A new year, a new term, and new seminars: the postgraduates are doing Aristotle (De Anima III) and the faculty Sextus (Outlines II). Meanwhile, I’m working on my thesis on Plato, contemplating doing my third essay on the Stoics and Epicureans, and will be giving a comment on the Presocratic philosopher Melissus at a conference in St. Louis. There’s even a reading group on Augustine run by my colleague Tamer. So the next couple of months will be a tour of practically the whole of ancient philosophy.
At the moment, however, I’m returning to a paper I was working on last term on the unity of the city in the Politics. It’s a bit of a grab bag of ideas at the moment, and I want to cast a couple of them out into the aether to see if they’re any good. (I tried out a different angle in this earlier post.) The question I tackle in the paper is this: Aristotle says in the opening chapter of the Politics that he’s going to use his analytic method on the city, finding its incomposite parts and working out what their relations are to each other and to the whole; what is his answer? Instead of spelling out right away what the basic parts of the city are, Aristotle next tells a genealogical story (I.2) about how the city, the political community, comes to be from smaller communities, the village, the household, and the basic dyadic communities of male-female and master-slave. He starts I.3 by stating that it should be clear by now that the city is made up of households, and while he repeats this claim elsewhere (in IV.3, for instance), there’s also plenty of evidence that he conceives of individuals, especially citizens, as parts of the whole that is the city (III.1, VII.8, etc.). So which is it? Quite a lot rides on what we make of his analysis, since the ‘organicist’ interpretation of Aristotle, that is, the interpretation of the city as a natural whole of which we are organs, has led some interpreters (for instance, Jonathan Barnes ) to conclude, among other things, that Aristotle’s political philosophy is fundamentally totalitarian. Continue reading