Programme and methods
The last chapter of the Nicomachean Ethics points out that it is only by good legislation that society can ensure the good conduct of its citizens. The study of the behaviour of the individual is continuous with the study of society as a whole, and Aristotle mentions some of the main questions that need to be investigated under the second head. He complains that his predecessors had left the topic of legislation unexamined and he sketches out how he will deal with the subject. First he will review earlier ideas where they seem to have something to contribute to the subject. Then he will investigate, ‘in the light of the constitutions that have been collected’, what factors preserve or destroy constitutions and the reasons that some states are well, others badly, governed. Finally he will consider what constitution is best and what laws and customs the best state should have (EN 1181 b 12–23).
From the programme outlined here one might suppose that Aristotle undertook the detailed histories of individual constitutions, such as the Constitution of Athens, before writing the Politics, in which he deals with the causes of the changes in constitutions, the best possible form of state and so on. It might even appear that he followed, or claimed to be following, an idealistic work-plan, first completing the descriptive studies, and then and only then proceeding to the theoretical treatise.
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