Aristotle on the Virtue of the Multitude

Political Theory 41.2 (2013)

29 Pages Posted: 13 Oct 2012 Last revised: 2 Jun 2015

Daniela Cammack

Stanford University

Date Written: January 8, 2013

Abstract

It is generally believed that one argument advanced by Aristotle in favor of the political authority of the multitude is that large groups can make better decisions by pooling their knowledge than individuals or small groups can make alone. This is supported by two analogies, one apparently involving a "potluck dinner" and the other aesthetic judgment. This article suggests that that interpretation of Aristotle's argument is implausible given the historical context and several features of the text. It argues that Aristotle's support for the rule of the multitude rests not on their superior knowledge but rather on his belief that the virtue of individuals can be aggregated and even amplified when they act collectively. This significantly alters our understanding of Aristotle's political thought and presents a powerful alternative to the epistemic defenses of mass political activity popular today.

Keywords: Aristotle, democracy, knowledge, virtue, potluck dinner, collective action, wisdom of the multitude, collective wisdom

Suggested Citation

Cammack, Daniela, Aristotle on the Virtue of the Multitude (January 8, 2013). Political Theory 41.2 (2013). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2161069 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2161069

Daniela Cammack (Contact Author)

Stanford University ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305
United States

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