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Aristolte’s Views of a Citizen

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Aristolte’s Views of a Citizen

In book three of Aristotle's Politics, he talks about the nature of constitutions but in order for him to do this he first ponders what makes a citizen a citizen. This definition is crucial to understanding the nature of constitutions and the changing nature of cities because as constitutions change so too does the city. Since the city is made up of citizens one question that is raised after reading book three that is useful for us today is what makes a person a good citizen and how could Aristotle's definition of a citizen be beneficial to people in the United States? To answer this question one must first understand what a citizen is according to Aristotle.

A citizen is "not just an inhabitant of a place, by simply residing in a certain city-state, one is not considered a citizen. Nor is someone who participates in the justice system by prosecuting others in the courts or being judged there is a citizen"(1275a5). After defining what is not a citizen, Aristotle goes into what makes a citizen a citizen. He defines a citizen as "someone who is eligible to participate in deliberative and judicial office"(1275b17). He also points out that even if someone is holding an office wrongly in the city-state, he is still holding an office which is the main part of the definition of what a citizen is. So right or wrong anyone holding an office is said to be a citizen.

To answer the question that is raised after reading book three one must also have a definition of the city-state and a definition of what a constitution is. For these two things help define what a citizen actually is. Aristotle defines the city-state as "a multitude of such people, adequate for life's self-sufficiency"(1275b19). For Aristotle there are six different types of constitutions, three of which are just and three of which are not. The three that are found to be just are kingship, aristocracy, and constitutional government. Aristotle argues that the best constitution is ultimately that of constitutional government. In this form of government the masses are included in the government. Offices are not just for a few elites in the city-state. Many are made to participate in this constitutional form.

The question of what makes a citizen a citizen today is one that most people in the United States do not take the time to even think about. Most people take what they see as their citizenship for granted. To most people, residing in the United States is enough for them to be considered a citizen of the United States. Is this necessarily the definition of a good citizen? Not necessarily. As Aristotle points out, there are different types of constitutions for different groups of people. The United States was founded on such principles of freedom and justice. So for the people of the United States the best constitution would be that of constitutional government because these principles are held up the best in this sort of government. But in order for a society to reap the full benefits of this sort of constitution one must be actively participating in the process or the decisions that concern many will be made by only the few. And this is exactly what has happened in the United States. Ask anyone if they feel as though they have a say in their government and most will say that they do not. This could be explained by what has become the definition of a citizen in the United States. Most do

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