What Constitutes An Idealistic Resident Of A Society?

This question has been pondered by great philosophical thinkers throughout the ages. John Locke and Aristotle, two of history’s most famous philosophers, had contrasting conceptions of what makes a good citizen. Locke’s philosophical and political thinking was rooted in religious and scientific nature. He believed that a citizen’s duty was to be mindful of their government and revolt against it if it did not fit their needs. Similarly, Aristotle’s political theories were rooted in logic and science. Aristotle believed that the ideal citizen was an individual that devoted their life to actively taking part in community politics. While Locke and Aristotle had similar beliefs, such as the importance of political power, they had opposing views on which attributes built an ideal citizen, the individual rights they were entitled to, and the ideal form and purpose of government. 

To Aristotle, citizenship was dependent on one’s ability to serve their community politically. He believed that a citizen of a society was “someone who is eligible to participate in deliberative and judicial office” (Aristotle, Politics, p. 67). This suggests that the ideal citizen is committed to engaging in local politics. Additionally, Aristotle’s ideal citizens consisted strictly of free men. Slaves, foreigners, women, and children could not truly be citizens. Although technically free, women, foreigners, and children were not capable of being citizens because they were unable to engage in political decision making. This lack of citizenship meant that they were not truly free, because Aristotle believed that citizenship is essentially freedom. Furthermore, Aristotle believed that citizens of a society were virtuous and that virtue was essential to happiness, leading to a good life. Virtue, to Aristotle, is a moderate state of moral character that arrives from “doing the right thing, in relation to the right person, at the right time, to the right extent, in the right manner, and for the right purpose” (Aristotle, Ethics, p. 959). An individual could pursue this concept by following their moral compass; a quality that Aristotle believed every ideal citizen had. Moreover, Aristotle believed one could become virtuous by living habitually and rationally; behaving within the middle of excess and deficiency and repeatedly practicing virtuous acts. Similarly, to Aristotle, the middle class was the best and most virtuous; they had no excess wealth or poverty and were free of arrogance or envy. Aristotle believed that the middle class of citizens had the ability to lead their community to its utmost sufficiency. It is clear that Aristotle was a firm believer in active political participation.

John Locke believed that an ideal citizen of a society was an individual that obeyed the law of nature, which was created by a God. Locke thought that ideal citizens were capable of discovering God and following him. By living according to a God’s natural law, citizens were able to lead a happy, fulfilling life. Locke notes that “the state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges everyone: and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind, who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possession…” (Locke, Second Treatise of Government, p. 9). In other words, Locke thought that every man was born equal and by natural law, citizens must protect their natural rights. 

Aristotle and John Locke had differing views on the individual rights that a citizen should have. John Locke believed that every citizen of a society had natural rights. These fundamental rights included life, liberty, and property. To Locke, natural rights were crucial for human preservation. He thought that natural rights were unable to be taken away and that they are derived from the law of nature, or, God’s law. While Aristotle did believe that there was some form of law of nature, he was not a large proponent of individual natural rights. To Aristotle, a citizen’s rights were much more social. He believed that a free man’s right was to devote his time to ruling and maintaining his city. This is because “a human being is by nature a political animal” (Aristotle, Politics, p. 4). To Aristotle, citizens are naturally more concerned with collectively running their government as opposed to their personal lives. Overall, Locke and Aristotle’s concepts of individual rights were quite different. 

Finally, Aristotle and John Locke had opposing views on the purpose of government and the ideal form of government. Aristotle believed that a government existed solely to lead a society to maximum excellence. According to Aristotle, a polity is the best and the ideal form of government because it suits the middle class. The ideal form of government, in Aristotle’s view, is “the one managed by the best people… in which there happens to be either one particular person or a whole family or a number of people whose virtue is superior to that of all the rest, and where the latter are capable of being ruled and the former of ruling… ” (Aristotle, Politics, p. 100). In other words, a polity would be a form of government run by a society of  virtuous citizens. On the other hand, John Locke believed that a government’s main purpose was to protect the natural rights of citizens. He did not think that individuals had the ability to properly preserve their rights within the state of nature. A central function of Locke’s ideal government was punishment against those who were a threat to one’s natural rights. The protection of individual rights within Locke’s ideal government allowed citizens to live peacefully. Locke’s ideal form of government was a rather democratic, representative government. Within this system, Locke believed that representatives consisted only of businessmen who owned property and only adult men who also owned property were able to vote. Additionally, Locke thought that government leaders must have limited power; they served solely to protect individual rights. A main characteristic of citizenship to Locke is the ability to revolt against a government that does not adequately protect these rights. Ultimately, Aristotle and Locke had vastly disparate conceptions of government. 

In conclusion, Aristotle and John Locke had opposing views on which characteristics created a model citizen, the rights that they were permitted, and the ideal type and function of government. Aristotle’s ideal concept of citizenship consisted of freedom and the ability to engage in political decision making. He believed that a government led by virtuous citizens led a society to a good, sufficient life. Locke was more concerned with the preservation of citizens’ natural rights; life, liberty, and property. These rights were promised by natural law, which was created by a God. In Locke’s eyes, a government existed only to protect individual rights. This led to a more tranquil life.