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Full Online Book HomeNonfictionsA Treatise On Government - BOOK III - Chapter XI
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A Treatise On Government - BOOK III - Chapter XI Post by :e-spired Category :Nonfictions Author :Aristotle Date :January 2011 Read :2504

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A Treatise On Government - BOOK III - Chapter XI

Other particulars we will consider separately; but it seems proper to
prove, that the supreme power ought to be lodged with the many, rather
than with those of the better sort, who are few; and also to explain
what doubts (and probably just ones) may arise: now, though not one
individual of the many may himself be fit for the supreme power, yet
when these many are joined together, it does not follow but they may
be better qualified for it than those; and this not separately, but as
a collective body; as the public suppers exceed those which are given
at one person's private expense: for, as they are many, each person
brings in his share of virtue and wisdom; and thus, coming together,
they are like one man made up of a multitude, with many feet, many
hands, and many intelligences: thus is it with respect to the manners
and understandings of the multitude taken together; for which reason
the public are the best judges of music and poetry; for some
understand one part, some another, and all collectively the whole; and
in this particular men of consequence differ from each of the many; as
they say those who are beautiful do from those who are not so, and as
fine pictures excel any natural objects, by collecting the several
beautiful parts which were dispersed among different originals into
one, although the separate parts, as the eye or any other, might be
handsomer than in the picture.

But if this distinction is to be made between every people and every
general assembly, and some few men of consequence, it may be doubtful
whether it is true; nay, it is clear enough that, with respect to a
few, it is not; since the same conclusion might be applied even to
brutes: and indeed wherein do some men differ from brutes? Not but
that nothing prevents what I have said being true of the people in
some states. The doubt then which we have lately proposed, with all
its consequences, may be settled in this manner; it is necessary
that the freemen who compose the bulk of the people should have
absolute power in some things; but as they are neither men of
property, nor act uniformly upon principles of virtue, it is not safe
to trust them with the first offices in the state, both on account of
their iniquity and their ignorance; from the one of which they will do
what is wrong, from the other they will mistake: and yet it is
dangerous to allow them no power or share in the government; for when
there are many poor people who are incapable of acquiring the honours
of their country, the state must necessarily have many enemies in it;
let them then be permitted to vote in the public assemblies and to
determine causes; for which reason Socrates, and some other
legislators, gave them the power of electing the officers of the
state, and also of inquiring into their conduct when they came out of
office, and only prevented their being magistrates by themselves; for
the multitude when they are collected together have all of them
sufficient understanding for these purposes, and, mixing among those
of higher rank, are serviceable to the city, as some things, which
alone are improper for food, when mixed with others make the whole
more wholesome than a few of them would be.

But there is a difficulty attending this form of government, for it
seems, that the person who himself was capable of curing any one who
was then sick, must be the best judge whom to employ as a physician;
but such a one must be himself a physician; and the same holds true in
every other practice and art: and as a physician ought (1282a) to give
an account of his practice to a physician, so ought it to be in other
arts: those whose business is physic may be divided into three sorts,
the first of these is he who makes up the medicines; the second
prescribes, and is to the other as the architect is to the mason; the
third is he who understands the science, but never practises it: now
these three distinctions may be found in those who understand all
other arts; nor have we less opinion of their judgment who are only
instructed in the principles of the art than of those who practise it:
and with respect to elections the same method of proceeding seems
right; for to elect a proper person in any science is the business of
those who are skilful therein; as in geometry, of geometricians; in
steering, of steersmen: but if some individuals should know something
of particular arts and works, they do not know more than the
professors of them: so that even upon this principle neither the
election of magistrates, nor the censure of their conduct, should be
entrusted to the many.

But probably all that has been here said may not be right; for, to
resume the argument I lately used, if the people are not very brutal
indeed, although we allow that each individual knows less of these
affairs than those who have given particular attention to them, yet
when they come together they will know them better, or at least not
worse; besides, in some particular arts it is not the workman only who
is the best judge; namely, in those the works of which are understood
by those who do not profess them: thus he who builds a house is not
the only judge of it, for the master of the family who inhabits it is
a better; thus also a steersman is a better judge of a tiller than he
who made it; and he who gives an entertainment than the cook. What has
been said seems a sufficient solution of this difficulty; but there is
another that follows: for it seems absurd that the power of the state
should be lodged with those who are but of indifferent morals, instead
of those who are of excellent characters. Now the power of election
and censure are of the utmost consequence, and this, as has been said,
in some states they entrust to the people; for the general assembly is
the supreme court of all, and they have a voice in this, and
deliberate in all public affairs, and try all causes, without any
objection to the meanness of their circumstances, and at any age: but
their treasurers, generals, and other great officers of state are
taken from men of great fortune and worth. This difficulty also may be
solved upon the same principle; and here too they may be right, for
the power is not in the man who is member of the assembly, or council,
but the assembly itself, and the council, and the people, of which
each individual of the whole community are the parts, I mean as
senator, adviser, or judge; for which reason it is very right, that
the many should have the greatest powers in their own hands; for the
people, the council, and the judges are composed of them, and the
property of all these collectively is more than the property of any
person or a few who fill the great offices of the state: and thus I
determine these points.

The first question that we stated shows plainly, that the supreme
power should be lodged in laws duly made and that the magistrate or
magistrates, either one or more, should be authorised to determine
those cases which the laws cannot particularly speak to, as it is
impossible for them, in general language, to explain themselves upon
everything that may arise: but what these laws are which are
established upon the best foundations has not been yet explained, but
still remains a matter of some question: but the laws of every state
will necessarily be like every state, either trifling or excellent,
just or unjust; for it is evident, that the laws must be framed
correspondent to the constitution of the government; and, if so, it is
plain, that a well-formed government will have good laws, a bad one,
bad ones.

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Since in every art and science the end aimed at is always good, soparticularly in this, which is the most excellent of all, the foundingof civil society, the good wherein aimed at is justice; for it is thiswhich is for the benefit of all. Now, it is the common opinion, thatjustice is a certain equality; and in this point all the philosophersare agreed when they treat of morals: for they say what is just, andto whom; and that equals ought to receive equal: but we should knowhow we are to determine what things are equal and what unequal; and inthis there
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ay also be a doubt where the supreme power ought to be lodged.Shall it be with the majority, or the wealthy, with a number of properpersons, or one better than the rest, or with a tyrant? But whicheverof these we prefer some difficulty will arise. For what? shall thepoor have it because they are the majority? they may then divide amongthemselves, what belongs to the rich: nor is this unjust; becausetruly it has been so judged by the supreme power. But what avails itto point out what is the height of injustice if this is not? Again, ifthe many seize into
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