POL 129 Essay y in a polis." Examine the basis of this belief and its significance for the character of Greek political thought. The question of whether the good life is only achievable whilst living in a polis-type community raised many issues for the great ancient Greek philosophers such as Aristotle or Plato. The relevance of the polis to their writings is undeniable, however, it is difficult to assess how much those particular social conditions were inter-linked "The Ancient Greeks believed that a good life could be lived onl with the ancient Greeks lifelong search for the apparent good life. The nature of the polis that the ancient Greeks were socialise d into and subsequently the way in which they conducted their day to day lives and routines was very important in deeming the route that their lives would take. Generally, the polis referred to the territory upon which the community had been built upon. The geography of Greece ensured that small poleis were created across the entire country, there were one hundred separate poleis on Crete alone.
Particular emphasis must rest upon the 'small' as many of these communities consisted of only hundreds of people, although admittedly the poleis community in Athens has been conservatively estimated to have contained as many as 250, 000 citizens. Aristotle claims that "providing for survival ensures the emergence of the polis because individuals cannot become self sufficient on their own" Aristotle was not claiming that it was impossible for a person to live in an asocial manner but simply that it is not the most productive means of survival. Citizens within these communities were working to provide for one and other and because the polis lifestyle was the most appropriate vehicle for helping to achieve the good life then it must be the natural answer. The poleis communities tended to have a high sense of societal order which was imposed so as to ensure that every citizen knew ones role. Women and the national ised and capitalist slaves in particular were almost entirely shut out of Greek political life. The slaves, in general, were seen as 'barbaroi' which was a phrase used to describe people of a non-Greek ethnic background.
Many of these slaves came from countries such as Syria, Persia or what is now the North African region. The opportunities for these slaves and many other citizens to achieve the good life were severely diminished by the role they played within the polis. For the lower echelons of ancient Greek society such as the aforementioned slaves, women or children then achieving the good life was a great deal harder because they were seen as being unsuitable. As is expressed by Aristotle "ultimate happiness is linked to three virtues- nature, habit and reason." The argument that was utilised to show this was that certain people have slave natures and as a result they are simply carrying out their traditional roles that are suitable for them. Alternatively, women may not be entirely suitable for the good life because the male species is far more suited to rigours of leadership and therefore women become subordinate to men. Aristotle described "man as being a polis animal" which was again pointing out that the telos of a citizen could only be achieved through the polis.
Although not every member of the polis was deemed to be suitable for the good life, citizens in general were regarded as being equal and the use of direct democracy ensured that everyone was allowed a say in the decision making process. Although ancient Greek society could be seen as unjust and accentuating class differences the truth is that every citizen's role within the polis was acknowledged as being highly valuable in helping to firstly create a successful and manageable polis and secondly in helping to create the necessary conditions for the implementation of the good life. The pyramid style state that Plato suggests ensures that there is so-called equal class snobbery. His suggestion that the guardians, being the citizens with the most natural knowledge, skill and wisdom, would watch over the polis and ensure that there was no exploitation or disharmony within the polis and that the prescribed lifestyle is adhered to.
Aristotle again shows how important the good life was to ancient Greeks by declaring in The Politics that "the state or the polis is an agency which chases the good life." Who and how the management of this agency was conducted may be ultimately what decided how successful the polis and its citizens whom were deemed suitable for the good life were. This once again shows that the good life could not simply be achieved by the actions of one individual or one family but instead the movement and direction of a enlarged community like a polis. A family or a household could not have achieved the good life and similarly neither could a small village because they simply lack the necessary skills to implement all of the necessary elements of a polis. However the natural progression towards a poleis community helps to open the possibility of progressing to the good life. With the efficiency and knowledge that could be gained from the most effective pillars of the polis, primarily men, because as explained before they were classified as being more socially adept than women then the likelihood of more people eventually achieving the good life was significantly improved. It would be difficult answer what the one hundred percent perfect polis would be and what it would have to include for the progression to the good life to take place.
Justice appears to play a major part in the success of the poleis ideal. Although it is undeniable that certain citizens within the community are regarded differently to others because of the positions or roles that they hold the success of a polis is based upon the input of all members. Interestingly the achievement of reaching the good life for those who were viewed as appropriate candidates was very much dependent upon the hard work and cohesiveness of the polis as a whole. Without the existence of a polis community the good life would have been a great deal harder to achieve.
The diminished responsibility of the individual allowed the communities to develop in the manner which was necessary. A polis based community is one which was necessary because of the human nature of humans. The structure that was evident within the poleis showed that people were happy to be ruled by people with increased ability because it helped develop their personal well being. The ancient Greeks were perfectly happy with the societies that they lived in, seeing themselves as being culturally and politically superior. Certain people holding some increased influence over them held little consequence because they saw government by good rulers as being more useful than government by good laws. Overall the existence of the poleis societies within ancient Greece heralded was a very important issues.
For the likes of Aristotle and Plato there mere existence helped to create a far more stable and developed environment for the citizens to be living in. In fact it could possibly be seen as one that was far ahead of its time in terms of standards of living and the uncomplicated and advanced manner in which it was conducted. The thought of the good life being achievable only if one was to live in a polis was one which held much importance for both the citizens of ancient Greece and the philosophers writing at the time. The good life may well have been an elaborate myth that was created by the 'guardians' of that particular time period to ensure that the citizens carried on with the sense of order that had served ancient Greece so well.
If citizens were able to envisage the good life and knew that the only way to possibly achieve it would be through continued hard endeavour and obedience then the system would continue to unfold relatively unchallenged. However, in general I believe that the ancient Greeks almost certainly believed that the polis lifestyle was the only manner in which they would be able to achieve the good life. Bibliography Aristotle. The Politics (London: Penguin, 1992). Plato. Republic (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993).
Andrewes, Anthony Greek Society (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1971). Finley, M. I. Politics in the Ancient World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983).