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Aristotle on the Meaning of Man

A Philosophical Response to Idealism, Positivism, and Gnosticism

Peter Jackson

Why was (and is) Aristotle «right» and why are we «wrong»? In other words, why are Aristotle’s philosophical reflections on man and the world full, real, and convincing and why is so much of our modern philosophy partial and false? This work offers a detailed assessment of Aristotle’s thought in response to these questions.

Using «man» as a case study, this work shows how Aristotle philosophically treats «him» as a physical, biological, social, political, ethical, creative, poeticising, and philosophising object in the world. It then continues by laying out his consequent conclusions regarding the necessary capacities of natural objects in the world.

Regarding the modern philosophical approach to «man», this work shows that it flows from several directions into narcissism, nihilism, and a desire to control and manipulate the world and other people. In short, this work considers these approaches and seeks to show that Aristotle’s philosophy is «right», true, and commendable and that our modern philosophy is (often) «wrong», vacuous, and distasteful.

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I am in one sense disappointed by and in another sense proud of this work. I have a nagging awareness of the fact that the discomfort produced by the clear vocalisation of a very different alternative perspective on the world than the one we hold – and the one which we are expected to hold – renders this work unapproachable for many people. In another sense, however, I feel pride in having opened up avenues of philosophical reflection which show (a) that Aristotle’s “realistic” approach to the world is not archaic, rudimentary and academic but is, rather, a living representation of our own natural and full and fully developed understanding of worldly reality and (b) that our own “idealistic” perspective is itself rudimentary, reduced, and unsatisfactory (and I take “idealism” to be an overarching position which covers such supposedly “alternative” positions as theism, rationalism, materialism, etc.). In respect to this “idealism” – our idealism – I suggest that a useful parallel for my position here is provided by Eric Voegelin, who accounts for a range of supposed “alternatives” through a single concept of “gnosticism” as follows:

By gnostic movements we mean such movements as progressivism, positivism, Marxism, psychoanalysis, communism, fascism, and national socialism1

← xi | xii →by arguing that these “alternatives” have a common aim, namely that: “The aim of parousiastic gnosticism is to destroy the order of being, which is experienced as defective and unjust, and through man’s creative power to replace it with a perfect and just...

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