible, even if those acts are illegitimate. The reason this is the case is tied to the fact that the rulers are interrelated to that which gives particular form to the political community and what gives form to a political community is the regime.

In one sense, it could be argued that Aristotle delays consideration of the legitimacy question in the immediate context. Yet his delaying of the legitimacy question seems at the same time not to come to terms with the fact that he does not really ever answer that question. If Aristotle ever did address the legitimacy question he did so indirectly through his assertion that all actions taken are actions by the political community. This does not deny that they are also the actions of the rulers, who are also accountable. Yet the actions of the rulers and the actions of the polis are said to be one. So Aristotle returns us to the earlier common-sensical view.

The Good Citizen vs. the Good Man

Politics 3.4 is generally held to be a very important chapter in Aristotle's political thought. Here, it is said, is where Aristotle recognizes the tension between the good citizen and the good human being--or said as explicitly by George Anastaplo, the tension between human being and citizen.(12) In Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics 5.3.1130b27-29, he also refers to this tension between the good man and the good citizen, but there he clearly asserts that "being a good man is not the same as being every sort of good citizen" (NE 5.3.1130b28-29). He says this in response to a question which will be examined later in the Nicomachean Ethics, "whether the education that makes one an unconditionally good man is the task for political [science] or for another science." Given the thrust of the question and the distinction between the good man and the good citizen, the solution to this dilemma stems from this tension. Also, in many ways, NE 5.3.1130b27-29 sums up Politics 3.4 in a clear and matter-of-fact manner. But it is better to demonstrate this than merely to assert it, so let us examine Politics 3.4.(13)

Although it is true that Aristotle, as early as Politics 3.1, points to the dependence of the definition of citizen on the regime, he continues his investigation of the citizen. At Politics 3.4, we get an interesting tension, as is commonly argued, between the excellence, or virtue (arete), of a citizen and the excellence or virtue, of a human being (anthropos). Let us examine what Aristotle does in this chapter to see 1) if the traditional view of the tension between human being and citizen holds true to what the text actually says, and 2) if Aristotle again makes the argument for the greater importance of the regime to that of the citizen.

The Serious Citizen

Aristotle opens Politics 3.4 by stressing the difference between the good citizen and the good human being (3.4.1276b16-18). Yet to be more accurate, the tension in the text is between the good man (andros) and the serious (spoudaios) citizen (3.4.1276b17). Aristotle argues that the opposition between the excellence of the two is to be understood in relation to what has been said previously about the citizen (3.4.1276b18). So he asks a question about these two excellences and that question is whether these excellences are "to be regarded as the same or not as the same" (3.4.1276b18). Yet before we can address this question, Aristotle asserts that we must grasp "the excellence of the citizen ... in some sort of outline" (3.4.1276b19). He then gives an account of the excellence of the citizen.

Aristotle begins the outline of the excellence of the citizen in terms of an analogy to a sailor on a ship. "Just as a sailor is one of a number of associates so, we assert, is the citizen" (3.4.1276b19-20). He then attempts to further the relationship between the two by the following statement:

Although sailors are dissimilar in their capacities (one is a rower, another is a pilot, another a lookout, and others have similar sorts of titles), it is clear that the most precise account of their excellences will be that peculiar to each sort individually, but that a common account will in a similar way fit all (3.4.1276b21-26).

Thus, Aristotle says that although certain sailors have specific functions but their specific functions differ in terms of their contribution to the common enterprise in terms of which they are associates: i.e., they are all sailors nevertheless. Thus what they have in common is that they all together operate the ship. This is true in spite of the great variety among them regarding their particular purposes in operating that ship. And the interrelation of their actions is made even more explicit when Aristotle argues that their common purpose is more specifically "the preservation of the ship in its voyage" (3.4.1276b25-27). This common purpose is something, Aristotle claims, that "each of the sailors strives" for (3.4.1276b27).

Aristotle then applies this analogy to the citizen. He says, "similarly, although citizens are dissimilar, preservation of the association [koinonia] is their task, and the regime is their association [or community]; hence the excellence of the citizen must necessarily be with a view to the regime" (3.4.1276b28-30). To clarify this contnetion, Aristotle says that the excellence of a citizen is relative to his particular regime, as is evident when Aristotle continues:

If, then, there are indeed several forms of regime, it is clear that it is not possible for the excellence of the serious (spoudaios) citizen to be a single, or complete excellence (3.4.1276b30-33).

Given the variety of regimes, there cannot be a common excellence of the serious (spoudaios) citizen, because regimes differ as to how they understand or claim to understand what and who is a citizen and what is the end to which the serious citizen strives.

Note that Aristotle does not speak, as it is commonly assumed by most commentators on this chapter, about the good (agathos or kalos) citizen; rather he speaks about the serious (spoudaios) citizen. How does this different term affect what Aristotle is speaking about? It is not clear, at this point of the argument, how the change in terms alter the argument Aristotle is making in any perceivable fashion. Given this, let us return to the text.

