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Estrangement: Political Philosophy and Good Life Essay

Chapter two of Glenn Tinder’s, “Political Thinking: The Perennial Questions” on estrangement and unity asks us whether we as humans are estranged in essence. This question really sets the tone for the rest of the book, because if humans are estranged then we would not be living together in societies, therefore not needing political science to answer such questions that deal with societies. As Tinder describes it, ” politics is the art of reconcilliation, and that the need for this art always arises from some kind of estrangement”(23).

Tinder’s point does not answer the question of whether or not we are truly estranged in essence, that would be to easy! It merely suggests that with humans living in societies estrangement arises, not that we are estranged in essence. By deffinition estrangement signifies alienation: a separation from hostility. And it is derrived from the latin word extraneare: to treat as a stranger. So do humans by nature treat others as strangers, are they alienated from one another at there core?

Tinder attempts to show us two such philosophers who would show us the two sides of this argument so that we may gain clarity and decide the essence of humans with the knowledge of great thinkers as our foundation. Those two great thinkers are Aristotle who believes that humans are not estranged, and Thomas Hobbes who subscribes to the idea that humans are estranged in essence. So with these two thinkers as the backbone of this debate we can get to the bottom of the question at hand. The seminal philosopher in the argument that humans are not estranged is Aristotle.

In Politea, Aristotle states that: .. by nature man is a political animal. Hence man have a desire for life together, even when they have no need to seek each other’s help. Nevertheless, common interest too is a factor in bringing them together, in so far as it contributes to the good life of each. The good life is indeed their chief end, both communally and individually; but they form and continue to maintain a political association for the sake of life itself. Perhaps we may say that there is an element of good even in mere living, provided that life is not excessively beset with troubles.

Certainly most men, in their desire to keep alive, are prepared to face a great deal of suffering, as if finding in life itself a certain well-being and a natural sweetness. (Aristotle, Politics Book II) If man indeed is a political animal, and our commmon interest does bring us together in the hopes of having “the good life” or eudeamonia then it seems somewhat impossible be estranged in essence. For, by the deffinition aforementioned of being estranged man would not and certainly could not live together, and certainly not for institutions to keep those bonds strong.

Afterall who in their right mind would enjoy or choose living in a state of hostility. Aristotle would almost certainly dissapprove of this version of nature. Living in a state of hostility for him would be almost a tyrannical form of life with fear as the tyrant itself. Since Aristotle ultimately approves of a Monarchy aiming at the common interest he admits that humans do suffer from feelings of estrangement but that a single outstanding man (or small group) can, through reason, render useless feelings of estrangement in a society by way of distributive justice.

Meanwhile, Thomas Hobbes asserting his viewpoint of pre-political man as a war, “of every man against every man” (Leviathan) he has little faith that man is not estranged. Hobbes alleges that the life of a man in his pre-political condition is, “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”(Leviathan) which certainly indicates a level of hostility that would prevent, even condemn, man to be able to live together in a society. In Hobbes’ world evrery man would be in constant fear of other men taking from them their freedom to do whatever they please and their liberty to live.

Hobbes basically implies that man in the state of nature is in such a horrible condition that we actually seek peace through coming together under a social contract. Hobbes suggests that to get out of the state of nature that men must build a leviathan (government) that can sustain a social contract. Since Hobbes has such little faith in us to rule ourselves democratically, he suggests that an absolute elected monarchy would best suit us.

This is an interesting choice because, he implys that we need a single man who can rule absolutely to battle forms of estrangement. In other words if we were left to our own devices with out the control of an absolute monarch we would kill ourselves. Fear has a lot to do with estrangement because people who are estranged live in fear of hostility from strangers. Hobbes is quoted as saying ” fear and I were born twins”. Since fear is spawned from estrangement it is easy to see how Hobbes would not trust human nature in any sense of the word.


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