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Aristotle: The Desire to Understand Paperback – 10 Aug 2011

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Product details

  • Paperback: 340 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (10 Aug. 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521347629
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521347624
  • Product Dimensions: 13.8 x 1.8 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 372,003 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Review

"As a general introduction to Aristotle for the intellectually curious, it will not be superseded for years to come. Professionals too will find much to excite and stimulate them; occasionally, too, they may find something to infuriate: but that is all to the good." R.J. Hankinson, ISIS

Book Description

Professor Lear introduces Aristotle's philosophy and guides us through the central Aristotelian texts - selected from the Physics, Metaphysics, Ethics, Politics and from the biological and logical works. This 1988 book is written in a direct, lucid style which engages the reader with the themes in an active, participatory manner.

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Format: Paperback
Absolutely outstanding. I read Philosophy over thirty years ago at the University of Wales, making a detailed study of Aristotle's concept of matter. Since then I have read many books on Aristotle and have only just got around to reading this one. It has to be about the best single study available of Aristotle's thought (of course I have not read them all!) Jonathan Lear never wavers from expressing very carefully the exact and subtle points that Aristotle made, never papers over any cracks, never says anything that Aristotle did not say. This should have a position of importance in any philosopher's library.
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Format: Paperback
A simply excellent book introducing the philosophy of Aristotle by Jonathan Lear. Lear accesses the original ancient Greek and as such avoids some of the errors which creep into accounts of ancient philosophy using a contemporary mind-set. A very clear account of Aristotle's many works, excerpts from the metaphysics, ethics and others explaining the somewhat difficult concepts in a fresh way that is free of extraneous interpretation and captures Aristotle's own way of understanding, or at least as close as seems possible given the intervening time. Just when you thought a concept had been understood along comes a new and invigorating idea to surprise you as you proceed through the book. This is not a simple book, neither is it intended to be. I would think it is just about Aristotelian thought and its authentic meaning. Not only does it show the depth of his ideas but gives you an insight into Aristotle's astonishing talents, his thought spanning topics from ethics and politics to biology, it gives the impression that the word polymath was created to describe Aristotle and that any coming after him would try to approach his intellect and insight into the world. The book demonstrates some of Aristotle's greatest solutions to the challenges proposed by Plato's thought as well as Zeno. All in all an exceptional book in the practise of Aristotle's philosophy.
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Purchased as a gift. All arrived on time and as described. Good introduction to an interesting area of study.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta) (May include reviews from Early Reviewer Rewards Program)

Amazon.com: 4.8 out of 5 stars 8 reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A fantastic book! 27 Mar. 2015
By Brian D. Babiak - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book is probably the most excellent exposition of Aristotle's thought that I've ever read, and I've read most of them. He focuses in a beautiful way on the sensual power and supremacy that form has as actuality in Aristotle's thought. I can't speak highly enough of how thorough, how well written this book is. This is the stuff that Philosophy is made of!
5.0 out of 5 stars Good read, worth the purchase. 17 Sept. 2015
By Mad_Spender - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A great book to help further enlighten students of Aristotle's philosophy
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars All Men by Nature Desire to Know 1 Jun. 2013
By john - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Aristotle: The Desire to Understand by Jonathan Lear
Cambridge University Press, first published 1988, 21st printing 2007, 328pp

Author Jonathan Lear, a Cambridge-trained Chicago University Professor of Philosophy and author of at least 8 books and numerous essays and critical reviews on Philosophy, has written a wonderful book very suitable for those wishing to gain a solid introduction to Aristotle's thought. The author organizes his work around the following chapter topics:

1 The desire to understand
2 Nature
3 Change
4 Man's nature
5 Mind in action
5 Ethics and the organization of desire
6 Understanding the broad structure of reality

In Chapter 1, Lear sketches the outlines of Aristotelian philosophy. He draws mostly from Metaphysics, using the opening line of that work for his own:

"All men by nature desire to know" (Metaphysics I.1, 980a22).

The remaining chapters are spent delving into the implied questions behind that opening statement: What are men? What do we mean by men's natures - or by nature in general? What is desire and where does it come from? What does it mean to know? What precisely is it that becomes known? How does knowing take place? These are not explicitly posed questions from Lear, but are implied by his discourse; and they need to be addressed as Aristotle's thought is unpacked and examined at close range.

In Chapter 2, "Nature", Lear introduces the concepts of change, motion, causation, form and matter, pulling mostly from Physics, and Parts of Animals. The next chapter, "Change", takes us through the Aristotelian response to Parmenides (who argued that change was impossible), and into the concepts of potentiality, actuality, time, and the infinite, making use of the paradox of Zeno's Arrow in the last section to develop them more fully. Except for a few quotes here and there from Nicomachean Ethics and Metaphysics, Lear pulls exclusively from Physics.

