Aristotle's Politics

Aristotle's Politics Summary and Analysis of Book VIII

Chapter 1

The legislator's primary concern should be the education of the young. Education must be public and in common, because there is a single end for the city as a whole. Citizens do not belong to themselves, but rather all belong to the city.

Chapter 2

The things that are useful and necessary should be taught, but not things are particular to the laborer or the slave, because such things make the mind abject.

Chapter 3

The four customary areas of education are letters, gymnastics, music and drawing. While music is not necessary, it is important because it is with a view to spending leisure time well. Some of the useful areas of learning should also be sought not only with a view to utility but with a view to enable the student to reach higher levels of learning. Seeking utility above all is not fitting for those who are magnanimous and free. Since education through habits must precede education through reason and education of the body must precede education of the mind, gymnastics must be the first thing taught to children.

Chapter 4

Gymnastics needs to be pursued moderately, so that it not take precedence over the other subjects, which train the mind.

Chapter 5

Music is for the sake of education, play and pastime. Play is for the sake of rest, which should be pleasant, and music is one of the most pleasant things. But some human beings have made play their ultimate end, because the end does in fact involve pleasure. Music itself is good for education because the harmonious blend of sounds leads the soul to balance the passions harmoniously in accordance with reason.

Chapter 6

Children should actively participate in the making of music themselves through singing or playing instruments, because it provides them with a noble pastime and keeps them out of trouble. "Education is a rattle for the young."

Chapter 7

The three defining principles for the purposes of education are the middle, the possible and the appropriate.


Aristotle's strong belief in the importance of education is evident in his earlier statement that education is the best means of preserving a regime, and is now made even clearer in his unqualified assertion that education should be the legislator's greatest concern. Like all of the central ideas in the Politics, the value that Aristotle places on education is rooted in his emphasis on the goal of the city as living well. Since the raison d'etre of the city is to help its citizens live the good life, teaching citizens to be virtuous is of primary importance. Furthermore, having well-educated and virtuous citizens will also help the city as a whole to be better.

A proper education in virtue requires habituation and proper intellectual formation. For Aristotle, education is not solely an intellectual matter, but is first and foremost the education of the soul in virtue, only part of which is intellectual. Before children are ready for intellectual training, however, they must learn virtues of self-discipline through gymnastics, and must acquire a taste for harmony in music so that they will be inclined to seek the harmony of their souls through a proper balance in which the appetites are subordinated to the rule of reason. As always, Aristotle connects virtuousness and freedom, contrasting virtuous conduct with slavishness. Aristotle also connects slavishness with wage-earning work. Such tasks are vulgar because they do not allow leisure time for the cultivation of nobler qualities, and they turn one's attention away from the soul toward the body and material things.