Sample Philosophy Essay Paper on Prompt 1: Animal Politics – Descriptions of Aristotle, Ranciere and Spiegelman’s Views

  1. Aristotle and Animal Politics

According to Aristotle (176), the main differentiating factor between humans and other animals lies in the ability to speak and to make moral judgments. This is what influences the capacity of humans to make political affiliations and to stay in them. While all animals have similar physical predispositions, it is only man that is capable of actually conducting political growth. The gift of speech, given to man by nature is meant to help in communicating justice as well as moral concepts. Both of these are crucial in the formation of the city/ state system hence man is naturally political. The intent of all men is to form affiliations and those who are incapable of forming affiliations are either lesser beings or gods. The consideration of human as special animals distinctively due to their capability of speech forms a point of discussion among many philosophers. In the argument presented by Aristotle, speech makes the greatest contribution to man’s intrinsic desire for politics in comparison to the role of logic and moral culpability (Lord 66).

Similarly, other philosophers have also done a lot either to dispute or to concur with the arguments of Aristotle. Nonetheless, the stress implied on the role of speech is undeniable. Aristotle further explains that man can be distinguished from other animals due to their ability to particularly use speech in the representation of pain and pleasure; harm and advantage as well as right and wrong. It is only through the ability to make just and moral decisions that man can satisfactorily participate in the creation of the city/ state. Other animals are incapable of political activity due to their lack of moral reason.

According to Aristotle (180), humans have an innate impulse to form partnership. As such, political inclination is naturally a human concept. In this regard, any individual unable to form partnerships is regarded either as a lower being by virtue of their inability to be social or as a god by their self-sufficiency in individuality. From this perspective, distinct from consideration of speech and moral culpability, humans have the need to associate with others and it is this that makes them different from other animals. It is also this that forms the basis for their political associations (Nichols 14). From this perspective, Aristotle further explains that the distinction between men and animals in terms of the disdain for association is portrayed through quarrelsomeness and solitary lifestyles which are unnatural. Men who avoid associations are more likely to exhibit this kind of behavior which is not inclined towards man’s ultimate end.

Other explanations given by Aristotle concerning the nature of man as a political animal are anchored on man’s ultimate end for the accomplishment of self sufficiency and happiness (181). From this point of view, Aristotle argues that the process of achieving self sufficiency comes with social partnership and its accomplishment is what helps in the achievement of the second end of human life which is happiness (Romanus par. 6). As such, there is no other animal that is as political as man since the achievement of his end is based on this nature. Aristotle thus asserts that the political nature of man is divine.

Kuninski (63) further reports that self-sufficiency is theoretical in nature while political practicality is the real evidence of humanity. The implication of this is that self-sufficiency is impossible among humans unless they are politically inclined. Political activity, through this lens is viewed as being similar to other forms of rule, evident in households and at a personal level. However, the state and/ or city are viewed to hold a higher position in comparison to the household and to the individual. The actions of individuals in the political arena are described as necessary if based on the application of practical knowledge and if morally inclined. In this regard, politics plays the role of engendering certain characters among citizens in order to make them capable of performing certain noble roles (Nichols 49). The responsibility of moral inclination in this aspect is to regulate the behaviors of political partnerships such that they are inclined to perform only as acceptable by political laws. The arguments put forward by Aristotle in defining political environment and the concepts of being a part of it all purpose to create distinctions between the animal world and the human world. The conditions highlighted by Aristotle in his arguments on political activity result in the formulation of political organizations that are based on justice and moral value. As a matter of fact, Aristotle further purports that politics requires virtue (Kuninski 64). This is different from the animal world where the lack of order and prevalence of chaos is the order of the day. Lack of moral inclination and injustice take precedence over any other conditions in the animal world.

Aristotle’s findings are also in line with the present political systems where activity is determined through practical application of knowledge, virtue and consideration of moral situations (Clayton par. 11). For instance, while the human world places citizens to takes in ensuring that they perform noble actions, the animal world has no constraints on the behaviors of the participants in the environment.