The logic of what Aristotle has been arguing is leading to the view that it is not necessary that the serious citizen and the good man possess the same excellence. But let us look at what Aristotle says exactly:

That it is possible for a citizen to be serious (spoudaios) yet not possess the excellence in accordance with which he is an serious man (spoudaios andros), therefore, is evident (3.4.1276b33-35).

Notice that Aristotle does not speak of the good (agathos or kalos) man (andros) but the serious (spoudaios) man. Also notice that he refers to man as andros and not anthropos. Man is man and not human being (i.e., he is gender specific). Thus, the tension appears to be between the serious citizen and the serious man and not the good citizen and the good human being.

The Serious vs. The Good

Why does Aristotle use serious (spoudaios) rather than good (kalos or agathos) as the term describing both the view of man and the citizen discussed here? Is Aristotle trying to separate the distinction here between citizen and man from an argument about the best (aristos) and thus by implication from an argument about the moral excellences? Yet Aristotle speaks of excellences in relation to the serious citizen and to the serious man. Why does he do so? Is this an attempt to point to the relative character or excellence, politically speaking, to the variety of regime types, which promulgate differing understandings of what is best and hence of the most choiceworthy? Could the use of serious (spoudiaos) point to a peak or an excellence of function and thus be similar to excellence or virtue (arete) in this specific usage?

Liddell and Scott say that spoudaios, when speaking of persons, can mean 1) earnest or serious, 2) good or excellent, 3) of character or importance, or 4) morally good. Of things, spoudaios can mean 1) worthy or worth one's serious attention or 2) weighty.(14) They seem to suggest that spoudaios understood as good or excellent was not meant in Aristotle's use of this term. Rather, Aristotle seems to use it in the first sense, as someone or something that is earnest or serious. I will use serious because it stresses not only that the person or thing is worthy of attention but it also deals with serious, weighty, or important matters of concern which are to be understood as essential for living well. Also, Francis Sparshott uses serious for spoudaios. He says,

This sometimes and principally means approaching the relevant activity seriously and in earnest rather than playfully, but may also mean being the kind of person who is to be taken seriously, a respectable or conventionally virtuous one. Aristotle seems to exploit the ambiguities.(15)

However, contemporary translators of Aristotle's Politics and Nicomachean Ethics do not use serious for spoudiaos. In general, they prefer excellent.(16) Yet to do so is problematic in that it overly stresses the connection to arete, which is properly translated as virtue or excellence. To translate spoudiaos as excellent is to imply that such a person or thing actualizes arete, which Aristotle does not do; he rather keeps the relation ambiguous. Therefore, to translate spoudiaos as serious leaves the relationship between spoudiaos and arete more properly ambiguous than it would if one translated it as excellent.

In returning to where Aristotle left off concerning his discussion between the serious man and the serious citizen, he now introduces the best regime to the argument. He does this by attempting to raise "questions in a different manner" and, by doing so, he claims, "the same argument can be made concerning the best regime" (3.4.1276b36-37):

For if it is impossible for a polis to consist entirely of serious ones (spoudaion), yet if each should perform his own work well, and this [means] out of excellence, there would still not be a single excellence of the citizen and the good man, since it is impossible for all the citizens to be similar (3.4.1276b37-77a1).

In other words, since it is impossible to have a polis wholly consisting of serious persons, the best one will get is that each individual achieves his or her peak performance in whatever function or role he has in the community. Achieving individual peaks is the most that is reasonable because "it is impossible for all citizens to be similar." Since citizens are different, individual peaks are the most that is possible in regard to excellence (arete). Thus, there can be no single excellence of citizens because, not only citizens differ, but regimes also do.

It is the second reason, more than the first, which makes the case that there can be no single excellence of the citizen. However, the first reason points out why even in a given regime there might not be a single excellence of the citizens. The mere fact of variety of citizens precludes the possibility. Now what about regimes where the citizens are few in number? Could this be where there is a singular excellence of the citizen? Aristotle does not raise this issue. By not addressing this issue, does Aristotle point to the fact that the first reason is not as compelling as the second, i.e., the variety of regimes, as to why there is no single excellence of the citizen?

The Serious Citizen vs. The Serious Man

Aristotle switches the terms again. Immediately prior to this point in the text, he spoke of the serious citizen and the serious man. Now, he speaks of the good man (3.4.1276b40-77a1) and the serious ones (or the serious multitude?) (3.4.1276b38). Earlier, the category of serious was applied to a particular type, but now it seems to apply to a multitude, or a group. Also, the switch to good man implies the peak of moral excellence. So the usual tension between the peak of human excellence, in terms of human beings per se, and the citizen of a given regime seems stark and insoluble.

In his continuation of the example from the best regime, Aristotle says,

The excellence of the serious citizen must exist in all, for it is necessarily in this way that the polis is serious, but this is impossible in the case of the excellence of the good man, unless all the citizens of a serious polis are necessarily good men (3.4.1277a1-4).

