Individual And State In Aristotle In Relation To Promotion Of Human Rights In Nigeria

Project and Seminar Material for Philosophy

Individual And State In Aristotle In Relation To Promotion Of Human Rights In Nigeria


Aristotle was an eminent socio-political anthropologist who was regarded as a master of human rights. In this paper, we examine the place which Aristotole gives to the individuals in the state, as well as the dividends of his citizenship in his political philosophy. In particular, we discuss the nature, life work, and characteristics of Aristothel. As a result of this critical appraisal, we find out if these dividends have any relevance and application into the Nigerian situation. It is our hope that the inclusion of these people-oriented principles in the governance of Nigerians would go a long way to checking the incessant violation of the fundamental human rights of the citizens of the country.

Chapter One


1.1 Purpose of the Study

Man establishes the state in order to meet his needs. In other words, the individuals are prior to the state, and the state cannot exit outside the individuals. Hence, the individuals and the state are dialectically related. Again Nigeria as a state has a dialectical relationship with the citizens. To this end, any policy in Nigeria, for instance be it economics, social or political policies made by those who pilot the affairs of the state ought to be directed towards insuring the satisfaction of the needs of the individuals or the citizens. The constant tension between the sate in Nigeria and her citizens is often brought about by inability of the state to live up to such essential responsibilities towards the individuals. The consequence of such neglect in Nigeria is better experienced than described.

As to avoid such unfortunate clashes, this study aims at examining the place which Aristotle gives to the individuals in the state as a means of surveying Nigeria situation. Furthermore, it aims at bringing to lime light the dividends of Aristotle’s citizenship in his political philosophy. For the subsequent application to Nigerian social, political and economic situations.

And by implication the study aims at finding a lasting solution to the age-long and staggering Nigerian problem being manifested in unemployment, bribery and corruption economic crisis injustice, violation of human rights among others

1.2 Statement of the Problem

The inability of man to satisfy his countless needs compels him to seek the services of other individuals, hence the origin of the state. Here a state as we have pointed out earlier, exist for the preservation, protection and satisfaction of individual’s needs and for his assimilation.

Unfortunately, in Nigeria today just in Athens at the time of Aristotle, the individuals at the corridors of power have lost sight of the aim for which the state is established. The crux of the matter is that the state seems pitched against the individuals in Nigeria. Sadly enough, this negligence has given rise to a lot of problems. These problems include: injustice, marginalization, economic crises, inadequate social infrastructures, exploitation, bribery and corruption, incessant violation of human rights, selfish leadership, election malpractice, gansterism, sqandermania mentality, labour strikes, to mention but a few.

Furthermore, workers are not paid their salaries as and when due. There are inaccessible roads all over the nation. This has resulted in the loss of many lives of the individuals through road accidents. The education system is grossly in a dilapidated state. The university lecturers, primary and post-primary school teachers often embark on strikes due to poor condition of workers and poor enumeration. Nigerians suffer economic hardship resulting from the constant increase in the pump prince of petroleum products. Some political leaders do not have proper sense of patriotism. They often make policies that favour egoistic interest at the detriment of the poor and the powerless. This situation calls for an urgent attention, as well for enduring solutions that would salvage Nigerian form the above socio-political predicaments.

It is against this backdrop that we delve exposing first of all the Aristotle’s notion of “individual” and “state”. Our intention is to present Aristotle’s views as a paradigm to the problem of Nigeria.

1.3 The Scope of the Study

Our concentration in this work dwells specifically on Aristotle’s notion of the individual and the state, and the relation the individual has with the state.

With genuine humanity, we do not intend to present an exhaustive work or study on the socio-political concepts. This study is specifically limited to the Aristotle’s teachings or views of these concepts as they appear r contained in this politic.

The above being the case, this study is but a stepping-stone towards more wholistic uncovering of the greatness that lies hidden in Aristotle’s socio-political philosophy. In this regard, effort will be made in this work to abstract some relevant truths from Aristotle’s political teachings and apply them as possible solutions to the heart-rending, protracted and precarious Nigerian socio-political and economic predicaments.

