Human Nature - Aristotle

Human Nature according to Aristotle

  • Created by: Holliee
  • Created on: 12-04-12 10:16

"Man is, by nature, a political animal"

Zoon Politikon

  • Aristotle classifies man as a political animal
  • We are naturally social and by nature are members of society, not self-interested
  • We are incomplete in society- it would be impossible to survive or achieve a good life
  • This is a communitarian view- your society is part of your identity
    • This contrasts with the view of an atomist, a view that believes first and foremost we are individuals, therefore we are self-interest and solely concerned with the individual


  • We have to accommodate all, as we are responsible for the others around us
  • At all times we have to consult others and there would have to be a set of laws to ensure we can work together
  • The important piece of evidence of our being as social creatures is language; there would be no need for it if we didn’t interact with others.
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Nicomachen Ethics

  • Suggests most of us crave the company of others
  • No-one would be happy living in isolation
  • Biologically designed to have company (Family)
  • Loneliness is an undesired emotion
  • Isolation is a form of punishment
  • The craving is to an extent-> it varies from person to person, some need it more than others

Feral Children

  • Used to support Aristotle’s claims
  • These children have grown up outside of society or have had limited human interaction
  • Therefore usually lack linguistic and other skills
  • Genie -> at the age of 13, she had spent most of her life isolated from human contact, strapped to a potty chair or in a cot. She had virtually no language, couldn’t walk properly and constantly sniffed, spat and clawed.
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  • Language is evidence that we are meant to live together
    • If we were meant to live in isolation, why is there language?
  • Believes nature is a force that had designed human beings and intends for us to live socially
    • From a modern scientific perspective, this is false
  • However, language can still be used to argue for our social nature from the perspective of revolutionary biology
  • From an evolutionary perspective, we evolved from a form of primate that already lived together in groups and had developed our communication skills.
    • We were social before we were human
  • Those who live outside society are more like animals than humans
  • Without socialisation and interaction with other people, we would lack humanity
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  • Only in a society that all our needs as humans can be met
  • He claims that as humans we want to achieve personal happiness and flourishing (Eudemonia)
  • The best way to live, is what he calls the Polis (city state)
    • This is the best state for making meeting human needs
  • Only in a society that is self sufficient and large that we can develop culture, language, literature, art, music, philosophy, education and the like
  • You cannot have these in smaller groups that are more vulnerable and more concerned with survival
  • The individual has no independent importance
    • It’s merely a ‘building block’ to fit into the pre-existing structure of society
  • “He who is unable to live in society, who has no need because he is sufficient for himself, must be either a beast or a god; he has no part of a state, a social instinct is implanted in all men by nature”
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Evaluative Questions

  • Just because it is natural to live in groups, does it mean we have a moral obligation to follow the rules of the group we live in?
  • Can people only floruish within a well-developed society? Why?
  • Do we always entirely conform to the values and ways of thinking of our society?
  • If its true that our identity comes from society, how do we function in a multi-cultural society?
  • if we are products of our envirnoment, how can we appreciate other cultures?
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