Is Human Virtue a Civic Virtue? A Reading of Aristotle's Politics 3.4

In Aristotle's Practical Philosophy: On the Relationship between His Ethics and Politics. Cham, Switzerland: Springer. pp. 93-118 (2017)
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Is the virtue of the good citizen the same as the virtue of the good man? Aristotle addresses this in Politics 3.4. His answer is twofold. On the one hand, (the account for Difference) they are not the same both because what the citizen’s virtue is depends on the constitution, on what preserves it, and on the role the citizen plays in it, and because the good citizens in the best constitution cannot all be good men, whereas the good man’s virtue is uniform. On the other hand, (the account for Identity) the two virtues are identical in the good men in the best constitution, in which all are good citizens, each possessing the ability for ruling and for being ruled. This nuanced answer can be seen as Aristotle’s synthesis of a Periclean view (contribution to state blots out personal wrongs) and a Socratic view (no good citizen is without justice). Its nuances reflect the extent to which Aristotle’s conceptions of good citizenship and the best constitution accommodate deviations of what is probable from the human ideal set out in his ethical writings. In the present chapter, I will first address three puzzles regarding the nuances of Aristotle’s answer. Second, I will consider one question about its implication: Does Aristotle’s account for Difference turn out to entail something ultra-Periclean: that no one can simultaneously be a good man and a good citizen in any constitution other than the best? I shall argue the negative.

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L. K. Gustin Law
University of Chicago


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