1.4 Methodology

The methods to be used are both expository and evaluative. The study will first explore the background and the environment that helped Aristotle to nurture his socio-political philosophy. Then we shall give a thorough expository explanation of the concepts of the individual and the state as articulated by Aristotle in his political philosophy. Finally, the study will be critical evaluation bring to limelight both the positive and practicable dividends accruing from Aristotle’s notion of the individual and the state.

In general, the work is divided into five chapters. Chapter one offers a synoptic view of the entire work. And the political environment, that is the background of Aristotle’s social-political philosophy. The chapter two is the literature review. In chapter three, we shall dwell on Aristotle’s notion of the individual and the state, including the relationship existing between the individual and state. The fourth chapter is meant to expose the extent of promotion it of human Rights in Nigeria, in the light of Aristotle’s notion of the individual and the state. Here the fundamental human rights will be discussed under economic right, political rights and social rights. And we shall also point out where the human rights are violated. Finally, the chapter five serves as the critical evaluation and conclusion of the work.

1.5 Aristotle’s Background

It was K.C. Anyanwu who states that “the understanding of the mindset of people leads to the understanding of their behaviour”1. Therefore, for us to understand Aristotle’s political philosophy in general and his notion individual and state in particular, an exposition of the environment in which he lived and had his experiences becomes imperative. This is because “facts have no meaning except within a system of reference”2. Consequently, as depicted in the dialectics of background and foreground by Gadamer: There is no open discourse without hidden presupposition. No explicit statement without an implicit. There is no reflection except against a background of the unreflected3. In the light of the above, we shall discuss in this the nature, life work and characteristics of Aristotle’s environment.

It was this that let to the postulation of his political philosophy, which anchors on his notion of the individual and the state. K.C. Anyanwu gives credence to this fact when he sates: “Human beings are the products of culture, that is to say that culture has made people what they are or almost what they are. Culture cannot be separated from human experience”4

Aristotle was born in 384 BC at Stageria in Thrace, and was the son of the Nicomachus, a physician of the Macedonian king, Amyntak II when he was about seventeen years old; Aristotle went to Athens for purpose of study and became a member of the Academy in 368BC. Where for over twenty years, he was in constant intercourse with Plato until latter’s death in 348BC.

It will be very pertinent to note here that Aristotle’s master (Plato) influenced his life. As we know that his father was a physician but he developed interest also in politics because of his studies at Athens, following the experiences of his master in Athens within his life span. These could be categorized into two aspects, namely: the Athenian socio-political crisis and its most outstanding resultant effect, the oppression of the individual.

1.5.1 The Athenian Socio-Political Crisis

The Athenian city-state like every other nation of the world, suffered lots of political crisis in her historical and political development. There was indeed a pronounced political instability then in Athens. Within the thirty years of Periclean democracy, Athens was booming in all aspects of its life, especially in commerce and (or economic) and social life. Unfortunately the political peace, social and economic advancement associated with the Periclaen democracy did not last. The glory was in fact, short-lived. The glory was short-lived. The city-state of Sparta, a neighbouring Greek state, out of sheer jealousy and covetousness for Athenian wealth, state and power, declared war (a war that lasted twenty-seven years) against Athens…5 When the war ended in 404 BC, Athens was subsequently defeated. This defeat was not only a disaster but also a turning point for the Athenian social, political and economic peace. Historically, this defeat of Athens marked the end of the only democracy existing in the ancient world.

At the end of the war, a thirty-man commission was set up to draft new constitution for Athens. The members of the commission were also given the mandate to govern Athens until the completion of their assignment. In practice, the reign of the thirty men was harsh on the people of Athens. They were ready to act on the belief that it is natural and sensible to exploit the weak. These thirty men seized the opportunity to settle old political scores, to oppress and suppress the individual citizens.

1.5.2 Oppression of the Individual

The Athenian city-state was arranged in such a way the inhabitants were classified into different groups and privileges as well. The system provided some possibilities or avenues from marginalization. The citizens were grouped into three social-political classes namely: the freeborn (indigenous citizens) the resident foreigners and the slave. The members of the first class were the only citizens entitled to take part in social and political affairs of Athens.

