- 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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Aristotle: The Desire to Understand Paperback – 10 Aug 2011
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"As a general introduction to Aristotle for the intellectually curious, it will not be superseded for years to come.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
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.See all Product description
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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
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)
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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