The Second‐Best Constitution

Fred D. Miller

in Nature, Justice, and Rights in Aristotle's Politics

Published in print May 1997 | ISBN: 9780198237266
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191598043 | DOI:
The Second‐Best Constitution

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Recognizing that the best or ideal constitution is generally unattainable, Aristotle employs a principle of proximity: although the highest end is best, if it is unattainable, legislation should aim at the result that is closest to the end and thus the best attainable outcome. In politics, this is called the ‘second sailing’, and Aristotle discusses such a constitution under the headings of polity, mixed constitution, and middle constitution. Although this constitution is correct and just, the standard is lowered in the face of necessity. Still, the second‐best constitution serves as a norm for evaluating the various deviant constitutions that are forms of democracy and oligarchy. The second‐best constitution emulates the ideal constitution and it satisfies the maxim of unanimity, which in its strongest form requires that if a constitution is to be preserved, all the citizens should wish that it exist and continue unchanged.

Keywords: Aristotle; citizen; constitution; justice; legislation; mixed constitution; polity; rights; unanimity

Chapter.  11338 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Ancient Philosophy

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