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The idea, already so strongly emphasized by Plato, of a moral community-life, is developed by Aristotle further still, and more judiciously, without his being able, however, fully to divest it of the one-sidedness of the general Graeco-heathen world-view. The idea of humanity as a moral whole is entirely wanting to him also; individual morality has absolute, predominance. The family is indeed somewhat more highly conceived of than in Plato, because the reality of life is more impartially observed, but yet it is not recognized as the basis of the moral whole, but only as a subordinate manifestation-form of morality as bearing upon the moral community-life. Wedlock-love and family-love in general is only a special form of friendship as expressive of individual morality. Friendship, however, is not so much a duty as an expression of the striving after individual well-being,—bears not an objective but a subjective character.—But also friendship forms neither the basis nor the transition to a moral community-life; the community-life, on the 111contrary, is based directly upon the laws as expressive of the moral idea, and as constituting the state, the task of which is, under the guidance of the morally higher-gifted, to tutor and direct the great multitude of the morally-immature, and to habituate them to the good.
To the examination of friendship Aristotle devotes two entire books of his Ethics, in great detail. Friendship is indeed virtue, but not a special virtue along-side of the others; it is rather a special manifestation-form of virtue in general. Its definition is more comprehensive than is usual in modern times, and includes in itself love in general, but it is by no means identical with the Christian idea of love; it has not an objective and general, but only a subjective and individual significancy; it loves not for the sake of the loved one, but for the happiness of the lover,—seeks primarily not the weal of the other, but its own, loves not man as man, but only this or that person according to individual election, to the exclusion of others. The idea of general love to man, as a duty, is to Aristotle also as well as to the Greek in general, utterly foreign. The highest attainment consists in true friendship to one or to a few chosen ones. Toward the rest of mankind there is shown only a very feeble and luke-warm good-will, a justness and fairness which respect essentially only particular rights,—humaneness in the usual sense of the word. Aristotle connects the examination of friendship directly and expressly with that of pleasure, and places it before the more particular development of the latter, and considers it also under such a phase as that it appears not so much as duty as rather as a virtualization of the striving after happiness. Friendship seeks indeed also the weal of the other, but first of all it seeks reciprocal love, and can exist only where it finds this; nevertheless, that friendship which loves only for the sake of the pleasure and the benefit, is not the true and lasting love, but only that which exists between those who are good and resemblant in virtue, inasmuch as here the per se lasting good and the person himself are loved; in the friend I love, at the same time, that which 112is for myself a good; such true friendship, however, is seldom, and can never exist at the same time with many persons (Nic., viii, 1-7; ix, 4, 5). Friendship in the narrower sense presupposes a certain moral similarity between its subjects; but in a wider sense it may also exist between the dissimilar, especially where the one person has a spiritual preeminence over the other, and where consequently the kind of the love is with each party a different one. Under this category belongs the love between husband and wife, parents and children, and between the higher and the lower in rank. The higher of two persons will, and ought to, be more loved in this relation, than he himself loves, because loving is measured by the worth of the beloved object (Nic., viii, 8, 9). This feature is characteristic of the predominantly individual and subjective character of love, in Aristotle’s system. Even parents and children stand to each other only in this individual relation,—they adapt the degree of their love according to the individual worth of the other; the family has not an objective character which is to be held sacred under all circumstances, and which is superior to all individual choice; the degree of love diminishes with the increase of the worth of the subject as compared with the worth of the object; and for self-sacrificing maternal love, Aristotle, although he observes it, has no just appreciation.
Of wedlock and of sexual love, Aristotle speaks on the whole only incidentally and very inadequately. Wedlock is the most natural of all friendships, and has for its end not merely the generation of children, but also the aiding and complementing of each other in all the relations of life (Nic., viii, 14; comp. Oecon., i, 3). The husband, as the stronger, has the duty of protecting the wife and remaining faithful to her (Oecon., i, 4), and the right to rule over her,—not absolutely, however, but only in the sphere belonging to him (Nic., viii, 12). Children stand to their parents in a permanent debt-relation,—cannot divest themselves of their obligation to them, though the father may cast off his son (Nic., vii, 16). The obligation of children to fulfill the will of the parents is not, however, unlimited, because other obligations may modify it; the chief duty of children is to show reverence 113to their parents, and when they need it, to assure them sustenance (Nic., ix, 2).