Notice that Aristotle speaks not of the best regime but of the serious polis (3.4.1277a2-3). He says that if the polis is to be serious the excellence or virtue of the serious citizen must be possessed by all citizens. Yet he then says that the same is not possible concerning the excellence of the good man, unless "all the citizens of a serious polis are necessarily good men" (3.4.1277a4). So if all the citizens of the serious polis are good men, then it is possible for the excellence of the serious citizen of the serious polis to be the same as the good man.

The serious citizen is the one who possesses or approximates the regime's understanding of excellence--i.e., the best way of life for that regime. Thus, the serious citizen is the perfect model of a citizen for that given regime. Also, given the variety of regimes, each differing regime will promote its model of a serious citizen. Therefore, a serious citizen in one regime may not be so in another. In explaining it this way, the adjective describing the citizen, serious (spoudaios), is used instead of good (agathos and kalos) because the concept of seriousness of the citizen is radically relative to each given regime type. Aristotle, in describing the relativity of political excellence, does not also imply that excellence simply (inclusive of moral and intellectual excellences) is likewise relative. To be serious is to achieve the peak of the given regime but not of the best regime simply.

Now, the above discussion about the serious polis requires a distinction between it and the best regime. The only way the serious polis and the best regime are one-and-the-same, is when all the citizens are good men. Concerning this point, Aristotle continues,

Further, since the polis is made up of dissimilar persons--as an animal is made up of soul and body, for instance, of reason and desire and a household of man and woman and master and slave, in the same way a polis is made up of all these, and in addition to these it consists of other dissimilar kinds [of persons]--the excellence of all the citizens is necessarily not single, just as that of a head of a file leader in a chorus is not single. That it is not the same in an unqualified sense, therefore, is evident from these things (3.4.1277a4-13).

Aristotle reasserts that the political community is made up of "dissimilar persons" just as the household is. Yet Aristotle makes clear in Politics 1.1.1252a7-16 that the oikos and the polis are different in kind. Regardless of the difference in kind between the political community and the household, they are both composed of various elements or persons. Given this, the nature of the political community as composite whole must be understood to point to the plurality and the variety of the parts; and given the plurality and the variety of the parts, it makes sense that it is unlikely that there could be a single excellence of a citizen.

The Excellence of The Citizen--Prudence

After this line of argument, Aristotle raises a question:

But will there be some case, then, in which the excellence (arete) of the serious citizen and the serious man is the same? (3.4.1277a13-14)

This question appears to return us to the opening of Politics 3.4, to the question whether the excellence of the good man and the serious citizen is "regarded as the same or as not the same" (3.4.1276b15-17). Yet, the earlier dichotomy was between the good man and the serious citizen, whereas the current dichotomy is between the serious man and the serious citizen.

In pursuit of this question, Aristotle brings in the issue of the prudent (phromenos) ruler (archon).(17) He says,

We assert that the serious ruler is good (agathos) and prudent (phromenos), while the citizen is not necessarily prudent (3.4.1277a14-16).

Aristotle here seems to be distinguishing between ruler and citizen, far more than in his earlier definition of citizen, one who rules (in a variety of ways given the specific character of the regime) within the political community (3.1.1275b17-20). Carnes Lord adds "spoudaios" to citizen at Politics 3.4.1277a15, where the term is not there in the Greek text.(18) I argue that the relation must be not between the serious citizen and the serious ruler but, as the Greek literally says, between the serious ruler and the citizen, simply. Aristotle argues that the serious ruler (archon) is both good (agathos) and prudent.(19)

The Ruler

Let us return to where we left off at Politics 3.4. Aristotle continues,

Indeed, some say that the very education of a ruler (archon) is different, as is manifestly the case with the sons of kings who are educated to be expert in riding and in war; and when Euripides says "no subtleties for me, but what is needed for the polis," the assumption is that there is a certain education of a ruler (1277a16-20).

Notice that the above statement about the special education of the ruler is an opinion, as is evident by the "some say" used above. Further, Aristotle argues that this point of view is also an assumption about the education of the ruler. It is not all that clear that Aristotle, in the last analysis, holds that there is a certain type of education particular for rulers everywhere. It is likely that the type of education rulers are to obtain reflects the nature of the regime they rule.

Also, could the division between ruler and citizen likewise be an opinion and thus not an authoritative teaching? In other words, the division between ruler and citizen is one which will vary greatly by regime. In certain regimes, the differences between the two will be great; in other regimes, the differences between them will be either small or non-existent. Yet there has been a subtle switch in the theme being discussed here. It has switched from citizens, which has been the theme to this point of the text and the three previous chapters, and, now, the ruler.

Notice that the issue of education raised or, more correctly, asserted above is suddenly dropped. What Aristotle does next is to propose a hypothetical situation:

If the excellence (arete) of the good (agathos) man (andros) is the same, and if one who is ruled is also a citizen, then the excellence of a citizen and a man would not be the same unqualifiedly, but only in the case of a certain sort of citizen (3.4.1277a20-33).

In the above statement, Aristotle sets up two conditions: 1) the excellence of the good ruler and the good man is the same (3.4.1277a20) and 2) the "one who is ruled is also a citizen" (3.4.1277a22). The conclusion of these two premises is that the "excellence of a citizen and a man" will not be unqualifiedly the same, but only of a certain type of citizen (3.4.1277a23).