Chapters 4 and 5 turn from nature in general to man and his nature; first looking at what man is (chapter 4), and then at his relation to other men in a society (chapter 5). On the Soul and Nicomachean Ethics are the primary sources of these two chapters, and some very important concepts are developed: matter and form are further explored, especially what it means to be an "enmattered form"; the terms logos, essence, and substance are more closely defined with form (they are form), intelligibility, sensible form, perception, mind, the activity of mind and the hierarchical direction of something intelligible moving from potentiality to actuality (that a form being contemplated by mind is the highest actuality and why that is true), happiness, virtue, and the problem of slavery (something that Aristotle is accused of not addressing, but, as Lear demonstrates, something he did deal with more than is generally thought). The examination of incontinence was especially illuminating:

"Aristotle says: 'Badness escapes notice, but incontinence does not.' What he means, I think, is this: even a bad man will be pursuing ends which he takes to be good - that is, good for him. That his ends are bad, even for him, will not be something he will appreciate. If he did, he would not pursue them. The incontinent, by contrast, will be brought face to face with his ignorance when he is put in a situation in which he must act on his purported beliefs... The incontinent, though, must confront the inescapable fact that what he says, however sincerely, is not like-natured with what he does. He is brought up short by his own action."

The last chapter, "Understanding the broad structure of reality", is where Lear ties everything together, not just for the sake of summation, but to take the reader on a giant leap with Aristotle: logic, math, being, a further development of substance, the principle of non-contradiction (here, Heraclitus is in the dock, much as Parmenides was in the earlier sections on Change), and a high-level walk through of Metaphysics Zeta are all pulled together to complete the picture of Aristotelian thought; but it is more than that.

Lear's purpose was from the start to give the reader a real exercise in Aristotle's philosophy not simply by writing about it, but by taking him through the process of understanding itself; as Aristotle says, it is the mind's process of trying to know a thing (a "this thing" as it turns out), that we achieve understanding; and in that understanding we reach our highest actuality. To know and to realize the full impact of what the highest actuality is, you must walk through Aristotle's thought. Lear proves to be a very able guide and I highly recommend this book.

One last note is that Lear provides footnotes indicating which sections of Aristotle are helpful for reviewing: I highly recommend taking the time to read Aristotle's sections before reading Lear; having a copy of Oxford's two-volume "Complete Works of Aristotle", edited by Jonathan Barnes, was very helpful for this purpose.

"To have episteme one must not only know a thing, one must also grasp its cause or explanation. This is to understand it: to know in a deep sense what it is and how it has come to be. Philosophy is episteme of the truth." (Metaphysics II.1, 993b19-20)
35 of 35 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very clear and fresh look at Aristotle's thought 5 Aug. 2000
By Frank Bierbrauer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
A simply excellent book introducing the philosophy of Aristotle by Jonathan Lear. Lear accesses the original ancient Greek and as such avoids some of the errors which creep into accounts of ancient philosophy using a contemporary mind-set. A very clear account of Aristotle's many works, excerpts from the metaphysics, ethics and others explaining the somewhat difficult concepts in a fresh way that is free of extraneous interpretation and captures Aristotle's own way of understanding, or at least as close as seems possible given the intervening time. Just when you thought a concept had been understood along comes a new and invigorating idea to surprise you as you proceed through the book. This is not a simple book, neither is it intended to be. I would think it is just about Aristotelian thought and its authentic meaning. Not only does it show the depth of his ideas but gives you an insight into Aristotle's astonishing talents, his thought spanning topics from ethics and politics to biology, it gives the impression that the word polymath was created to describe Aristotle and that any coming after him would try to approach his intellect and insight into the world. The book demonstrates some of Aristotle's greatest solutions to the challenges proposed by Plato's thought as well as Zeno. All in all an exceptional book in the practise of Aristotle's philosophy. It is a pity that the older book by Lear on Aristotelian Logic is now out of print, hopefully this situation is only temporary.
25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent explication of Aristotle 16 Nov. 2002
By T. Gwinn - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
As the author notes, there is a common tendency to describe 'old' philosophies such as Aristotles in an historical manner: to treat his ideas as tacitly dead and gone, with the value of the works deriving from either locating Aristotle's ideas in the context of the history of philosophy, or via some rather facile 'compare and contrast with modern views' approach.
Instead, Lear is "...primarily concerned with the truth about Aristotle, not the truth of Aristotle's views per se...". This frees him up to spend most of his ink on explicating and clarifying the views of Aristotle. Where contrasts do appear, they are intended to "...bring to light how different Aristotle's world is from the modern, not to show how Aristotle's beliefs fall short of what we now take to be the truth."
The organization is by concepts, so within one section there are often references to various books on Aristotle. This is much more helpful than simply attempting to narrate, or move in lockstep, with Aristotle's sequence of writings.
The references are generally sufficient, footnoted at the bottom of the pages. Occasionally, the original Greek words or phrases are also footnoted. (I would have preferred more of the latter, but that is a quibble.)
The author is neither pretentious nor superficial. His writing is that of a patient tutor who is willing to explain, but also not willing to oversimplify. In so doing, the book comes across as being ardently respectful of Aristotle, and it is an excellent companion to reading Aristotle's works.
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