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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 2.1: Aristotle’s “Man” Competes in the Philosophical Marketplace


← 202 | 203 →CHAPTER 2.1

Aristotle’s “Man” Competes in the Philosophical Marketplace

Let us ask the question: how well does Aristotle’s “man” stand up in the marketplace of ideas? In respect to the quality of Aristotle’s man we find (1) that Aristotle is a “realist” who seeks to reflect the things of the world in his thought as we find and observe them (2) that Aristotle is a “dualist” in the sense that he finds in the world both (a) a determinate material nature according to which:

…the stone which by nature (φύσει) moves downwards cannot be habituated (ἐθισθείη) to move upwards, not even if one tries to train it by throwing it up ten thousand times (N.E. II 1103a 20–22)1

and (b) a human nature which is (in different senses) both determinate and indeterminate:

…intellectual virtue (ἀρετῆς διανοητικῆς) in the main owes both its birth and its growth to teaching (ἐκ διδασκαλίας ἔχει καὶ τὴν γένεσιν καὶ τὴν αὔξησιν) (for which reason it requires experience and time (ἐμπειρίας δεῖται καὶ χρόνου)), while moral virtue comes about as a result of habit (ἡ δ᾽ ἠθικὴ ἐξ ἔθους περιγίνεται; N.E. II 1103a 14–17)

← 203 | 204 →and a power of human choice which is both highly determined and also highly indeterminate:

…if he [i.e. a man] makes no judgement but “thinks” and “does not think” indifferently, what difference will there be between him and a vegetable?…why does a man walk to Megara and not stay at home, when he thinks he ought to be walking there? Why does...

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