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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 1.6: The Gods and Giants Grapple with “Art”!

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← 104 | 105 →CHAPTER 1.6

The Gods and Giants Grapple with “Art”!

Now, it could of course be argued that all this talk of “being” and “not being” and “becoming” etc. and of the “actualisation” of the “potentiality” is archaic, pointless, useless, and scholastic and that we should agree with René Descartes that ultimately:

…a man who walks across a room shows much better what motion is than a man who says “It is the actuality of a potential being in so far as it is potential”, and so on1

but I will suggest, contrarily, (a) that Aristotle’s philosophical perspective (as given above) does make sense, does clearly represent reality as fully as it can be stated in philosophical terms, and is useful for understanding that reality in philosophical terms and (b) that the Cartesian view (as given above) is (almost insistently) unreflective, static, and superficial. Now, I suggest (c) that (whatever Descartes’ problem) our fundamental problem is actually that we explicitly refuse to face up to the real world or to such obvious observations as that:

…art imitates nature (μιμεῖται γὰρ ἡ τέχνη τὴν φύσιν; Mete. IV 381b 5)

which are not only really true but also are obviously really true and (d) that, as Iris Murdoch explains, it is precisely in order to avoid facing the world that modern thought has been able to (and has been required to) construct “a sort of Newspeak which makes certain values non-expressible”.2 As regards ← 105...

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