The tension in the conclusion is between citizen and man without the modification of "good" or "serious." In the next sentence, Aristotle gives the reason why the excellence of man and citizen is not unqualifiedly the same. They are not the same because "the excellence of a ruler and a citizen is not the same" (3.4.1277a23-24). But this is simply an assertion of an answer to the question asked without demonstrating it. The answer is a tautology--i.e., the reason "such-and-such" is so is because "such-and-such" is so.

The Example of Jason

To support the assertion that the excellence of the ruler and that of citizen is not the same, Aristotle gives the example of Jason: "that it was perhaps for" the difference of being citizen and ruler that Jason "said he was hungry except when he was tyrant, as one who did not know how to be a private person" (3.4.1277a24-25). But the example of Jason is too extreme, in that he is a tyrant and tyranny is a regime where one is the absolute and complete ruler. Also, in tyranny there would be only two types of citizen: 1) the tyrant himself and 2) those who are tyrannized over. But is this difference not the very distinction between citizen and subject, rather than that of the differing degrees of citizens?

To repeat, at Politics 3.4.1277a22 Aristotle offers a premise that one who is ruled is also a citizen. Yet is this always true? In Politics 3.1, Aristotle defined the citizen as one who is capable of deliberating, adjudicating, and holding both the high and the low ruling offices of the political community. He also defined a citizen as the one who rules in a given political community. These two definitions are the same. Finally, Aristotle said at 3.1 that there are also those who are too young to be citizens or who are too old to continue to be citizens. Of these, he said that they are incompletely citizens or that they "share in this sort of association [koinoina] in an incomplete sense" (3.1.1275a11-14).

Another way that the example of Jason may not be fitting is that Jason's inability to be a private person may reflect more upon the defect of his character, and likewise the character of all tyrants, rather than upon the nature of a ruler as distinguished from the nature of the citizen. Again, the example of Jason points more to the problem of those who seek power or rule, rather than to the character of rulers generally speaking.

The Various Forms of Rulers and Ruled

In an attempt to clarify what he has said above, Aristotle states:

At the same time, the capacity to rule and be ruled is praised, and the excellence [arete] of a citizen of reputation is held to be the capacity to rule and to be ruled finely (3.4.1277a25-26).

Aristotle switches the discussion of the excellence of the ruler, such as Jason--who can never be a private person, but only a ruler (or, in reality, a tyrant)--to one who cannot only rule but must also be ruled in turn. He speaks of this person as a "citizen of reputation," and it is said that not only does he rule finely but that he is also ruled finely. Aristotle once again brings into this consideration the good man:

Now, if we regard the excellence of the good man as being a ruling sort, while that of the citizen is both [of a ruling and a ruled sort], they would not be praiseworthy to a similar extent. Since both are sometimes held--that the ruler and the ruled ought to learn different things and not the same, and that the citizen must know both sorts of things and share in both--the next step becomes visible (3.4.1277a26-32).

So, if the excellence of the good man is only to be understood as being of the ruling sort and not of the ruled sort, then the excellence of the good man and the citizen cannot be the same because the citizen seems to be of both a ruling and a ruled sort.

On the other hand, the above statement seems to ignore the fact that regimes differ and because they do, who citizens are, and the nature of their character, will also differ. Also, the description of the citizen who is both ruled and rules is of a particular type of regime and not true for all regimes--e.g., the tyrant can't cease being the ruler, because if he does he ceases to be the tyrant. Yet Aristotle does not seem to discuss this. Rather, he ignores the seemingly central role of the regime and speaks of the citizen as though citizenship itself would be universally the same in all regimes.

After stating the difference between the excellence of the good man, who must only be a ruler, and that of the citizen, who must be both, Aristotle curiously suggests that the next step in the argument "becomes visible." Following this statement, he brings into the discussion the example of the master (despotike)--a ruler of slaves:

There is rule of a master, by which we mean that connected with the necessary things. It is not necessary for the ruler to know how to perform these, but only to use [those who do]; the other [sort of knowledge] is servile (by the other I mean the capacity to perform the subordinate tasks of a domestic) (3.4.1277a33-37).

The implication is that there is a sort of division of labor regarding rulers, like masters; they leave a certain type of labor--the kind that is servile--to others. Rulers are concerned with more important and less servile tasks.

Aristotle then speaks of the various sorts of slaves. There are several sorts of slaves because there are correspondingly several different sorts of labor (3.4.1277a37-38) and "one sort is that done by menials: as the term itself indicates, these are persons who live by their hands; the vulgar artisan is among them" (3.4.1277a38-b1). Next, he discusses the artisans, noting that, because they labored with their hands, "among some peoples the craftsmen did not share in offices in former times." Yet denying the ruling offices to the artisans, he says, only occurred "prior to the emergence of the [the rule of the] people in its extreme form" (3.4.1277b1-3):(20)

The work of those ruled in this way should not be learned by the good man or the political [ruler] or the good citizen, unless he does it for himself out of some need of his own (for then it does not result in one person's becoming master and another slave) (3.4.1277b3-6).

