Aristotle on Freedom and Equality

  • David KeytEmail author
Part of the Philosophical Studies Series book series (PSSP, volume 132)


The two watchwords of ancient Greece democracy were ‘freedom’ and ‘equality’. Aristotle is sharply critical of the democratic understanding of both terms but, as a champion of true aristocracy, does not wish to surrender such rhetorically charged words to his ideological opponents. He thus tries to preserve a portion of the concepts signified by each of these terms for his favored political system. With respect to equality he is explicit. He distinguishes proportional equality from numerical equality and associates the former with aristocracy and the latter with democracy. With respect to freedom he is not so explicit. Although he often uses the term ‘free’ (eleutheros) and its cognates in the Politics to signify a freedom that is more robust than democratic freedom, he never discusses or analyses such a concept. But by using a general analysis of freedom as a triadic relation involving an agent, a goal, and an (obstructing or disabling) obstacle, one can piece together Aristotle’s understanding of ‘true’, or aristocratic, freedom. It thus turns out that ‘freedom’ and ‘equality’ can be watchwords, not only of democracy, but of true aristocracy as well.


Aristocracy Democracy Equality Freedom Ruling 


  1. Barnes, J. 2005. Aristotle and political liberty. In Aristotle’s Politics: Critical essays, ed. R. Kraut and S. Skultety, 185–202. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.Google Scholar
  2. Constant, B. 1988. The liberty of the ancients compared with that of the moderns. In Benjamin Constant: Political Writings. Ed. and Trans. B. Fontana, 307–328. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  3. ———. 2003. Principles of politics applicable to all governments. Trans. P. O’Keeffe. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund.Google Scholar
  4. Hansen, M.H. 1991. The Athenian democracy in the age of Demosthenes. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  5. ———. 1996. The ancient Athenian and the modern liberal view of liberty as a democratic ideal. In Dēmokratia, ed. J. Ober and C. Hedrick, 91–104. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  6. ———. 2013. Democratic freedom and the concept of freedom in Plato and Aristotle. In Reflections on Aristotle’s Politics, 71–96. Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum.Google Scholar
  7. Hornblower, S., A. Spawforth, and E. Eidinow, eds. 2012. The Oxford classical dictionary. 4th ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  8. Keyt, D. 1991. Aristotle’s theory of distributive justice. In A companion to Aristotle’s Politics, ed. D. Keyt and F.D. Miller Jr., 238–278. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  9. ———. 1999. Aristotle Politics: Books V and VI. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  10. ———. 2017. Nature and justice: Studies in the ethical and political philosophy of Plato and Aristotle. Louvain-La-Neuve: Peeters.Google Scholar
  11. ———. 2018. Aristotelian freedom. In The Oxford handbook of freedom, ed. D. Schmidtz and C. Pavel, 160–174. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  12. MacCallum, G. 1967. Negative and positive freedom. Philosophical Review 76: 312–334.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of ArizonaTucsonUSA

Personalised recommendations