Other Political Animals: Aristotle and the Limits of Political Community

The European Legacy 21 (3):290-309 (2016)
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Abstract

In recent years there has been a resurgence of interest in the philosophical underpinnings of the human-animal distinction among political theorists, suggesting a possible sea change in how relationships between animals and humans are understood. Yet despite this interest, Aristotle’s famous dicta that “man is a political animal” and that only “beasts and gods” might live without politics persist as the best-known statements on humans and animals and how they relate politically. This essay draws on Aristotle’s biological writings in order to qualify these statements, outlining two opposing threads in Aristotle’s thought: one where humans are seen to be similar to other political animals and hence capable of sharing in political community, and the second where humans are seen to be unlike other animals by virtue of their relation with the divine. I argue that the problems that inform Aristotle’s way of understanding the similarities and differences between humans and animals and between members of..

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