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A Definition of Political Science

September 9, 2022
                                                                                          

In the Nicornachean Ethics Aristotle observes that the

end of politics is to engender “a certain character in the citizens and to make them good and disposed to perform noble actions.” 

For that reason, statesmen must have some knowledge of the human psyche.  If Aristotle’s observation means something more than that politicians should have a good grasp of human nature, then what are the dimensions ofthis knowledge?

            We saw in my post on September 5 that differentiated human psychological consciousness is not something that men have always had.  Rather, this was the unique result of the discovery in Hellas of philosophy as a mode of consciousness of existence‑in‑truth, of openness to transcendent divine reality. That this differentiation should be a principal discovery of a theological revolution, however, is somewhat perplexing. Yet, if we observe that the men of these ancient cultures came to know themselves only by reference to acts of the gods or by acts of men who were both mortal and immortal, once the hegemony of the intracosmic gods was broken the differentiated consciousness of man was a logical development.  Prephilosophic ancient man could not see or understand himself as uniquely human as long as the only ones with individuality were gods or men who were nearly gods.  The newly differentiated consciousness of the divine reality as transcendent, not intracosmic, had the effect, therefore, of pushing the human psyche into the forefront of human consciousness because now man was understood to be the source of order and disorder.  Eric Voegelin writes that “Through the opening of the soul the philosopher finds himself in a new relation with God;  he not only discovers his own psyche as an instrument for experiencing transcendence but at the same time discovers the divinity in its radically nonhuman transcendence.  Hence, the differentiation of the psyche is inseperable from a new truth about God.”

We find this “new truth about God” manifest in Aristotle’s discussion of intelligence (nous) and of the contemplative life (bios theoretikos)  as the maximal actualization of human happiness.   Aristotle taught that human action is oriented towards ends hierarchically ordered and intellected by the soul, which is itself hierarchically ordered into higher (rational) and lower (appetitive and vegetative) aspects. The soul’s life in accordance with virtue is true happiness, which in the sphere of human action is the cause (anion) and arche of all that men do. In human affairs, true happiness is analogous to the divine arche in the field of physis.

Nous, as the highest capacity of the rational part of the soul, deals with “the highest objects of knowledge.”

“At its highest level, poetic contemplation of the divine reality, Aristotle calls it the striving to be deathless or immortal since, he says, nous is either “divine or the:  most divine thing in us.”

 How is this “immortalizing” aspect of Aristotle’s philosophy crucial to understanding his definition of political science?  It is crucial because noetic consciousness of transcendent divine reality, is articulated in the philosophic insight that the arche of all that is is not a cosmic god but a divine principle (arche) beyond the cosmos that man may contemplate with his reason (logos) and not merely honor by ritual sacrifices

That broke the hegemony of mythic symbols of order and opened the way for a “science” of politics.

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