Title Page                                                                                                                    i

Approval page                                                                                                             ii

Certification page                                                                                      iii        

Dedication                                                                                                                  iv

Acknowledgement                                                                                                      v

Table of contents                                                                                                        vi

Abstract                                                                                                                      ix


1.1       Background of the Study                                                                               1

1.2       Statement of the Problem                                                                               3

1.3       Purpose of the Study                                                                                      4

1.4       Scope of the Study                                                                                         4

1.5       Significance of the Study                                                                               5

1.6       Methodology                                                                                                  5

End Notes                                                                                                                   6

CHAPTER TWO: LITERATURE REVIEW                                                      7

End Notes                                                                                                                   9


3.1       A Brief Biography of Aristotle                                                           19

3.2       Aristotle’s Metaphysics                                                                                  19

3.3       Aristotle’s Concept of Morality                                                         26

3.3.1    Habit as a Pre- Requisite for Morality                                                 26

3.3.2    Virtue as a Pre- Requisite for Morality                                        28

3.3.3    Moral Virtue as a Pre-Requisite for Morality          30

3.3.4    Morality Vise-a-vise Rationality                                                          33

3.3.5    Morality As Self-Realization                                                         34

3.4       Morality and Custom                                                                                      36

3.5       Morality Choice and Reasonability                                                  38

3.6       Aristotle Notion on Happiness as the Highest Good 42

End Notes                                                                                                                   56


4.1       Emergence of the State                                                              60

4.2       Forms of Government                                                                                     64

4.3       The Best State                                                                                                 66

4.4       Aims of the State                                                                                            68

4.5       Concept of Slavery                                                                                         69

4.6       The Citizen                                                                                                      72

4.7       Constitution                                                                                                    74

4.8       Elements of a Constitution                                                             75

4.9       Freedom in Aristotle                                                                                       77

End Notes                                                                                                                   80


5.1       A Critique of Aristotle’s Source of Morality                                      82

5.2       A Critique of Aristotle’s Notion of Happiness                             82

5.3       A Critique of the Aristocratic State                                        83

5.4       A Critique of Monarchy (Kingship)                                               84

5.5       A Critique of Aristotle’s Democracy                                   84

5.6       A Critique of Citizenship                                                                                84

5.7       Strengths of Aristotle’s Morality                                                      85

5.8       Strengths of Aristotle’s Politics                                             86

End Note                                                                                                        88


6.1       Aristotle’s Notion on Morality and Politics in Relation to Nigerian Society                                                                                                      89

6.2       Recommendation                                                                                            91

6.3       Conclusion                                                                                                      91

End Notes                                                                                                                   93

Bibliography        94


Morality entails everything about man’s action, what he ought to do and what he ought not to do. Like moral standards and moral values, morality forms part and parcel of the life of every social group and civil society. Man as a social and rational being, is naturally moral and political. Politics on the other hand entails everything about the political life in the society. This includes who should, and how the ruler ought to rule. “The Concept of morality and politics in Aristotle” is a fresh and specific approach adapted by the writer to have a philosophical and a critical view of Aristotelian morality and politics. Aristotle argues that there is an end which stands above other ends in relation to human function. He calls it happiness- the highest good. Medieval philosophers such as Thomas Aquinas and Saint Augustine call it summum Bonum. This is not in contradiction with the Aristotelian notion. Aristotle views the end as generality by postulating that everyone pursues it, both in the political life and in the moral life. For the excellence of the individual equals that of the state.  For even the state should aim at providing the ultimate happiness for its citizens. For an individual does not seek morality in a vacuum but in a political society. The state should aim at achieving the ultimate happiness for its citizens. In this regard, this work sets out to discover the relationship of morality to politics and to show the relevance of morality in achieving a sound political system in Aristotle.





