What is the Ultimate Aim of Politics for Aristotle

The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle is one of the most influential thinkers in Western philosophy and politics. He lived from 384 to 322 BCE and was a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great.
Aristotle’s political philosophy is rooted in his view of human nature and society. He believed that humans are by nature political animals, meaning that we can only achieve our fullest potential by actively participating in political life. This led Aristotle to take a strong interest in the purpose and ideal form of government and political community.
Much of Aristotle’s political philosophy is contained in two treatises: The Politics and Nicomachean Ethics. In these works, Aristotle aims to examine the role and purpose of the political community, ideals of justice, citizenship, and political constitutions. At the core of his philosophy is the belief that the purpose of politics is to promote civic virtue, justice, and the overall happiness and flourishing of citizens.

The Polis

Aristotle believed that humans are inherently political creatures designed to live together in a polis or city-state. For Aristotle, the polis was the highest form of political association and allowed citizens to achieve the good life. The polis was a self-sufficient community that enabled citizens to fulfill all aspects of life including political, social, religious, and economic needs. Aristotle saw the polis as the natural outgrowth of villages and families joining together for mutual benefit. By banding together, citizens could share in common goals, resources, culture, identity, and protection. Within the polis, citizens develop civic friendship and take turns ruling and being ruled. The polis provides an arena for citizens to deliberate about justice, cultivate virtue, and promote the common good. For Aristotle, humans can only achieve their telos or highest purposes as social beings within the political community of the polis. The polis allows citizens to live well and develop into virtuous beings capable of self-governance and prudent decision making for the good of all. So, Aristotle believed the polis embodied the political nature of humans and was the indispensable institution required for citizens to attain ethical and meaningful lives. The polis enabled citizens to nurture civic virtues and share in self-government for the common welfare.

Political Nature of Humans

Aristotle believed that humans are inherently political animals. He argued that humans have an innate capacity and desire for living in a community with others, as opposed to living alone.
Aristotle in his opinion described the human being as ‘political animal’. This implies that we are genetically predisposed to live in organized communities, especially political communities or states (the Greek word polis is a combination of two words city-state or political community). The human nature has a natural tendency to create and live in a healthy society.
Aristotle pointed out that humans alone, among all animals, possess speech or reason (logos). It is these faculties that allow us to make moral judgements, to deliberate about what is just or unjust, right or wrong. Speech and reason also enable us to articulate these judgements to others. Therefore, according to Aristotle, these capacities suit us for political association, for living together, and making collective decisions.
The political community exists to allow citizens to achieve the good life and happiness. But this can only be achieved collectively, through participation in the affairs of the polis, by making decisions with fellow citizens about laws, rights, and interests. Therefore, Aristotle saw the polis as the necessary and proper environment for humans to fulfill their potential.
So in short, Aristotle argued that humans are by nature intended to live in political communities. Our innate faculties of reason and speech make us suited for, and aimed towards, civic participation with others. The polis allows us to fulfill our purpose. This is why Aristotle declared humans to be political animals.

Purpose of the State

For Aristotle, the purpose of the state is to promote the good life for its citizens. Aristotle claims that human beings are by nature political animals, and hence can reach their full potential only through active involvement in the political society. The state is responsible for creating the necessary conditions and structures in which citizens are able to flourish.
In general, Aristotle is of the opinion that the role of the state is to develop virtue and to achieve human flourishing. The state through this method ensures the citizens live virtuous lives by inculcating them into good character and enacting morality. Laws and the social norms that are the state’s responsibility shape citizens to be virtuous, moderate, and just. The state achieves human well-being through the provision of basic needs and offering chances for the citizens to exercise their capacities and participate in activities that ultimately lead to real happiness and satisfaction in line with their nature.
Finally, Aristotle sees the state as the means through which the citizens can reach eudaimonia – which is a Greek term and is roughly translated as happiness or human flourishing. The objective of the government is to realize the overall well-being of the people, not just to prevent death or provide economic benefits. For Aristotle, the state is not just a means to help the people live, but it also aims to train the best life possible for the citizens. The state facilitates the attainment of human glory and welfare.
So in Aristotle’s political philosophy, the purpose of the state is the promotion of virtue, justice, and the good life for all its citizens. The state shapes the moral character of citizens and provides the conditions for human flourishing. This represents a much broader understanding of the state’s role than just protecting rights or maintaining order. The state has an ethical responsibility to actively cultivate the well-being of citizens.

