Volume 9, Issue 2, 2012
A Journal of Analytic Scholasticism
Gregory B. Sadler
Aneu Orexeōs Nous
Virtue, Affectivity, and Aristotelian Rule of Law
Passages in Aristotle’s Politics Book 3 are cited in discussions of the “rule of law”, most particularly sections in 1287a where the famous characterization of law as “mind without desire” occurs and in 1286a where Aristotle raises and explores the question whether it is better to be ruled by the best man or the best laws. My paper aims, by exegetically culling out Aristotle’s position in the Politics, Nicomachean Ethics and Rhetoric, to argue that his view on the rule of law and its relations to human subjects is considerably more complex and considerably more interesting. Despite Aristotle’s dictum, laws are not expressions or institutions of a pure and passionless rationality, and in order to be framed, understood and administered well, one must both have the sort of solid understanding of virtues, vices, passions, and motives of human action that Aristotle’s moral philosophy provides and have developed, at least to some degree, certain virtues. My paper focuses particularly on three themes: the role of the passions and desires in judgment, action, virtues and vices; the inescapability of passions and desires in the functioning of law; the possibility for rule of law and a certain level of virtue to be mutually supporting.