In his further discussion of friendship Aristotle makes many ingenious observations. Those to whom one has shown benefits, one is accustomed to love more than those from whom one has received benefits, because every one esteems especially highly that which himself has done, whereas he feels the debt-relation as in some sense disagreeable (Nic., ix, 7). It is true, Aristotle does not exactly praise this feeling, but he finds it very natural, and has for it no blame. The truly good man loves himself perfectly, but this legitimate self-love is not an enjoyment-seeking selfishness, for he loves in himself only the better part, and he promotes his own weal, in that he loves and works the good; and even when he makes sacrifices for others, he wins for himself the higher good (Nic., ix, 9).
In conceiving of the essence of the family as a mere friendship, it is natural that Aristotle should not make it the basis of the wider community-life, the State, but that he should place it rather in the sphere of individual morality, and that he should make the transition to the discussion of the state, neither from friendship nor from the family, but rather derive the thought of the state immediately from the general thought of morality, and transfer all the moral significancy of the family to the thus self-based state. This transition Aristotle makes thus: the teaching of virtue suffices not for the great multitude to induce them to virtue, seeing that they are guided almost exclusively by fear and not by knowledge. The multitude must be trained to virtue and constantly guided, and hence stand in need of laws; the training of a father suffices not for this, because it lacks the necessary authority and coercive power; only the rationally-governed state has both of these, and is hence the necessary condition of a more general realization of morality (Nic., x, 10).
Aristotle is too judicious an observer of reality, idealistically to expect all salvation from mere instruction, and not to admit the moral unimpressibility of the great multitude; he speaks thereof in the strongest expressions; “the great multitude obeys force rather than reason, and punishment rather than morality;” “the majority abstain from evil not because 114it is disgraceful, but because they fear punishment; guided only by their passions they aim at nothing but sensuous pleasure, and shun nothing but the pains that are contrary thereto; but of the morally beautiful, and of the true joy therein contained, they have not the least notion, seeing that they have never tasted it” (Nic., x, 10); and this moral incapability he expressly refers to the nature that is inborn in them, and only a few happy ones are free of this innate imperfection; “this nature itself lies evidently not within our own power, but is by some kind of divine causality conferred on the truly happy.” To explain this broad difference of natural endowment, he does not make the least attempt, and in this he stands far below Plato, who derives the imperfection of human nature (which he also admitted, but conceived of as universal), from a previous guilt in a life antecedent to the earthly life. Aristotle renounces also all hope of radically bettering the morally unreceptive multitude, as indeed he knows of no possibility of doing it; he contents himself with keeping them in check, and with placing them under the discipline of an objective moral reality, the state, or at least with accustoming them, by force and by potent custom, to order and to obedience, and with restraining them from the outbreaks of inborn passion; to be truly free in moral respects, however, is the exclusive privilege of the few who are naturally-gifted.
Aristotle recognizes thus the necessity of a moral community-life, which, as upheld by the pre-eminent moral spirit of the few specially-endowed individuals, furnishes, itself, the basis of the morality of individuals in general, and develops, and guides, and keeps it in bounds. This is a weighty thought far transcending the shallowness of modern rationalistic liberalism, which recognizes no other objective form of the moral community-life, than that which has grown up on the broad basis of the morality of the great multitude,—a merely abstract product without any power and effectiveness of its own. Aristotle regards it as absurd to base a moral community-life upon the disposition and the spiritual sovereignty of the masses; he calls for the sovereignty of the spiritual and moral heroes,—the exclusive authority of the most highly gifted personalities; but he is, as yet, too deeply 115involved in the peculiarities of the heathen world-view, to penetrate to the bottom of the defectiveness of human nature, as partially recognized by him, and to find the true solution of the enigma, and to divine the nature of the true remedy; he knows only man’s outward phase, but not the depths of the human heart. He ventures not to entertain any doubt as to the moral nature of the state-sages and philosophers, and he knows no other redemption, than (as in contrast to the profound spiritual blindness and the moral stupidity of the masses) in an immeasurable exaltation of the insight and the moral strength of the state-leaders and the sages.—Aristotle sees, in the state, not a remedial institution actually realizing true morality, but only a police-organism acting outwardly, checking the evil, and restoring outward discipline. The state can only ameliorate, but not radically cure; true wisdom and morality are not imparted by it to those who are by nature incapable thereof. This view throws light upon the decided preference of Aristotle for a contemplative life, uninvolved in any political activity. The highest goods can fall to the lot only of the few; the fact is not, that many are called while but few are chosen, but that only a few are called and chosen; there prevails here an absolute predestination, not, however, from a monotheistic, but from a fatalistic ground.
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