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Aristotle and the Eleatic Stranger on the Nature and Purpose of Political Life


  • Versions of this article were presented at the 2006 Southern Political Science Association and Southwestern Political Science Association meetings, where I benefited from comments by Daniel Kapust and Devin Stauffer. The editors and anonymous reviewers of the journal helped to improve the manuscript, particularly in the first and sixth sections. Conversations with E. A. Goerner and David O'Connor have helped me to understand better Book I of the Politics. I am grateful to the Earhart Foundation and the University of Notre Dame for supporting this research and, in particular, to Catherine Zuckert for her careful review of the manuscript.

Kevin M. Cherry, Department of Political Science, 217 O'Shaughnessy Hall, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN 46556 (


This article argues that Book I of the Politics represents Aristotle's critique of Plato's Eleatic Stranger on the specific character of political rule and the knowledge required for political rule, and that this critique produces a different understanding of the proper division of regimes and the relationship between political theory and practice. These differences can be traced to a more fundamental disagreement about nature: Aristotle sees nature as generally hospitable to human life and argues that the natural end or goal of political association is not mere life but the good life, while the Eleatic perceives nature as hostile and proposes a minimalist politics, aimed primarily at preserving life. Although the Eleatic's view of nature might appear to be closer to and more compatible with modern political thought, the conception of nature Aristotle presents in his Politics offers richer possibilities for political theory and political life.