Before proposing his own theory of government, Aristotle examines other theories of government and reviews existing constitutions of well-governed states. He begins with an extended criticism of Plato's ##Republic##, interpreting its main thrust to be that citizens should share in common as much as possible, including wives, children, and property. The goal of this community is to achieve as much unity in the city as possible, but Aristotle counters that the city involves an essential plurality: different people must make different contributions, fulfill different roles, and fit into distinct social classes. Otherwise, a city will not be able to perform the many functions necessary for it to remain self- sufficient.
Aristotle disapproves of Plato's suggestion that men share the women of the city and that children be taken from their mothers at birth and raised collectively in state nurseries. By this proposal, no child would receive proper parental care, and the lack of family ties would render citizens less capable of showing friendship and love. Aristotle also notes that Plato does not explain how children can be transferred between social classes without great discord.
Aristotle also attacks Plato's remarks on the community of property, stating that the practice of generosity, an important virtue, requires individual ownership of property. The problems people often associate with ownership of private property arise not from privatization but from human wickedness. The solution is to share education, not property. Aristotle also points out that Plato is not clear on exactly what kind of ownership the farming class should have over its property. In any case, Aristotle finds none of the possible kinds of ownership satisfying.
In a final comment on Plato's republic, Aristotle notes that it is dangerous to leave the governance of the city entirely in the hands of one class. Besides, Plato's system seems to deprive the guardian class, and by extension the whole republic, of happiness, thus defeating the purpose of association.
Aristotle then details the faults he has found with Plato's Laws: (1) Plato's proposed city requires a vast territory but makes no provision for safe relations with neighbors; (2) generosity, like temperance, should be a guiding principle regarding wealth; (3) Plato says that land should be divided into even lots and distributed evenly between citizens but makes no allowance for fluctuations in population; and (4) Plato seems to want a politeia, or balanced constitutional government but ends up with an oligarchy.
Aristotle then criticizes the theories proposed by Phaleas of Chalcedon and Hippodamus of Miletus. Phaleas's primary concern is the equalization of property, but he does not realize that material equality alone cannot make people good; rather, happiness arises out of moderation and education. Hippodamus's class distinctions are confused, his legal reforms unsavory, and his system of rewards dangerous.
Early in book one, Aristotle states, “for mankind always act in order to obtain that which they think good.” The wording of “they think” in his statement implies that humankind seeks “good” based on their subjective definition of the term. If humankind seeks what they think is good, it naturally falls that individuals will seek what they believe to be good for themselves, which then seems to lead naturally to the accumulation of coin because of its ability to bring material comforts.
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