            The political situation in some societies today has grossly degenerated. The democracy which we practice in our country is not encouraging. We see democracy only in theory but in practice, we experience tyranny. In January, 2012, the government of Nigeria decided to impose fuel subsidy on its citizens. This they did, without considering the public opinion. The citizens of Nigeria did not think it will lead to a better life for them. Moreover, the people were not properly consulted. This stirred up a kind of rebellion among the people against the government. This act opposes the political and moral theory of Aristotle. Because for him, a state can only be good if its rulers seek the welfare of the people they govern, by striving to attain the good life for the individuals.  In his moral philosophy, Aristotle posits that every action should have an ‘end’. And that end Aristotle calls “happiness”.  When a ruler imposes laws which does not uphold equality and justice, and does not aim at the highest good of the citizens, that leader cannot be said to be a good leader.

A cursory look at the concept of morality and politics appears unambiguous. When, however, critically surveyed, it cannot but reveal its ambiguity. The equivocal nature of the concept has ardently led great thinkers in the course of centuries to develop different theories and views about it. Morality is primitively conceived as consisting in obedience to a tribal custom which is ultimately regarded as essential for the individual. The atomist such as Democritus maintains “morality is dominated by the idea of happiness which can only be achieved through the moderate cultivation of culture as the surest way of attaining the most desirable goal of life.”1 Socrates posits that no one is intentionally vicious. This means that whenever we do something wrong — including something morally wrong. It is out of ignorance rather than evil. In his ethical perspective, Aristotle holds a crucial idea known as eudemonism (happiness) according to which the good life is the happy life.

            Aristotle in his ethical theories views morality as teleological. Under this teleological conception, morality is looked upon as a fundamental conception; morality is looked upon as a fundamental matter of self- expression or self realization.

            Thus, he primarily asserts in his Nichomachean Ethics that “every art and every inquiry and similarly every action and pursuit is thought to aim at some good; and for this reason the good is rightly been declared to be that at which all things aim.”2

            More so, having stated that all actions aim at an “end”, Aristotle delves into distinguishing the two main kinds of ends. These two ends are instrumental end and intrinsic end. The former implies actions which are carried out as means for other ends while the latter indicates actions which are done for their own sake. The goal is action for its own sake for which any other activity is only a means. For Aristotle, this invariably must be the “good” of man, the supreme good which is eudemonia (happiness).

            On the other hand, Aristotle in his politics as in ethics stresses the element of purpose. The state, like man, is endowed by nature with a distinctive function. Combining these two ideas, Aristotle says that “it is evident that the state is a creature of nature and that man is by nature a political animal”3.  So closely does he relate man and the state as to conclude that “he who is unable to live in society, or who has no need because he is sufficient for himself, must be either a beast or a god”4.  Not only is man by nature destined to live in a state, but the state, as every other community, is established with the view to some good exists for some end. But unlike Plato, Aristotle did not create a blueprint for an ideal state.

            The  nature of the ultimate “good” for man in the community or state are also exposed in this study. Three things which make men good and excellent in the state include nature, habit, reasons and they must be in harmony. Just as in a state, the rulers should have no marked superiority over the ruled, equality should ensure that all citizens alike should take their turn of governing and being governed. So there should be the same treatment of similar persons as no government can stand which is not founded upon justice. And when a government is unjust, everyone in  the country unites with the governed in the desire to have a revolution. And it not possible for the members of the government to out power all their enemies put together.


            In Aristotle’s political theory, he posits that every state is a community established with a view to some good, for everyone always acts in order to obtain that which they think good. But, if all communities aim at some good, the state or political community which is the highest of all, and which embraces all the rest, aims at good in a greater degree than any other, and the highest good.

Pertinent questions now arises: In his politics, Aristotle Posits that Aristocracy is a good form of government, but on the other hand, can’t Aristocracy degenerate to oligarchy which is a perverted form of government? What is the relationship between politics and morality in Aristotle? And what is the relevance of morality to politics? For in his morality, Aristotle sees happiness as the highest good. But what brings this happiness since it varies from individual to individual? Is the happiness of the individual synonymous with that of the state, and that of the state synonymous with that of the individual? Also Aristotle postulates that virtue  is achieved by striving to arrive at the mean between two extremes. How do we arrive at this mean? And who determines the meaness of this mean? There are some vices which arriving at their mean will be difficult and impossible. How do we now determine the morality or otherwise of this vices. Finally, is it possible to have a sound moral value with an immoral political system?

