Volume 21, Issue 2, Spring 2017
Substance and Relation in Aristotle’s Political Philosophy
A Reply to Sean Kirkland
This paper explores Sean Kirkland’s thesis that relation is the fundamental concept in Aristotelian political philosophy. While substance is prior to relation in Aristotle’s metaphysics, Kirkland argues that since the human exists only in the context of a city which is defined by the essential diversity of views on the human good, relation precedes substantial unity in politics. I argue that the priority of the substantial unity of the city should not be seen to threaten the importance of political relations. Already in his theoretical ontology, Aristotle sees relation as absolutely essential and integral to the identity and existence of any mortal individual. Because of the essentially dynamic and relational activity of any mortal substance, the city as political substance must include and preserve deep diversity and difference within itself. The priority of the substantial over the relational, which makes possible the constitutive power of relations in the life of substances, is as operative in politics as it is in metaphysics.