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[1280a] [1] and it necessarily follows that wherever the rulers owe their power to wealth, whether they be a minority or a majority, this is an oligarchy, and when the poor rule, it is a democracy, although it does accidentally happen, as we said, that where the rulers hold power by wealth they are few and where they hold power by poverty they are many, because few men are rich but all men possess freedom, and wealth and freedom are the grounds on which the two classes lay claim to the government.

And first we must ascertain what are stated to be the determining qualities of oligarchy and democracy, and what is the principle of justice under the one form of government and under the other. For all men lay hold on justice of some sort, but they only advance to a certain point, and do not express the principle of absolute justice in its entirety. For instance, it is thought that justice is equality, and so it is, though not for everybody but only for those who are equals; and it is thought that inequality is just, for so indeed it is, though not for everybody, but for those who are unequal; but these partisans strip away the qualification of the persons concerned, and judge badly. And the cause of this is that they are themselves concerned in the decision, and perhaps most men are bad judges when their own interests are in question. Hence inasmuch as ‘just’ means just for certain persons, and it is divided in the same way in relation to the things to be distributed and the persons that receive them, as has been said before in the Ethics,1 the two parties agree as to what constitutes equality in the thing, but dispute as to what constitutes equality in the person, [20] chiefly for the reason just now stated, because men are bad judges where they themselves are concerned, but also, inasmuch as both parties put forward a plea that is just up to a certain point, they think that what they say is absolutely just. For the one side think that if they are unequal in some respects, for instance in wealth, they are entirely unequal, and the other side think that if they are equal in some respects, for instance in freedom, they are entirely equal. But the most important thing they do not mention. If men formed the community and came together for the sake of wealth, their share in the state is proportionate to their share in the property, so that the argument of the champions of oligarchy would appear to be valid—namely that in a partnership with a capital of 100 minae2 it would not be just for the man who contributed one mina to have a share whether of the principal or of the profits accruing equal to the share of the man who supplied the whole of the remainder; but if on the other hand the state was formed not for the sake of life only but rather for the good life (for otherwise a collection of slaves or of lower animals would be a state, but as it is, it is not a state, because slaves3 and animals have no share in well-being or in purposive life), and if its object is not military alliance for defence against injury by anybody, and it does not exist for the sake of trade and of business relations4—for if so, Etruscans and Carthaginians and all the people that have commercial relations with one another would be virtually citizens of a single state; at all events they have agreements about imports and covenants as to abstaining from dishonesty and treaties of alliance for mutual defence;

1 Cf. Aristot. Nic. Eth. 1131a 14-24.

2 See 1268b 14 n.

3 See 1260a 12, and Aristot. Nic. Eth. 1177a 8, ‘but no one allows a slave any measure of happiness, any more than a life of his own.’

4 The sentence here breaks off; The inference that should have formed its conclusion is given in 5.15.

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  • Cross-references to this page (1):
    • Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854), CARTHA´GO
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  • Cross-references in notes from this page (2):
    • Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1131a
    • Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1177a
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