Therefore, this work has set out to see the extent to which Aristotle defended his claim. This work explores the moral and political theories of Aristotle in order to see the relationship between them and to show the relevance of morality in achieving a sound political system in our society and in our democracy. This work also tends to show how the political and moral theory of Aristotle can influence or help us attain peaceful and harmonious co- existence in our society.


This work sets out to explore and examine Aristotle’s notion of politics and morality. It aims at discovering the best quality of a political system to be adopted, as man is by nature a political animal. And the quality of morality which the human person should adopt for the good of society and especially for his personal satisfaction and self- fulfillment for a good life and a happy living.

1.4       SCOPE OF THE STUDY  

            The scope of this work is the notion of  morality as discussed in Aristotle’s Nichomachean  Ethics, and his notion of politics as discussed in Aristotle’s politics. Though references will be made to other works of Aristotle and other philosophers that relate to morality and politics.


             This work will serve as material for prospective researchers and students on Aristotle’s idea of morality and politics. It enhances the individual’s desire in the quest for a good moral and political life and avails him the opportunity to adopt the quality of morality and which leads to an acceptable and a happy end. The ruler in a state should avoid tyrannical and despotic acts to achieve a happy end. It is also of great importance to the society.


The method adapted for this research are historical, analytical, expository and critical. It is historical in the sense that, the views of past philosophers on morality and politics before Aristotle will be discussed. It is analytical because this work shall analyse in details, the relationship between politics and morality. The relevance of morality to politics will be exposed in order to achieve a sound moral value in the society. In its expository nature, this work exposes all the tenets of morality and politics as applied by Aristotle, and it will tend to answer some of the numerous questions concerned with it. A critique of Aristotle’s   view will also be done. Those critiques pointed out by other philosophers will also be studied in order to proffer some solutions to them.


1.      Fredrick Copeleston, A History of Philosophy,1 Greece and Rome,New York : Image     Books, 1960 ,146.

2.      Richard Mckeon, The Basic Works of Aristotle New York: Random House,1941, 935

3.      Barnes, Jonathan ed , The Complete Works of Aristotle. The Revised Oxford Translation Vol.1, Princeton: Bollingen Series LXXI.2

4.      Barnes, Jonathan, Complete Works of Aristotle.



Man, as a rational being, is said to be a social as well as a political animal. He has the inherent tendency to live together with his fellow human beings in a close, contact group, known as society. Thus, he also has the urgent necessity to maintain peace, order, control and stability in the society where he lives with others, in order that he will enjoy life, liberty and happiness which are the ultimate ends of his brief earthly existence. Man also believes that he can only live his life fully in a well ordered and peacefully organized society. The principles for attaining this goal of man is/ are the central theme of Aristotle’s moral and political thought. Hence, in this chapter, we shall be doing a brief exposition of Aristotle’s concept of morality and politics, as well as that of other philosophers.

            It is pertinent to note here, that there is no way we can talk of a society without mentioning morality, and vice – versa. Blackstone who corroborates the view has this to say: “Political Philosophy is an extension or application of moral philosophy to the problems of political order”1 Even Plato subordinates politics to morality. This idea is expressed by Dunning in his commentary on the dominant characteristics of Plato’s political philosophy which are:- “its idealism and its subordination to ethical science”2 Thus, any time you come across morality in this work, bear also in mind that we are invariably discussing society or politics as well; since both of them go peri-persu (hand-in-hand). Having established this fact (logic), we’ll now begin with the main man, Aristotle.

