Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles THE GOOD CITIZEN We turn to Aristotle after examining theories, modern theories, of justice that try to detach considerations of justice and rights from questions of moral desert and virtue. Aristotle disagrees with Kant and Rawls. Aristotle argues that justice is a matter of giving people what they deserve. And the central idea of Aristotle's theory of justice is that in reasoning about justice and rights we have, unavoidably, to reason about the purpose, or the end, or the telos, of social practices in institutions. Yes, justice requires giving equal things to equal persons, but the question immediately arises, in any debate about justice, equal in what respect? And Aristotle says we need to fill in the answer to that question by looking to the characteristic end, or the essential nature, or the purpose, of the thing we're distributing. And so we discussed Aristotle's example of flutes; who should get the best flutes. And Aristotle's answer was the best flute-players. The best flute-player should get the best flute because that's the way of honoring the excellence of flute playing. It's a way of rewarding the virtue of the great flute-player. What's interesting though, and this is what we are going to explore today, is that it's not quite so easy to dispense with teleological reasoning when we're thinking about social institutions and political practices. In general it's hard to do without teleology when we're thinking about ethics, justice, and moral argument. At least that is Aristotle's claim. And I would like to bring out the force in Aristotle's claim by considering two examples. One is an example that Aristotle spends quite a bit of time discussing; the case of politics. How should political offices and honors, how should political rule be distributed? The second example is a contemporary debate about golf and whether the Professional Golfers Association should be required to allow Casey Martin, a golfer with a disability, to ride in a golf cart. Both cases bring out a further feature of Aristotle's teleological way of thinking about justice. And that is that when we attend to the telos, or the purpose, sometimes we disagree and argue about what the purpose of a social practice really consists in. And when we have those disagreements part of what's at stake in those disagreements is not just who will get what, not just a distributive question, but also an honorific question. What qualities, what excellences, of persons will be honored? Debates about purpose and telos are often, simultaneously, debates about honor. Now, let's see how that works in the case of Aristotle's account of politics. When we discuss distributive justice these days we're mainly concerned with the distribution of income and wealth and opportunity. Aristotle took distributive justice to be mainly not about income and wealth but about offices and honors. Who should have the right to rule? Who should be a citizen? How should political authority be distributed? Those were his questions. How did he go about answering those questions? Well, in line with his teleological account of justice, Aristotle argues that to know how political authority should be distributed we have, first, to inquire into the purpose, the point, the telos, of politics. So, what is politics about? And, how does this help us decide who should rule? Well, for Aristotle the answer to that question is, politics is about forming character, forming good character. It's about cultivating the virtue of citizens. It's about the good life. The end of the State, the end of the political community, he tells us in Book Three of the Politics, is not mere life, it's not economic exchange only, it's not security only, it's realizing the good life. That's what politics is for according to Aristotle. Now, you might worry about this. You might say, "Well, maybe this shows us why those modern theorists of justice, and of politics, are right". Because remember, for Kant and for Rawls, the point of politics is not to shape the moral character of citizens. It's not to make us good. It's to respect our freedom to choose our goods, our values, our ends, consistent with a similar liberty for others. Aristotle disagrees. "Any polis which is truly so called, and is not merely one in name, must devote itself to the end of encouraging goodness. Otherwise political association sinks into a mere alliance. Law becomes a mere covenant, a guarantor of man's rights against one another, instead of being - as it should be - a way of life such as will make the members of a polis good and just." That's Aristotle's view. "A polis is not an association for residents on a common site, or for the sake of preventing mutual injustice and easing exchange." Aristotle writes. "The end and purpose of a polis is the good life, and the institutions of social life are means to that end." Now, if that's the purpose of politics, of the polis, then, Aristotle says, we can derive from that the principles of distributive justice; the principles that tell us who should have the greatest say, who should have the greatest measure of political authority. And what's his answer to that question? Well, those who contribute the most to an association of this character, namely an association that aims at the good, should have a greater share in political rule and in the honors of the polis. And the reasoning is, they are in a position to contribute most to what political community is essentially about. Well, so you can see the link that he draws between the principle of distribution for citizenship and political authority and the purpose of politics. "But why," you'll quickly ask, "Why does he claim that political life, participation in politics, is somehow essential to living a good life?" "Why isn't it possible for people to live perfectly good lives, decent lives, moral lives, without participating in politics?" Well, he gives two answers to that question. He gives a partial answer, a preliminary answer, in Book One of the Politics where he tells us that only by living in a polis, and participating in politics, do we fully realize our nature as human beings. Human beings are, by nature, meant to live in a polis. Why? It's only in political life that we can actually exercise our distinctly human capacity for language, which Aristotle understands is this capacity to deliberate about right and wrong, the just and the unjust. And so, Aristotle writes in Book One of the Politics, that the polis, the political community, exists by nature and is prior to the individual. Not prior in time, but prior in its purpose. Human beings are not self-sufficient, living by themselves, outside a political community. "Man who is isolated, who is unable to share in the benefits of political association, or who has no need to share, because he's already self-sufficient, such a person must be either a beast or a god." So we only fully realize our nature, we only fully unfold our human capacities, when we exercise our faculty of language, which means when we deliberate with our fellow citizens about good and evil, right and wrong, just and the unjust. "But why can we only exercise our capacity for language in political community?" you might ask. Aristotle gives a second part, a fuller part, of his answer in the Nichomachean Ethics; an excerpt of which we have among the readings. And there he explains that political deliberation, living the life of a citizen, ruling and being ruled in turn, sharing in rule, all of this is necessary to virtue. Aristotle defines happiness not as maximizing the balance of pleasure over pain but as an activity, an activity of the soul in accordance with virtue. And he says that every student of politics must study the soul because shaping the soul is one of the objects of legislation in a good city. But why is it necessary to live in a good city in order to live a virtuous life? Why can't we just learn good moral principles at home or in a philosophy class or from a book, live according to those principles, those rules, those precepts, and leave it at that? Aristotle says virtue isn't acquired that way. Virtue is only something we can acquire by practicing, by exercising the virtues. It's the kind of thing we can only learn by doing. It doesn't come from book learning. In this respect, it's like flute playing; you couldn't learn how to play a musical instrument well just by reading a book about it. You have to practice, and you have to listen to other accomplished flute-players. There are other practices and skills of this type. Cooking; there are cookbooks but no great chef ever learns how to cook by reading a cookbook only. It's the kind of thing you only learn by doing. Joke-telling is probably another example of this kind. No great comedian learns to be a comedian just by reading a book on the principles of comedy. It wouldn't work. Now, why not? What do joke-telling and cooking and playing a musical instrument have in common such that we can't learn them just by grasping a precept or a rule that we might learn from a book or a lecture? What they have in common is that they are all concerned with getting the hang of it. But also what is it we get the hang of when we learn how to cook, or play a musical instrument, or tell jokes well? Discerning particulars, particular features of a situation. And no rule, no precept, could tell the comedian or the cook or the great musician how to get in the habit of, the practice of, discerning the particular features of a situation. Aristotle says virtue is that way too. Now, how does this connect to politics? The only way we can acquire the virtues that constitute the good life is to exercise the virtues, to have certain habits inculcated in us, and then to engage in the practice of deliberating with citizens about the nature of the good. That's what politics is ultimately about. The acquisition of civic virtue, of this capacity to deliberate among equals, that's something we couldn't get living a life alone outside of politics. And so, that's why, in order to realize our nature, we have to engage in politics. And that's why those who are greatest in civic virtue, like Pericles, are the ones who properly have the greatest measure of offices and honors. So, the argument about the distribution of offices and honors has this teleological character, but also an honorific dimension.