Between God and beast : an examination of the ethical and political ideas of the poet, Pindar, the historian, Thucydides, and the philosopher, Aristotle
Through an analysis of the work of the poet, Pindar, the historian, Thucydides, and the philosopher, Aristotle, this thesis builds on the conception of man as a creature between god and beast in an attempt to develop a sense of the kinds of thought and language that are appropriate for political theorising. It discusses an understanding of political theory that is based on the human capacity for reasonable, creative action. In this, it opposes another model of political theorising, one that has been collapsed under a scientific model that judges itself successful only when it yields precise and definitive answers to dilemmas that grow out of a contingent and indeterminate world. I have argued that man's good, his potential to become a responsible and flourishing actor, is realised through attentive and reflective political experience. This experience is not 'raw', acquired alone by passively 'absorbing' whatever man perceives to be the case in pursuit of his individual whims. It is instead guided, shared, interpreted, evaluated, and demanding. The texts I have chosen serve to supplement direct political experience. Pindar's odes - their elliptical language and use of metaphor, their juxtaposition of seemingly mutually exclusive characteristics in men - demand effort on the part of an audience/reader to cultivate the capacity to derive meaning from culturally-situated complex ideas and images. Thucydides' description of the war through a 'fragmented' perspective, his examples of the kinds of reasoning that precede decisions, point to a perspective that seems to argue that agents should develop the kind of character that can creatively balance a general conception of what man is as a species with the relevant concrete details of a situation and proceed to act accordingly. That man is a species with a fixed good is one of Aristotle's fundamental assumptions, and leads to his conviction that ethics and politics are inherently imprecise. I discuss how he defends this position and its consequences as elaborated in the Nicomachean Ethics and Politics. I then attempt to show how what he has to say in the Poetics realises and supplements his ethical and political goals. The Poetics indicates that men must learn to extract sound generalisations by drawing inferences from disparate actions, to transform mistakes into valuable aspects of life, and be able to carve out the proper, dynamic, realm of responsibility. This generates a conception of man whose good goes beyond mere preference satisfaction but instead grows out of a reasonable (general) sense of what he is which can be used creatively in the specific (concrete) circumstances he confronts.