The Basis for the Best Society:
The Science of the Nature of Man


[The notion that Plato and Aristotle produced "ideal" states as a result of their historical conditioning and that therefore such constructions are void of rational truth], however, is valid only if the liberal interpretation of the two philosophers as "constitutionalists" and "idealists" be considered valid. And this interpretation, which itself is part of the liberal construction of the history of ideas, is not acceptable in science.

Plato and Aristotle did not create "ideal states" (the very word ideal has no equivalent in Greek) but developed imaginative paradigms, models of the best polis. What is "best" again has nothing to do with "ideals" but will be decided by the pragmatic suitability of the model to provide an environment for the "best" or "happiest life"; and the criterion of the best or happiest life in its turn will be established by the science of philosophical anthropology.

The best life, according to the various formulations, is the life that leads to the unfolding of the dianoetic excellences, to one's existence as philosopher, to the bios theoretikos , or to the cultivation of the noetic self.  The models, thus, are based on a theory of the nature of man, which claims to be a science.

Nobody, of course, will today unreservedly agree with the results of the Platonic-Aristotelian analysis of human nature;  for in order to agree he would have to ignore the advances of philosophical anthropology that we owe to the Fathers and scholastics, as well as to such contemporary thinkers as Bergson, Gilson, Jaspers, Lubac, or Balthasar;  and as far as the classical models are concerned, our pragmatic interest in them will be mild, since we have little use for Greek poleis at present.

Such restrictions, however, do not affect the principle established by the classic philosophers that a philosophy of politics must rest on a theory of the nature of man, and that philosophical anthropology is a science—not an occasion for idealistic tantrums.

The liberal interpretation cavalierly disregards the explicit content of the Platonic-Aristotelian work;  and we conclude, therefore, that it cannot be used for disposing of this problem of the philosophia perennis. If there should exist any doubt about [A.D.] Lindsay's intention when he uses it nevertheless, it will be removed when we see him classify Aristotle's concept of the "good life" as one of the ideals that vary with time. The classification emasculates the concept by denying that it has a theoretical basis. This is a radical attack on philosophy as the science of order in the soul and society. As to Lindsay's intention we conclude, therefore, that he wanted to avoid the classic tension in which the philosopher opposes his authority to that of the civil theology under which he lives;  he wanted to be a theologian, and in order to act his part in good conscience he had to annihilate the uncomfortable authority of the philosopher—a procedure that casts a further interesting light on the intricate problems of freedom and conscience.

CW VOL 11,
The Oxford Political Philosophers , pp 39-40.

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