Aristotle (177) argues that politics is synonymous to partnerships for the formation of the state or city. The person who first manages to form the state / city or to form successful partnerships is considered a benefactor in the human political system. The political system, in this case the city or state is prior to individuals and to households in nature. This is based on the argument that each individual is insufficient separately, but partnership causes sufficiency among individuals. As such, an independent man is likened to a part that cannot effectively accomplish all the roles of the whole due to insufficiency. Man must be related to the state as various parts are to the whole. This is the perception that Aristotle intends to develop in his explanation of the concept of political activity in the world. Through the argument that partnerships help to build sufficiency, the implication made is that political activity survives only through partnerships. Although the theory was developed in the early times, this perception is clearly observable even in the contemporary times. Partnerships and affiliations are common phenomena in the world’s political arena. Any individual cannot be successful on their own.

The arguments developed by Aristotle on political activity may be significantly different from observations of the political environment in the present days. While the gift of speech clearly plays an essential role in the acquisition of electoral positions, it is also clear that political roles require more than just speech. Even though speech and moral inclination may distinguish man from other animals, the political field is characterized by possession of many other personal traits and may sometimes exhibit high levels of immorality. As such, the arguments of Aristotle, despite being credible are not entirely applicable in the present day politics hence it may be concluded that politics is not necessarily natural in humans.

  • Jacques Ranciere and Politics

To some extent Ranciere’s arguments support the foundation developed by Aristotle, particularly on man’s inherent political nature. Ranciere argues that the ‘human’ name conditions political possibility among human beings. This could be taken to imply that Ranciere also holds the position that man is naturally inclined to engage in politics (Schaap 24). This position is similar to the beliefs held by Aristotle and a superficial consideration of both views could give the perception that Ranciere is merely advancing the beliefs of Aristotle. The explanation given by Ranciere (2) on the natural inclination to political activity is based on the lack of distinction between the man and the human rights. In this concept, Ranciere argues that the ambiguity in these two concepts is such that it is impossible to represent man as distinct from human rights unless one is in the political context. This could be taken as a means of indicating the lack of self-sufficiency apart from the partnership that results from political activity. Further exploration of the work of Ranciere indicates the possibility of divergence of opinions.

According to the study carried out by Fred Miller (par. 10), Ranciere posits that politics is a platform in which those who are considered to lack speech take the opportunity to make themselves heard. This goes contrary to the arguments posited by Aristotle that men’s capability to use speech naturally inclines them to political activity. From the arguments of Ranciere, speech impediment rather than articulateness is what drives people towards politics in order to develop a platform in which they can be heard. At the same time, Schaap (25) says that Ranciere, in his position in regards to the use of speech, does not view speech as the key reason behind man’s inclination to politics as does Aristotle. Ranciere digresses from the perception that leading a fully human life is impossible solely from the consideration of man as an animal endowed with speech capabilities. This particularly comes with the responsibility of explaining the limitations of speech which make it inapplicable in use as a rationale for political activity.

In Ranciere (3), speech capabilities come with the difficulty to distinguish between speech that communicates concerning injustice and that which expresses pain satisfaction. This may be taken to mean the lack of constraint in the use of speech since the voice that may be used to express injustice is the same that expresses satisfaction. In addition to this, Ranciere also counters Aristotle’s argument on the essence of speech based on the prevalence of conflict between who speaks and who does not at any particular forum. While this may be used to advance the argument against speech as a distinguishing factor and the inclusion of justice as a prerequisite for political activity, it is critical to note the role of moral reason as explained by Aristotle. Jowett (168) compares justice in Aristotle and Ranciere’s works. According to the author, Aristotle portrays justice as fairness in advancing equality by treating all equal people equally and the unequal people unequally. On the other hand, Ranciere’s work focuses on the doubt about the concept of justice and its role in politics. As such, it can be concluded that Ranciere provides a critique of Aristotle’s work rather than advancement thereof.