            In his work, Nichomachean Ethics, Aristotle3 makes us to understand that all human activities are goal-oriented. In other words, all human actions are directed towards the attainment of certain ends; every human action is a means to an end which is seen as a good. But some ends, says Aristotle, are sought only as means to further ends and not as ends in themselves. There is however, one end which is not a means to another end and which is sought for its own sake. All other ends are sought because they lead to this ultimate end which does not itself lead to any other end. This, Aristotle says, is happiness. Happiness, according to him, is the end which is sought for its own sake, and whatever a person seeks as an end or as a good he seeks it as a means to happiness. This is the goal towards which all human activities are directed. Speaking further on this, Aristotle posits that all men seek happiness, but there is only one way to attain it, and that is through morality. Thus, the purpose of morality is happiness. That is to say, if you want to be happy, you must live a moral life; those actions that lead to happiness are good actions, while those that lead to unhappiness are bad actions

            In his political philosophy, Aristotle4 also identifies politics as the science that studies the supreme good for man. According to him, it is political science that prescribes what subjects are to be taught in states and which of these the different sections of the community are to learn and up to what point, so as to produce a happy society at the end. This view which makes happiness the standard of morality is what is known in the ethical parlance today as Eudemonism. But what precisely is happiness? Aristotle5 defines it as “activity of the soul in accordance with virtue.” In other words, happiness is an activity of the soul, and is inseparable from virtue. There are however, two types of virtues according to Aristotle: intellectual virtues, and moral virtues. Intellectual virtues include such acts/activities as: scientific knowledge, arts, practical wisdom, intuitive reason, theoretical wisdom, sound deliberation, understanding and judgment; whereas moral virtues include: justice, temperance, generosity, courage etc.

            Like Buddha and Confucius in the East, Aristotle also talked about the doctrine of the golden mean, that is, the doctrine that virtue lies between two extremes, that virtue is a mean between excess and defect. For example, generosity is a mean (i.e., in the midway) between miserliness (an extreme) and extravagance (another extreme) etc. And commenting further on the subject, Aristotle posits that virtue is the result of a habit, it is an internal disposition, a permanent state of mind inclined towards good actions which spring spontaneously from it. That is to say, virtue is the state of mind which spontaneously gives rise to good actions as a matter of habit. Hence, it is Aristotle’s contention that virtue can only be acquired by constant and persistent practice through a long period of time; a person becomes virtuous by practicing virtue just as a person becomes a swimmer in no other way than by practicing swimming  persistently and constantly until it becomes a habit, or what he calls, a second nature. Aristotle vehemently believes in the force of habit. In his view, a habit is a second nature which once acquired is almost impossible to change. A man, who has acquired a habit, he says, will almost certainly continue for the rest of his life to act in accordance with that habit. For this reason, Aristotle stressed the importance of acquiring good habits from the beginning. He does not believe in the possibility of a sudden radical conversion in which a long established habit is suddenly laid aside and a new beginning made. He does not believe that man can get rid of his “second nature” at all, much less doing so suddenly and radically.

            Finally on this, it is worthy to note also that Aristotle described justice as the greatest of all virtues, and defined it as “what is lawful” or “what is fair and equal”. He distinguished between two kinds of justice, namely: Universal justice, and particular justice. Universal justice, he practically equates with virtue – “He who possesses it can exercise virtue towards his neighbor as well as in himself”6.

            Having come thus far in the exposition of Aristotle’s concept of morality and politics, it is also pertinent at this juncture to consider the “take” of other philosophers on this subject. Hence, we’ll begin with the ethics of the ancient philosophers. And speaking on justice, one of the sophists, Thrasymachus, who is noted for his ruthless view on justice, as we are told by Plato7 in the Republic, says being just is as useless as any other useless adventure. One gains nothing from being just; justice is not worth practicing. Injustice, according to him, pays more than justice. Unjust person, in his view, are superior to, and stronger in character than people who are just, only weaklings practice justice. He is also noted for the saying that “Might is right”, meaning that the stronger is just, or unjust is always right; for in a state, the stronger establishes themselves in power and their interests become, justice, since they usually make laws to protect those interests which in the long-run appears just to the people.

