Aristotle on the Virtue of the Multitude
Yale University; Harvard University Society of Fellows
January 8, 2013
Political Theory 41.2 (2013)
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.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 29
Keywords: Aristotle, democracy, knowledge, virtue, potluck dinner, collective action, wisdom of the multitude, collective wisdom
Date posted: October 13, 2012 ; Last revised: June 2, 2015