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The Political Animal and the Political Community: An Exercise in Medieval Mereology

Kultur & språk

Juhana Toivanen, University of Jyväskylä, gästar forskningsseminariet History of Philosophy and Classical Philology Research Seminar den 15 december. Titeln på hans föredrag är The Political Animal and the Political Community: An Exercise in Medieval Mereology. Alla intresserade är välkomna!

15 dec 2021
15:15 - 17:00
rum J577, Humanisten, Renströmsgatan 6

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Kontakta Filip Radovic om du vill delta.
Institutionen för filosofi, lingvistik och vetenskapsteori

Kort om seminariet

Juhana Toivanen beskriver sin föreläsning:

"For a long time in the history of western philosophy, the political and social dimension of human life was analysed by using the concept of ‘political animal’ (ζῷον πολιτικόν). The precise meaning of this notion that originates in Aristotle is elusive, and especially the fourth and final argument that Aristotle raises (inPolitics 1.2) for the political nature of humans and the naturalness of the political community is puzzling. He argues, famously, that the political community is prior in nature to individual human beings because humans are related to the community as parts to a whole. Moreover, he illustrates this part/whole relationship by comparing humans to limbs and organs that cannot exist except as parts of a living body.

It is tempting to read this analogy (an individual human is to the community as an organ is to the body) in terms of another well-known argument that Aristotle makes in De anima, namely, that an eye is an eye due to its ability to see. In the absence of its proper function, an eye is an eye only in name, homonymously—like an eye of a statue or a blind person. Organs have their proper functions only as parts of the whole, and when separated, they cease to be what they were.Extrapolating this into the case of a human being and political community, the conclusion seems to be that solitary individuals are not really human beings. Even though political life is not essential for humans, it is a necessary condition for exercising the rational functions that make them humans (practical and theoretical reasoning); and those who cannot exercise these functions are humans only by name.

Medieval philosophers unanimously accepted the Aristotelian idea that humans are political animals, but they had different views concerning the proper interpretation of the part/whole argument. Some of them seemingly bite the bullet, take the argument literally, and argue that being a member of a political community is a condition for being a human in the proper sense of the word. Others, by contrast, provide detailed theories of the metaphysical relation between individual human beings and the political community—theories that mitigate the radical conclusion and admit the humanity of solitary individuals.

My presentation focuses on these discussions. After briefly examining certain medieval arguments that suggest a literal reading of the part/whole argument, I concentrate on two authors who propose a different interpretation: Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) and Walter Burley (1275–1344). In other words, I analyse medieval discussions concerning the natural priority of the community over individual human beings—the part/whole argument as a mereological exercise."