Law in Aristotle's ethical-political thought
Morrison, Donald R.
Doctor of Philosophy
Proclaiming that man is a political animal, Aristotle overcame the Sophists' opposition between law and nature. My dissertation looks at whether the law successfully promotes the human good in Aristotle's political philosophy. Aristotle believes law should inculcate the virtues of character. In Chapter One, I argue habituation to virtue through laws does not unacceptably undermine citizens' autonomy. Aristotle intends the law to inculcate virtue in coordination with other parts of the social fabric, including the household and social customs. Yet Aristotle also believes laws, including laws about moral education, should conform to the goal of the constitution. Many constitutions do not aim at a life of virtue correctly conceived. In Chapter Two, I argue that by promoting the virtue of the citizen in deviant regimes, Aristotle's lawgiver risks inculcating moral vice. Chapter Three looks at the basis for the law's authority in the practical wisdom of the lawgiver. Aristotle identifies legislative wisdom as a form of practical wisdom, and speaks of the lawgiver as a sage. But just as absolute kingship is unlikely, so too is a lawgiver sage. Aristotle's more realistic account of legislative activity, as conducted by citizens who are often not practically wise, shows Aristotle still values the rule of law for the constraints it places on human bias. Chapter Four analyzes Aristotle's conception of equity. Because practical affairs are only 'for the most part,' dikasts deciding particular cases in court need to take into account exceptional circumstances. In the light of Athenian judicial procedure, equity is inconsistent with the rule of law. The tension between the two must be tolerated because of the nature of practical affairs. Chapters Five and Six revisit the question whether Aristotle is a natural law theorist. According to Nicomachean Ethics V.7, only the best constitution provides a standard of natural justice. Other passages usually thought to indicate Aristotle held a natural law view either are poor sources for Aristotle's view or have little to do with natural justice. Natural justice provides no specific guidance as is found in later natural law theorists, e.g., invalidation of or disobedience to positive law.
Law; Philosophy; Ancient history