My intent in writing a book on Aristotelian ethics is not to present exactly what Aristotle said (I'll leave that to scholars such as J.O. Urmson in his excellent epitome Aristotle's Ethics), but hopefully what he meant and even more pointedly what he means for us 2300+ years later. The goal is to present my own direct encounter with Aristotle, unmediated by millennia of often misguided scholarship and mistranslation. (Ironically, we need some scholarship to do that, so separating the wheat from the chaff is necessary.) Here are some of the questions I'll be trying answer:
- What are the implications of getting behind the veil of modern and Christianized interpretations of Aristotle's ethical philosophy?
- What is the applicability of such a pagan philosophy to life in the 21st century?
- For instance: our economy is not based on slavery, women are liberated, work and career are of central importance in life, labor is no longer always demeaning but potentially a source of meaning, mastery of one's craft involves various thrivings of mind and character (many of which are of modern vintage, like productivity), we have a much higher regard for craftmanship than the Greeks did (for whom a sculptor was just a tradesman like a plumber or a carpenter) - what does all that imply for a ranking of the best ways of life?
- Can a life of good, interesting, creative, valuable work (as an artist or entrepreneur or doctor or whatever) compete with Aristotle's lifeways of active political leadership and active intellectual inquiry?
- The polis was a dead letter as soon as Aristotle's student Alexander created an empire; thus don't we need a more modern conception of the philanthropic way of life to replace Aristotle's second-best ideal of political leadership?
- Indeed, isn't there a philanthropic aspect to any work well done? And isn't there an aspect of inquiry in such work, too, of understanding reality and humanity and oneself?
- Is it really legitimate for academics to pat themselves on the back about their wonderfully happy lives of inquiry and contemplation when so many of them are just trying to get published and gain tenure, and bickering amongst themselves over scholarly pettifogging and office politics (as Thoreau would say, are they truly philosophers or just professors of philosophy)?
- What about philosophy as a way of life? Is that restricted to a life of θεωρία (inquiry) or does the love of wisdom apply to any life well lived? What is the role of φρόνησις (good judgment) and σοφία (wisdom) in the best life for any human being?
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