An Aristotelian Tangent


Although I am deep into absorbing Thoreau (currently reading Wild Fruits and his Journal), I continue to ponder some of the other writing projects I have on the back burner. Of late I've had a few stray thoughts about Aristotle. Most simply, what form shall I impart to my book about his ethical philosophy, and what shall I entitle it? Having explored, by then, the literary-philosophical forms of manifesto, dialogue, journal, and poetry for my books about Rand, Epicurus, Thoreau, and Nietzsche, what will be left? For those aware of the Aristotelian tradition, the commentary form comes quickly to mind. Not that I (slight scholar that I am) can hope to approach the great commentaries of Averroes or Aquinas; but perhaps an epitome is within my reach, especially since that's consistent with my appreciation for short books (none of the volumes in my lifelong philosophy project will be more than 60 pages or so).

Naturally, in such a brief summary it is impossible to do justice to the full breadth of a thinker's complete philosophy, so I'll need to focus on the core of it. When it comes to Aristotle's ethics, I've been searching for a concise phrase that captures the essence. One possibility is a line from Book II of the Eudemian Ethics: "ἔργον ἂν εἴη τῆς ἀρετῆς ζωὴ σπουδαία". Paraphrasing slightly: a worthy life is the work of the soul at its best. Several key concepts are here: philosophy as something concerned above all with the practice of life; living as a form of characteristic activity or even work; goodness as naturalistic excellence instead of moralistic virtue; the noblest and highest activity as expressive of the distinctively human level of psychological potential; life as something to be taken seriously; ethics as a search for methods of living the best possible human life.

Thus a title suggests itself: Living in Earnest or, perhaps, A Worthy Life (the latter ties in well with Aristotle's emphasis on the human way of life as essentially social, not solitary).

It will likely be five or more years before I start the in-depth research required to summarize all of Aristotle's ethical philosophy in 60 pages or less, but I like the general idea I've sketched out here. Much more to come after I've written my books on Thoreau and Nietzsche...

Peter Saint-Andre > Journal