The exception seems to imply that the good man or the good citizen can engage in servile labor only if he wants to and does so not for the sake of another--i.e., he does it for the fun of it. Yet, note that Aristotle, in claiming that the ruler and the good man should not learn certain servile things, includes the good (agathos) citizen, which seems to imply that there is a distinction between the good citizen and the citizen.

Earlier, the good citizen was said to be the model of the citizen of a given regime and thus the difference between the good citizen and the citizen was argued to be the extent to which the citizen falls short of the expectations of his regime. Yet this passage seems again to suggest that there is a greater distinction between the citizen and the good citizen. Indeed, the whole discussion of the good citizen, the serious citizen and the citizen himself may all be just a "wild goose chase," because the regime has yet to be discussed seriously and, without the regime, one cannot have a proper understanding of the citizen.

Rule Over Free Men

Aristotle then addresses the issue of the stock or breeding of the ruler. The above account of ruler and ruled seems to have been built on the assumption that the rulers were of a different stock than the ruled. He now speaks of another situation:

But there is also a sort of rule in accordance with which one rules those who are similar in stock, and free. For this is what we speak of as political rule, and the ruler learns it by being ruled--just as the cavalry commander learns by being commanded, the general by being led, and [similarly] the leader of a regiment or a company (3.4.1277b7-11).

In one sense, it was easy to forget that Aristotle was discussing the rule of slaves, and not politics itself. Yet the rule of slaves and of free men are different in kind, as he asserted in Politics 1.1. So in returning to political rule we find that the difference between ruler and ruled is not as stark as that between master and slave. It is more like the various other relations referred to earlier.

But in returning to political rule, Aristotle seems to suggest that the character of the particular form of rule itself seems to have been changed: "hence, this, too, has been rightly said--that it is not possible to rule well without having been ruled" (3.4.1277b11-13). Again, this goes along with the view that politics and mastery are fundamentally different in kind. Yet could it also suggest that ruling varies to the same degree as the definition and role of a citizen in the various regimes? Perhaps, but Aristotle states nothing explictly about this.

Aristotle then discusses how the excellence of rulers differs:

Excellence (arete) in these cases is different, but the good citizen should know and have the capacity both to be ruled and to rule, and this very thing is the excellence of a citizen--knowledge of rule over free persons from both [points of view] (3.4.1277b14-16).

The good citizen has an excellence that citizens aim to achieve and it is arrived at when a citizen knows how to be both ruler and ruled, and "both belong to the good man too, as well as whatever kind of moderation and justice is characteristic of ruling" (3.4.1277b17-18). So, ruling allows the exercise of additional excellences. Does this suggest a difference between the good man simply and the good man who also rules? Is the good man who does not rule inferior in excellence to the one who does?

Aristotle delineates rule's relationship to excellence:

For it is clear that an excellence (arete)--of justice, for example--would not be the same for [ruler and] ruled but [is for a] free person who is good (agathos), but [there exist] different kinds [of excellence] in accordance to which one will rule or [by which one will] be ruled, just as moderation and courage differ in a man and a woman (3.4.1277b18-22).

So the difference between ruler and ruled is merely one of variation and not radical in nature. This is important because political rule has to be understood in terms of ruling over people of a similar, although not the same, character or composition as the one who rules.

Variations of Excellence

Does Aristotle's example of moderation and courage differing in man and women suggest the view that there exists a radical difference in the excellence of the ruler and the ruled? Contrary to most interpreters of this passage, who point it out as an example of Aristotle's sexism--arguing that because excellence differs between women and men, women are inferior--the oppositie position is substantiated by a careful reading of the text.

Aristotle clearly argues neither that women are inferior(21) nor that men are superior. He only argues that they are different and, because of their differences, how they exercise excellence or virtue will also differ. Yet this difference is only to be understood as one of degree and of neither substance nor kind:

For a man would be held a coward if he were as courageous as a courageous woman, and a woman talkative if she were as modest as the good man (3.4.1277b22-24).

Clearly, he does not imply inferiority; rather he argues that the particluar excellence varies by gender.

Aristotle indicates how this difference between men and women most likely arises: "rule of the household differs for a man and a women" (3.4.1277b24) in that it is man's role "to acquire" and woman's role "to guard" or preserve what was acquired (3.4.1277b24-25). The difference between a man's and a woman's rule in the household is evidently one of mere function and not of superiority. So the analogy to their respective excellences, and thus to the fundamental difference between man and woman, must also be in regard to function. However, Aristotle does not continue this line of argument; instead, he returns to the particular excellence of rule.

The Excellence of The Citizen Revisited

On ruling, Aristotle notes that "prudence is the only excellence peculiar to the ruler":

The others, it would seem, must necessarily be common to both ruler and ruled, but prudence is not an excellence of the one ruled, but rather of true opinion; for the one ruled is like a flute maker, while the ruler is like a flute player, the user [of what the other makes] (3.4.1277b25-29).