            In his moral philosophy, Socrates, though left no writing of his own, but from what could be gathered about him from the Dialogues of Plato8 (especially in the Symposium), Socrates agrees with Aristotle that happiness is the ultimate goal of life, and that the only path that leads to this goal is to have virtue. However, to have virtue, you must have knowledge. Thus, knowledge is virtue. Ignorance, he believes, is the cause of vices or evil in the society; for no man who really knows what is wrong would do it, no one ever does evil knowingly. In other words, if a man really knows what is right he would do it, and if he knows what is evil, he would refrain from it. Hence, virtue and good actions follow from knowledge; whereas wickedness or evil is due to ignorance. Simply put, knowledge is virtue; while ignorance is vice.

            Plato9 (428- 347B.C.), the most intimate friend and disciple of Socrates also tolled the same line with his master (Socrates) in maintaining that the goals of human life is happiness, and that the only way that leads to it is through a virtuous life. Only a virtuous man, he says, can be happy. Plato also equates knowledge with virtue. A virtuous man, he says, is a wise man; but a wicked man is a foolish and ignorant man. A man who does evil, he says, does not really know what he is doing; for no man does evil knowingly. Hence, ignorance is the cause of wrong doing. Wisdom, according to Plato, is the virtue of the rational part of the soul (reason), while courage is the virtue of the spirited part (the higher emotions) and temperance is the subordination of both the spirited and the appetitive parts (i.e both the higher and lower emotions) to the rule of the rational part (reason). Thus, Plato divided the soul into three parts, the rational part (reason), the spirited part (the higher emotions), and the appetitive part (the lower emotions). Justice in the soul, Plato says, is the general harmony that is produced in the soul when each of its parts is functioning properly, each playing its role. Just as he divided the soul into three parts, Plato also divided the society into three parts or classes: the guardian (the ruling class), the auxiliary (the soldiers), and the Artisans   (the masses). The duty of the ruling class (the guardians is to guide and govern the state as a whole and to keep the other two classes under control. The duty of the auxiliaries is to defend the state; while the artisans (the masses) is to provide the material and the economic needs of the state. According to him, there is justice in society when each of these classes does its duty properly. Hence, justice becomes the harmony that is produced when each class fulfils its function efficiently. This is Plato’s concept of justice.

            Be that as it may, it is pertinent to note here also that, though Plato distinguished between different virtues, especially  the four cardinal virtues (wisdom, courage, temperance, and justice), all virtues are nevertheless, fundamentally one; for they are different expressions of (or different ways of looking at) the rule of reason over the rest of man and all human activities. Hence, it is impossible, in Plato’s  view, to have one virtue and lack another, because to have one virtue is to have all; and to lack one is to lack all.

            A critical look at the fore-going Plato’s theory of morality/the state (politics), one would notice that it is to some extent in congruence with Aristotle’s; and also a total negation of Thrasymachus’ especially on the concept of justice.

            Marcus Tullius Cicero(106-34 B. C.) in On the Commonwealth begins his theory of the state with a discussion of public duty and examples of such duty. Cicero argues that defending the commonwealth is the highest obligation individuals have. It is a duty second only to one’s duty to the gods, which ranks it as  even more important than duty to family or parents. This claim suggests some opposition between private and public lives. In fact, Laelius, of the characters in the book, indicates earlier in the dialogue that he is  concerned with looking at the relationship between public and private lives, asking if what occurs beyond the home affects one’s private life. Philus, another character, responds that the home is not just a structure of four walls but encompasses the entire universe. This point, a nod to stoic ideas about human membership in a large cosmic community, leads to consideration of the many different factors relevant to a discussion of public and private lives as well as the duties in each.

            Eventually, Laellius stated that recent events regarding diverse views on public and private lives in Rome appeared to have created a divide, practically rendering two senates and two peoples. He asks how one can bring about a union of people and the senate10. Scipio, a third character, is then asked to explain the best constitution for a state and he offered a definition of a true commonwealth, “for what  is the commonwealth except the people’s affair? Hence, it is a common affair that is an affair belonging to a state. And what is a state except a considerable number of men brought together in a certain bond of harmony”11. The reason why people come together is a social instinct natural in man. The formation of the commonwealth represents the fifth stage of society or union, evolving first, the man and wife relationship, then parent and child, the household, the city and finally, the state. Hence, as  with both Plato and Aristotle, Cicero in his political theory sees the state as growing out of the family with the state and the duties to it being the most important of these relationships.

