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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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Chapter 1.1: Is Aristotle’s Philosophy “divine, but useless”?


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Is Aristotle’s Philosophy “divine, but useless”?

…we say Anaxagoras, Thales, and men like them have philosophic but not practical wisdom (σοφοὺς μὲν φρονίμους δ᾽ οὔ φασιν εἶναι), when we see them ignorant of what is to their own advantage (ὅταν ἴδωσιν ἀγνοοῦντας τὰ συμφέροντα ἑαυτοῖς), and [this is] why we say that they know things that are remarkable, admirable, difficult and δαιμόνια [supra-human], but useless; viz. because it is not human goods that they seek (ὅτι οὐ τὰ ἀνθρώπινα ἀγαθὰ ζητοῦσιν). (N.E. VI 1141b 3–8)

I suggest that the image of philosophy as being something “supra-human (δαιμόνια), but useless” runs deep in Greek thought and myth and (at least the “useless” bit) far beyond. Aristotle pointedly identifies the Heraclitean philosopher Cratylus of the 5th century B.C. as Plato’s precursor at Met. I 987a-b and he describes (the defective nature of) Cratylus’ philosophical rejection of the real world as follows:

Cratylus, who finally did not think it right to say anything but only moved his finger, and criticised Heraclitus for saying that it was impossible to step twice in the same river; for he thought one could not do it even once (Met. Γ. 1010a 12–14)

and we find the problem of philosophical disconnectedness from reality represented in the different complaint of the Cynic Demonax in the 1st century A.D. that: “You go to great pains over the subject of the cosmic order, but you are completely unconcerned about your own internal disorder”1 which itself possesses an echo of Plato’s criticism in the 4th century B.C....

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