At the outset of Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle observes that young men should not be allowed to study philosophy. His reason is perfectly valid—young men have not yet learned to control their passions, and the only way to attain philosophical truth is through dispassionate reflection uninhibited by emotion.
This lets us know at the outset something of the high regard Aristotle holds for reason and rationality. The most human thing, he believes, is the use of the reason, because it is the one virtue that is distinctly human. Here he approaches the Christian doctrine of the creation of humanity in God's image, though of course we attribute much more to this idea than rationality alone.
For Aristotle, the highest human end is that which makes us most human. Since we are distinct from the other animals by virtue of our reason, therefore, the highest human good is the use of the reason in the contemplation of philosophic truth, unaided by anything outside the mind itself. This is more desirable for him than fame, money, pleasure, etc.
Again, this strikes very near the heart of the Christian concept of what it means to be truly human. Communion with God is to be valued above all else, and we do this best in times of contemplation, reflection, and meditation. And while the world pursues wealth and pleasure, we pursue the Cross of Christ and its message of self-denial.
But Aristotle doesn't quite get any of this right. He gets close, but close is as good as no cigar when the subject is Christian truth and reality. The reason his vision of the good life is wrong is that it's man-centered. It doesn't matter if generations of churchmen thought Aristotle was the bee's knees—he may have been, but those little joints were rheumatic and old.
The problem with looking to a secular philosopher for truth is that their authority and standard for what is true and what is false isn't the Word of God as revealed in Scripture. It's human rationality and wisdom, and this is most true of Aristotle, the apostle of human mental sufficiency.
That's not to say you won't find anything true in his writings. You'll find plenty that hits the mark, but only because in those instances he hits the biblical target through God's common grace. This is a great book and should be read, but read it with the Bible foremost in mind, and compare Aristotle's pagan wisdom at every turn to the perfect wisdom of Jesus Christ.
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
Did you find this review helpful?