The Aim of Politics is Ethics and Virtue, the Promotion of the Individual Self Worth and the Common Good

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act, but a habit.”
– Aristotle

This humble paper is a counter-thesis to the prevalent negative and pessimistic view that there is no ethics in politics and that the idea of the ancient Greeks concerning politics is not applicable in our society or in the world in general because we are not living in an ideal world!

aristotleI sternly disagree! Hence, I am registering my dissent and offering my counter arguments to refute and debunk the baseless twin contentions.

To the contention that we do not live to an ideal world, let me state that: the world is the world today because of who we are. We improve the world by improving ourselves. We deserve the kind of community, society and world that we have, because whether we like it or not, we are responsible to its creation and continuing existence.

There is no shadow of doubt as Professor A. C. Grayling lucidly remind us:

“humanity is part of nature, and the beauties and pleasures of everything of everything natural are part of humanity’s inheritance. This was the view of the ancient Greeks, who saw in the exercise of man’s reason the source of his ability to recognize goodness. The Greeks extolled friendship, the quest for knowledge and the appreciation of excellence in all things, as the source of the greatest pleasure that humans can have. They sought to understand what should make a good society so that individuals within it could enjoy flourishing lives. The focus of their attention is on this world and its benefits, and they debated intelligently about how to enjoy them, share them, and get the best from them.”

As a close student of the ancient Greeks, it is my humble contention and in conformity to the Aristotelian view: that the very basis of politics is ethics.

Hence, the negative outlook and pessimistic view that there is no ethics in politics is without any foundation!

Undeniably, not only that there is a room for ethics in politics, but the very aim or purpose (telos) of politics is the creation of virtues citizens, a good society where the citizens are responsible and truly living a happy life; because their interest is not simply their personal one but the interest of the whole for the promotion and the development of the common good!

I concur that “morality is hard to preserve and practice in politics”, nonetheless, it does not mean that being a moral and ethical politician is improbable! Yes, it is hard, yet it does not mean that it is impossible.

True, the English philosopher Francis Bacon said: “It is hard and severe a thing to be a true politician as to be truly moral.”

I intentionally highlighted this quotation, because it put squarely into the forefront of the discourse the very heart of the thesis of my argument.

What does it means to be a true politician? The very idea or the concept of a politician as originally envisioned by the Greeks is very different from the conception of the politician that we, the so-called “moderns” now understood. Etymologically, a politician is what the Greeks called as a polites. A polites is an individual whose main concern is the public welfare and the promotion of the common good!

We, the so-called “moderns” unfortunately have corrupted and bastardized a very noble concept.

With regard to those so-called “politicians” who do not give a damn to the people or who do not care about the public interest or those creatures whose interest is their only interest and use power not to distribute it but to further their nefarious and selfish aims; the term given to them by the Greeks is — an idiotes.

Those “politicians” who are in truth are the idiotes are those creatures quoted by our correspondents whose interest is their self-interest, those who are engaged in corruption (whether in money, position or power), those who do not care about the welfare of the people and don’t give a damn about problems of society.

Yes, they are idiots. They are idiots not because they are uneducated or unlettered or ignorant. Rather, they are what they are because they are blind and deaf with regard to what is the most important thing in life and in the public sphere.

They thought, idiotically and myopically that what is most important in life is money, power, position, privileges, etc.

They thought that the people exist to provide them with positions; they do not realize that instead their position exist to provide those people with freedom, justice, equity and to advance their well-being.

They believe that money is the most important thing, yet failed to discern that rather it is honor and virtue.

A fake “politician” thought that he or she is powerful and privileged when that individual is using it arbitrarily as against the wishes of the people; not knowing that he or she is powerless, because the true source of power is the power that comes from the people themselves.

Incontestably, only a moron would doubt the veracity of the claim that: “Politics, in its true meaning, is praiseworthy”.

The problem is, the idiotes of today corrupted and twisted the beautiful meaning and aims of politics.

Now, politics is known universally as the so-called “realpolitik” which meaning is a galaxy away from its original meaning.

Nevertheless, despite the negative connotation of “politics” in its general present form, politics, not merely as a profession but more importantly as a way of life can achieve a high ethical values if the very system in which politics arise have strong values as developed by the people or the citizens themselves.

The question is how? What’s to be done?

Aristotle stated that we cannot be fully be human and be a good citizen without participating in politics to create civic virtue which is utterly necessary to be a virtuous person and correspondingly a responsible citizen.

As testified by Professor Michael J. Sandel, “For Aristotle, the purpose of politics is not to set up a framework of rights that is neutral among ends. It is to form good citizens and to cultivate good character.”

To quote Aristotle’s key passages in his book the Politics:

“Any polis (society) which is truly so-called, and it is not merely one in name, must devote itself to the end of encouraging goodness. Otherwise, a political association sinks into a mere alliances… Otherwise, too, law becomes a mere covenant… “a guarantor of men’s rights against one another” — instead of being, as it should be, a rule of life such as will make the members of a polis good and just.”

Man by nature is a socio-political animal. We cannot do much if we are alone or in isolation, because if that is the case we will fail to develop both language and moral deliberation.

Hence, to be a good, virtuous human being and a responsible citizen, it is a condition sine qua non that we must participate and take part in everything that is happening in our politics.

