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Aristotle, Hobbes and Machiavelli on Governance

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Lawrence W.
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  1. Introduction.
  2. A fundamental assumption made by Aristotle.
  3. Aristotle's view of the political aspect of the human function.
  4. Aristotle's account of the relation between a person and the polis.
  5. Hobbes and civilization.
    1. The Enlightenment aimed to make a radical break with the habits of thought.
    2. Hobbes' conception of government.
  6. The works of Machiavelli.
    1. The Roman republic in the Discourses.
    2. Separating questions of religion and morality from politics.
    3. The necessity for a single leader.
  7. Conclusion.
  8. Bibliography.

In the realm of political theory, there are many thinkers whose thoughts and writings have influenced the way that government's and societies operate today. As citizens, it is crucial for us, especially in the democratic systems that we a North American's enjoy, that we place certain legitimacy with the polity that governs us. It is for this reason that we turn to political theory, as it provides a means for us to understand how place in society, how we relate to government, and why we are bound by the forces of government. The first theorist to offer a theoretical account of democracy was the Greek philosopher Aristotle (384-322 B.C.). His study of the Greek city-state, the Polis, presents a theory of politics that emphasizes the relationship between participation and democracy. His politics serves to analyze the human, and its nature within the city-state.

[...] A fundamental and quite Greek assumption made by Aristotle is the claim that what gives human life its significance is the fact that there is an objective ?chief good' to which all human action ideally should be directed. In the second chapter of his first book, Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle specifies political knowledge or science as being concerned with a chief human good. Since he asserts that the political art or science ?legislates what is necessary to do and to abstain (Aristotle, 2004: 1.2 .1094b5-6) it is eminently sensible for him to claim that the execution of this political function should always refer to this chief human good if there is one. [...]


[...] Hobbes has a fundamental disagreement with Aristotle about the nature of citizens, and how they react within a polity (as Aristotle would say). For Hobbes, the Enlightenment aimed to make a radical break with the habits of thought that had prevailed in every civil society until the seventeenth century. The most stubborn habit was the tendency to trust in the wisdom of the authorities in the inspired words or priests and prophets, in the learning's of philosophers and wise men, in the traditions of ancestors, in the jurisprudence of legal scholars, and in the ideas of anyone with expert knowledge. [...]


[...] For Aristotle, the social life is action, which is undertaken for its own sake and is typically contrasted by him with making, which is directed toward some resultant product or state of affairs distinct from the making-behavior itself. (Aristotle, 1995). What is Aristotle's view of the political aspect of the human function? There appear to be two alternative interpretations. One interpretation does indeed make Aristotle's political function a grand end or dominant aim even a career or occupation. But to many contemporary readers, it will seem to be a quite elitist and very parochial conception of what human life should amount to. [...]

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