They attended town meetings: they were eligible to arrange of public offices. They also participated in public debates and election. This class was a privilege attained by birth.6 The second group was made up of none indigenous citizens, that is the residential foreign individuals. They had no part in political affairs of the city-state. The slaves occupied the third group. The slaves were used for domestic, military and industrial purpose. The fact that there were slavery and slaves in Athens points to the fact that some human elements were marginalized and kept under subjugation and oppression by the wealthy and free citizens.

Hence, it could be stated that the political instability, marginalization, intimidation, an oppression of the individuals in Athens led Aristotle unto the postulation of an ideal state where he envisaged justice, peace, harmony and fair play would reign supreme.

Chapter Five

Critical Evaluation and Conclusion

5.1 Critical Evaluation

In this critical appraisal, we shall first articulate some of the pitfalls generally noticed in Aristotle’s notion on individual and state. After which we shall then delve into expositing the dividends resulting from Aristotle views, and as well as their relevance and application into the Nigeria situation.

Aristotle’s view in these respects in our judgment is utopia. This spring from are doubtlessly impracticable in our society. For instance, he drew an analogy from the relationship between the soul and the body in his philosophy and applies it without further ado to the relationship between the master and the slave. According to him it is not only necessary but also expedient that some should ruled and others be ruled. It is indeed nature that has made it so, since subservience and governance have been already allotted of birth. As the soul, being the rational component of man is by nature apt to rule the irrational body, so are some human beings slave by nature. For this category of human beings slavery is not only right, but also expedient.1

The position of Aristotle here is mot inconsistent with his philosophy and his clear thinking. First, while it true that some should be subjects in any human society, it is certainly not right to have those who are to rule must be so designated by birth. That means that it is not by nature that governance is gained. Of course, it must not be forgotten that Aristotle was writing from his own background in which hereditary monarchy was understood to be the best form of government. Be that as it may, the greet philosophers was certainly no unaware of the finitude of any monarchical dynasty. By intrigue, Conquest, bravado and so, men come to establish new dynastic, which usually continue until they meet the fate of their predecessors? That alone is enough counterpoint against the claim that rulers are born to rule. Again, even if leadership is obtained by birth, the comparison of ruler/ subject relationship with that between slave and master is not acceptable. In Aristotle’s own political theory, the worst rulers are those who behave as though the citizen is the chattel of rulers. He rightly castigated oppressive rulers whose primary concern was their personal benefit. It means then that the subjugation of slave by their masters, in which the only thing that counts is the desire or interest of the master, can only rightly be compared with the perversion of leadership in Aristotle’s own political theory. The best model of the master slave relationship is not that of civil leadership expect when this is so abused that the citizens became mere instruments in the hand of the master. The incongruity of the comparison is emphasized by the fact that in it Aristotle contradicts his own ideal of political leadership. Meanwhile, by implication, with the lacunae found in Aristotle opinions, he is not far from defending or promoting human right.

Much as we have observed some of the shortcomings in Aristotle’s notion of the individual and the state, let us bring to bare some of the positive, relevant and feasible or practicable fundamental principles therein. Persons who disapprove of Aristotle’s political theory fail to realize or consider the perennial or lasting principles of justice, competence in civic functions, selfless and self-sacrificing leadership which Aristotle recommends for the first time in world. Aristotle advocates that a ruler ought to be wise, courageous and well trained in his job. A leader, he says must be selfless in service. This implies that the interests of the leader would be to assure the needs and interest of his subjects, and not for his personnel gratification.

Another merit in Aristotle view worthy of note is his educational proposals. He advocates for training of individuals beginning form childhood to be brave, ethically sound, devoted and patriotic. He maintained that when individuals are intellectually and morally trained, then keeping the laws of the state become easier for them. This is because they would be in a better position to understand then spirit of the law, thereby keeping them out of conviction, rather than compulsion. Aristotle’s principle of justice as harmony in both the individual and in the state is a credit to him. This principle urges every individual to perform his/her function well and never to interfere with the function of another. The principle thus creates a healthy atmosphere for mutual relationship among individual; and between them and the state.

Having examined some of the pitfalls and the dividends resulting from Aristotle’s notions let us find out if these dividends (already outlined) have any relevance in the Nigerian socio-political and economic circumstances.

