Is Aristotle's Politics worth reading?

The polis as a self-contained unit - Plato's idea of ​​self-sufficiency, the state and Aristotle, politics

Table of Contents

I. Introduction

II. State philosophy in Plato and Aristotle: similarities, definition of concept and position

III. The polis as a self-contained unit
1. Plato's idea of ​​self-sufficiency, Country
2. Aristotle's idea of ​​self-sufficiency, politics

IV. Conclusion

V. List of sources and references

VI. Investments
1. Scheme: Structure of the ideal polis and autarky in Plato
2. Scheme: Structure of the ideal polis and autarky in Aristotle

I. Introduction

“Autarkie” is an everyday term nowadays, which is being used in an inflationary manner in the German-speaking area and accordingly also in the media. The range of applications here extends, for example, from the discussion of the extent to which China is still self-sufficient[1], up to the lyrical description of urban architecture as "an autarkic connection between different factors that exist in symbiotic dependence on each other"[2]. The majority of users, however, are likely to be unaware of the original meanings of the word, or at least those that Plato and Aristotle gave it. However, this work should not simply define "autarky", but also explain the special meaning in relation to the structure of the polis in "State" and "Politics" in its roughest outlines, as well as give a brief overview of the philosophical context, which is necessary for the development of the concept of self-sufficiency. In addition to listing the basic similarities between the Platonic and Aristotelian state philosophies, some terms and explanations for the respective concept of polis and autarky are to be developed, which simplify a distinction and thus create a contrast. Due to the limited scope of this work, however, it must also be said that a detailed presentation of individual aspects would be inexpedient, which is why a high level of abstraction was chosen to facilitate a coherent presentation.

The question of "autarky" (here in the "modern" sense of the word) even feeds a scientific debate, but should only be mentioned briefly here. What is disputed here is whether the Platonic dialogues are self-sufficient, i.e. to what extent they explain themselves. The alternative point of view, represented by the so-called "Tübingen School" stated that the writings were not self-sufficient, based on various self-testimonies of Plato, in which he claimed that the philosopher does not write about those things that are of the highest value to him. From this, supporters of the "Tübingen School" developed the thesis that Plato explicitly communicated various facts to his contemporaries, but only hinted at those things of real personal relevance and thus reserved them for an exclusive audience[3]. Another point of contention is still the question of whether one can assign Plato's “state” to a literary category, whereby some specific assignments are also made[4]. On the other hand, the assessment of the literature on the source works is not unproblematic. One does not claim too much when one says that the history of reception and interpretation of Plato and Aristotle is one of the most extensive of all, whereby the "state" and "politics" have increasingly moved into the field of interest of political scientists in recent decades, which is why they in addition to those sciences that “classically” deal with the matter, in particular philosophy, philology and history, produce an abundance of high-quality literature. One work that has probably achieved standard character as the first reading at the beginning is the multi-volume series “History of Political Thought” by the Munich professor for political science, Henning Ottmann, from 2001[5]. However, in addition to this publication, some current dissertations should also flow into the work, although one must also assume that the interpretation of Plato and Aristotle offers little room for "revolutionary" reinterpretations never hurt, because the content is not only extremely complex and its understanding offers a profound insight into the history of the self-image of the Greek contemporaries of Plato and Aristotle, but still seems to offer enough “fuel” for debates in our day. This was shown particularly clearly by Hans-Georg Gadamer in the last century[6] or Karl Popper[7].

In addition to a brief presentation of the fundamental similarities in the state philosophies of Plato and Aristotle, Chapter II also provides a brief, general definition of "autarky", and problematic terms are briefly explained with regard to work. Finally, Chapter III is explicitly devoted to the self-sufficiency concept of Plato and Aristotle in relation to the polis, but its explanation also forms the focus, which is why only those basic features of the work are named and documented which are of significant relevance, i.e. a comprehensive presentation is not possible commanded. In the end, an attempt is made to concisely summarize the individual autarky terms, whereby their author- and context-related difference should become apparent.

