Within the soul, Aristotle distinguishes a part that rules (reason) from a part that is not rational but that can be ruled by reason (feelings, passions, or qualities). Aristotle divides reason into practical and speculative aspects. The division of rationality into practical and speculative elements gives rise to the question of each element's relative value to the city, and it is a central tension in Politics. Aristotle has claimed that man is a political animal who gains full exercise of his reason only within the bounds of the city. This would seem to suggest that the practical reason of political activity is essential to man. Aristotle suggests, however, that both city and practical reason are only means to the ultimate end of happiness found through the practice of pure, speculative reasoning.

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