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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 1.2: Surveying the Definition of Aristotle’s “Man”


← 20 | 21 →CHAPTER 1.2

Surveying the Definition of Aristotle’s “Man”

In considering Aristotle’s philosophy as a study of “man” (taken as a natural being which is itself a product of nature and necessarily explicable as such) let us begin by considering what it means to be like Aristotle or, rather, what it means to be a philosopher. We find that one of the concluding arguments of the Ethics is that:

…life is an activity (ἡ δὲ ζωὴ ἐνέργειά τις ἐστί), and each man is active about those things and with those faculties that he loves most (καὶ ἕκαστος περὶ ταῦτα καὶ τούτοις ἐνεργεῖ ἃ καὶ μάλιστ᾽ ἀγαπᾷ); e.g. the musician is active with his hearing in reference to tunes, the student with his mind in reference to theoretical questions (ὁ δὲ φιλομαθὴς τῇ διανοίᾳ περὶ τὰ θεωρήματα) and so on in each case; …pleasure (ἡ ἡδονή) completes the activities, and therefore life, which they desire (τελειοῖ τὰς ἐνεργείας, καὶ τὸ ζῆν δή, οὗ ὀρέγονται; N.E. X. 1175a 12–16)

from which we see that the practice of philosophy is from this perspective merely one of many forms of human activity and of possible human “lives”. We also find that Aristotle describes the philosopher as follows:

…while no one is thought to be a philosopher (σοφὸς) by nature (φύσει), people are thought to have by nature judgement (σύνεσις), understanding (γνώμη), and intuitive reason (νοῦς). This is shown by the fact that we think our powers correspond to our time of life (ταῖς ἡλικίαις ἀκολουθεῖν), and that a particular age brings with it intuitive reason (νοῦς) and judgement (σύνεσις; N.E. VI 1143b 6–9)

and we see another related position in the statement that: “…a boy...

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