Virtue, Equality, and Inequality in Aristotle’s Politics

  • Deborah K. W. ModrakEmail author
Part of the Philosophical Studies Series book series (PSSP, volume 132)


The topic of equality comes up in a variety of contexts in Aristotle’s Politics from Book II to VII. The desire for equality with equals and superiority to inferiors seems to play an important explanatory role for Aristotle in determining the characteristics of the constitution of a state and being a significant causal factor in constitutional change. He distinguishes between types of equality, numerical and proportional, and equality relative to some interest and unqualified equality. Aristotle appeals to his conception of equality in his explanation of the nature and types of democracy and oligarchy in the differentiation of the three types of good constitutions—monarchy, aristocracy and polity—and their less than ideal counterparts—tyranny, oligarchy and democracy—as well as in his analysis of political stability and constitutional change. Despite the complexity of his conception of equality and its political importance, Aristotle’s detailed descriptions of actual constitutions and constitutional changes seldom mention equality. How the desire for equality is explanatory or which type of equality is realized in a specific constitution is left to the reader to determine. The goal of this paper is to discover whether a coherent account of equality can be extracted, on Aristotle’s behalf, from what he does say. In the first two sections, we will look at the role equality plays in Aristotle’s descriptions of actual constitutions in Politics IV and V. The third section will examine the role equality plays in his design of an ideal constitution in Politics VII and VIII. We will conclude by summarizing the strengths and weaknesses of Aristotle’s approach to equality.


Democracy Equalities Inequalities Justice Oligarchy 


  1. Barker, E. 1962. The Politics of Aristotle. Trans. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Keyt, D. 1999. Aristotle Politics books V and VI. Trans. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Keyt, D., and F.D. Miller Jr., eds. 1991. A companion to Aristotle’s Politics. Malden: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  4. Ober, J. 2015. The rise and fall of classical Greece. Princeton: Princeton University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Rackham, H., ed. 1932. Aristotle: Politics, Loeb Classical Library. Vol. 21. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Robinson, R 1995. Aristotle Politics books III and IV. Trans. Oxford: Clarendon.Google Scholar
  7. Rowe, C. 1991. Aims and methods in Aristotle’s Politics. In Keyt and Miller (1991).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of RochesterRochesterUSA

Personalised recommendations