Tuesday, August 30, 2022



Armand D'Angour, The Greeks and the New: Novelty in Ancient Greek Imagination and Experience (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), pp. 37-38:
From this background Aristotle proceeds to reflect briefly on the question of political innovation in general, concluding that a distinction should be drawn between tekhnē, the sphere of specialist disciplines, and nomos, that of law and politics. Regarding laws, he says,
a case may be made for the view that change (kīnein) is the better policy. Certainly in other branches of knowledge change has proved beneficial. We may cite in evidence the changes from traditional practice which have been made in medicine, in physical training, and generally in all the arts and forms of human skill; and since politics is to be counted as an art or form of skill, it can be argued logically that the same must also be true of politics.6
This analysis recalls the words attributed by Thucydides to the Corinthian envoy to Sparta in 431:
In politics as in technology (tekhnē), the new (epigignomena) must always prevail over the old. The established traditions may be best in a settled society, but when there is much change demanding a response there must be much innovative thinking also.7
However, Aristotle ends his discussion by rejecting the parallel between law and tekhnē, and poses a series of questions about pertinent differences in the implementation of political innovation:
We must also notice that the analogy drawn from the arts is false. To change the practice of an art is not the same as to change the operation of a law. It is from habit, and only from habit, that law derives the validity which secures obedience. But habit can be created only by the passage of time; and a readiness to change from existing to new and different laws will accordingly tend to weaken the general power of law. Further questions may also be raised. Even if we admit that it is allowable to make a change, does this hold true, or not, of all laws and in all constitutions? And again, should change be attempted by any person whatsoever, or only by certain persons? It makes a great difference which of these different alternatives is adopted . . . We may therefore dismiss this question for the present. It belongs to a different occasion.8
6 Ibid. [Arist. Pol.] 1268b33–8.

7 Thuc. 1.71.3. See further Chapter 9, p. 221.

8 Arist. Pol. 1269a19–28.

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