In the categorically stirring words of Bertolt Brecht:

“The worst illiterate is the political illiterate, he doesn’t hear, doesn’t speak, nor participates in the political events. He doesn’t know the cost of life, the price of the bean, of the fish, of the flour, of the rent, of the shoes and of the medicine, all depends on political decisions. The political illiterate is so stupid that he is proud and swells his chest saying that he hates politics. The imbecile doesn’t know that, from his political ignorance is born the prostitute, the abandoned child, and the worst thieves of all, the bad politician, corrupted and flunky of the national and multinational companies.”

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About Jose Mario de Vega

The writer has a Master’s degree in Philosophy, a law degree and a degree in AB Political Science. He was previously teaching Philosophy, Ethics and Anthropology at an institution of higher education in the Nilai University College at Nilai, Negeri Sembilan, Malaysia. He is currently a lecturer at the College of Arts, Department of Philosophy at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines.

As of the moment, he is preparing to publish his first book entitled “Dissidente”. It is a collection of his articles, commentaries and op-ed published by various newspapers in Southeast Asia.

Post Author: Jose Mario de Vega

The writer has a Master’s degree in Philosophy, a law degree and a degree in AB Political Science. He was previously teaching Philosophy, Ethics and Anthropology at an institution of higher education in the Nilai University College at Nilai, Negeri Sembilan, Malaysia. He is currently a lecturer at the College of Arts, Department of Philosophy at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines.

As of the moment, he is preparing to publish his first book entitled “Dissidente”. It is a collection of his articles, commentaries and op-ed published by various newspapers in Southeast Asia.

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10 Comments on "The Aim of Politics is Ethics and Virtue, the Promotion of the Individual Self Worth and the Common Good"

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Hyden Toro
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Hey Dude…have you read the life of Sir Thomas Moore. The English Prime Minister of King Henry VIII of England. He has : integrity, morals, and a good conscience. He lost his head following his conscience.
You can be a Politician, and you can become a Saint also. As he had demonstrated. You can be a politician; and can be ethical also.
Our problem with our politicians is: their hearts are not in the right way – to serve the people. Instead they serve themselves. Look at the blossoming of family political dynasties…

Andrew
Guest

Sir Thomas More kept a rack in his house in Chelsea so that he could torture Protestants in the comfort and privacy of his own home before sending them to be burned at the stake.

If that is your idea of “integrity, morals and good conscience”, I hope you never have political power over me.

The Church of Rome tells us that he is a saint; he is not the sort of fellow whom I would like to share Heaven with.

Johnny Saint
Guest

Where is your proof that St. Thomas More used a rack on protestants? The writings of John Foxe?

Andrew
Guest

“Proof” – we are speaking of a man who died in 1535.

More’s own “Dialogue Concerning Heresies” extols the burning of Protestants, and yes, Foxe contains an account of More racking men in his own house (incidentally, Foxe was a very diligent researcher; whilst his writings were certainly not impartial, very few of his statements of fact have been shown to be in error).

But, for convenience, try here:

http://www.thetudorswiki.com/page/Sir+Thomas+More+Controversies

Libertas
Guest
A politician without ethics is a menace to society and a barrier to progress. They place self-interest, and maintaining the status quo, at the top of their agenda. They exhibit hypocricy and deceit in their personal quest for money and power. Their moral compass only guides them to the dark side of human endeavour, and an absence of conscience provides them with no braking mechanism. Sadly, i see no champion or change agent on the horizon, and no significant groundswell of intolerance or indignation amongst the populace, simply resignation and acceptance, almost to the point of total subservience. whilst people… Read more »
Glenn
Guest
To quote the Greeks and what they thought politics was 4,000 yrs. ago is all very grand and noble. BUT the Greeks also thought that the fossilized fish bones found inside a mountain was proof positive that fish could swim through rocks. the Greeks failed to realize that the formation of the earths’ surface had changed and that the place where the fish died had been covered by sedimentary rock over eons and that the water had receded and a mountain now stood where once there was a body of water. So look how wrong they could be. It is… Read more »
Jose Mario Dolor De Vega
Guest
Jose Mario Dolor De Vega

So, what is your point? Ha?

Without the ancient Greeks, do you think, the so-called “moderns” will ever have a concept of what politics, government, well-being, citizenship, ethics, etc.?

They are the first to raise those issues and it is but just and fair that we give them the justice and the credit due to them!

I reiterate the thesis of my humble work: we must distinguish the politics of today from the politics originally envisioned by the Greeks!

Glenn
Guest
if they did not do it, someone else would have. and we would still have the bastardized versions of today.Sure, the basis of Ari’s work was sound, it just doesn’t translate into a work-able model in a corruption plagued world, but it could if ya could stop the corruption….but you just can’t. They had their share of ‘problems’ too and surely someone had their hand in the till of the peoples taxes. Its funny when someone says , “if it weren’t for them(or that guy), we would not have what we have today!”. WRONG, someone else would have done it.… Read more »
LA702
Guest

@ Mario DLV

Juan Ponce Enrile indeed have mastered the habit of “deceit and lie” he exceeded Aristotles expectations.

Sir Francis Bacon, was an illegitimate son of Queen Elizabeth 1st whom she banished to France. Francis Bacon was the real author behind William Shakespeare’s works.

Danny
Guest
Glenn is right on saying that “it is really a matter of opinion…”. However, perhaps it is more prudent not just to make as basis whatever the past philosophers, statesmen, politicians and whatever relative to what really are the attitudes of the current politicians most specifically in the Philippines. Whatever attitudes and conducts of the politicians here solely depend on the culture. For example in The Proverbs 22:7 The rich ruleth over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender. The first phrase seems to apply in most times, however, for the second phrase this is entirely opposite… Read more »