Aristotle is Dead, but his Ideas are Alive: On Private Property and Moneymaking – Part I
By Cam Rea / Classical Wisdom
Aristotle died. But then he returned from the grave, in a manner of speaking.
The ancient Greek philosopher and scientist’s ideas remained mostly dead until the middle ages. His ideas were not pulled from some clay jar written in Greek, but they were rather found stored in the Islamic libraries written in Arabic, and once they were translated into Latin with the help of Jewish and Muslim scholars, an old world was reborn, giving new life to western society.
Statue of a young Aristotle (Rama/CC BY 2.0 fr)
Aristotle was born in Macedonia around 384 BC to Macedonian parents. The boy moved to Athens at age seventeen to study at Plato’s academy. For twenty years, Aristotle studied at Plato’s university until Plato died in 347 BC. Aristotle returned to Macedonia where he tutored the young Alexander known to us today as “Alexander the Great”. After the tutor of Alexander was over, Aristotle retuned back to Athens to open a new school of thought until Alexander’s death in 323 BC, in which the Athenians wanted nothing to do with Macedonia or Macedonians for that matter like Aristotle himself. Aristotle would leave Athens and die in exile in 322 BC.
Plato’s Academy: The School of Athens by Raphael (1509–1510), fresco at the Apostolic Palace, Vatican City. (Public Domain)
The rediscovery of the book of Politics, written by Aristotle, led to a wave of social and economic thought. It is these two thoughts we will discuss. Regarding economical and the social thought, Aristotle upheld the social, but some say he shunned the economic to some extent. What were the ancient thinker’s social arguments against Plato? Let’s look at his thoughts on property and economics.
Aristotle teaching Alexander the Great (Public Domain)
Women, Children, and the Family as Property
According to the texts, Aristotle’s view of property is much different from his teacher’s, Plato. Aristotle questions Plato’s view in the opening of his book Politics, in which he states, “And since we take for our special consideration the study of the form of political community that is the best of all the forms for a people able to pursue the most ideal mode of life”. In Plato’s book The Republic, Aristotle questions his teacher’s views concerning the role of the ruling class, which looks communistic by today’s standards, by making each citizen accountable to one another through the dissolving of property over-watched by the state. Aristotle begins this question by stating:
For example, it is possible for the citizens to have children, wives and possessions in common with each other, as in Plato's Republic, in which Socrates says that there must be community of children, women and possessions. Well then, which is preferable, the system that now obtains, or one conforming with the regulation described in The Republic?
Aristotle presents to the reader three issues of importance regarding ownership, and those are: women, children and property. We shall dissect these three carefully, due to the characteristics they present to see which is better— private or public ownership.
Women Are Equals…But not in Marriage
Aristotle’s view of women is not one of equality—nor is it unequal either. Aristotle’s view on a woman’s status is discussed in various places of his book. He considers the status of women as, “nature has distinguished between the female and the slave”, thus women are not slaves in his outlook, but he does mention that men are superior to women.
“Again, the male is by nature superior, and the female inferior; and the one rules, and the other is ruled". Women are to be watched or to be ruled as if they need ‘guidance from the master’, for they are semi-property. Once again, his views of how women are ruled are far different to how a slave is ruled.
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Top Image: Aristotle, part of a wall painting, circa 1883. (Public Domain);deriv.
By Cam Rea