Comments on Garver's "Living Well and Living Together: The Argument of Politics VII: 1-3 and the Discovery of the Common Life"

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Professor Garver’s “Living Well and Living Together” sheds light on one of the more confusing sections in Aristotle’s Politics, namely the discussion of the best way of life for individuals and city in Politics VII.1-3. At a distance, the conclusion of Aristotle’s remarks seem relatively clear: He endorses the claim that the most choice-worthy life and happiness of a city and an individual are the same. Further, the implications of such a claim for Aristotle’s political philosophy also seem clear: Aristotle’s view of an “internally active” city amounts to a thorough critique of expansionist imperialism. But how these two surface level views—the best way of life for a city and the critique of imperialism—fit together is less than perspicuous. Garver’s paper goes after this text through the lens of two problems. First, Aristotle apparently argues from the nature of the best way of life or happiness for an individual to the best way of life for a city. But as Aristotle himself points out in his critique of the Republic, such an argument seems in danger of falling into a fallacy of composition. In response to such a perceived fallacy, Garver argues that Aristotle incorporates into his argument a third thing—what is the best life for a citizen or what Garver calls “common life” (p. 5, 6, of Garver’s text)—which mediates between the best life for a separate individual and for the city. As Garver puts it at one point “the best life for the citizen will be our means for discovering those [other] two” (p. 5, Garver’s text). The second problem which Garver raises concerns Aristotle’s apparent inference from energeiai to dunameis. Aristotle’s argument in Politics VII.1-3 begins from the claim that a city and individual have the same kind of happiness—namely, a sort of energeia—and extends to a claim about the structure which serves as the basis of that activity. The problem, according to Garver, is that “the virtues of the state cannot be energeiai of that part of its soul, because states don’t have souls” (p. 6, Garver’s text). The comparison between city and individual works—if it does work—only if “the psychological aspects of the virtue central to the Ethics become politically irrelevant” (p. 7, Garver’s text). Thus, Garver suggests that Aristotle’s comparison of city and individual comes at a cost, viz. that “Aristotle can talk about states being virtuous and happy only because of this psychological superficiality” (p. 9, Garver’s text).
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