3. General Theory of Constitutions and Citizenship

3. General Theory of Constitutions and Citizenship

To sum up, the city-state is a hylomorphic (i.e., matter-form) compound of a particular population (i.e., citizen-body) in a given territory (material cause) and a constitution (formal cause). 1.1289a1718). Aristotle’s hylomorphic analysis has important practical implications for him: just as a craftsman should not try to impose a form on materials for which it is unsuited (e.g. to build a house out of sand), the legislator should not lay down or change laws which are contrary to the nature of the citizens. Aristotle accordingly rejects utopian schemes such as the proposal in Plato’s Republic that children and property should belong to all the citizens in common. For this runs afoul of the fact that «people give most attention to their own property, less to what is communal, or only as much as falls to them to give attention» (Pol. II.3.1261b335). Aristotle is also wary of casual political innovation, because it can have the deleterious side-effect of undermining the citizens’ habit of obeying the law (II.8.1269a1324). For a further discussion of the theoretical foundations of Aristotle’s politics, see the following supplementary document:

After further analysis he defines the citizen as a person who has the right (exousia) to participate in deliberative or judicial office (1275b1821)

It is in these terms, then, that Aristotle understands the fundamental normative problem of politics: What constitutional form should the lawgiver establish and preserve in what material for the sake of what end?

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