            First, there is a life cycle to pure states, with all three governments eventually degenerating into corrupt forms. But adopting a mixed government can perhaps prevent this corruption from occurring, and thus halts or slows down the life cycle. Second, a mixed state achieves a balance between the values of monarchy and those of an aristocracy. Scipio considers the maintenance of equality in a democracy to be impossible or unjust because all are not equal,12 but a mixed government, according to Cicero, combines the different virtues of reason, wisdom and freedom; it does not arouse a wild and untamed spirit in the citizens and achieves the balance of rights among the different classes of people in society.13

                In Cicero’s political and moral thought, despite the mixing of the different types of governments and their virtues, he prefers that reason and monarchy rule in the state with a king ruling along with the senate representing the aristocracy.14 Thus, Cicero describes the perfect institutions for the state. According to Cicero, Rome is the embodiment of the perfect state. Its government is superior because it is both the product of many generations of thought,15 and geographically situated in the best place a city can be. It is far enough away from the corrupting influences of the sea, it has hills for defense, and it is near enough to a river to have all its disadvantages. Cicero’s description of Rome as the best political institution suggests that it is written substantially in defense of the political status quo and simply restating and defending traditional values of Roman political thought.

            Cicero also addresses some stoic themes about law and justice. A true commonwealth, he urges, is a government that produces harmony, but harmony is obtained only when the state is a true people’s affair, that is, when it binds the people together according to the law. Good laws protect the equal rights of all, although the notion of equality must respect the differences among groups and classes in society16. Moreover, a commonwealth seeks concord or balance, much in the same way music requires harmony; and the only time concord can be achieved is when justice is the aim of the laws.17 He argues that the search for justice should pertain only to society and not all of nature. He asks whether justice and customs are not the same thing to all peoples, suggesting that perhaps justice and laws are conventional.18  This question is similar to one posed in the Nicomachean Ethics, when Aristotle asks whether the duties of the good man and good citizen coincide. Philius says that if justice were natural, then nature would have laid down our laws; all peoples would be subject to the same laws,  and the same people would not be subject to different times. He asks the question: “if it be the duty of a just man and a good citizen to obey laws, what laws should he obey?”19 Laelius responds that law is not conventional. We next consider the moral/political philosophy of some medieval philosophers.

            In the medieval period, Saint Augustine of Hippo (354- 430A.D.), finds more satisfaction in the Aristotelian happiness in his ethical theory. This could be probably, as a result of his religious orientation. He reinterprets Aristotelian happiness. While Aristotle conceives happiness as the “Supreme Good” Saint Augustine associates and calls God the “Summum Bonum”. In Augustine’s view, God is the author and foundation of morality. He bases his argument on the belief that God is “the creator of good thing”20. As a creator of good things, God should be “the supreme and the best good.21” Thus God is the foundation of every good.

            For Augustine, there is no special or isolated subject about moral theory. The climax or the highest point of everything is in morality. According to him, morality clarifies the sure road to happiness, which is the supreme aim of human behaviour. In his moral philosophy, Augustine brings to light his major insight about the nature of human knowledge, God’s nature and the theory of creation. His theory provides a novel estimate of what constitutes true happiness and how it can be achieved. He maintains that true happiness requires going beyond the natural to the supernatural. Augustine stresses that human nature is made in such a way that “it can be the good by which it is made happy.” This implies that, to attain happiness, man has to go beyond the natural to the supernatural, from the material world to the intelligible world. The understanding of this fact propels Augustine in his Confessions to make a religious and philosophical assertion; “you arouse him to take joy in praising you, for you have made us for yourself”.22With human nature we cannot achieve anything unless with God to whom everything is at his command, Augustine postulates.