Ranciere opines that both human animals and other animals have the capacity to feel and communicate both pain and pleasure hence speech should not form the core rationale for distinction. On the contrary, man is the only being with the capacity to distinguish the just from the unjust, and this should form the basis of distinction between man and other animals. Ranciere further argues that this ability to distinguish right from wrong is the foundation for states and households. Without this capacity, man becomes like other animals. This argument corresponds to Aristotle’s definition of the human animal on the basis of moral capability. As highlighted by Huysmans and others (185), political capacity comes with the ability to distinguish between the logical animal and the political animal. From the description of Ranciere’s work as done by Huysmans and others, man is the logical animal in this regard based on his capability to think critically. On the other hand, the political animal possesses sufficient logos as described by Aristotle. This places political realm beyond the reach of other animals, making it naturally a human phenomenon.

From the argument developed by Ranciere, it would be rational to conclude that the views of the two philosophers i.e. Aristotle and Ranciere match to a certain degree. This is in spite of differences in postulations and the dynamics of the contemporary times.

  • Maus and Animal Politics

The political environment in the present days is characterized by various forms of discriminatory practices. While racial discrimination is not as prevalent as it was in early days, segregation on the basis of gender as well as against people with disabilities is still common in politics. Moreover, politics is also marred with stereotypical decision making. From the analysis conducted by Frieda Miller (par. 16), Maus presents the absurdity of racial discrimination in the political arena.

This deduction is based on the argument developed by Ranciere that those who engage in politics are those in need of a platform to be heard. This implies that there are categories/ stereotypes of people, some of whom are not heard naturally and use specialized platforms to advance their views. Based on this argument, it can be said that Maus’ representation of racial discrimination, religious and political alienation comes with the need to be heard. In particular, the most unheard, i.e. the Jews considered as vermin are the most unheard group by virtue of Spiegelman’s argument. On the other hand, considering the history of Adolf Hitler as an attention deficient individual who had desired to be heard for long (Green 113) brings out clearly Ranciere’s argument that the political platform is mostly used by those who desire to be heard rather than those who already have the gift of speech to be heard.

Apart from this, Aristotle also presents the political arena as characterized by unequal capabilities. Although he argues that all humans are naturally predisposed to be politically active, he clearly explains that the role of leadership is clearly the reserve of a few who are more capable than others. In particular, Aristotle mentions the ineffectiveness of women and some men in positions of political leadership and explains that such people are more predisposed to being led by others (Aristotle 177). While this may not be the best analogy to be used due to its chauvinistic nature, it may be considered similar to what Spiegelman presents in Maus in that the Jews are considered less inferior and even presented as rats. On the other hand, other races such as Germans are more superior, leading to the development of a predator and prey type of relationship in the political playing grounds. The lesser beings are unable to associate with others and cannot attain self-sufficiency on their own. On the other hand, the stronger beings, which are portrayed to be more powerful, form partnerships that help to advance their common objectives (Clayton par. 5).

From the discussions provided by various authors, the political environments as described by both Aristotle and Ranciere are applicable to Auschwitz to a certain degree. Although not in entirety, various aspects of Spiegelman’s world can be linked to Aristotle’s and to Ranciere’s descriptions. In addition to this, Auschwitz also portrays the happenings in the contemporary times in terms of political environment. Features such as racial and religious discrimination are prevalent in the present days. Although the degree of discrimination is not as high as it was in the former days, it is deductible that discrimination is inevitable. Furthermore, the arguments in support of justice in the political environment are also persistent across the three philosophers’ arguments. All the authors agree to the need for justice among the political elite. In Aristotle’s work, justice is presented through argument for fairness and equality; in Ranciere’s work, there is still ambiguity on what justice entails and fears of its abuse while in Spiegelman’s work (Hignite 48), the cry for justice is mainly presented through the description of guilt feelings among the pigs who survive the holocaust (Spiegelman 191).

Auschwitz as presented by Spiegelman is clearly a representation of totality in the world at a particular time. As previously explained, the key concepts associated with Aristotle’s arguments and which make the argument applicable to Auschwitz include associations, discriminations and chaos as basis for distinction of animals from man. For instance, in Auschwitz, not all animals are of the same value. In Auschwitz, the translation from the animal natures to the persons wearing animal masks is indicative of the personal differences between humans (Spiegelman 138). This could relate to the difference between lower beings and the higher ones. This gives rise to two key perspectives. The first lies in the consideration of those capable of forming social partnerships as possessing greater value and being more political than others as previously described.

