Aristotle, for dummies

Aristotle for dummies

This book offends me. It doesn’t mention me anywhere and I’ve always considered myself a philosopher that philosophers have to go to when they can’t understand something about life. My name should have been there right next to Marcus Aurelius’s. What? You think I couldn’t possibly be termed a philosopher? What was that I heard you say? Because I’m shallow? There’s a complete branch of philosophy I practice, called Gee-phil named thus from the term ‘G-String’, it holds so little back. I hold a Phd in it.

Ask me anything. Go on. You’ll realize that I have an answer for it. That’s philosophy. Ask me what’s life for example. I’ll tell you. It’s a week of scuba diving off the Caymans with grass skirts all around that were woven during a time of great famine when even grass was in short supply. If you want to ask me about happiness, I’ll have to message you in private on that. I’m a bit too straight-laced to put it here.

Now Aristotle, he was a piece of work, this guy. Born in Thrace, Greece, in 384BC, his father was physician in the court of Philip V of Macedonia (grand pappy of Alexander the Great). At 17, when he should have been out dating and studying the wonders of the female anatomy like I did, Ari joined an academy where folk sat around with their chins on their hands and stared out in the distance and just thought. The school was run by an old bearded geezer called Plato. Not the planet, silly. That’s Pluto. Aristotle swiftly rose through the ranks and when Plato bought the farm, he took over the academy and eventually became Alexander the Great’s personal tutor of logic. Don’t look at me like that. Cicero said so.

Aristotle was a prolific and eloquent writer but all his published works were destroyed when his library at Lyceum burnt down in a fire, some time around 320BC. We know of his teachings only through scraps of his unfinished manuscripts, research notebooks and lecture notes taken down by his students.

Mortimer Adler, the author, is a philosopher himself. His book is kind of like an ‘Aristotle for dummies’-  Aristotle’s writings in a current and delightfully lucid language, meant to be read by those who aren’t students of the subject.

The book has a lot of ground to cover, given the subject, but does it expertly in just 190 pages. It is broken up into parts such as ‘Man the philosophical animal’, ‘Man the doer’, Man the maker’ and ‘Man the knower’. There’s one last section called ‘Difficult philosophical questions’ which I haven’t started on yet since I have run out of beer.

I love the chapter called ‘Good, better, best’ which expands our perceptions of wants and needs. In ‘Man the doer’, there is a part of a paragraph that I’ll reproduce below which I took some time to relish….

“Human beings always act with an end in view, a goal…… The end comes to mind first and then comes the means to achieve it….sometimes a means may be an end in itself, that we have to achieve, by other means and an end may itself be a means for achieving a further end. (Like getting a first class in bio in high school may have been an end but it also is a means for getting into the Yale medical school) This raises two questions. One- Are there any means that are just means and never ends and ends that are never means? Second- Are there any terminal ends that are not means to some further end beyond themselves? (One such end comes readily to mind…an orgasm, but I’ll refrain from elaborating further on this, thank you kindly).

On the pursuit of happiness, the author refers to the life and work of Thomas Jefferson, one of the guys who drafted the American Declaration of independence in 1776. The Declaration says that all humans, being equal by nature, have an equal right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This meant the right to exercise free choice in everything, not determined for us or imposed upon us. Jefferson himself owned more than 200 slaves by the way and is believed to have forcibly had sex with one and fathered an offspring from her. Should one take the document he co-authored with a pinch of salt then? Maybe. We know just how equal the Americans were, right up until the 60s and 70s now, don’t we?

Aristotle had a slightly different take on the pursuit of happiness as explained by the author. Ari deemed that happiness (or in other words, living well) is the one ultimate end to all our actions. Happiness is the ultimate goal in life, not others’ necessarily, our own definitely. Everyone strives for it. Unfortunately some, from the hour of their birth, are marked for subjugation while others are born to rule. The subjugated desire freedom of choice and the subjugators desire not to let that happen. He says that all the things that we desire are automatically ‘good’, since they help in giving us a ‘good life’ and when we have them, we are said to be ‘living well’. Aristotle sticks the moral issue here somewhere in the book but I can’t locate the reference at this point. I recall coming across it when I was on my fourth beer. If I see the link, I’ll enlighten you on it.

Personally I’d go with old Ari but I’ll wait till I finish the last chapter and cast my vote on either Jeffy the slave owner turned liberal or Ari the beard.

But then who gives a s–t? I’m a happy guy and that’s all that matters. To me at least.

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