If there's one giant of the Western intellectual tradition, it's Aristotle. He shaped the philosophical and scientific discourse of his own era, of the Medieval era, of the Renaissance, of the Englightenment, and even of our own times (though his grip is becoming more tenuous in some ways). After such a claim, it's a bit redundant to say that in order to understand any point on the timeline of the history of philosophy, you have to first understand Aristotle.
Alfred North Whitehead called philosophy a series of footnotes to Plato, but that's not really accurate. Yes, Aristotle was the student of Plato, so in a sense it's true. But it was Aristotle's ideas, not Plato's, which provided the rules for what came after—rules often broken, but rules nonetheless. His curiosity was truly compelling, and encompassed physics, astronomy, biology, rhetoric, logic, ethics, political science, art and literature, metaphysics, and much more.
Reading Aristotle is like seeing the topic he's addressing again for the first time. Even if you've studied Shakespeare, a couple hours with the Poetics will reveal depths of tragedy you never imagined. No matter how many issues of The Economist you've read, his insights into the psychological dimensions of government and commerce in The Politics will be genuinely fresh. It doesn't matter that these books were written almost two and a half millennia ago, they're just that good.
Modern man complains of boredom, but refuses to think. Aristotle wouldn't have known the meaning of boredom, but that's not to say he was a workaholic—he believed the best reflection came during periods of leisure. It's the life of the mind that shoud occupy us during our respites from ordinary work, and in this way we'll be kept safe from the destructive clutches of ennui, and able to ponder the important questions that when unanswered lead to suffering, violence, and evil.
Not that we should get all our answers from Aristotle. St. Thomas Aquinas tried that, and tried at the same time to maintain his Christianity, which led to some dangerous mix-ups that are still getting sorted out (or not). But the pattern of systematic, serious reflection he presents should provide a model for us, an inspiration, and a starting point. In fact, Aristotle's work on logic has provided the basis for subsequent study in that field up to the present time.
Of course, you aren't reading Aristotle direct. Most of his "writings" are notes compiled by his students from his lectures, but they're complete enough that we can have a pretty sound understanding of his works without wondering what we're missing. The reasons listed above are all good reasons to read and study the works of Aristotle, but in the end he's worth reading simply because he's still a prominent figure 2,600 years after his death....and is likely to remain so for another 2,600.
Contains selections from Organon, On the Heavens, The Short Physical Treatises, Rhetoric, and others, and On the Soul, On Generation and Corruption, Physics, Metaphysics, Nicomachean Ethics, Politics, and Poetics in their entirety.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here
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