Tuesday, May 29, 2018


Francisco L. Lisi, Michele Curnis (ed.), The Harmony of Conflict: The Aristotelian Foundation of Politics. Collegium politicum: Contributions to classical political thought, 8. Sankt Augustin: Academia Verlag, 2017. Pp. 252. ISBN 9783896657091. €34.50.

Reviewed by Mostafa Younesie, Philadelphia (younesie_7@yahoo.com)

Version at BMCR home site


In this collection of essays, Aristotle's Politics is analyzed from various points of view, ranging from the transmission of the text and its reception to its methodology and principal subjects, including law, citizenship and the economy. According to Francisco Lisi and Michele Curnis, Aristotle uses theory and empirical observational to explore ways of harmonizing the conflicts inherent in every human community.

The book begins with a 6-page introduction by Lisi and Curnis; the contributions are arranged in six parts. (There is no list of contributors.) There is a bibliography and two indices: one Locorum and the other Rerum. Of thirteen essays in the book, eight are in Italian (without any English abstract), and the rest are in English.

The editors' introduction takes as its starting-point the idea that Aristotle's Politics is one of the most influential works in the history of Western political thought (9). For the first time in the western tradition, politics is understood as the harmonization of the underlying conflicts of interest that naturally exist in society—something hinted at in the title of the volume. Despite the importance of the Politics, its reception history is still far from clear. The editors review this topic, from the late fourteenth up to the twenty-first century. Two points deserve note. First, and notwithstanding many criticisms, the hypothesis of Werner Jaeger that the Aristotelian treatises are a mixture of writings from different periods of his intellectual development lumped together by topic, still holds sway (10-11). Secondly, although there is an impressive amount of serious scholarly work on the Politics, few studies systematically compare Plato and Aristotle.

Part I of the volume, on the "material transmission of the text", contains only one essay: "La rinascita della Politica in greco: codici, copisti, committenti nel XV secolo" by Michele Curnis. After an introduction on the state of the treatise between the ninth and tenth centuries, Curnis focuses on the fifteenth century, since in this period the treatise was copied, studied and translated in a considerable number of manuscripts due to requests by both famous intellectuals (among them Palla Strozzi, and Politianus) and men of power (among them Leonardo Bruni).

Part II consists of three chapters, dealing with aspects of the methodology in Aristotle's political investigations. In the first chapter, Lucio Bertelli writes about "forms of argumentation in the Politics" ("Forme di argomentazione nella Politica"). Bertelli thinks that the Politics is "scientific" since Aristotle investigates the "causes" of political phenomena. He considers the work to be the second part of a course of study whose first part is set out in the Ethics. As a scientific enterprise, politics is based on endoxa and their assessment—which makes it distinct from the method of diairesis employed by Plato.

Next, in a short chapter entitled "Aristotele e la storia nella Politica", Mauro Moggi addresses historical exempla in Aristotle. According to Moggi, although Aristotle is not a historian in the classical sense of the term, he has good knowledge of historical information and uses it to support his philosophical arguments. His most significant use of history can be seen in his study of tyranny.

In "Un confronto di Aristotele col Politico di Platone nel III libro della Politica", Paolo Accantino argues that Aristotle, in the third book of the Politics, launches a multi-level polemic against Plato's Politicus. For Accattino, the most important point in this polemic is the superiority of laws over absolute human power.

Part III, "Philosophy of Law", begins with Federica Pezzoli, "Mutare le leggi: alcune riflessioni a partire da Politica II 8, 1268b 25-1269a 27". It concerns basic questions about the changeability of the law in a polis. According to the writer, Aristotle in agreement with his teacher Plato is against both continual and small changes of law: the former decrease the strength of law and invite citizens to disobedience, and the latter are the beginning of constitutional transformation.

"Principles and Goals of the Constitutional Theory in Aristotle's Politics Book IV", by Eckhardt Schutrumpf, has three sections. The author begins by delineating the scope of Aristotle's inquiry into constitutions in Book 4, and writes that there is no fundamental contrast between "ideal" and "non-ideal" or empirical constitutions (96), because one single knowledge deals with all different classifications. Next, Schutrumpf addresses the number of constitutions and their differences in Book 4 (although the issue is not limited to this book). According to Schutrumpf, we see two criteria at work: "parts", and the "functions" that these parts have—so that "part" means the section that has a function in the polis. And finally, we have this practical question: Who should be in power? That is: Which constitutions should be established? It should be noted that this is a question that recurs in different books of Politics, in theoretical and practical forms, and gets different answers. In Book 4, the focus of the present study, the question is answered in terms of the quality and quantity of interactions among the inhabitants of the polis.

