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Epoché: A Journal for the History of Philosophy

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published on March 15, 2017

Sean D. Kirkland
DOI: 10.5840/epoche20173383

On the Ontological Primacy of Relationality in Aristotle’s Politics and the “Birth” of the Political Animal

In this paper, I begin with the most basic tenet in Aristotelian metaphysics, namely that ousia or ‘substance’ is ontologically prior to the nine other categories of being, including the pros ti, the condition of being literally ‘toward something’ or what is sometimes called 'relation' or ‘relationality.’ Aristotle repeats this frequently throughout his works and it is, I take it, manifest. However, in the Politics, so I argue here, Aristotle’s dialectical study of common appearances leads him to describe ‘human being’ in a way that runs contrary to this. That is, insofar as the human being is the zoon politikon or ‘political animal,’ it seems to be constituted as the being it is precisely by way of its relatedness to other human beings in the polis. I then try to determine the moment of ‘birth’ for this essentially relational being, and find that it may not be the emergence of the human from the womb, but rather, at least according to this interpretation of the Politics, the moment when we enter into the logos together with others in posing, discussing, debating, and re-posing the abidingly open question of the human Good.