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By F.W.J. Schelling

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Greece, though culturally influential, became a political backwater. The Roman republic was not only more extensive, but also more aristocratic than the Athenian polis. There were three major categories of citizen: a land-owning senatorial class, a propertied class of equestrians, and the people or plebs (as well as a large body of slave labour). Each class had its assembly, and in principle the people were sovereign, but in practice a narrow elite exercised power through the senate, which dominated the popular assemblies.

We need practical reason to act correctly, because what is best in any case has to be identified in deliberation, and cannot simply be deduced from first principles. Aristotle’s account of the human good has been well described as being simultaneously ‘thick’ (based on a very specific idea of what is essential to human nature) and ‘vague’ (not specified in detail for every instance) (Nussbaum, 1990: 217). Moreover, simply knowing what is right is not enough, nor is simply possessing the virtues; a worthwhile life needs to be realised in action.

A number of other points are relevant here: Even the wise man must live in a political community, and will suffer from living in a bad regime. Even those capable of philosophy cannot attain it until late in life. And it is still not a complete life, as humans are embodied and social as well as rational beings, and need to act in the world. Thus the pursuit of wisdom does not exclude political participation as part of a worthwhile life, and politics is a significant arena for the development and exercise of the virtues.

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