“The Nigerian problem”, Achebe observes, “is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise up to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example … The hallmark of true leadership”¬¬¬2 this is a fact substantiate by the contemporary experience in the Nigeria leadership system. Men, women, who are intellectually and politically ignorant, corrupt, and highly grounded in tribalism, nepotism and egocentrism occupy and inhabit the political leadership in Nigeria. The above leadership structure could be righted if the Nigerian state would allow in to her socio-political system Aristotle idea of leadership of selfless service and leadership by intellectually and morally trained individuals. Then Nigerian would be ruled by individuals who hold their heads in virtues above the influence of tribalism, favouritism and greed for wealth. Onyebadi emphasizes the necessity of selfless leadership in Nigeria when he writes:

“Good leadership will continue to elude Nigeria until we have a generation of leadership aspirants, who see themselves not as gallant squad of exploiters of our abundant resources but as people willed to wheel the country on the roads to greatest”3

The present Nigeria political leaders have little or no sense of the need and important of upholding the principle of justice. In Nigeria today human right are legal right are hardly respected. Though these rights are enshrine in, and protected by the Nigerian constitution, they are rather conferred or denied on the grounds of social stratification and tribalism, nepotism, favouritism, insincerity, as well as bribery and corruption.”4 All these are instance of injustice in Nigeria. If Aristotle ideal of justice as a principle of harmony, unifying and sustaining the two classes of individuals were to be applied to the Nigerian situation, no doubt there would be a more stable and progressive Nigeria in all ramifications.

The primary goal of every educational system is to train individuals who would intellectually and morally qualified for different endeavours in life. But in Nigeria, there is no arrangement for qualitative education. Nigerian educational system is so made that ethical principles and the need for competence and specialization in one’s career are not adequately inculcated into the mind of the students. The result is that students emerge at the end of their training as “certificate holder”, and not as qualified personnel who could confidently take up the diverse disciplines for which they were trained. However, in order to arrest and indeed curb the situation, Nigerian educational system should imbibe some of (if no all) the educational proposals of Aristotle. Aristotle advocates for a compulsory training of all individual by the state from the childhood. He recommends a system of education rooted in a moral principle, effective development of one’s naturally endowed talents and specialization. If these recommendations were to be given trails in Nigeria, perhaps within a shortest possible period, every individual in Nigeria would receive a certain amount of training. This training would not only be morality, intellectually, and emotionally balanced. The possible result effects of this purposed training can be attained is that “education is the positive means by which the rulers can shape human nature in the right direction to produce a harmonious state”5.

Beside, education emancipates the human mind from error, female option and values. Okolo affirms this when he writes “education banishes ignorant and liberally criticizes people’s values; life options and redirects social goals and pursuits”6. With these dividends and relevance accruing from Aristotle’s socio-political and economic principles, (as already discussed above), then Aristotle’s recommendations cannot be overemphasized especially in this contemporary epoch.

5.2 Conclusion

From our discussion so far in this discourse, we have been able to unravel some of Aristotle’s socio-political principles are well evident. These principles include, his organization of the state by classifying the individuals into two functional classes, with each class having a specific role to perform in the state. And his principle of justice, rooted in adequate performance of functions by each class, without any total of interference with others. No doubt, Aristotle made some recommendation that found to be in human unnatural, deviant, absurd, unacceptable in most human societies.

However, these disparagements not withstanding, there are many dividends accruing form Aristotle’s principles that can be relevant and realistic, especially in this contemporary era. Among these, three (at least) are most outstanding. They include the principles of justice, competence and common good. In any state where the political leaders give these due consideration and place in their policies, peace, harmony and economical benefits would be flourishing. And there would be no cases of human rights violation as is presently and evident the case in Nigeria. Political principles given to the world by Aristotle their policy-makings and dealing with matters concerning the entire citizen.

Finally, it is our hope that the inclusion of these people-oriented principles in the governance of Nigerians would go a long way to checking the incessant violation of the fundamental human rights of the Nigerians. In this way, the age-long ailing and staggering Nigerian socio-political and economic predicaments would then solve entirely. It is only then that the purpose of this study would have been attained.

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