chapter  8
16 Pages

SHARING IN THE CONSTITUTION

Fred Miller’s Nature, Justice, and Rights in Aristotle’s Politics1 is a heroic attempt to make the concept of rights central to Aristotle’s political philosophy. The argument, although intriguing and richly rewarding, seems to me not to work. There is an inherent improbability in Miller’s thesis, given what we know of the Athens in which the treatise was composed (section I below). Citizenship as Aristotle conceives it is a matter not primarily of possessing certain rights, but of ‘sharing in the constitution’ (section II). Section III concedes that Aristotle’s citizens have something like what we would call rights qua citizens, but rejects Miller’s attempt to find in uses of to dikaion/ta dikaia (‘what is just’) an Aristotelian vocabulary for political rights. Section IV proposes that it is the notion of desert or merit (axia) which does the substantive foundational and explanatory work in Aristotle’s theory of political justice which Miller would ascribe to rights. A brief conclusion (section V) sets the inquiry in the context of some wider issues of interpretation.