Civic Virtue and Public Happiness

For Aristotle, the ultimate aim of politics is to promote happiness amongst the citizens. He believes that the purpose of the state is not just to provide safety and prevent harm, but to actively cultivate the virtues and excellence of its citizens. A key ingredient for happiness in the polis is cultivating civic virtue.
A civic virtue is the qualities of a just, courageous, self-controlled, and a citizen who cares about public welfare. According to Aristotle, civic virtue is crucial in the process of forming a well-ordered society. The citizens must be imbued with the feeling of fulfillment and purpose that can be derived from taking an active part in public affairs from an early age. They must be patriotic, law-abiding, and willing to sacrifice their personal interests for the broader benefit of the public.
Justice, which is the foremost political virtue, helps citizens to fulfill their duties and ensures social harmony. Courage gives moral strength to defend the city-state from external enemies and internal strife. Self-control prevents people from being diverted by unimportant amusements or from being carried away by their passions or desires. When citizens possess such virtues, they devote themselves to the public interest rather than pursuing individual interests.
According to Aristotle, focusing on civic virtue is the best way of achieving public happiness because the citizens who are actively involved in improving their community get a sense of purpose and achievement. Through their voluntary service, they create a climate of friendship, belonging, and mutual support in the city. The continuous happiness from civic participation is an Aristotelian definition of happiness. This way, he believes that justice, civic education, and good laws are the basis of the virtue and through which citizens can achieve happiness by being involved in the affairs of the political community.


For Aristotle, justice is a crucial aim of politics and the state. He believes that justice exists to promote and preserve happiness among the citizens.
Justice involves treating equals equally and unequals unequally in proportion to their inequality. Aristotle claims that justice is not only legal justice but also distributive justice that factors in merit. He notes that political justice is a process of sharing wealth, honors, and other divisible assets of the community.
Aristotle criticizes the communism of Plato in his work by saying it is against human nature because it ignores the differences in merit. He claims that it is not fair to let individuals distribute goods among themselves, as they do it unequally based on unequal merit. Aristotle conceives it as the duty of the state to rule distribution according to merit to ensure that justice prevails.
For Aristotle, justice has both legal and political connotations. He believes the notion of justice in the state is that the laws are obeyed, however, the laws must be fair in distributing goods, opportunities, and offices based on merit. Justice is the foundation of peace in the state as people believe they are getting their just rewards for their efforts. It depends on the balanced judgment of political leaders in order that they take into account relevant factors and give rewards and punishments accordingly.
In general, for Aristotle, justice is the main goal of the state, because it creates a common good and ensures that citizens are able to achieve their full potential. By ensuring people receive their due based on merit, the state encourages civic virtue and public happiness. Justice depends on proper constitutional structures and on the practical wisdom of leaders to make fair distributions in service of the common good.


Aristotle believed education was critical for producing good citizens and maintaining a successful political system. He maintained that education is to be used to produce civic virtues and virtues of practical wisdom and discipline among the citizens.
Education molds people’s character and behavior from a very tender age. Aristotle argued that education must be directed towards the development of both the rational and ethical powers of students. It should be a teacher of intellectual virtues through subjects like math, science, philosophy, and rhetoric. While it should develop moral excellences such as courage, moderation, liberality, and justice it should also cultivate moral virtues.
The objective is to develop citizens who are capable of making good judgments and decisions in any circumstances. Education should help students to attain skills and attitudes to be productive members of the community. Aristotle advised against cultivating courage without temperance, as this could lead to such citizens that are reckless and prone to civil unrest.
A balanced education inculcates courage and temperance, under the guidance of reason and wisdom.
For Aristotle, the purpose of education is not to maximize an individual’s self-interest, but to benefit the community. Proper education produces citizens committed to the common good who find fulfillment in fulfilling their civic responsibilities. It enables people to govern and be governed well. In this way, education is indispensable for maintaining a just political system and achieving public happiness.