The example of flute maker and flautist is interesting. The one ruled is said to be like the maker and the ruler is said to be the user. However, must not the maker also possess the knowledge of the player to make a good flute? One would think so, but it is also possible not to know the art of playing and nevertheless to produce a playable flute.

The ruler must possess the ability to use what the ruled make. But who is more important, maker or user, ruled or ruler? Clearly, the user could not use the item without it's being made by the creator. Thus, the ruler is limited in his capacity to rule by those whom he rules. Therefore, the ruler, wishing to exercise prudence to its utmost, would need to rule over those like himself, or his ability to exercise prudence would be limited to the same degree as of the poor character of what he has to rule over is limited.

The Trail Taken So Far

Politics 3.4 ends with Aristotle's observing "whether the excellence (arete) of the good man and the serious (spoudaios) citizen is the same or different, then, and in what sense it is the same and in what sense different, is evident from these things" (3.4.1277b29-33). Yet it is not quite clear that it ever was. In one sense, as I have said above, this whole account seems to be a "wild goose chase," where serious, good, citizen, and ruler all seem to vary in meaning without the reader quite knowing why.

Although Aristotle does seem to show how the good citizen relates to the citizen, as the one who most fulfills the responsibilities that the regime requires, he leaves the reader to himself to follow the argument to its conclusion. He does this to force us to realize that the discussion of citizen, ruler, and ruled is by necessity incomplete without a comprehensive understanding of the regime within which they are functioning. Yet the regime has not been adequately discussed. So the reader has been brought "all over the place" only to realize that he is missing what he must have in order to address the issues raised in this chapter.

This raises, again, the key problem with Aristotle's treatment of the citizen as an independent and autonomous concept. His treatment of the citizen is problematic because there are as many understandings of who is a citizen as there are different regimes. So "who is a citizen?" and "what is a citizen?" are questions whose answer are contingent on Aristotle's teaching on the regime.

The Question of The Vulgar

Politics 3.5 ends Aristotle's discussion of the citizen. In this chapter, he addresses one of the last remaining questions on citizenship (3.5.1277b33):

Is he only truly a citizen to whom it is open to participate in offices, or are vulgar persons also to be regarded as citizens? (3.5.1277b33-35).

The earlier definition of citizen indicated was one who is able to participate in the ruling offices. Here, Aristotle asks if the vulgar are able to hold those offices. The assumed premise is that they cannot hold the ruling offices because of their status. So the question is phrased on the assumption that they will not hold the ruling offices yet still remain citizens. But if the vulgar are not ruling and are nevertheless considered citizens, the presumed definition of citizenship is evidently problematic:

For if those, too, are to be so regarded who have no part in offices, then such excellence (arete) cannot belong to a citizen, as this sort is then a citizen (3.5.1277b35-38).

Thus, if the vulgar are citizens, the excellence of the good man and the citizen cannot be the same. This issue was raised in Politics 3.4 and is again in this context because it is suggested that the vulgar are incapable of being good men.

The assumption of this whole question--as it is raised in Politics 3.5--is that the vulgar cannot be citizens. Yet, he asks, "on the other hand, if none of this sort is a citizen, in which class is each [sort] to be placed?" (3.5.1277b38-39). If the vulgar cannot rule, then who can? Aristotle is again pointing out that the issue of who is a citizen is radically dependent upon what type of regime one is dealing with. For who is a citizen changes from one regime to another, so it is possible that a certain type of regime does allow the vulgar to hold offices and others do not.

In this regard, Aristotle asks if "we shall assert that there is nothing odd about this, at least on the basis of this argument?" (3.5.1277b39-78a1), continuing:

Neither slaves nor freemen belong to those just mentioned. And this is true: not all those are to be regarded as citizens without whom there would not be a polis, since children are not citizens in the same sense that men are; the latter are unqualifiedly, but the former only by way of presupposition--they are citizens, but incomplete ones (3.5.1278a1-5).

The issue of who is and is not a citizen now seems akin to who is capable of ruling. The example of children is the clearest, in that children are not capable of ruling due to their immaturity as well as to their limited physical capacity.

Aristotle attempts to bolster this view by historical example. He says that "in ancient times among some [people] the vulgar element was slave or foreign, and for this reason many are such even now; but the best (aristos) polis will not make a vulgar person a citizen" (3.5.1278a5-8). In the best regime of Politics 7 and 8, Aristotle in fact follows this statement by 1) not having a free demos within his best polis and 2) by preventing them from holding the highest offices in the city. Yet later in Politics 3 he undermines this disenfranchisement of the vulgar as being "a matter of alarm" (3.11.1281b27-31). But, at this point in the text, he seems to argue that the best city will not have vulgar persons as citizens:

But if this sort is a citizen, the excellence of a citizen, as we have been discussing it at any rate, cannot be spoken of as belonging to everyone or even to every free person, but only to those who have been relieved of necessary sorts of work. Those who perform necessary services for one person are slaves; those who do so for the community (koinonia) are vulgar persons and laborers (3.5.1278a8-13).

