Claims to rule: The case of the multitude

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INTRODUCTION: FRAMING THE CLAIMS TO RULE OF THE MANY, THE FEW, AND THE ONE Aristotle's assessment in Politics III 10–18 of the claims to rule of those who would hold power in different regimes is most famous for its consideration of the claims of the multitude to rule. The arguments he advances for what has been dubbed the “wisdom of the multitude” have been widely acclaimed as a normative justification of the epistemic value of full-scale democratic participation involving deliberation among diverse participants. I argue that this reading fails to appreciate important aspects of the context and two concomitant limitations of the argument. Its context is the broad sweep of the argument in this stretch of the Politics, which prescinds from the conventional method of evaluating Greek regimes at the time that considered each potential claimant as having its own distinctive claim to rule: for example, the many typically claimed to rule on the basis of freedom, whereas the few appealed either to wealth or virtue. Instead, Aristotle's repeated strategy is a logical critique, pointing out that no such claim will necessarily secure the rule of its usual ideological proponents, because any such claim might instead be best fulfilled by another group instead, who can trump the usual group on the basis of their very own favored criterion. For example, if wealth is the criterion, then the wealthy few who tend to advance this as the criterion may be rightly subjected to the rule of the even wealthier (by aggregate) many (III 11, 1282a39–41), or conversely of an even wealthier single individual (III 13, 1283b17–18).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge Companion to Aristotle's Politics
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages28
ISBN (Electronic)9780511791581
ISBN (Print)9781107004689
StatePublished - Jan 1 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Arts and Humanities


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