Alternatively, one could consider the second distinction as given by Aristotle. From this point of view, the perception of man as political comes with portrayal of the apolitical as being solitary and warlike. This implies that some of the countries represented in the description of the holocaust through Maus could be considered more animalistic. Germany for instance, under the leadership of Adolf Hitler could be taken to be animalistic due to their war like nature. While others could allude to the political associations as a basis of explaining their human nature, there is also the possibility that the warlike and chaotic tendencies forced others to join the forces of the Germans. If this is taken as more likely, then Germany comes out as the lesser beings from the distinction given by Aristotle.

In Auschwitz, this translation indicates the innate prevalence of animal tendencies in human persons hence the symbolism of animals in the book. This goes in line with differences described by Aristotle. An understanding of Ranciere’s work based on the consideration of man as both political and logical also gives evidence to the content of Maus, particularly with regards to the hateful behaviors associated with various functions. In explaining the logical nature of man, Ranciere argues that man is capable of distinguishing between the just and the unjust, and that this is an innate human characteristic that distinguishes humans from other animals. This means that any behavior that does not indicate the presence of logical perception of the just and the unjust is an expression of the animalistic nature in man. Auschwitz provides a perfect example of this among the pigs and the cats who participate in the unjust knowingly. It is undeniable that these groups of caricatures have strong perceptions of the extent of justice in the society and thus the guilt they feel following their actions. The question to be asked therefore is “what would those who clearly have the capacity to distinguish between the just and the unjust yet choose to do the unjust be described as?”

Although Ranciere distinguishes man from animals by the presence of moral inclination, it is clear that it is essential to extend this description to include indifference to moral inclinations. It is therefore concluded that while animals conduct themselves through injustice and lack of organization due to their lack of logic, man in animal mask conducts the unjust and causes chaos intentionally and knowingly and is therefore worse than the other animals in terms of consequence. This explains the rationale behind the progress from the animals in Auschwitz to the humans in animal masks as situations go from bad to worse in terms of justice administration

Works Cited

Aristotle. Aristotle in 23 Volumes, Vol. 21, translated by H. Rackham. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1944.

Clayton, Edward. Aristotle: Politics. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2015.

Jowett, Benjamin, in the Complete Works of Aristotle, The Revised Oxford Translation, vol. 2, ed. Jonathan Barnes. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984.

Green, Edward. The Mind of Adolf Hitler: A Study in the Unconscious Appeal of Contempt. Expositions, (2011), 11- 125.

Hignet, Todd. “Art Spiegelman” in the Studio: Visits with Contemporary Cartoonists. Yale University Press, 2007.

Huysmans, Jeff, Andrew Dobson and Raia Prokhovnik. The Politics of Protection: Sites of Insecurity and Political Agency. Rutledge, 2006.

Kuninski, Thomas. Is Political Life a Happy Life According to Aristotle? Diamentros 8, (2006): 56-67.

Lord, Carnes. Aristotle’s Politics: Second Edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013.

Miller, Fred. Political Naturalism. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2011.

Miller, Frieda. Maus: A Memoir of the Holocaust/ Teacher’s Guide. Vancouver Holocaust Educational Center, 1998.

Nichols, Mary. Citizens and Statesmen: A Study of Aristotle’s Politics. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 1992.

Ranciere, Jacques. The Thinking of Dissensus: Politics and Aesthetics, in Paul Bowman and Richard Stamps (Eds.) Reading Ranciere, Continuum, Londress. New York, 2011.

Romanus, Vetus. Man as a Social/ Political Animal: Aristotle vs. Hobbes. Web. 2011. Accessed 19 November 2016.

Schaap, Andrew. ‘The Rights of Political Animals: Jacques Rancière’s Critique of Hannah Arendt’, European Journal of Political Theory 9, 4(2010): 22-45.

Spiegelman, Art. Maus: A Survivor’s Tale. Penguin Books, 1980.