Part III ends with a paper by Barbara Gualiumi, "Forme di democrazia nella classificazione aristotelica (Pol. IV-VI)". According to Gualiumi Aristotle classifies different forms of democracy, on the basis of different criteria given in Books 4-6. For example, one form of democracy is based on freedom, another on consensus, and so on.

Part IV includes two papers. In "Il cittadino e la sua virtù nella Politica di Aristotele", Silvia Gastaldi outlines the virtue of citizenship in the framework of both family and public life. According to the author, the separation between ethical and political virtue equips Aristotle for making a distinction between family and polis virtues. For Aristotle, the two spheres are distinct—although at the same time they have something in common. They are separate because one of them is private and the other is political and, depending on the constitution, there are different citizens. At the same time, in both family and public life, the most relevant virtue is the ability to preserve and rule the members of the family (in the former case) or other citizens (in the latter).

Ronald Weed explores "Aristotle on the Function of the Political Mean", with reference to Politics 4-6. As distinct from the ethical mean (meson), which has reference to dispositions and actions, Weed considers the "political or regime mean", in two spheres. The first is in relation to the excesses of both democratic and oligarchic regimes (for according to Aristotle most regimes are either democratic or oligarchic). Regimes in the mean are oligarchic democracy and democratic oligarchy. The second is in relation to "cities": although there are different classes in the city, there is a basic and conflictual division between poor and rich that can split a city apart and make it two. As a result, the political mean involves an appropriately sized middle class (161-3).

Part V is on economics and includes two essays. In "L'oikonomia nel libro I della Politica", Giuliana Besso claims that, in opposition to the increasing significance of the market in Greek and particularly Athenian society, Aristotle clings to and emphasizes the concept of the oikos and downplays its counterpart, "chrematistics". Francesco Lisi, meanwhile, writes about "Money and Justice in Aristotle's Political Thought", a subject that Aristotle develops in Book 1 in regard to family assets, but has political importance and had a wide reception in the history of economic thought (181). Lisi starts with the problem of anachronistic approaches to Aristotle's conception of money, and engages critically with a number of scholars in clarifying the role of money in Aristotle's practical philosophy. After an outline of Politics 1.8-11, Lisi considers the issue of money in relation to justice and concludes that Aristotle does not give us a general analysis of trade, or an economic study in any strict sense, but is simply distinguishing—with a clear ethical-political aim—one of the substantial activities of the paterfamilias, namely the acquisition of the goods necessary for the family's welfare (191). Lisi goes on to explore the relation of money and justice in the fifth book of the Nicomachean Ethics, which seems to contradict the Politics. But according to Lisi, the explicit reference to reciprocal or commutative justice in the former treatise and in the second book of the latter, suggests that Aristotle probably had a parallel treatment of money in mind. Aristotle considers money in the context of reciprocal justice, which is the social expression of the natural human need to live in a society or polis. In such a situation, money appears as an essential element for the constitution of the society because it is the factor that acts as a universal, though conventional, measure or pattern and link between the needs of the buyer and the excess of the vendor.

Part VI, Reception of the Text, consists of one essay: "Aristotle's Politics on the Indices Librorum Prohibitorum of the Sixteenth Century". According to the author, María José Vega, "a general survey of all the Indices Librorum Prohibitorum and of the expurgatory catalogues published through the sixteenth century, in different places of Europe, enables us to confirm that the censorial policy of the Church paid careful attention to the annotations, scholia, marginal comments, indices and summaries that were added to the editions of the classical texts, particularly those of the Church Fathers" (205). After a short description of Fernando de Roa's commentary on the Politics, Vega focuses on the commentaries by Martin Borrhaus and Martinus Cellarius (in the Index Expurgatorius of Antwep 1571). She describes the history of the censorship and expurgation of Borrhaus's edition, analyzes the passages cut out by the censors, examines the treatment of Aristotle's text by the editor and annotator, and postulates possible reasons for the prohibition and elimination of some passages of the commentary.

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