Aristotle examined various types of constitutions and their inherent challenges in achieving the ultimate aim of politics. He identified three main types of constitutions – monarchy, aristocracy, and constitutional government (polity).
Aristotle viewed monarchy, rule by one person, as unstable since it can easily turn into tyranny if the ruler pursues their own interests over the common good. Aristocracy, rule by the wealthy and well-born, also tends towards oligarchy as the wealthy exploit the system for their own benefit. Constitutional government, where political power is shared by the many, risks descending into democracy and mob rule if the people become corrupted.
Each constitution has its issues in achieving the virtuous mean. Monarchy risks corruption of the one ruler. Aristocracy is prone to rule for the benefit of the wealthy few over the good of all. Democracy is in danger that the wrong decisions will be made by the wise masses. Aristotle’s idea of the best constitution is a polity with a combination of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy. Rulers should possess virtue and wisdom, the masses should have a political voice, and governance should promote the common good. A mixed constitution offers a mechanism of control of power concentrations and also enables civic participation.
For Aristotle, the ultimate goal of politics is not achieved by any one ideal constitution but through the breeding of virtue in both citizens and rulers, the pursuit of reasonable laws and policies which ensure public happiness, and the design of political systems which ensure the balance between wisdom, power and the common good. Constitutions must be made adequate to a polis and its conditions to bring about justice and the good life.

Practical Wisdom

Aristotle believed that practical wisdom (phronesis) was essential for good political leadership. Practical wisdom refers to the ability to deliberate well and make good judgments in variable, uncertain situations.
Unlike technical skills which follow set rules, practical wisdom involves discernment and perception to determine the best course of action amidst complex circumstances. It enables leaders to navigate “grey area” issues with prudence.
Aristotle argued that practical wisdom was the master virtue of politics. Political rule differs from other realms in constantly requiring discretion and adaptability in response to changing conditions. A good ruler must have the practical wisdom to perceive the right thing to do at the right time for the right reasons.
Practical wisdom also underpins other virtues by guiding their proper expression. For example, without phronesis, courage could become reckless folly and justice could become cruelty. Practical wisdom discerns how to apply virtues properly.
Given political leadership involves high stakes and unpredictable dilemmas, Aristotle maintained that practical wisdom was essential. Rulers need the discernment, discretion, and perception to respond rightly to varied situations for the public good. Phronesis guides leaders in morally complex scenarios where absolute rules cannot apply. Ultimately, Aristotle saw practical wisdom as vital for just and prudent governance.


For Aristotle, the ultimate aim of politics is to cultivate civic virtue and promote public happiness through justice, education, and instilling practical wisdom in citizens. His political philosophy centers on the polis and its role in enabling citizens to live well through participating in public affairs and governing themselves.
Aristotle viewed humans as inherently political animals who can only achieve fulfillment within a political community like the polis. The purpose of the state is not just living together, but living well and developing citizens’ full potential. This requires an educational system that produces morally virtuous citizens who deliberate wisely and rule justly. The constitution also needs to balance different political elements to create a stable polity.
True justice and happiness depend on cultivating practical wisdom in citizens so they can discern right action. Aristotle believed politics should aim at the higher good and enable citizens to live fulfilling lives through exercising civic duties. The ultimate test of a political system is how well it promotes human excellence and collective well-being. For Aristotle, these were the highest aims of governing and the art of politics.