II. State philosophy in Plato and Aristotle: similarities, definition of concept and position

First of all, one should be aware that the terms "ethics" and "politics" are separate from one another in today's "collective" consciousness. "Ethics" is mostly understood as a part or a discipline of philosophy that tries to establish general norms of behavior, primarily for humans. "Politics", on the other hand, is understood as a targeted approach in the context of political contexts and objectives, as well as a kind of science about the relationships in systems of rule. In the philosophical consciousness in Classical Greece there was no such strict separation of concepts and content. Walter Patt defined ethics as "the fundamental knowledge of the happy life and the virtues of man (...)" and politics as the "fundamental knowledge of life in the state, especially the polis."[8] The “state” and “politics” both show an unmistakable distance from the poleis of their time of origin. It was particularly important for Plato and Aristotle to draft an alternative to the Spartan warrior society and Athens, which was fixed externally on hegemony and internally on freedom of movement. Nevertheless, both concepts were naturally based on the thought of the peculiar Greek polis, albeit in different forms than before, which is why the concept of the philosophy of the state can be specified, namely as a philosophy of the polis[9].

A preliminary definition of the term “autarky” should now be given for “similarities”, because although Plato and Aristotle used the word to describe different contexts, their basic understanding of it was probably the same at first. “Autarky” can initially refer to inanimate objects, but also to persons or communities, especially the polis. The opposite of "autarky" would be the lack of a certain thing or property that actually comes "automatically". The opposite pole to the autarkic polis is thus the outwardly dependent on others and inwardly despotic polis[10].

For Plato and Aristotle, happiness is the best that can happen to man. It cannot be precisely defined, but, to put it simply, combines mental and physical well-being, as well as favorable framework conditions or the environment. It should be the ultimate goal of human desire, planning, and action. Both philosophers also held that the conscientious and constant exercise of fitness or virtue is the surest way to attain bliss. For this reason the ancient philosophy of the state also asks how the state can bring about and maintain this happiness. For an individual, the good is what he wants or what he strives for. Ultimately, however, the desires of the individual are combined and lead to the ultimate goal, eudaemonia (happiness in life, in the way of life)[11]. Plato and Aristotle use the arete as a means which facilitates the approach to happiness. For Plato, the arete is almost inseparable from happiness, which, in addition to virtue, can also be "suitability", "proficiency" or "excellence", whereas with Aristotle the arete is more a combination of "quality" (which, in relation to man, easily changeable) and "disposition" (permanent) can be paraphrased. Nevertheless, the German does not find an adequate paraphrase for Arete, because "virtue" also has no general ontological meaning, but is present or not present as a human characteristic; it also describes a positive character trait and not the excellence of the mind[12].

III. The polis as a self-contained unit

1. Plato's idea of ​​self-sufficiency, the state

Plato, who could be described as Socrates' master student, published his work "The State" probably in the 370s BC, at a time when his master was already dead for around 20 years. Nevertheless, Plato let Socrates rise and speak in the "Politeia". Throughout his life, Socrates was of the opinion that people improve themselves through an education that aims at wisdom. However, on the way to wisdom, self-knowledge must also be achieved, only in this way can the community in the polis change for the better[13].


[1] E.g. Erling, Johnny (March 8, 2008, 4:00 a.m.): China's path to globalized reality One world, one dream? Published by Die Welt. Available online at

[2] Angl, Christian (November 2nd, 2007): The invisible city. Published by Die Zeit. Available online at, last updated on November 2, 2007

[3] Reale, Giovanni (1996): Plato's protological foundation of the cosmos and the ideal polis, pp. 5-7. In: Rudolph, Enno (ed.): Polis and Kosmos. Natural philosophy and political philosophy in Plato. Darmstadt: Wiss. Buchges., Pp. 3–25

[4] See Chapter III. 1

[5] Ottmann, Henning (2001): History of Political Thought. From the beginnings with the Greeks to our time. Stuttgart: Metzler.

[6] On this subject: Wischke, Mirko: Plato and the ethics of interpretation. Trends in recent research literature on the philosophical hermeneutics of Hans-Georg Gadamer. Contributions to the intellectual situation of the present vol. 2 (2001), issue 5. Available online at:, last checked on April 2nd, 2008.

[7] A brief description of the problem can be found in Chapter III. 1.

[8] Patt, Walter (2002): Basic features of the philosophy of the state in classical Greek culture. Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann, pp. 35–36

[9] Patt 2002, pp. 13-14

[10] Ritter, Joachim (ed., 1971): Historical dictionary of philosophy. Volume 1: A-C. Darmstadt: Scientific Book Society, p. 686

[11] Patt 2002, pp. 15-16

[12] Patt 2002, pp. 30-32

[13] Brenner, Xaver (1996): Plato and the State. Edited by Xaver Brenner. Available online at, last checked on April 3, 2008, p. 1

End of the reading sample from 18 pages