Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote the Nicomachean Ethics, portraying the significance of studying the realms of ethics and political science. In his work, Aristotle focuses on the theme of how human beings can attain the chief human good—happiness—at which everything aims. Aristotle argues that ethics, the study of moral character, and political science, the branch of knowledge and analysis of political activity and behavior, must be closely studied together in order to fully grasp the meaning of and obtain the good way of life.
Aristotle believes that there is only one goal, one ultimate end for every individual—that is eudaimonia, translated as happiness, not as a feeling but happiness as the highest human good or a life full of activity. He claims that a person should live a way of life distinct from the lives of animals, where they only live for the sake of living or pleasure. 1 As human beings, people should use their power of speech to communicate and make rational decisions within a polity, striving to live their lives up to their full potential and to their full capacity for a happy life.
2 The life of politics, the via activa, is thus the key to the chief good or the best life for humans; however, the life of action must be of certain type of quality, in accordance with reason, since different actions may lead to the good or the bad life. In other words, a person’s actions must be in line with arete, with virtue or excellence. 3 Possessing virtue is having the ability to realize the good things, and doing them at the right time and the right way to get things done.
Virtues can result to two different ways: a good or bad life. For example, President Lincoln versus Adolph Hitler—both of these men possess the virtue of wisdom, although they have used them disparately, one ending a Civil War in peace and the other manipulating others to killing millions of innocent people. To make it to the good end, Aristotle claims that we must practice virtue by, giving it a certain type of character or ethical quality to our actions.
4 Although human cannot acquire virtue by nature alone, nature allows and gives us the capacity to acquire virtue by learning and through exercising them in our lives. 5 By constantly acting with virtue, we cultivate habituation and ultimately we do not need to be self-controlled to do what is just. Instead, we become accustomed to do what is right willingly and naturally. Activities of good ethics or good moral character are virtues. And so, to best learn and exercise these virtues is by incorporating political science in connection to ethics.
Aristotle asserts that the science of politics, the highest master of science combined with many other sciences, must be very well studied, for it is where moral laws are examined and its end, including the ends of other sciences associated with political science, will be the chief human good of all society. 6 Therefore, Aristotle presents the idea that the state must play an important role to aim and shape a society of good citizens, incorporating what the good life is: the life of virtue.
7 The state must look after its citizens morally, creating a type of society that will allow people to have a political life together; consequently, this political life will give them the opportunity and the ability to realize their wide range of capacities and their ideal life. Without the state, humans will not be able to experience the good life, the life of action. They are not self-sufficient enough to work alone, for they need others to be self-sufficient and happy.
8 Having a community will give every individual a chance to experience the struggle within the polity, in which he or she can exercise his or her many virtues, whether it be the ability to be courageous in the face of danger, the ability to make better judgements, or the ability to resist pain in the midst of hard criticism. Consequently, they build up their ethos or character, cultivating them to eventually living a happy life. The life of struggle, of politics, is the life where humans can have the chance to develop their full capacities, abilities, and strengths to overcome many hardships and difficulties.
9 Having a strong state does not achieve full satisfaction; hence, the state must know what eudaimonia is in order to direct and guide its citizens. It is necessary for the state to study and establish what is just and what is ethics. In this way, the state could inculcate what is moral through laws and education. Acquiring the chief good starts at home. Aristotle argues that a good state support an educational system, for a society that promotes morality is the best way of cultivating habituation in young children.
10 Having this strong educational system in the state will successfully encourage parents of each household to train their young children in good principles, abiding by the set of moral laws established in the community; as a result, they will naturally apply their good habits in their daily lives and ultimately gain the perfect virtuous life. Connecting the study of ethics and political science together can bring the whole society into a healthy life of virtue. Ethics is the key in which politics can utilize and produce a good society.
By knowing what is righteous and what is ethics, the state can make the ultimate life of happiness possible for its citizens. Political science plays the role of establishing and enforcing good and moral character through an effective system that can guide and habituate every part and class of society. Ultimately, having access to a superfluous life of activity in a way that is in line with reason will let individuals life life to the fullest, of virtue and of happiness.