Aristotle's Political Science and the Training in Pleasures and Pains



How to Cite

Aristotle’s Political Science and the Training in Pleasures and Pains. (2024). The Political Science Reviewer, 47(2), 17-34.


Abstract: This article concerns the role of pleasures and pains in the formation of the political community in ancient political thought. According to that tradition, the formation of the political community entails not only the design of political institutions and the distribution of political offices but also the “formation” of human beings. This education accords with the comprehensive framework of laws, customs, and traditions that give shape to a distinctive and common way of life. Turning to Aristotle’s discussion of the matter in the Nicomachean Ethics, I argue that central to this education is a “training” in pleasures and pains. The educator uses a child’s natural attraction to pleasures and repulsion to pains to “steer” the child toward virtue and away from vice. Aristotle’s account of education seems commonsensical on the face of it, especially when we consider the moral education of children. However, the analysis presents an opportunity to reflect on the complementary roles of nomos and phusis in the formation of the political community, as well as the chance to reflect on the status of the moral virtues that Aristotle recommends— that is, whether they are understood to be a piece of our human perfection and, hence, natural or merely the result of law and convention. The conclusion concerns the divergence between the ancient and modern liberal democratic worldview concerning the place of pleasure and pain in our education and political life.