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  • 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.