The vulgar are evidently akin to slaves but differ in that they do not serve an individual but the whole community. Yet do not the rulers also serve the whole community? Are rulers also not able to escape necessary labor--although of a different kind? The explicit reason given for the exclusion of the vulgar seems to be potentially damaging to the view that even rulers can be good or serious persons. But Aristotle does not address this problem; rather, he moves on.

Aristotle continues his investigation whether the vulgar should be citizens by noting,

If we investigate a bit further from this point it will be evident how matters stand concerning these people. What has already been said will itself make this clear, one it is recalled (3.5.1278a13-14).

Carnes Lord argues that the above reference seems to agree with what has been spoken about the vulgar at Politics 1.8-9.(22) In those chapters of Politics 1, Aristotle speaks about acquisition and its relationship to the household and, as Lord notes, it is not quite clear what the relationship of his treatment of acquisition is to that of the vulgar. In those chapters of Book 1, Aristotle distinguishes between natural forms of acquisition and unnatural forms. Farming, as well as piracy, for example, are held to be natural forms, whereas banking and commerce are held to be unnatural. This suggests something different from a surface perception of what is said at 3.5, that the vulgar--as long as they are pursuing natural forms of labor--are not as base--if baseness is understood as behavior against nature--as assumed. But it is not all that clear that he is alluded to this.

Regime Relativity and The Vulgar

After Aristotle claims that what was said earlier about the vulgar will make clearer what was not being discussed, instead of pursuing it he now raises the issue of regime variance, noting that "since there are several regimes, there must necessarily be several kinds of citizen, and particularly of the citizen who is ruled" (3.5.1278a14-16). The multitude of regimes implies a multitude of types of citizens, especially those who are ruled:

Thus in one sort of regime the vulgar and the laborer must necessarily be citizens, while in others this is impossible--for example, in any of the sort [of regime] they call aristocratic, in which prerogatives are granted in accordance to excellence [arete] and merit; for it is impossible to pursue the things of excellence [or virtue] when one lives the life of a vulgar person or a laborer. In oligarchies, on the other hand, it is not possible for a laborer to be a citizen, for sharing in offices is on the basis of large assessments, but it is possible for a vulgar person, since many artisans become wealthy (3.5.1278a16-24).

It is even more clear that what type of regime one has defines who can and cannot be a citizen.

Therefore, the earlier attempts to discuss the citizen--apparently in the last five chapters--independent of an understanding of the regime leads to even more difficulties. One can be confused by the difference concerning citizenship in differing regimes and the lack of a single universal definition of citizenship. But the earlier claim that in the best polis the vulgar cannot be citizens reflects is the bias of those who claim to be aristocrats, but as we will see later their claim is highly problematic.

Aristotle continues his consideration of citizenship--with specific reference to the question of excluding the vulgar--by bringing up the historical examples of Thebes, which required those who were citizens to abstain from the market for ten years (3.5.1278b26). He also notes that, in other regimes, "the law pulls in even some foreigners; for one descended from a citizen mother is a citizen in some democracies, and it is the same way with bastards in many [regimes]" (3.5.1278a26-29). Yet in the next sentence Aristotle claims that this is done because there is a "lack of genuine citizens." Their citizenship laws are due to the existence of a manpower shortage in the given regime (3.5.1278b29-32). So, the granting of citizenship to foreigners and others is done out of the need to have more manpower--i.e., out of expediency--rather than for a principle inherent in the regime.

To prove this, Aristotle observes that when political communities are well off "in regard to numbers they gradually disqualify first those with a slave father or mother, then those with citizen mothers [but foreign fathers], and finally they make citizens only those with two native parents" (3.5.1278b32-34). However, this too would vary within different regimes. Could not the necessity for more manpower lead to giving the vulgar citizenship status and to a regime change--or revolution--into another regime? Elsewhere, Aristotle says it does.(23)

Aristotle returns to the claim that there are several kinds of citizens: "that there are several kinds of citizens, therefore, is evident from these things, as is the fact that one who shares in prerogatives is particularly spoken of as a citizen" (3.5.1278b35-37). In saying this, Aristotle returns to the earlier universal definition of citizen, one who shares in the prerogatives of the given regime. This definition of citizen seems to apply in all regimes, but it is too vague to allow one to discuss citizenshio in any detail without taking into account the specifics of the particular prerogative which the regime presupposes. He then gives an example from Homer's Iliad 9.648, 15. 59.--"Like some vagabond without honor" (3.5.1278b37)--to indicate that "For one who does not share in prerogatives is like an alien. But wherever this sort of thing is kept concealed, it is for the sake of deceiving the [excluded] inhabitants" (3.5.1278b37-39). Those who are citizens must share in the prerogatives of the city or else they are not, in fact, citizens. Yet who is a citizen is dependent upon what regime one is speaking about. This, yet again, emphasizes how dependent the concept of citizen is upon the regime, which, again, has yet to be adequately discussed.

Return to the Good Man and Serious Citizen

Aristotle ends Politics 3.5 by raising anew the distinction between the good man and the serious citizen:

As to whether [the excellence] which constitutes the good man and the serious citizen is to be regarded as the same or different, then it is clear from what has been said that in one sort of polis this person is the same and in another different, and that [even in the former sort] it is not everyone but the politician or statesman (politikos) and the one having authority or capable of having authority, either by himself or together with others, over the superintendence of common matters (3.5.1278a40-b5).

Here he adumbrates what the whole of chapter 4--that the good man and the serious citizen are the same in one type of regime and, even in that regime, only those who rule are to be understood as good men. Yet this raises the issue of what type of polis it would be in which the good man and the serious citizen were the same. Would it not be the best polis, or the best regime? This is what both Politics 3.4 and 3.5.1278a40-b5 imply.

But would not any discussion of the best regime require us to understand the concept of the regime, which up to this point has been mentioned but not yet fully discussed. If the end of Politics 3.5 raises the question of the best regime, it would then be necessary, before attempting to uncover what is in fact the best regime, to discuss the nature of the regime, as Aristotle does in Politics 6.

Reviewing Citizenship

In many senses the whole discussion of citizenship, of who is and is not a citizen, has been an attempt to make the reader of the text realize the importance of the regime to any understanding, not only of the citizen, but of politics itself. Throughout chapters 1 through 4, the entire question of citizenship has begged a discussion of the regime.

Yet Aristotle only begins a discussion of the regime after the discussion of citizenship. Because he did not raise the concept of the regime before he attempted to speak of citizenship there is much difficulty in his acount of citizenship. This is why so many critics are either befuddled by these chapters or take them out of context to advocate some notion of radical political participation. The latter is clearly alien to what Aristotle is trying to argue here. What he is rather trying to do is to reinforce the importance of the regime, which he will examine in the following chapters of Politics 3.


1. See Arendt 1958, Beiner 1983, and Lockyer 1988, 56-58. Nichols 1991, 55-61 to a limited extent also over emphasizes the importance of the citizen in Aristotle's political thought.

2. Some like Arendt (1958) and Beiner (1983) perceive Aristotle's understanding of citizenship as a method to propagate a notion of participatory politics.

3. See Johnson 1984, 75-76.

4. Aristotle's claims that the polis is a composite whole is something that is never contradicted in the whole of Aristotle's writings, so it must be understood that he holds this to be true. See Quinn 1986 an Saxonhouse 1993, 215-32.

5. Cf. 1.13.1260a8-24.

6. Johnson 1984, 81.

7. Johnson 1984, 81.

8. See Strauss 1978, 45.

9. Strauss 1989, 33-34 and 1978, 47-48.

10. Strauss 1989, 32-35.

11. See Strauss 1978, 45 and 47-48.

12. See Anastaplo 1975.

13. The only complete account which addresses Politics 3.4 in its own terms is Develin 1973. In many ways, my account, although differing significantly in many ways, nevertheless relies upon Develin's argument in several ways. Develin's account points out the excellence of the good or serious man differs from the excellence of the serious or good citizen in that the latter aims at the good of the political community, whereas the former aims at the good simply. However Develin's argument fails in two ways. 1) He does not give an adequate explanation why Aristotle distinguishes between the serious (spoudaios) and the good (kalos or agathos) in describing both human beings and citizens. It is not clear that Aristotle holds that the serious (spoudaios) and the good (kalos or agathos) are indeed one-and-the-same. 2) Develin also fails to address the problem that since man is a political animal, achieving the simply good for humans must be done within a political framework and that framework is usually understood as the best regime. Although, Develin does notice that the good man and good citizen will only be the same in the best regime, yet he does this--like many others--simply assumes a particular account of the good that is divorced from politics or rather is tied to a very narrow understanding of politics.

14. Liddell 1986, 741.

15. Sparshott 1994, 442.

16. See Irwin 1985, 424 and 399-400; and Lord 1984, 90-92.

17. Voegelin makes the argument that the key to undersand what spoudaios means in Aristotle is its connection to phronesis and the phronomos, the prudent person. See Voegelin 1990, 67-70 and 89-115.

18. Lord 1981, 91.

19. The discussion of prudence (phronesis) recalls the discussion of prudence at Nicomachean Ethics 6. It might be felicitous to look at what Aristotle says about prudence and its role in political action at NE 6.5, 6.7-6.8, and 6.10-6.13. Also for treatment of the role of prudence in Aristotle's political thought, see Voegelin 1990, 61-70, Berti 1993, Aubenque 1965, and Rhodes 1991.

20. Aristotle in Politics 3.15 give an account of how the arts arise within the city and how they affect politics. This discussion is called the history of regimes and it seems to support a view that suggests the opposite of the view spoke of here. In the discussion of the arts in Politics 3.15.1286b8-21, the rise of people rule seems to come from when the arts level out the differences of men and allow men to become more equal in their abilities. I discuss this point in more detail in chapter 3.

21. See Brown 1988 and Okin 1979, 73-96.

22. Lord 1984, 254, note 22.

23. See Politics 2.12.1274a12-15. There Aristotle says Solon's limited enfranchisement of the many is expanded due to the necessity of increasing the navy to save Athens by defeating the Persians.

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